Master golfer Gary Player had the perfect retort when a 19th-hole pundit on his fourth G&T declared, ‘It’s all down to luck really.’ ‘Of course,’ replied Player. ‘But it’s strange: the harder I practise the luckier I get.’ Betting is much the same: a bit of luck helps but good information can improve your luck. When it comes to food I have access to the top gen: Mrs Oakley may be pencil-slim but she devours the writings of top chefs, cooks like an angel and sniffs out good new restaurants like a truffle-hound after a tuber. As we waited to embark for a lecture trip in New York last month, she led me unerringly to the basement brasserie of the Andaz Hotel on Fifth Avenue where the five-course tapas-tasting plate was the nearest thing to culinary nirvana I have yet encountered. Obtaining info of that quality about four-legged investments is not easy, but a magic day at Newbury last Saturday confirmed that it can be found without the aid of nose-tapping tipsters.
Turf column readers learned recently how much trainer Clive Cox likes Kodi Bear, who duly won at Salisbury last week and sent me to Newbury flush with the Enemy’s funds. I had, too, urged readers to watch the young jockey Harry Bentley. From considerably fewer rides than any of the jockeys in the list above him, Harry has now scored 32 victories this season. One in five of his mounts won: only Ryan Moore and likely champion Silvestre De Sousa have better strike rates and £1 invested on each of Harry’s 157 rides would have brought a net profit of £109.64. Only six jockeys in the top 50 show a level-stakes profit and De Sousa, at £52.16 as I write, is the only other one over £50.
Saturday began with a race for pure-bred Arabians, and Harry Bentley, who is champion jockey in Qatar, travelled to Newbury for just one ride, the Qatari-owned Ba’sil, in that opener. It seemed a no-brainer and I managed to get 7–4. Harry came home well clear on Ba’sil before heading to Newmarket to ride She Is No Lady to victory at 5–1 for Ralph Beckett.
It was the fillies maiden, though, which proved my contention that most of the information you need is publicly available. Bare listings for Mick Channon’s Czabo showed her only 8th of 11 on her debut at Newmarket under the capable young rider Charles Bishop. But the published detail revealed that despite being badly left at the start Czabo had finished within four lengths of the winner. This time she was to be handled by Silvestre De Sousa, currently riding with the confidence of God’s charioteer at a green light. Amazingly, she opened at 25–1 and I got 28–1 before she was backed down to a starting price of 16–1. Brought with a smooth run up the stands side, Czabo did the business beautifully. Afterwards Mick told us, ‘She ran a good race last week. She must have got left ten or 15 lengths.’ He was particularly pleased for the owner-breeders Tania and Patrick Trant of Norman Court Stud, who stand her sire Sixties Icon. They had raced Czabo’s dam Fiumicino but after a series of accidents to others this was the first of her offspring to reach the racecourse. Sixties Icon, Channon added, was a badly underrated sire.
I should have listened more closely. In the next race I had backed Twin Sails and felt hopeful after meeting his cheerful trainer Dean Ivory in the car park. Alas Twin Sails found the tacky ground too much and Mick’s Epsom Icon came home the winner, making it two out of two for the Norman Court stud.
When I saw the avalanche of late money for Agent Murphy in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes, driving him down from 5–1 to 11–4, I was tempted to forget my ante-post bet on Pallasator and join the rush. More fool me that I didn’t. In that sort of stampede it is best to be swept along, even if it does occasionally take you over a cliff. Agent Murphy powered clear of his field to score a popular victory for jockey Jimmy Fortune, his first since cracking vertebrae in a nasty fall at Ascot.
It was thanks to a good steer in the Racing Post that I then profited from Mullionheir at 17–2 in a seven-furlong handicap about which I knew little — that and the publicly available knowledge that his trainer John Best has been going great guns since moving yards. I lost on the next two races, but the last, a race for lady amateurs, was a doddle. In such contests I have one rule: I ignore the form, I find out if solicitor Serena Brotherton, another rider with a rare 20 per cent strike rate, is riding in them and then I back her. She was, I did and Albert Bridge, with three duck eggs to his name this season, came home at 3–1. There really is help out there when you look.