Archive for June, 2012

Our ‘Olympic’ School Sports Day

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Our ‘Olympic’ School Sports Day

I would like to take you back to our School Sports Day in 1948, which according to our Headmaster, would draw inspiration from the then current Olympics in London.

To put you in the picture and to give you a flavour of my life, when still a lad, I often attended horse and dog races, and could also be spotted in the crowds at Chelsea and Woking’s football matches. Athletics, however, due to the distinct lack of betting opportunities, had never grabbed my attention.

But now, fuelled by the ground swell of interest generated by the Olympics, everyone I knew was talking about the popular athletes, MacDonald Bailey, Arthur Wint and, of course, the phenomenal Fanny Blankers-Koen.

In fact, every playtime, class relay teams would hurtle their way round our playground, which inevitably led to queues forming outside the first aid room for attention to grazed knees and elbows.

At this time the School Sports loomed large in both teachers and pupil’s consciousness. And although it had crossed my mind that there might be some betting opportunities, it  came as a major disappointment that the only school events open to my age group, the 11- and 12-year-olds, were to be the egg and spoon, the three-legged and the sack race. Who were the National Heroes in those, I wondered?

I must have sulked for a week. Secretively, I had planned to run a book on the sprint races for our year. But not with eggs and sacks – I ask you?

Then one day I confided in Uncle Ernie, who surprised me by taking the higher ground,

“Never mind the type of event lad, why don’t you try to win one.”

He was right of course, although in truth I was a moderate runner, unless someone was chasing me, and my lack of hand-to-eye coordination had cost me dearly at conkers. So that sadly ruled out the egg and spoon.

My thoughts turned to the sack race, until dad reminded me of my nightly struggle to remain upright whilst climbing into my pyjama trousers – so no go there.

Finally, I settled on the three-legged race, but as Uncle Ernie said,

“You’ll have to find an agile partner for that one Michael?” He was right

again, and from then on I started to give it serious thought.

The Goldsworth School 12-year-old mixed three-legged race, run over 50 yards, was for 16 boy/girl pairs, to be run in two heats of eight, the first four in each heat to run in the final. Uncle Ernie, having temporarily given up betting, was keen for me to run and win, promising me a £1 note if I did, and he persuaded two of his brothers, Albert and Arthur to stump up the same amount.

That was all very encouraging, but my appeal to the fairer sex was at this time limited. As a geeky loner with a serious stammer, I had to make my p-p-pitch c-c-convincing.

Plucking up courage, I put my case to Thelma. Bespectacled, she had freckles, a fringe and two short pigtails. But more relevantly, she had been a member of the Junior School hockey team. So she was both well balanced, agile and the owner of a pair of satisfyingly sturdy legs.

After careful consideration, even at this young age, she would be a worthwhile ante-post bet for Council Librarian. On the other hand, if she later chose to smoke and drink, she would be nailed on for the cast of St Trinian’s.

For someone who I had rarely spoken to before, she was surprisingly compliant with my wishes. Thereafter, every lunch break and for half an hour after school, clasping each other behind our backs, we ran to the bicycle sheds and back, straight backed and focused ahead.

As we progressed in our training, we began to feel our elevation from ‘bus horses’ to thoroughbreds. This new image was further supported by Thelma’s excellent suggestion that we breathe in unison. At this point, I began to congratulate myself on my inspired choice of partner.

We were, at times, subject to ridicule, nothing new to me, but I felt sympathy for Thelma.


Inevitably, my reputation was called into question and I was summoned by Headmaster “Bonk” Peel, to be warned of the consequences of betting on the school sports.

Marshalling me into his study, he began, ‘Church, you are not going to turn our ‘Olympic sports day’ into a disreputable occasion are you?’

He sat menacingly on the end of his desk, glowering at me with knitted eyebrows.

‘You remember what happened on our last encounter, when we confiscated your double-headed penny?’

I did indeed, and to reinforce his threat, he took one of the five switches from behind his desk, momentarily trying it out for flexibility.

