SUNDAY TIMES Sunday 27 November 2011
Long distance, long lasting. These are the enduring values epitomised by Carruthers, winner of yesterday’s Hennessy Gold Cup, but most perfectly embodied by the man who was not there; Carruthers’ 82 year old owner breeder Lord Oaksey whose life stands as an inspiration to everyone in the racing game.
Way back in 1958 the then un-ennobled Mr John Lawrence on Taxidermist won the second running of what has become the oldest of all the sponsorship in sport. John went on to be several times champion amateur but it was as a media figure on TV and in print that he became famous and his piece written with the adrenalin still running after finishing second on Carrickbeg in the 1963 Grand National remains the finest first person participant reportage ever written. Something for Carruthers to match up to. He did it every stride.
For ever since he first appeared on a racetrack in May 2007, little Carruthers has carried the flag in a heroic front running style which has brought a glow to his owner’s heart and rewards to his supporters with 7 victories including the 2009 Mandarin Chase at Newbury and a fourth to Imperial Commander in the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Of all John Oaksey’s qualities it is the big heartedness that created the Injured Jockeys Fund that resonates the strongest, and to see Carruthers once again trapping up alongside the leaders was to hope for one last hurrah for the now frail figure in front of the TV screen back in the village from which his father took the title. As the big guns closed up on the final turn, it looked like wishful thinking.
Sure 9-2 favourite Aighteen Thirty Three weakened quickly but as the talented Planet of Sound came alongside and the grey shape of Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Great Endeavour closed over on the far rail, the horse who failed to win at all last season and whose trainer, John Oaksey’s son in law, Mark Bradstock has had but 5 winners in two years, looked sure to now cede the colours. But no one had told him nor the little Brighton motor mouth that is jockey Mattie Bachelor, and in a superb justification of the faith of his connections Carruthers stormed on and over the last to glory.
Mattie’s winner on Thursday was his first since April but he was confidence itself as he paid tribute to horse and trainer. “I have always said that it was not the real Carruthers last season,” he told us, “When he is right he has a real zing about him. He seemed in trouble for a moment down the back but he dug in and then in the straight he was really going and absolutely winged the last. I am just delighted for everybody.”
Planet of Sound stuck on to be a four lengths away second with stablemate Fair Along a 33-1 third with Great Endeavour and Scottish Grand National winner Beshabar close up pursuers, followed by Wymott whose own team mate Overturn had defeated former Champion Hurdler Binocular in the day’s other big race.
Racing has its full share of jealousies as does any competitive game but the delight which greeted Carruthers in the unsaddling enclosure was as loud as it was unfeigned. Lord Oaksey’s wife Chicky, son Patrick and daughter Sara were amongst the syndicate members to whom Planet of Sound’s trainer Philip Hobbs came up and said – “I don’t like being second but that was the right result.”
Carruthers may go on to the Welsh Grand National over Christmas. The great sadness to his owner’s legion of friends and admirers is that such details may be lost in his now frail state of health. But yesterday’s television pictures should have got through and have added a magnificent extra chapter to the greatest racing life of them all.
Finally – lest we forget- the winner was named after one of John Oaksey’s favourite stories. At an Embassy dinner party in Moscow during the Cold war, an over eager British businessman is fondling the knee of what appears to be a seductive looking Russian blonde beside him. As he slips his hand ever upwards the blonde beauty whispers huskily in his ear, “I don’t mind you touching my thigh old man but when you get to the top it’s Carruthers of M.I.5.” As with Oaksey and the Hennessy Gold Cup itself, it’s the old ones that are best.