Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf True Sportsmen

Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf True Sportsmen

Article excerpt

I am sorry but if anybody else asks, 'Did you have a good Christmas?' they are in danger of me dotting them one. I arrived back with Mrs O. from two weeks lecturing abroad to discover that the neighbour to whom we had lent one house key could not find it. The builder holding the other hadn't received our text asking him to hide it in a secret place. After two hours in a cafe there was no option but to burgle my own home through an upstairs window. It then took an hour's negotiation to get the security firm to help me switch off the alarm deafening our neighbours while they insisted on me giving them a code number they had never supplied.

Mrs Oakley, a whirling dervish in the kitchen when needs must, then had a day in which to turn round a fortnight's washing and make a Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, 50 mince pies and the turkey stuffing before a ten-hour drive for a family Christmas with our daughter on the Isle of Mull.

There, one look at our whey-faced son-inlaw as he fought the door open against the gales confirmed the worst. The family had been struck by a pestilence to which I, too, succumbed on Christmas night.

We love them dearly but it didn't stop raining for three days, there was no television for the Boxing Day racing and the drive back down the M6, punctuated by discomfort stops at a hefty proportion of the nation's service stations, was a nightmare.

Life was not improved by a phone call from my accountant en route warning that my tax bill was double what I had expected.

Mrs Oakley, coper extraordinaire, sailed through unscathed and polished her halo by sending me off to Newbury on New Year's Eve despite having to prepare a celebration dinner. When that tax bill is paid, I will be looking for a good jeweller.

There is no better restorative than a cracking day's racing. I arrived too late to back Andy Turnell's Gotoyourplay, the 14-1 winner of the first but no matter. Andy needed the winner more than I did. He was unlucky enough to lose the promising Mountain Song in Newbury's hideous electrocution incident. Lately his horses have been running well without winning races - three youngsters were placed the previous week in good company at Ascot - and when the economic blight is cutting your numbers fashion is everything. Hopefully a 14-1 Saturday winner will help one of Britain's most realistic and friendly trainers turn the corner.

Philip Hobb's Fingal Bay won again, though not at a price to aid the tax bill much, and Alan King's Vendor impressed, too, in the juvenile hurdle. …

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