Magazine article The Spectator

Too Late, Too Late

Magazine article The Spectator

Too Late, Too Late

Article excerpt

When the G8 summit of the leading industrial democracies was held in London one year recently, some Russian officials were quartered temporarily in No. 10 Downing Street. They were much intrigued by a map on the wall with a number of coloured pins stuck into it. Puzzled that anybody should leave in their presence what they took to be the sites of underground bunkers for regional government come a nuclear catastrophe they eventually asked what the significance of the markers might be. It turned out that they had been given the office of the Patronage Secretary and the pins indicated the bishoprics of the Church of England. But perhaps if it was the public advice of the bishops which finally persuaded Tony Blair to delay the Election we should not underestimate the strategic significance of the Church after all. Having advised the Epsom Race Committee that they could count on the Election being on 3 May and not the day before the Derby meeting, I was not best pleased by the semi-divine intervention. But at least all the General Election kerfuffle will be over now by the big day. Perhaps Derby Day can be the start of a new national mood after all the doom and gloom which has made us all feel guilty about enjoying anything.

The Prime Minister, naturally, told the Sun first about his plans. I was having a week of learning things just a little too late. At Ascot on Saturday I told my table at the Weatherbys lunch to punt confidently on the Queen Mother's Bella Macrae, having been much impressed by her previous run at Sandown. In the Tote queue I bumped into a friend who was hotfoot from lunch with the great lady and who informed me that Her Maj didn't think Bella Macrae would handle the really tacky ground. My blushes were spared when poor Bella Macrae was brought down early in the race. An even more important lady in my life, namely Mrs Oakley, had told me on a rare racecourse visit that she fancied John Akehurst's Pietro Bembo. I told her patronisingly that Pietro Bembo had some ability but would be let down by his jumping and left him unbacked. In the unsaddling enclosure as John Akehurst greeted his 14-1 winner he revealed that, on Graham Bradley's advice, he had sent Pietro Bembo to jumping coach Yogi Breisner, who had really improved him. It was the first time he had sent a horse to the famed jumping guru. When I revealed more knowledge gained too late Mrs Oakley's face had that `You're now at the bottom of the class and you're likely to be there some time' look.

But fortunately I did tell her to back Eau de Cologne in the next and Lydia Richards's charge did the business at 5-1, despite it being the wrong distance and the wrong kind of ground. …

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