Magazine article The Spectator

Party Spirit

Magazine article The Spectator

Party Spirit

Article excerpt

Arriving at Kempton for the King George VI brings mixed memories. Desert Orchid's four victories, yes, Pendil, Silver Buck and Wayward Lad in the Dickinson heydays. But there was also the year it churned to mud, I got stuck in the car park and, after turning up three hours late for my brother-in-law's Christmas dinner, I was banned by the family from Boxing Day racing for the next two years.

This year they were trying to keep the party spirit going with an Irish band, a pantomime horse, a man on stilts and a fairy of uncertain years who had gone a little heavier on the lipstick and mascara than one has been accustomed to with Tinkerbelle. As she muttered about the lack of Christmas spirit she was in danger of being done by the stewards for a whip offence with her wand. One does have sympathy for someone forced to pirouette in the biting cold in tights and several yards of net curtain. Perhaps she should have stationed herself by the champagne bar entrance. Put a match to the fumes wafting out of there and you could have incinerated the nation's Christmas puddings.

I was still seeking to determine whether they were seagulls or vultures circling overhead (news of your losing spells tends to spread) when I found myself summoned into the parade ring for an interview with the indefatigable Derek Thompson. After one of his virtuoso time-filling spells on the course in Dubai, a watching American journalist was heard to exclaim in awe, `Put a cabbage in front of that man and he'd interview it.' This was probably the nearest he's yet come to doing so. But at least my proffered tip, Reg Akehurst's Proton in the first, made it into the frame.

There was better to come. It has long been a maxim of mine never to ignore a horse that the French maestro Francois Doumen sends over here at Christmas time. He has won four King Georges. But this time it was Djeddah in the Feltham Novices Race who did the business at 9-2 (11-2 for us early birds). The charming Doumen, wearing a suitably Gallic beret, told us that Djeddah might well be aimed at Cheltenham because he prefers good going and when Auteil reopens in March it is likely to be pretty boggy. He may be back to Kempton for the Racing Post trophy and, though Aardwolf would have been closer to him but for two or three jumping errors, Djeddah is surely one to watch for. Note also Chris Wall's Leading Spirit, a useful performer on the flat who made a promising debut over hurdles, and Julie Cecil's Albemine, who, under an enterprising ride from Terry Kent, drew the sting of Chai-Yo's finishing speed and should now be in the winning groove. …

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