Mrs A has been away for one of her long weekends (more like short weeks) to see her sister Sue in the Tenerife.
This coincided with The Derby meeting. Taking a beady form line from Mrs A’s previous weekends’ away, I priced myself up at unbackably short odds for many hours of uninterrupted racing, football, cricket and other televised sports viewing.
However, Epsom’s notorious camber has caught out many a heavily backed favourite. Even those with track experience can find trouble not of their own making. Incidents happen on Tattenham Corner and up the home straight that make domino-toppling world records look like Sunday parlour games.
The interference started early. Daughter No 1 had been in lockdown for weeks, preparing for AS exams which she finished on the Thursday. She asked if she could have some friends over on Friday night. A gathering in which she and her pressurised teenage friends could shake out their academic stresses.
This had two related implications. Firstly I had to stock up on assorted berry-flavoured ciders and multi-packs of sour cream snacks. Being of a disorganised nature, I left this until the last possible moment and ended up cutting my Epsom viewing time to the bone.
Clinking like a dray, I pulled into the bookies in time to watch the Investec Mile. I had backed Gratzie as the value shout improver in a betting heat dominated by the classy Abseil stepping down in class. I shook tubes of Pringles at the big screen as Sylvester De Souza gave a tactical masterclass aboard Channon’s gelding. He beautifully boxed in Ryan Moore on the favourite well into the final furlong, effectively shutting him out behind the weakening leader Regulation. De Souza then stoked up Gratzie for a final push to collar the leader on the line. Sublime.
I collected my notes (8-1) from Geoff behind the counter, gleefully reliving the last strides whilst spitting shards of baked crisp from my grinning chops and then headed home. Before I could settle down to watch The Oaks, Daughter No 2 fleeced me entirely of my winnings. “Daddy, I’m going shopping tomorrow and I need my allowance”, (I think this used to be called pocket money) “And I need the rest of my birthday money as well.” Picked clean. Easy come easy go.
Money does rather tend to burn large holes in Daughter No 2’s carefully assembled purse and handbag collection. In an effort to encourage more responsible habits, we have opened a cashcard bank account for her. Paying in some birthday cheques, she looked at the e-tablet and attached stylus next to the window and commented that it was “very technologically savvy”. Yes, I commented. “They have them in Tenerife too. Auntie Sue tried to use the stylus to sign for a package in the post office the other day!” She laughed and simultaneously rolled her eyes. “Oh no! I’m related to this woman!”
I’d backed Lady of Dubai in The Oaks at 10-1. She probably outran her odds and briefly quickened my pulse about 2 furlongs out. The effort petered out when she was unable to extend in the way that Coolmore’s leading filly Legatissimo did, or like the least fancied of their runners, Qualify did. She came from a horrible position locked in the pack to nick the race at 50-1. Remarkably, trainer, owner, jockey, stable lad and every other connection declared that were not surprised by the result and had been bullish about her chances before the race. I didn’t catch any of that. Must update my Twitter links.
The second impact of Daughter No 1’s hastily arranged gathering was that I was politely invited to vacate the premises for the duration – or at least the larger part of it. I didn’t begrudge this. The crowd had all plunged academic noses against revision grindstones for a good few weeks. Her social life had become a moribund affair with a barely detectable pulse.
This meant there was to be no live T20 action in my living room, as planned, but decibels of gangsta rap interspersed with Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. I rang a couple of mates at short notice to hatch an escape plan. No-one was free for beers down the pub. Instead of a rather sad trawl through the rest of the contact list, I decided a ‘training’ walk was the answer. I’ve signed up for this insane 100km walk from London to Brighton at the end of June. Building up some stamina to offset creaking knees, sore toes and bruised heels seemed like a priority.
This proved to be a good decision. At least initially. I was rewarded with wonderful views from the Ridgway escarpment through ancient beech woodland and across the Aylesbury Plain. Ivinghoe Beacon was deserted at that time of night and the declining sun lit up a busy canopy of scudding clouds revealing deepening blues.
On the way back over Pitstone Hill, I heard a double crack echo round the otherwise still, gloaming landscape. Peering up to the ridge I spied a large-set man framed against the sunset with the unmistakeable silhouette of a shotgun crooked over his arm. He was stood on the footpath and had been blasting at rabbits running through the meadow. Dangerous game this trekking I thought. I shouted and waved to him and then pointed in the direction I was going. He looked at me, said nothing and after a moment simply stalked off down the slope, clearly begrudging my trespassing into his personal shooting gallery. Thank God I wasn’t wearing my lucky bunny-ears baseball hat.
The night was closing in by the time I approached Tring station. My phone rang, which I only heard because I was fishing about in my bag for a drink. It was Mrs A from Tenerife.
“Have you lost the dog then?”
“No”, I said with that rising inflection that turns a denial into a question. “Er, I don’t think so. Maybe… Yes I suppose so then. Oh God, what’s happened?”
