It is February 1986, West Sussex, the day began cold with frost all about. It is now 12 noon, the sun has been out for 2 hours and the 12 kilometre drive from my rented house to here, outside the Racing Headquarters of Mr Guy Harwood, revered horse trainer of that time for whom I worked the previous autumn. For 3.75 pounds an hour, four mornings a week. I no longer work for Mr Harwood, a terse letter arrived in January telling me I was fired. I know the real reason why and will explain later in this blog. Mr Harwood, he of the slim sleek figure, sharp nose and swept back hair, seller of expensive cars, has just returned from shooting game in Spain. He is not a man of the ‘old school’, huntin’, shootin’ and fishin, my good man. No he is a made up grandee of the English racing game. And trainer to Prince Khalid Abdulla of Saudi Arabia. And trainer of Dancing Brave. Who is to become one of the great Classic generation horses of the 20th century.
Thus far he has won 2 non-descript races as a juvenile in October 1985. However he is one of the most talked about horses in the country. And certainly I have joined in this jamboree of words in the local pubs with other racing people. One morning back in early October 1985 the well known jockey Greville Starkey, retained by Mr Harwood, told me in moments of idleness whilst we waited to go and watch the second lot gallops that the then unraced Dancing Brave would win the next year’s 2000gns, Derby and King George. I looked at Greville with a countenance full of ‘are you sure or are you pulling my leg.’ Greville was known as a joker. He turned and looked at me and said, “ I am being serious.” To confirm his words I went to Harwood’s Head Lad at the end of my morning’s filming and timing the gallops. Tommy Townsend was a friend of mine and I knew he would tell me the truth. He was equally positive about the bay colt by Lyphard.
That afternoon I placed 400 pounds win on Dancing Brave to win the following year’s 2000gns at 16/1. That was a very big bet for me at the time when one considers my wages. I was also a jockeys agent and freelance journalist, doing better than some in the game and a lot worse than others. However I had been winning on betting Harwood’s horses that autumn. I had a man in London betting them for me as well as betting them myself and telling others in the local betting shop. My easygoing mouth was to do me no good over the years in the relatively secretive world of racing. I said this was a column of ups and downs and to cut a long story shorter, Dancing Brave won me 4800 pounds when winning the 2000gns with ease. A phenomenal amount of money for me at the time. After the race the Racing Press predicted he wouldn’t run in the Derby because of his breeding. By Lyphard, who was no influence for stamina. But some horses are unique and defy all the unwritten laws which can appear to be written on taffeta when his like come along. I learned in early May that he was going to run in the Derby to be run exactly a month later. I placed 3000 pounds of my winnings on him at 8/1. The biggest bet of my life. History will tell you that an injudicious ride by Mr Starkey denied him victory by half a length and me 24000 pounds profit. A small fortune at that time.
I told you at the start of this blog that racing is a game of mixed fortunes and, sometimes, possessive of callous indifference. That February lunchtime in 1986 I stood in Guy Harwood’s office, holding a letter of contract giving me a job for a year, September to September, and told him that he could not just summarily sack me without reason. The employment laws of the land would not stand for it. He, the made up grandee as I thought of him, told me to “ F**k off.” I said that was no way to speak to me and that I would sue him. “ F**k off and sue me then. “ he retorted. Word had reached him of my successful run of betting his horses the previous Autumn and some trainers just don’t like their staff profiting from observations of their pride and joy. In next week’s blog I’ll tell you how the litigation went.