Magazine article The Spectator

Perseverance Pays

Magazine article The Spectator

Perseverance Pays

Article excerpt

Running a racecourse these days goes a little further than seeing the grass is watered. During my five-minute chat with Major-General David Pank, Newbury's chief executive, in the unsaddling enclosure last Saturday, he had to field queries about the economics of the racecourse creche, which course outlets would accept a 50 note and how many ambulances have to be on site to allow racing to proceed. (Not such a fringe question as you might think. On one day there were two coronaries within ten minutes, and no more than 15 yards apart. And it is the presence of paramedic teams on site, rather than the vehicles to take casualties to hospital, which counts.)

But David Pank is clearly a man with a keen eye for a camera angle too. Kutta and Ballynakelly had flashed past the post together after an epic struggle for the Tote Autumn Cup. Most seasoned professionals around me reckoned that Richard Hills on Kutta had snatched it in the last few strides. With Ballynakelly carrying the extra penalty of one of my larger bets I dolefully shared their conclusion. But General Pank told us all that twice before he had reckoned in close finishes at Newbury that the result was a dead heat and he believed this to be another. When the judge's verdict was announced he had it right again. I'll be listening to him closely next time the bookies are taking bets on the outcome of a photo.

It was a marvellous race. Humping the maximum ten stone, Robert Armstrong's Kutta put up a brave performance. But I'd give odds as short as the skirt of the young lady, whose stocking tops were drawing admiring gazes all round Newbury, that there's no gutsier horse in training than Reg Akehurst's Ballynakelly, who has now won eight races in succession, moving some 261b up the handicap as he has done so.

Sharaf had taken them off at a frightening lick and stretched the field after a furlong. Ballynakelly was the only one who could go with him and the only one in touch as they turned into the straight. But then the front runner fell away and Ballynakelly was left in the lead far sooner than his connections would have wished, a target for all the others. Kutta came at him and, for my money, passed him once, but Ballynakelly, says Seb Sanders, is the kind of horse who responds to every challenge and never gives up. `It needs a really brave one to pass him.' The chestnut stuck his neck out once again and stole back a share of the prize on the line.

Seb has been one of the finds of this season, riding with ever greater confidence. I remember a handy hat-trick at Chepstow on Wizard King, Perpetual and Shalateeno and a peach of a ride to land Crowded Avenue the winner of a Sandown sprint with a perfectly timed challenge. …

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