‘I w-w-wouldn’t dream of it Sir,’ I said with a slight tremble.

He looked past me, my reply having no impact on his impending lecture.

‘By that, I mean no wagering; not sixpences, thrupences or even pennies. Do you understand Church?’ he said, swishing the cane in the metre of his threat. Fully wound up he continued, ‘The Olympics are a proud occasion for everyone in the British Isles. Remember Church, it’s not about winning, but taking part – right Church?’

‘Right Sir, permission to speak Sir?’

‘Yes Church.’

‘W-w-well to say as yet, I haven’t taken a single bet.’

‘As yet, as yet,’ Peel fumed

‘W-well Sir, I m-meant to add – and I don’t intend to.’

‘I should hope not. Is that a promise Church? You know the consequences.’

‘Alright then, a promise,’ I said resolutely.

Bonk kept up his frown, but I did hear his secretary, who had crept in midway through his tirade, give a sigh of relief.


Sports day arrived and in the heats of the three-legged race, Thelma and I ran well to finish second. Delighted with the result, we decided not to watch the second heat, preferring instead to go behind the cricket pavilion and relax.

Ten minutes later, we were tracked down by Thelma’s anxious parents.

“There you are. What are you doing down there?” they echoed.

But I could see the relief on her mother’s face, when she saw we were rubbing the embrocation into our own thighs rather than each other’s!

In the final, we bounded from the start in unison and at halfway, we led by a yard. Then, someone clipped Thelma’s heel, causing her head to go back, then violently forward, sending her glasses flying into our path. I heard the crunch beneath us. Thelma swore and momentarily checked her stride, but she kept going with a grim determination – a girl after my own heart.

Sadly, we were beaten by inches, although Thelma’s mother kept telling everyone that we were the moral winners.

From that moment, after what had seemed to us a personal tragedy, our friendship steadily grew.

That evening, Thelma’s parents invited me round for tea, and to give

them credit, they never mentioned the likely cost of new glasses once.

Over cream buns with strawberry jam, I realised how lucky I had been to

find a girl as obsessed and committed as myself, one in whose company I now no longer stammered.

In the very happy months that followed, whilst guiding her gently through, what was for her, the unchartered waters of fixed odds football pools, we became an item, both in the classroom, sitting next to each other for algebra, and out of it, standing behind the goal at Woking.

Twenty years later, at Sir Ivor’s Derby, I thought I saw her in the grandstand. The pigtails had gone, but she still had the glasses and the freckles. I tried to get a closer look, but suddenly, she became engulfed in the crowd, and I could never be sure.


This short story is from Michael’s book Black Horse – Red Dog ,

of which he has a few signed copies for sale.



Ladies Day at Royal Ascot

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Ladies Day at Royal Ascot

It had come to Father Green’s ears, through Emily, that the ladies of the parish, namely, the Catholic Women’s League, thought their priest was less than appreciative of them and their works.

Perry sighed when he heard this, it was sometimes more than he could cope with, keeping all the elements of the parish happy. However, he valued Emily’s opinion and she seemed to think he could do no harm by giving the good ladies a little TLC.

Emily had hinted that his interest could take the form of an event or outing that the women would enjoy and which he could attend with commitment and enthusiasm – quite a challenge!

Perry had vague memories of previous undertakings by the CWL led by their doughty Chairwomen, Brenda Bartholomew. He had in mind a particular trip to a sewing machine museum, where he had to use all his priestly guile to avoid attending.

He needed, therefore, to think hard before something equally dreadful came his way. What would constitute a decent ladies day? Then it hit him – Royal Ascot’s Ladies Day.


The Gold Cup, run on the Thursday, was the centrepiece of the meeting – the Queen, the hats, Frankie Dettori, they’d love it. More to the point, he would love it.

The suggestion was put to the members at the next CWL meeting, where it received a tentative reception. Mainly, it was said, because some of the ladies were worried that Father Green would be bored with such an outing. And while Perry was able to put their minds at rest on that point, Emily had taken a back seat to stifle her amusement.

