A fairly brief yet interesting piece about ‘Jimmy the Hat’, a professional gambler who considers the Del Mar race course ‘his office’. Millions have passed through his hands over the years, with significant wins along the way. His insights about profiling horses is something worth paying attention to!
In the Betway Heed Your Hunch Handicap (1.30) at Southwell on Tuesday, Black Salt steps back up into 0-80 company, but won a 0-65 affair over course and distance two starts ago, on his Fibresand debut, so convincingly that he may be capable of defying a 6lb rise in the weights even in this higher grade. David Barron’s four-year-old has since run respectably in defeat, off today’s revised mark, when third of 12, beaten 2½ lengths, behind Burtonwood in another 0-65 on the Tapeta surface at Wolverhampton, but it is his previous Fibresand form that makes him of particular interest.
On his only previous visit to Southwell, off a handicap mark of 64, he stayed on strongly to beat the ill-fated Huntsman Close by 4½ lengths, with subsequent winner Declamation a further 4 lengths back in third and Roaring Rory, who also won next time, a neck behind in fourth. Consequently, that form looks a good deal stronger than it did at the time and with Robert Winston – who has a highly respectable 13-67 (19%) strike rate for the yard over the years – taking the ride, another forward showing looks on the cards.
Black Salt has been tried over 7 furlongs, and a mile, in the past, but on recent evidence sprinting looks his game and he might just become a regular visitor to the winners’ enclosure at the much-maligned Nottinghamshire track if his promising opening effort is anything to go by. As ever, only time will tell.
Selection: Southwell 1.30 Black Salt to win 4/1
Joseph Mercer, popularly known as “Smokin’ Joe” because of his trademark pipe, rode 2,810 winners in Britain in a career spanning nearly 40 years, but is probably best known for his association with two horses, Brigadier Gerard and Bustino.
Brigadier Gerard, who was ridden exclusively by Mercer throughout his career, was beaten just once in 18 races between 1970 and 1972. His successes included the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1972, just two days after the light aircraft in which Mercer was travelling crashed during take-off at Newbury, killing the pilot. Bustino won the 1974 St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster, but his most notable performance came a year later, in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, when he went down by half a length to Grundy, ridden by Pat Eddery, in what became known as the “Race of the Century”.
Born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1934, Joe Mercer began his riding career as apprentice to Major Frederick Sneyd at Sparsholt, Wantage and rode his first winner, Eldoret, at Bath in 1950. He won the Apprentice Jockeys Championship for the first time in 1952 and again in 1953, by which time he had already ridden his first Classic winner, Ambiguity, in the Oaks at Epsom. That success brought Mercer to the attention of Jack Colling, who had just moved from Newmarket to West Isley, Berkshire. Colling immediately offered Mercer a retainer, which was to last until Colling retired in 1962.
However, the intervening years were not without incident. In 1958, Joe Mercer broke his neck while riding in Singapore and, having married Anne Carr, daughter of jockey Harry Carr, the following year, suffered the trauma of being present at Ascot on Queen Elizabeth II Stakes Day when his older brother, Manny, was killed in a riding accident.
According to eye witness Geoff Lewis, Manny Mercer’s mount reared over backwards, landing on top of him, and kicked him twice in the face as it tried to get back on its feet. It wasn’t until after the race, in which he was riding, that Joe Mercer became aware of what had happened, by which time his brother was already dead and laid out on a stretcher.
Upon his retirement in 1962, Jack Colling sold the West Isley Stables to a long standing patron, Sir John Astor. Sir John invited Major W.R. ‘Dick’ Hern to become Colling’s successor and so began another fruitful association for Joe Mercer. Michael Sobell and Arnold Weinstock bought the stables in 1969 and, at the end of 1976, Weinstock sacked Mercer in favour of Willie Carson.
Joe Mercer was subsequently offered a job with Ian Balding but, while mulling it over, was offered the chance to become first jockey for Henry Cecil at Warren Place, Newmarket. Mercer jumped at the chance and the partnership flourished. Mercer won his first Classic for Henry Cecil on One In A Million in the 1,000 Guineas in 1979 and Cecil was instrumental in him becoming Champion Jockey for the one and only time that year, at the age of 45, with 167 winners. According to Mercer, towards the end of the season Cecil ran several juveniles that usually wouldn’t have run until the following season, just to make sure he won the jockeys’ title.
In 1982, Joe Mercer parted company with Henry Cecil and joined Lambourn trainer Peter Walwyn, for whom he was to remain stable jockey until he finally hung up his boots in 1985. His final mount, Bold Rex, won the November Handicap at Doncaster on November 9, 1985. During his career, Mercer won the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas (twice), the Oaks and the St. Leger (four times) and his rhythmic style was copied by many aspiring young jockeys.
In the Christmas at the Heath Court Handicap (2.15) at Newmarket on Friday, Kasbaan appeared to have benefited from wind surgery earlier in the year when returning from a 159-day absence to readily account for odds-on favourite Welsh Lord in a novice stakes at Lingfield last month. The Dansili colt starts life in handicap company on a stiff enough mark, but remains open to further significant improve on his second start back from a break and just his fourth start in all. Of course, he has to prove that he’s at least as effective on the prevailing good to soft going on the Rowley Mile Course at Newmarket as he is on the Polytrack at Lingfield, but his racecourse debut – over a mile, on soft going, at Newbury last October – wasn’t without promise, so he should be fine on that score.
