So poor Chaninbar is now Chaninbarred. I know the feeling, old fella. Perhaps you too could start a blog (“a passion for not racing”?) … meanwhile the “Pinza” thread on The Racing Forum has been moved to the Lounge but has reached a giddy count of 139 posts. One recent entry (from the admirably salty Ugly Mare, a favourite poster of mine) focuses on one of Pinza’s bolder and clumsier attempts at humour, in which I cast myself as an elitist snob in order to send up the Old Buffer mentality which once thrived in racing, but which now scarcely (alas, alack) exists at all.
Of course I’m an elitist – isn’t everyone who wants the best horse to win a Group 1 at level weights? – but a snob?? Never, madam! Let me tell you that I know my hawks from my handsaws, and my Chassagne-Montrachet from my Scunthorpe Riesling.
Doubtless L’Affaire Pinza will be ancient history by Saturday and the 55th running of the Hennessy Gold Cup, the race which now (since the demise and consequent decline of the Whitbread at Sandown) can boast the longest span of single commercial sponsorship in British (and world?) Racing. Its distinguished history needs no plug from me. The only three horses to win it twice have been Mandarin, Arkle and Denman. The latter two need no plugging either, but younger fans may need to be reminded about Mandarin, who won the inaugural running of the race (at Cheltenham) in 1957, and repeated the feat as a 10 year old in 1961, by which time the race had moved to its present home of Newbury.
Mandarin, a diminutive bay foaled in 1951, was owned by Peggy Hennessy (founder of the race itself) and trained by Fulke Walwyn. He was one of the best and most popular battlers of his day: Mark Johnson’s motto of “Always Trying” could have been invented for him. He won two King George VI Chases, in 1957 and 1959, as well as those two Hennessys, but fell twice when trying at short odds to add the Cheltenham Gold Cup to his trophy cabinet, and even broke a stifle bone. As with Desert Orchid, the course never really played to his strengths, and patched-up in 1961 he got round but failed to get up the hill, finishing third to Saffron Tartan.
By 1962 the little horse was an 11 year old, and getting on a bit. More or less crocked, fired and sliding down the handicap (gifts presented to most of us in late middle age) he was nevertheless nursed home up the hill by his great jockey Fred Winter to finally bag that elusive Cheltenham success. That, we’d think, might have been that. Doubtless there were plenty of people keen to offer Walwyn precisely that advice. Nowadays they tweet Paul Nicholls about his old crocks instead.
But Mme. Hennessy had other ideas. She was keen to achieve a unique double by winning the Gold Cup and the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris at Auteuil in the same year. The heroic story of that event, in which Winter rode the race of his life to get Mandarin home with a broken bit, no reins and a bowed tendon – has been told often and gloriously – never better than by John Lawrence (aka Lord Oaksey) whose next day report for the Daily Telegraph was one of the finest pieces of racing journalism ever written and remains a must-read for anyone who cares about the Sport. Sadly the Noble Lord’s piece is no longer to be read for free online, though you can buy a generous compilation of his best journalism cheaply enough here. The estimable Sean Magee included it in his 10 Greatest Races of all time, a fitting tribute to a great race, and a greater horse.
I owe Mandarin a debt too: he was the first love of my racing life and remains the purest. After the Gold Cup I scrawled high-quality frescoes all over my bedroom wall. Sad to say, these have not been preserved for posterity. Even more sadly Newbury, serial snubbers of their own great races, saw fit some years ago to degrade the Mandarin Chase – once a highlight of the Yuletide programme – to a common or garden Class 3 handicap; though last year it was run as a more compelling Graduation Chase so things are looking up slightly. Auteuil run the important Prix Mandarin (September) in his memory. An equine prophet without honour indeed…
Meanwhile, whilst cheering home Wayward Prince on Saturday, spare a thought for valiant old Mandarin. There’s not even a Wiki entry for him as yet, so I hope somebody reading this might be inspired to do the pint-sized bruiser that honour. Goodness knows he deserves it.
Thoroughly enjoyable piece, the reading of which will add another layer of patina to the rich lustre of the appeal of this race for many I’m sure. Certainly does for me. Good stuff.
Thank you Sean for those kind words – it is a great race, and we shouldn’t forget the grand little street fighter who made it an instant success, by winning the first running for the sponsor herself.
Kate Austin said:
Read Lord Oaksey’s report years ago in the RP, I believe. My grandfather used to use Mandarin, Mill House & Arkle as the examples of ‘gameness’ by which others were judged. Reading this I can see why!
Quite true, Kate. For me that trio all deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. Mandarin broke a stifle, was fired, and finally won that Grand Steeple on three legs (let alone without the assistance of bit and reins). He simply would not be denied. I sometimes wonder how he’d have fared against those two junior rivals, who came onto the stage just as he left it. He wouldn’t have been beaten for lack of courage. A race for our dreams…
Can only echo your words Pinza regarding John Oaksey’s famous essay on Mandarin at Auteuil. The taut, thrilling atmosphere his words managed to portray have never been bettered; a love letter written by one smitten life-long by the most gallant of sports
The Hennessy is one of THE GREAT RACES and Denman’s second off 174 and topweight THE GREATEST RACE it’s been my privilege to see. Knees weakened and heart thumped as that boldest of horses drew away up the run-in, neck extended majestically
True, Drone – Denman’s victories (especially the miraculous second) were exactly what the race needed at a time when it was perhaps becoming just another “Saturday 3 mile Feature”. I wonder what would (will?) happen to the race once (if?) Hennessy pull out. The decline of the “Whitbread” is not a good advert for what happens to these races once the original sponsor’s name has gone.
I remember when the Mandarin Chase at Newbury used to be the feature race on the card when the BBC covered that meeting at the end of December many years ago. I felt cheated when it was downgraded to just another middling race, rather than a Newbury end-of-year highlight. In those days, the TV coverage was haphazard because the meeting often didn’t fall on a weekend when the BBC coverage was available. I seem to remember it occasionally got New Year TV coverage. The meeting has sometimes been covered by Channel 4 since but certainly not always.
The meeting used to be rather like the leek and poultry pie between the Christmas turkey of the King George, and roast pork of the New Year Hurdle – comfort food, and rather satisfying at that. It lost the plot in the 1990’s but last year, with the likes of Pride of Dulcote, Punchestowns, Tatenen and Hills of Aran in the Mandarin, things were definitely looking up (although as I recall thick fog rather obscured everything but the head-bob finish between the first two).
Paul Fitzgerald said:
Thoroughly enjoyable, indeed! The blog looks great on the iPad when viewed through with the “Onswipe” theme.
Good – most useful feedback, as ever, Paul – thank you.
Ah; Mandarin; read about him when I ‘came back’ to racing [note to self;must buy the John Oaksey book…I’d borrowed it from the library I seem to remember]. His diet was supplemented by a bottle of Mackeson each day; after his third defeat in the Whitbread. Bill Whitbread sent him two bottles a day ‘for life’.
Yes Mo, the Oaksey book is a treat (and available I see for the huge sum of 1p plus postage from Amazon.) It features that truly extraordinary shot of Mandarin drinking his Mackeson … no wonder he was as “stout” a stayer as he was!