Phil on Friday
The Punchestown Festival begins on Tuesday, and what powerful memories it will awaken. For many years a group of members of the original Mark Tompkins Racing Club made the annual trip to Ireland and encountered unimaginable kindness and generosity.
Those many memories are topped, I think, by a Four-Year-Old Champion Hurdle, way back in the nineties, when the Guvnor’s Staunch Friend was the subject of a wager of colossal proportions for a hitherto ‘fun punter.’
Journalist and inveterate drinker Jeffrey Bernard, famed for his weekly Low Life column in The Spectator and his love of racing, once said a visit to Cheltenham had been partly spoiled by the shape of his suit being ‘ruined by the bulk of pound notes’ after he backed a Fred Winter winner. Our Punchestown hero easily matched that ...
All of us in the group were determined to back Staunch Friend anyway but, through the haze of the previous night’s Jameson and Guinness, I was able to contact the Guvnor on the morning of the race. I bet he still remembers the conversation:
“They all want to know about Staunch,” I slurred.
“How’s the weather?”
“Hasn’t stopped raining since Monday.”
“Tell them to have a bit on, then.”
One of our group, ‘Peter’, was braver than the rest. Buoyed by the Guvnor’s apparent confidence he took every penny he could out of his bank accounts accessible in Ireland, even borrowed money from other members of the party, and lumped on.
He could barely watch, but Staunch Friend took up the running as they reached the last bend and won going away by 12 lengths. When we met up later cash was bulging out of every one of Peter’s pockets. If he’d had a hat that would have been stuffed with notes as well.
This was in the days of Irish punts, rather than euros, and when he got his loot home English banks would not change his fifties because of a counterfeit scare. ‘Peter’ was forced to sell them to a British-based Irish bookmaker. He didn’t get a good rate, but he’d still landed a very big coup.
The Guvnor later asked jockey Steve Smith-Eccles when he was sure he would win. “On the way to the start, boss,” was the reply.
‘Peter’ need never have worried.