Roger Alton

Winning Windsor

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If ever I feel my zest for racing flagging, a day at Windsor soon sorts things out. The Thameside track, even more fun if you go there by boat, is one of the friendliest I know. Families picnic on the grass between the parade ring and the winner’s enclosure, the jazz bands stroll between the champagne and Pimm’s bars and, rarity of rarities on most racecourses, you can even find somewhere to sit down, a true mercy for those of us with occasionally dodgy backs. If you back Richard Hannon’s horses through the card, too, you can usually guarantee a winner. The fast-food outlets are the freshest you will find, and on Saturday I liked the style of the wine bar, which was well enough into the football-focused week to advertise its Gavi di Gavi as having ‘a finish better than Balotelli’s’.

It certainly was a good day for Italy with jockey Andrea Atzeni knocking off a double on Mezzotint for his compatriot Marco Botti and Vasily for fellow Newmarket trainer Robert Eddery. Mezzotint is owned by former QPR chairman Gianni Paladini, who positively bounced around the winner’s enclosure declaring emotionally, ‘Last week we got bumped and beaten a neck. This is one of the best feelings in my life. I just can’t describe it. Everyone needs something like this in life.’

He bought Mezzotint after his, shall we call it colourful, time at QPR, enlivened by stories of a gun levelled at his head by thugs who wanted the former players’ agent to quit, and at Windsor he showed what racehorse ownership can do for you instead by insisting, ‘I’m so excited. I got promoted to the highest level with QPR but this feels better.’ You can see his point. At least Mezzotint won’t be demanding impossible wages, getting in punch-ups on the pitch or spending his downtime in nightclubs with brain-dead blondes. Paladini has a two-year-old also with Marco Botti called in Italian ‘The Joy of Life’. Clearly an optimist then.

With racing all over the country it was a day of opportunity for some of the lesser-known jockeys such as Atzeni, Pat Dobbs, George Baker and Ian Mongan, whose admirers include Sir Henry Cecil and who regularly rides Frankel’s pacemaker Bullet Train for him. Ian rides out in Epsom a couple of days a week for his trainer-wife Laura and for Pat Phelan, mixing that with babysitting daughter Daisy while Laura gets on with her stable duties. On Wednesdays and Saturdays he rides out in Newmarket for Cecil who, it is worth noting, rewards Ian’s loyalty by periodically popping him on a decent runner and not just those out for experience. A loyalist, Sir Henry has done the same over the years with the likes of team members Willie Ryan and Tony McGlone.

At Windsor Ian Mongan was having a comparatively rare ride for the Godolphin empire. ‘There’s lots of racing, I’m probably about their tenth choice,’ he suggested modestly but there was much to like both about his tender handling of the debutant I’m Back and the horse’s own relaxed attitude both going down and at the start where others got excited. ‘I was trying to win without giving him a hard race and he stuck on well,’ said Ian after the six-furlong maiden. ‘I liked his attitude and he’ll get further.’

I’m Back is one for the notebook and so is Roger Charlton’s Rex Imperator, who did me a good turn at 14–1 in the five-furlong handicap with the trainer’s rejuvenated Zero Money third in the same race. Sprinters often have a lean time at three but Rex Imperator positively cruised to dispute the lead a furlong out and then went two lengths’ clear of Charlie Hills’s Shropshire. The winner has a touch of class and looks like a real improver. Roger Charlton, this column’s trainer to follow this year, said he had felt his horses had hit a flat spot recently but after that success and a win for Lady Rothschild’s Thistle Bird in the mile he had to think again.

As for the Hannon factor at Windsor, I had invested fairly seriously on his Bold Prediction in the first race, only for Pat Dobbs to lose it by a head to I’m Back. I doubled up on the Hannon-trained, Dobbs-ridden Coupe de Ville in the Listed mile race later, only for them to go down by half a length to Thistle Bird. At that point I concluded that statistics are there to be overturned and it just wasn’t going to be a Hannon day. Anxious to remain in Mrs Oakley’s good books, I headed home before the last without stopping for a bet. That race, of course, was won by the 16–1 outsider Forgive, ridden by Pat Dobbs and trained by Richard Hannon. Oh, me of little faith. But at least Mrs Oakley was ready with the Pimm’s...