We all have one moment when we claim the fuse was first lit, don’t we? Well, this weekend is the 40-year anniversary of what is widely touted as the “race of the century”. At Ascot in 1975, in the King George, racing’s mid-Summer jewel, Joe Mercer’s Bustino came runner-up to Pat Eddery’s Grundy in one of the (if not the) greatest race in living memory. I wasn’t even born, but the names of Grundy and Bustino are household names in every racing fan’s lexicon.
To my mind, however, the greatest race I have ever seen took place in Ascot in 2001, when Derby winner Galileo battled it out with Godolphin’s Fantastic Light. I was fairly new to the game and had backed Fantastic Light. I lost — but I won. The next day, at home in Bolton, I bored my friends by reading aloud the newspaper reviews of that race. I was totally overwhelmed by these two horses and Fantastic Light can lay claim to being my favourite of all ages.
He went on to exact his revenge over Galileo in Leopardstown later that September before winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Each July, I go to the Darley Stud at Newmarket and go and see the horse that lit my fuse — in defeat — one balmy King George day at Ascot.
Such has been my desperation to claim a winner, I’m going to bend the rules to within an inch of their life by reminding readers of a (not so) recent blog post when I flagged up Hugo Palmer as the young guy in the Flat training ranks whom I considered to be the next best thing.
We saw this last weekend that Palmer is much more than a plummy accent; he is a white-hot trainer with a searing will to win. On Saturday he registered his first Classic success when Covert Love took the Irish Oaks at the Curragh before his highly regarded Home Of The Brave won Sunday’s Group 3 Minstrel Stakes.
Palmer is a top bloke who gets married this weekend. Perhaps once the dust has settled on his Classic success and wedding celebrations he can use some prize-money to buy a decent pair of golf shoes so that the next time we play he won’t have to wear his cricket boots.
Last Wednesday, I hosted a Boat Party on the Thames for members of the sports, betting and racing media and assorted gravy-train regulars. We gathered on Tower Pier before boarding but all had to make way for John McCririck and his wife Jenny, who were the first to charge on, grab their champagne and light cigars (not Jenny).
Mac is infamous for many things but was sporting a new velvet dinner jacket and baseball cap with the slightly dubious claim that “I’m too sexy for my hat”. How his wife endures him, I will never know, but they were both on good form and I can reassure readers that when Big Mac gives it, he can also take it.
As we sailed up the Thames he was given male-grooming advice, dental recommendations, diet tips and a style makeover consultation. He snorted it all away and was rude to pretty much everybody. But anyone who takes Mac seriously on such occasions needs to have a word with themselves.
My self-imposed ban is over, although I refuse to declare whether I backed any winners of my own at the weekend. At least, I lost nobody any money. The King George is the obvious highlight of a great racing card and Golden Horn will start heavily odds-on. I might give Eagle Top another chance to chase him home having recently got over my fury at his defeat in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.
That’ll do as a straight forecast and I am not getting involved in the International Stakes, chiefly because my old pal Speculative Bid is likely to turn up and, ever since he won here in May, everything has gone wrong for him — and, mainly, for me.
Image: David Williams and Fantastic Light at the Darley Stud in Newmarket in 2014, courtesy of David Williams