Magazine article The Spectator

Newbury Murk

Magazine article The Spectator

Newbury Murk

Article excerpt

The turf

A Senator unexpectedly defeated in a recent American election called together his aides the next morning. `Gentlemen,' he declared, `we all know there is no such thing as an unmitigated disaster. So get out there and mitigate.' After three odds-on favourites, all leading fancies for the Cheltenham Festival, had been defeated at Newbury on Saturday, the mitigation industry was in full flow.

Francois Doumen, trainer of Gold Cup favourite First Gold, beaten into second place by Shotgun Willy, said that when his jockey son Thierry brought First Gold to challenge the vital spark was missing. `He just could not find his usual second burst of acceleration. We needed a good blow. He was only 80 per cent today.'

After his Flagship Uberalles, favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, had been beaten by the brave mare Function Dream Noel Chance said, `He likes it good to soft, not a bog and he was never jumping with his usual flamboyance. There's a bit of improvement to come but on this ground 90 per cent was not enough. He didn't jump and if they don't jump in a bog like this they can't run.' And after Behrajan, Henry Daly's hope for the novice chasers' championship at Cheltenham was beaten by Frantic Tan there were similar noises: `He'll come on for the run ... he was beaten by a good horse to whom he was giving lb.' They were all perfectly reasonable explanations. After watching swans floating under goalposts and ducks swimming across carparks on the way to Newbury I had prepared myself for a few shocks on truly testing ground.

In these pre-Festival days it is always difficult to know whether a Cheltenham-bound horse is 75, or 80 or 90 per cent fit. Trainers like to leave something to work on for the final month. Nobody wanted to leave a Cheltenham victory behind in the Newbury mud. And I was careful to leave most of my betting money in my pocket on such a day at such a time in the racing calendar. The connections of the horses beaten at 8-13, 8-13 and 1-3 will all be hoping that they have lost only a battle, not the war. But here go some famous last words: I will use the money I saved at Newbury to oppose all three of those beaten favourites at Cheltenham.

One of the shrewdest judges I know on a racecourse said to me after Behrajan's defeat that the horse looks too much like a thinker to him. He was on and off the bridle and for the second time has been found wanting when the serious work had to be done at the end of a race. Flagship Uberalles is a better horse on better ground and his trainer Noel Chance has no greater fan than me. …

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