Of 19 three-year-olds that trainer Owen Burrows has saddled on the Rowley Mile in recent years, four have won, five have finished second and one has finished third, giving the Lambourn handler a 21% strike rate and an enviable level stakes profit of 18.00 points. Jockey David Probert is similarly 4-22 (18%) for the yard over the last five seasons, for a level stakes profit of 19.07, so the statistics offer cause for optimism. Kasbaan ran over course and distance, without distinction, on his seasonal debut in April, but his latest Lingfield effort was much more like it and he deserves another chance to demonstrate his ability on turf.
Selection: Newmarket 2.15 Kasbaan to win 9/4
“He’s coming up to the line to win it like a fresh horse in great style. It’s hats off and a tremendous reception – you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool. Red Rum wins the National.” Those were the words of the erstwhile ‘Voice of Racing’, Sir Peter O’Sullevan, as the 12-year-old Red Rum, trained by the late Donald ‘Ginger’ McCain and ridden by Tommy Stack, galloped into race guides and racing history with a 25-length win in the 1977 Grand National.
Red Rum remains the only horse to have won the world’s greatest steeplechase three times. His record-breaking hat-trick was all the more remarkable for the fact that he suffered from a debilitating condition called ‘pedalosteitis’, which caused him to have very delicate, tender feet. Indeed, ‘Rummy’, as the horse affectionately became known, had already had several skilful trainers before McCain – a blunt, plain-talking Northerner – bought him for 6,000 guineas on behalf of owner Noel Le Mare at Doncaster Sales in August, 1972.
However, in the absence of grass gallops, McCain worked his new acquisition on the vast expanse of Southport beach, where the cold waters of the Irish Sea brought about a remarkable transformation in the once crippled horse. He returned sound; sound enough, in fact, to win his first five races for Donald McCain and was subsequently allotted 10st 5lb for his first attempt at the Grand National, in 1973.
Red Rum, ridden by Brian Fletcher, started 9/1 joint favourite with Crisp, ridden by Richard Pitman, and the two of them produced arguably the most thrilling finish ever seen at Aintree. Carrying top weight of 12st 0lb, Crisp jumped to the front at Becher’s Brook on the first circuit and was still 15 lengths ahead of Red Rum jumping the final fence. However, approaching the infamous ‘Elbow’ Pitman made the mistake of letting go of the horse’s head to reach for his whip. Crisp hung off a straight line, losing three lengths in the process and, agonisingly, Red Rum made relentless progress on the run-in, wearing down his exhausted rival in the dying strides to win by an unlikely threequarters of a length.
At the time, much of the media attention centred on Crisp and his valiant effort to concede 23lb to his younger rival, but the time, 9 minutes 1.9 seconds, beat the previous course record, achieved by Golden Miller in 1934, by nearly 20 seconds and would not be beaten until Mr. Frisk’s effort on unusually firm going in 1990.
Portrayed by some as the villain of the piece in 1973, Red Rum returned to Aintree for the 1974 Grand National, but this time himself carrying top weight of 12st 0lb. Partnered, as previously, by Brian Fletcher Red Rum was sent off 11/ third favourite, but duly obliged once again, passing the post seven lengths ahead of L’Escargot. In so doing, he became the first horse since Reynoldstown in 1936 to win the Grand National two years running. Just three weeks later, Red Rum won the Scottish Grand National at Ayr under 11st 13lb. He remains the only horse ever to have won both races.
Red Rum and L’Escargot also finished first and second in the 1975 Grand National but, having jumped the last together, it was L’Escargot, aided by a 10lb weight pull, who proved too strong this time, drawing away to win by 15 lengths. Red Rum subsequently finished second in the 1976 Grand National, rallying strongly in the closing stages, but ultimately going down by two lengths to Rag Trade.
New jockey Tommy Stack received criticism, including from Brian Fletcher, for not seizing the initiative sooner, but the Kerryman was to have the last laugh as far as Red Rum was concerned. When the pair lined up for the 1977 Grand National, some observers believed that, as a 12-year-old, Red Rum was too long in the tooth for the demands of the race. However, nothing could have been further from the truth because, having been left in the lead at Becher’s Brook on the second circuit, where the clear leader Andy Pandy fell, Red Rum was never in danger of defeat and eventually sauntered home by 25 lengths from Churchtown Boy.
After the hullabaloo of his record-breaking victory died down, Red Rum remained in training for a sixth attempt at the Grand National in 1978 but, having been diagnosed with a hairline fracture, missed the race and was duly retired. By that time, Red Rum was a household name, as was his ‘colourful’ trainer Donald McCain, and he made dozens of public appearances, even appearing as a studio guest at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony in 1977, until his death, at the age of 30, in 1995.
Fittingly, he was buried on the finishing line at Aintree and is commemorated by a magnificent life-sized bronze statue at the course. In over 100 races, he never fell, although he did unseat his rider once, and came to epitomise all that was, and is, ‘Grand’ about the Grand National at a time when the future of the great race hung in the balance. In a poll, conducted by the Racing Post, to find the favourite racehorse of all time in Britain and Ireland, Red Rum finished third, behind only Arkle and Desert Orchid.