The Oxfordshire village to which Mrs Oakley and I have moved is possibly the friendliest place in the world. But even harmonious communities can have their little tensions. Last week we learnt of a local lady who was affronted by the number of dog poos deposited on her front lawn by a neighbour’s terrier. She collected a number of examples, wrapped each carefully in foil and took a trayload of the packages round to the offending owner, thrusting it into her hands when she opened her door with the insistence: ‘ These are yours.’ You would certainly have to call that direct action. I did feel, however, that she pushed her luck somewhat in going back two days later and asking for her tray back.
Pushing his luck, too, was a young bloodstock agent at the sales. Spotting a leading industrialist there buying horses with his trainer he went up to him and said, ‘Sir Peter. You don’t know me but I am a great admirer of your business skills. I know you are frantically busy but if you could just bear to say “Hello, Nigel” to me as you leave, it would hugely impress the new clients I am here with and help me to clinch a deal.’ Impressed by the young man’s initiative, the industrialist duly paused as he left the sale. Playing up to his assigned role, he didn’t just say hello but put an arm around the young man’s shoulder and said, ‘I hope I’ll see you at Ascot next week.’ Only to meet the response, ‘Oh, go away, Peter, don’t bother me now. Can’t you see I’m busy here...’
This column alas has to reach The Spectator before the start of the Royal Ascot events that will take place before you read it. But I am hopeful it will have been a happy week for those who occasionally take a plunge on my recommendations because I am not just on a roll. I am, it has to be said, positively red hot. Scorching. A couple of winners at Sandown last Saturday were just the jam on one of the scones Mrs Oakley dishes up at her charity teas. This summer’s Twelve to Follow, so far, are proving near invincible. Seven of the 12 have run and already five of them have won.
In May, Roger Varian’s Aljamaheer won a Listed Newmarket race over seven furlongs at 100–30.Richard Fahey’s Baccarat won a York handicap over the same distance at 5–1 on only his third appearance. Roger Charlton’s Mince, beautifully ridden by Frankie Dettori, won a sprint trophy at Newmarket on 19 May at 3–1 and his Bated Breath took the top-class Temple Sprint at Haydock a week later at 2–1.This month on 9 June John Gosden’s Starboard was truly impressive in winning a Doncaster conditions race over ten furlongs at 6–4. John’s Thought Worthy, given an honourable mention in the Twelve’s compilation, has also won.
The only two to have come out without winning as I write are Charlie Hills’s Heyeraat, who ran green when making a seasonal debut at Chepstow but looked likely to improve, and William Haggas’s Harris Tweed, who was third in the Yorkshire Cup and who should do better on softer ground than he met there. On an outlay of £10 to win at starting price on each runner so far we are currently running a profit of more than £108. Eat your heart out Pricewise in the Racing Post.
At Sandown last Saturday I came across two more horses who will surely repay further attention. Harry Herbert’s Highclere syndicate horses are carrying all before them this season, and, although he needed plenty of stoking up by Ryan Moore, Opinion did the business well in the 1m1f handicap. He likes soft ground, is maturing physically and will surely stay further with time. I was much impressed, too, with David Barron’s handsome sprinter Pearl Secret who was given an educative ride by Richard Hughes from an unfavourable draw. Shrewdly campaigned by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and his racing adviser David Redvers, Pearl Secret deliberately ducked Ascot and is being targeted at the sprint prizes later in the season. For the moment his career is all about education and they even brought him into the parade ring five minutes before the others to help him learn on the job.
My boasting about the Twelve so far is of course likely to see me cut rapidly down to size but since Mrs Oakley complains so regularly that everything I recommend finishes second I am going to take my moment of glory. The powers that be at The Spectator though were less impressed. I emailed to report on the success of the Twelve so far, suggesting that if such good form continued I would be putting in for a rise. ‘If they go on like this,’ came the rather unfeeling response, ‘then you won’t need a rise.’