At the degenerative stage of a dinner party recently I heard related with perfect timing the tale of the gent who saw a sign in the window of his local newsagent/tobacconist/sweet shop offering ‘Condoms personally fitted’. Finding a pretty blonde behind the counter when he entered, he inquired, ‘Do you really have the service you are advertising in your window?’ ‘Oh, yes, sir.’ ‘And who does the fitting?’ ‘I do, sir.’ ‘Well, in that case, young lady, would you mind washing your hands, because all I want is half a pound of liquorice allsorts.’
Racing, too, is all about expectations, and about timing, and having recently for this column visited the yards of two of Britain’s friendliest trainers, Henry Candy and Dean Ivory, I have been taking a special interest in their horses. At Newmarket, on Cambridgeshire day, I fancied the chance of Henry’s Code of Honor in the Betfred Cambridgeshire. Having taken some 16–1 ante post, I doubled my bet on the course when Code of Honor was backed down to 12–1. My only worry was that even more money was flooding on to Educate, the mount of Irish veteran Johnny Murtagh, whose praises I have been singing all season. Educate went clear but then the white and red colours of Code of Honor came hurtling out of the pack in the hands of Fergus Sweeney to give chase, seemingly at twice the pace of anything else. Code of Honor came home first of the pack of 17 horses his side of the track. Unfortunately for me, Educate, too, was first of 12 on his side of the course, and after the judge called for a photo it was Educate who had held on by a nose thanks to the sheer strength of Johnny Murtagh.
The place money was some consolation but I hadn’t had even that when Dean Ivory’s Tropics was made favourite the week before for the Ayr Gold Cup. Even though Baccarat, one of our Twelve to Follow, was in the field against him, I had a decent bet on Tropics, only for Dean’s hope to have one of those bad-mane days. The horse didn’t pick up, was never travelling for jockey Jim Crowley and finished only 23rd of the 26 runners, while Baccarat ran a creditable fifth from a poor draw.
I saw Dean at Ascot last Saturday, before Tropics came out again in the Group Three John Guest Bengough Stake, and asked him what he thought of his chances. He was mystified by the Ayr run, putting it down to Tropics being buffeted about in the big field. Tropics hadn’t been himself after the Ayr race, he said, but had started picking up in the past few days and he was giving him just the one more run to rebuild his confidence in a smaller field before a winter off.
Build his confidence? Tropics should have been swaggering like Tina Turner during an on-stage crescendo after he had obliterated the Ascot field of decent sprinters, coming home three and a half lengths clear of Henry Candy’s Music Master, with Hoof It, who had been well ahead of him at Ayr, nearly another two lengths back.
An emotional Dean, having simultaneously trained his first Group winner and surpassed his previous best for a season with 34 winners, explained that he was still mystified by the Ayr run. Perhaps, he surmised, coming from a small yard, Tropics had been put off by spending two days away from home for the Scottish contest, or by the big field (he only faced 14 rivals at Ascot).
Says Dean, ‘They really do talk to you.’ After coming back from Ayr, Tropics had hung around the back of his box for four days. ‘Then for a couple of days he started sticking his head out of the door. Finally, the real horse started showing up again. He was back on the team and started doing it properly for me again, so I thought we’d have a run and see how he got on.’ As for me, my main bet was on Henry’s Music Master. But I did have a small saver on Tropics at 10–1 just in case.
One correspondent asked Dean if he was now open to offers for Tropics. ‘No,’ said his trainer, who owns the horse himself and runs him in his grandfather’s colours. ‘He means too much to me.’ One more run like that and Dean may well be tested by offers with several noughts. And if there was one man even happier than Dean at Ascot it was former champion jump jockey Graham Thorner, who was bouncing about reminding all and sundry how he had bought Tropics at the Newmarket sales for £2,500. Graham is helping Dean prepare a few horses for a jumping campaign this winter. Graham deserves a bit of luck after losing his promising Marching Song when two horses were electrocuted by a faulty cable at Newbury, and it will be intriguing to see what he and Dean come up with.
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