When the committee suggested that the Grandstand would be the most suitable enclosure at around £50 a head – bookable in advance – there were a few protests. However, Father Perry, not wanting to spend the afternoon on the heath or in the Silver Ring, enthusiastically extolled the Grandstand facilities, which included not only a better view of the race, but of Her Majesty when presenting the Gold Cup. In addition, he stressed, they would benefit from the many bars, food outlets, tote windows and overhead cover should it rain.

Father Perry’s final point won over the last of the doubters, since there had been much debate about their outfits.

As the date loomed nearer, Perry sensed there was a growing excitement, almost to match his own,

A coach was hired and the morning dawned bright. A small crowd gathered outside the Church to see them off. It was generally agreed that the outfits, although rather varied and some bordering on the eccentric, were overall, a credit to St Joseph’s.

Always hoping to air her voice, Brenda had brought along the accordionist, Colin Campbell, to provide a party atmosphere on the coach, and had also booked a local photographer to capture the ladies haute couture.

On the journey, Colin, sitting on the back seat, played a selection of songs from the shows, unaware that the singing and chatter from three dozen excitable women was making it increasingly difficult for Perry to study his Racing Post. But study he did.

If anyone, including Emily and Brenda, had expected Father Green to stay with them once inside the Grandstand, they were soon disillusioned, as he quickly melted into the crowd.

Punting wise, Perry would agree, this was not his finest hour – four straight losers including his nap and next best, had almost emptied his wallet. To make matters worse, although desperate for a drink, he had decided to steer clear of the bars to avoid being waylaid by zealous parishioners. Finally, however, the combination of losing and lying low began to take its toll. He had to have that drink and do a couple of forecasts – at least try to get out of trouble.

He was just downing his second whiskey in quick succession when two of his parish ladies spotted him from across the bar and within seconds it was too late.

“I know you don’t gamble Father,” said Maureen, “but Molly and I have been wicked and guess what, we’ve backed all three of Frankie Dettori’s winners.”

Perry smiled thinly.

“How splendid,” he said hollowly, “You must excuse me now while I watch this race.”

“We’ll come with you,” was the dreaded response. And so it was that Father Perry Green watched the penultimate race – the Chesham Stakes, without a penny on the much fancied World Premier, while his two companions twittered on endlessly.

After a while Perry’s face must have betrayed his tension because Maureen said, “Father you look pale, you have been good bearing with all this racing, we are going to buy you a coffee.”

Mercifully, as they left, he joined a nearby Tote queue to have his last £10 on a dual forecast – but on what?

“Frankie was sure to be in the shake up again,” he thought, “but betting on the favourite wouldn’t help his cause, unless he added a rank outsider.”

He scanned the racecard. Diaghilef was carrying 9st 7lb – top weight and 40-1 – “Even so,” he thought, “top weights are sometimes favoured by firm ground. So, smiling at the Tote girl he muttered, “Nil Desperandum,” and kissed his tenner goodbye.


The queue at the coffee stall must have been very long, for Perry had time to watch the race on a TV monitor under the stands. The King George V Handicap was over a mile and a half, so the horses would start away to the left on the far side of the course – all 20 of them.

Perry scanned the TV for his colours, but with such a big field the images were too small for him to identify clearly, worse still, the shouts of the punters drowned out the commentary – anyway, it looked like a blanket finish.

Just then Maureen and Molly returned.

“Sorry there’s only half a cup Father, we were jostled and nearly knocked over when the race started.”

Suddenly, he found himself sweating – the noise and the disappointment had finally got to him.

What happened next, Perry could never explain. Did he really faint, or was it his self-preservation coming to the rescue as it had in the past. He remembers Maureen’s anxious face and someone calling out, “Look out the priest is falling”.

Father Green felt himself slip gracefully from his chair. Was that his voice saying, “I must get outside, I need air?”

Many willing hands worked towards this end. Until at last, Perry found himself sitting quietly on a bench on the Grandstand lawn.

Attentive, anxious faces were all around him, but through the babble, he heard the tannoy announce, “Here is the result of the photograph for the sixth race: First Number 1, Diaghilef.”