“I’ve had a call from a chap in Castle Street who’s got her. He rang the number on her collar.”
Oh. Oh dear. Technically I hadn’t lost Nuca the Tibetan Terrier-cross because she was in the charge of Daughter No 1. But in the scheme of things, there was no question where the ultimate responsibility lay.
In a co-ordinated international family rescue that The Tracy clan would have been proud of, Mrs A texted me the number of the guy in Berko who had the dog. I rang him to say I’d collect her in about 20 minutes. He had already called the house to say he would drop the dog off but was worried that she wouldn’t get in his car!
I then rang Daughter No 1 to tell her I’d go to get the dog and she could relax. It took me ages to get hold of her. She had been out looking for Nuca and had got everybody from the party out too. Only she’d forgotten to take the phone with her. She was in pieces when I did make contact, worried sick and guilt ridden that she’d let the dog escape without noticing.
I said that she shouldn’t blame herself. This had happened to me twice and to Mrs A once. The dog is a free-spirited nightmare. I give her six months before she gets cleaned up. This time it transpired that this Hound of Hades had wandered out of the back gate when the revellers had gone to the chip shop. The bloke who called Mrs A hadn’t been the one to find the dog. The nice lady who did had knocked on his door to ask if this frisky, shaggy year-old mut belonged to him. She’d nearly run her over outside his house. They both waited for me to turn up. I got off the train and was going home for a lead when the nice lady rang to say that they’d fashioned one out of a length of cord that more normally attaches a buggy board to a pram! If I promised to give it back, I could use it to escort my errant pet home.
By the time I quick-stepped into the cul-de-sac, the bloke had gone inside to attend to his family. A low, squat Audi roadster was parked across the road with its door open. I shivered. I could see Nuca held by a couple of women by the pavement. She was immediately all over me like a cheap suit, licking any exposed flesh and pawing my clothes. “Oh, she recognises you”, said the lady who had now been joined by a teenager from the road for company. “Yes”, I replied. “The little scamp!” Or words approximating to that general effect. I felt so guilty and thanked her profusely. The lady didn’t even live in the town and was just visiting friends. I trotted off in an uncomfortable crouch, restraining the beast on my borrowed short length of rein.
The next morning I returned the buggy cord to the dog rescuer with a note and a box of celebrations to say thanks. It’s not everyone that would have stopped to make the phone call and then wait around for a train from Tring.
This partly accounted for the morning disappearing without me having studied the racing. The other part was clearing up after Daughter No 1’s end of exam celebrations. Beer cans in the plant pots, Bacardi bottles in the recycling bin and Pringles in the water butt. The scene wasn’t too bad to be fair and they are a generally a civilised bunch.
I did finally engineer an opportunity to consider Epsom. I enter the Telegraph’s Fantasy Racing compo most flat seasons. I knew I’d been competitive in the first few British Champions Series races and was delighted to see that after the Oaks I’d risen to 73rd. Imagine my surprise to see my Bruv’s team hanging tough just 0.26 of a point behind in 74th! God knows how many thousands enter this competition. What odds of that freakish placement?
Bigger even than Pethers Moon who was a surprise winner of the Coronation Cup. (I wish they’d move this back to Oaks Day. It gets lost in the tumult of The Derby build up and the sensational Dash.) Golden Horn was pretty special in what looked like a strong renewal of our premier Classic. A fascinating Summer lays ahead during which we’ll see just how good he is. By the end of the day, I’d stretched my lead over Bruv to a convincing half-dozen points. We’d both slipped behind those that picked Pethers Moon. That snug ledge at 73rd position will no doubt proof to be my high water mark.
Champions League Final on Saturday night. Team of the decade Barcelona boasting Messi at the absolute peak of his creative genius and a front three to drool over were taking on a Juventus, steeped in experience and playing at a new level this season. I didn’t get to see that sporting high point either.
One of the mates I had called in a failed escape plan on Friday night had got back in touch to suggest we met up that night instead. He and his Mrs, plus a couple of other coupes were around. It would have seemed churlish to demur.
We gathered at the Riser. Seven of us. This is part the gang we meet up with regularly and it’s nearly always partners. I couldn’t quite come to terms with the fact that Mrs A was absent. When it came to the whip I almost put in the standard £20 per couple. “Not sure Helen would get her full value” said Sue. “Mind you, no need to ask what she'd want though!" Later at the bar, I waited fractionally too long for the non-existent eighth drink. I counted them up. “Seven” I said out loud. Pete grinned and nudged me. “That’s everything. Helen’s not here, remember! Daft sod.”
I didn’t even try to watch sport on Sunday. Not that there was so very much to tempt me anyway. Nursing a slight hangover and after a late night in the curry house, the lure of wall to wall sunshine in the garden was too much to resist. I managed to wood-stain the office, repair the bench and stop the dog eating all the pansies with splashes of water. That was sufficient sport for me.