Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf: Robin Oakley

Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf: Robin Oakley

Article excerpt

I was both delighted and unsurprised that Denis Healey made it to 98. One day in the 1970s I took him to lunch at L'Epicure. As he encouraged the waiter to pile his plate higher and higher from the hors-d'oeuvre trolley, my astonishment must have been plain because he grinned and declared: 'Don't worry about me -- both my parents lived into their nineties.' Another time, Mrs Oakley and I were in a dusty square in Collioure in south-west France when music began blaring from a loudspeaker to advertise a nearby circus. We looked up to see -- along with toothless old ladies in black and pipe-smoking locals playing a vicious game of boules -- Denis Winston Healey, in the kind of baggy, knee-length khaki shorts worn in the 1960s by holidaying British males, dancing solo in the dust with a dreamy expression on his face. Denis Healey didn't care what people thought of him and everything he did he did with confidence.

In racing it is remarkable what confidence can do for you. Just look at Frankie Dettori on Golden Horn in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. From a bad draw he went up the outside of the field well away from the others, ringing no alarm bells among his fellow riders, and then crossed at the right point to slot into second behind the pacemaker, perfectly poised for the thrust that finished the race. It was one of those rides that if you bring it off has you labelled a genius and if it fails has sporting trolls composing your professional obituary. Dettori had the courage to risk such tactics, but what gave him that courage was having ridden six previous Group One winners this season, five of them for John Gosden, before the Arc.

It works at all levels. At Newmarket last Saturday the Betfred Cesarewitch, the second half of the Autumn Double, was won in the last stride by the 50-1 Grumeti, better known as a hurdler and ridden by the little-known Adam Beschizza. To show how much faith connections had in his chances Grumeti's trainer Alan King hadn't bothered to attend and the horse's owner Max McNeill had preferred to watch his son playing rugby. But Adam Beschizza had insisted to the owner's brother Hugh that he was going to be in the first four of the 34-horse cavalry charge. In the race Grumeti had less than a clear passage as horses ran out of gas in front of him but Beschizza came wide and drove his mount up to the leaders in the last furlong, gaining victory over the gambled-on Oriental Fox by a short head. …

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