“Oh what a pity,” said a woman nearby, “Frankie was second.”

Moments later, a St Johns ambulance man said, “He’s looking better now, see, he’s smiling.”

“I’ll be alright soon, thankyou,” said Father Green, “Just the heat, I expect.”

Then looking up at Maureen and Molly he said, “Give me a few minutes and I’ll follow you down to the coach.”

Which he did, but not before revisiting the Tote windows, where incredibly, he learned that the payout for his £10 dual forecast was £4,147 – “Certainly Nil Desperandum there,” he mused, and looking back, thought it could be his biggest win ever.


On the way home, Brenda, with accordion accompaniment, gave them soulful renditions of Climb every Mountain and Luck be your Lady Tonight.”

Meanwhile the ladies assured each other that in spite of everything, Father Green looked to have enjoyed the day.

Maureen and Molly vouched that he never stopped smiling all the way home.

Later, Emily gave further testimony that his smile had continued well into the evening.



This story is from Michael’s book,

The Gambling Adventures of Father Green,

of which he has a few signed copies for sale.


Investec Derby Day 2012

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Investec Derby Day 2012


With Derby Day honoured to start the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, what better winner than one named after the legendary court of a king – Camelot.

And to please the media, this was a Derby with many stories – the smallest field since 1907; the shortest priced favourite since Tudor Minstrel in 1947; the fourth winner of the race in eight years by Montjeu and, the first time a father & son were the Derby winning trainer & jockey. But let’s start at the beginning. 


Camelot, a well-made bay colt, was purchased by Coolmore for 525,000 guineas from Highclere Stud at the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale. His dam, Tarfah (by Kingmambo), won five races including the Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket and had one previous winner – Ideal, by Galileo. 


Trained by Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle and ridden by his son Joseph, Camelot commenced his career at Leopardstown, winning an 2-y-o Maiden over one mile in mid-July.

  In October, he travelled to Doncaster for the Racing Post Trophy, and after an impressive performance, beating Jim Bolger’s Zip Top by 2¼ lengths, he became the winter favourite for the Derby.

 Camelot made his 3-y-o debut in the Two Thousand Guineas; kept at the rear of the field throughout, he burst through inside the final furlong, to win by a neck, from French Fifteen.

The following Derby trials brought forth their challengers, but despite victories for Bonfire in the Dante Stakes, Mickdam and Astrology in the Chester Vase and Dee Stakes and Main Sequence in the Lingfield Derby Trial, this year run on the All-weather course, none could prevent Camelot from starting the 8-13 favourite. 


The weather, cold and blustery for the Queen’s arrival, changed suddenly to sunshine in time for the Derby.

  All nine runners got off to a good start, and after the first furlong, Astrology led Thought Worthy and Rugged Cross. There was little change in the order to the top of the hill, where Camelot remained last but one. 

  Rounding Tattenham Corner, Astrology and Thought Worthy fought out the lead, while Camelot was still seven lengths adrift. However, approaching the two furlong marker, 19-year-old, Joseph O’Brien boldly brought Camelot with a strong run up the outside, to join Astrology at the furlong pole, then, accelerated away to win easily by five lengths. Main Sequence ran on gamely to be second, with Astrology third, a short head away.

The winning time was 2 min. 33.90 sec.


The last horse home was Cavaleiro, ridden by Hayley Turner, matching the position of Alex Greaves, aboard Portuguese Lil in 1996; Haley and Alex being the only ladies to have ridden in the Derby.  


In the interviews that followed the trophy presentation to owners, Derek Smith, Mrs John Magnier and Michael Tabor, it became apparent that their wishes were to run Camelot in the St Leger, and so attempt the first Triple Crown victory since Nijinsky in 1970.


Finally, the estimated attendance of 130,000, was an encouraging sign for Investec, who have renewed their sponsorship for a further 10 years.  



Here follows, the result of the 2012 Investec Derby in the style of my book,

together with the details of  Montjeu’s four Epsom Derby winners.