October ended as cold and damp as a wet Haddock with the weather offering no cheer just like our results. Hennie, our delicious numbers girl is the brightest thing in The Office on a cold and wet Tuesday afternoon but even her winning smile cannot lift me out of the doldrums.
And the day can only get worse this afternoon as I have to visit that place of eternal terror, The Dentist, hidden away in his secretive lair in the back roads of Belsize Park. Yes, Dr. H. Ades and his terrifying drill await me on this chill and cold October Tuesday!
I muse that there must be something that can brighten my mood before that terrible trip to NW3 and remember that this is the week we to have to plan the Christmas Party. I have the fondest memories of last year and Bertie, our great sponsor, has promised once again to book the table in that marvellous restaurant in Drury Lane that is the pastiche of West End Theatreland.
And what fun we had last year! The Mandarin quoting sage Eastern words of wisdom while thoughtfully sipping his Champagne while Franco for once was visible above the table and not under Hennie’s desk – his usual haunt – and then me enjoying the antics of Beens the Baker and his best mate Winks who were up for their big night out.
Oh yes, Beens and Winks, who got his name not from that famous Australian racehorse of recent times as you might think, but from his affliction, an erratic tic in his left eye which with his parentage of his Swedish mother and Jamaican father the handsome young man had put to good use and rarely left such nights as these alone. Last year Hennie brought her best friend, Laura, and what a couple of stunners they looked!
Winks always looked the part for these occasions and Beens had really pushed the boat out in his tight fitting three piece navy blue suit and powder blue shirt to match. Winks had promised a night to remember and there was no forgetting this one! – he had supplied our excitable baker, Beens, with a blue pill and a white pill to make the evening go with a………um, bang!
Only, there may have been a bit of a mix up as Winks, the life and soul of the party at the table, grinning and winking furiously in turn at Hennie and Laura, seemed at odds with his great pal, who had hardly said a word since sitting next to me. The first course, the soup, was on the table and our lovable Beens leant back in his chair and crossed his legs.
Only, he didn’t cross them, his left knee stopped in mid air and no amount of shuffling about in his chair could get the thing to go down!!
Had Beens developed a sudden case of Lockjaw I wondered, or Frozen Knee, if such a thing existed like Frozen Shoulder? Meanwhile I get on with the soup which is a fine consommé but every time Beens bends forward to his bowl, his knee pushes it further away!! Again and again he leans further and further forward like some long necked wading bird in search of his evening meal and there is a trail of consomme all the way back to Beens’ station at the table!! I wonder whether I should ask the waiter for a longer spoon from the Chef!!
And then all falls into place, though not in Beens’s case!! He has had a medication mix up, an error of ecstasy, a polarity of pills!! I fear for his trip to the toilet when the time comes!
Poor Beens, he must remember this year the order of play, as it were.
Or wear some looser trousers!!
But, before all of that fun to arrange we must look forward to the highlights of he weekend’s action on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
The West Yorkshire racecourse at Wetherby hosts one of the best opening races of the National Hunt in the Charlie Hall Chase; a Grade 2 event over three miles and the highlight of the two day meeting with a prize pot of £100,000.
However, due to the omission of three of the fences in the home straight at Aintree in the Old Roan Chase last Sunday due to low sun, contingency plans have been put in place should that situation re-occur with the official start time of 3.40 likely to be in line with similar concerns should the overcast conditions expected improve at the weekend.
For all that this looks on paper to be a top class renewal with a tight spread at the top of the ante post markets. Colin Tizzard’s Elegant Escape and Paul Nicholl’s Black Corton along with Warren Greatrex’ La Bague Au Roi head the betting. Black Corton was second in the race last year so has the C&D form to bring with him but was outdone by the re-opposing Definitely Red from Brian Ellison’s yard.
La Bague Au Roi who went from strength to strength last year has made two appearances at this track and has come away with two wins albeit on the hurdles course. It leaves Elegant Escape as the newcomer to this northern venue but returns this term looking like a big improver; the seven year old’s record is now four wins and seven places from just thirteen starts over the bigger obstacles and further progress is surely on the cards.
Nigel Twiston-Davies runs Ballyoptic who really impressed at Chepstow in the Native River Handicap Chase at the start of the month, making all and putting 9 lengths of clear daylight between him and the remainder of the field; on similar ground he should have alive chance of making the frame at the very least with race fitness assured.
The selection though is for Brian Ellison’s Definitely Red, winner of this race ahead of favourite Black Corton last year. The trainer has hit an enviable run of form in recent weeks with a rolling two week strike rate of 53% and with some ground concerns over rivals La Bague Au Roi and Black Corton this race would seem to be laid out for the ten year old who will have no concerns running fresh.
Black Corton and Ballyoptic can compete for the minor prizes in front of Jessica Harrington’s improving Jett and Colin Tizzard’s Elegant Escape.
The Breeders Cup Home Hopes
The main event on the other side of the Atlantic this week is the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Santa Anita. Though there are many home based hopes for the two day pinnacle of the American season, there remain concerns over the welfare of horses on this iconic Californian venue which has suffered a further six deaths since its reopening last month. Fingers will be crossed that there are no more fatalities in what promises to be a top class Festival.
Frankie Dettori has five rides lined up for a variety of trainers over the two days and looks to have a great chance on Simon Crisford’s A’Ali in the Juvenile Turf Sprint though faces a tough draw in stall 10 of 12. With American racing being so dependent on the break, as record breaking Mendelhsson found when, after winning the Juvenile Turf Sprint in 2017 finished last in the Kentucky Derby despite having come from a course record win in the UAE Derby by an astonishing 18 lengths.
Dettori has a similar problem in the Breeders’ Cup Mile with his mount, James Tate’s Hey Gaman being drawn in stall 13 while in the Juvenile Filly Turf his ride Etoile starts widest of all. In that same race, Shane Foley gets stall 9 on the exciting prospect, Albigna who should be back to her best after having been found to be in season following a lacklustre run in the Moyglare Stud Stakes. Trainer Jessica Harrington has excelled with her two year olds this term and must have a solid chance of bringing home the spoils here.
The Breeders’ Cup Mile has plenty of home interest apart from Dettori’s mount, Hey Gaman, with winner of the St James’s Palace Stakes, Circus Maximus emerging from a decent draw in stall 9 and Richard Fahey’s Space Traveller drawn 3 while David O’ Meara’s ever reliable Lord Glitters starts from stall 12.
The English and Irish raiders should not come away empty handed this weekend with A’Ali, Circus Maximus and Albigna all in with decent chances.
The main hope, however, is that there are no more fatalities this weekend either home bred or visiting racehorses or a re-examination of horse welfare will surely be demanded.
This preview has been brought to you by our regular correspondent, Hector Steiff