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21st April 2024 9:54 pm

“A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries."

So farewell Sparkey – a proper chap

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I had a coffee with Angus Lochrane, aka Statto, at Ascot the other day. He was the resident statistician on the BBC Two television show Fantasy Football League. You might remember him clad in a dressing gown and pyjamas as he stood in the corner of the set and provided facts and figures on each of the guests’ fantasy football teams while being made fun of by hosts Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.

Angus’ phenomenal memory and razor-sharp mind for numbers made him a natural for becoming involved with spread-betting companies, including Sporting Index, which – despite the impression I might have given – bankrupted Angus in 2008. The bankruptcy was set aside when Angus came up with a scheme which I suspect involved providing market insights and trading opportunities that Sporting Index was better placed to manage than Statto. Angus had also done work for City Index (who had David Buik as a spokesman in those days) and whose PR I had once handled. Their MD, Martin Belsham, would later run Blue Square. We chatted idly over all these people and their companies and careers: How was he? and Whatever happened to..? Did I remember…? We realised that there were two connecting threads to all these recollections. The first was the great City panjandrum Michael Spencer, who owned ICAP, and a dozen more famous corporations. The second was his long-time friend, who had started City Index, Jonathan Sparke, who I was despondent to see had died on 3rd January aged 76.

He had been an early connecting thread in our commercial and social lives and supported and encouraged The Hon and myself when we started doing PR in horseracing. He was a Gentle Man with a vast intellect and was effectively the inventor of sports spread betting, co-founding City Index with Christopher Hales who dies in 2017 – also far too young. Sparkey and I had lunch together on several occasions over the years, and he was the most interesting, urbane and witty man you could hope to spend time with. Following a heart problem, he “retired”, but would remind me whenever we saw each other that his life-expectancy spread bets, which he regarded as a form of key-man insurance, were all still trading within margin! I had only mentioned him to Peter Burrell in the last fortnight and was assured that the last time Peter spoke to him, all was well. For a man who had received both a new heart [1997] and a new kidney [2005], Sparkey’s life in Var might have been relatively gentle, but he always maintained an active interest in all the fields and activities he had initiated, managed and developed, and was a proper oenophile without the often attendant snobbery.  He was one of a few real City pioneers who could honestly say they made a fundamental and permanent difference to the City and the development of its now familiar trading platforms. I regret not having seen more of him in recent years and pray God loves him and gives peace to his family.

On a jollier note, I think I have discovered a very usable stat for eliminating no-hopers in the Men’s Wimbledon Championships – even at this late stage. The maths aren’t complicated, but you need some knowledge of American sport, their strange education system and a sizeable memory. So firstly, consider this:

There has always been some perplexity over the beginnings of wearing a baseball cap backwards, and it was suggested in the 1990s that baseball player Ken Griffey Jnr was the first to do so. However, I have seen a photo of Walter Matthau wearing his cap backwards in The Odd Couple, whilst my memory suggests there is a reference in JD Salinger’s Catcher in The Rye to the hero putting his cap on backwards.

Then in 1993, a sociological professor at Chicago’s famous Institute for the Diagnosis of Intelligence Occlusion or Termination in Illinois conducted a wide-ranging survey on the increasing habit of students wearing baseball caps inside a building. The astounding results suggested the following:

  • The decline in every standardised test score and the pupil’s school record coincided with the increasing prevalence of the baseball cap as a fashion accessory. Merely wearing a baseball cap while taking the Stanford-Benet IQ test reduced analytical ability by 10 points.
  • Turning the cap backwards while taking such a test dropped analytical ability another 20 points. (Scores were even worse if the cap in question sported a plastic adjusting strap.)
  • Adults wearing ball caps with the peaks, or bills, to the side registered no discernible intelligence at all. (One of the Research Fellows believes this may account for the intellectual vacuity of most hip-hop ”lyrics.”)
  • There was no apparent loss of intelligence when the caps were worn for utilitarian purposes: for example, to shade the eyes of ball players, golfers and farmers, or to block solar ultraviolet radiation.

In tennis history, only one man wearing a backwards cap has won a Grand Slam singles title, and that was Lleyton Hewitt winning the US Open in 2001. When Hewitt won Wimbledon a year later, he opted not to wear his customary cap but instead donned a headband to beat Nalbandian. Historically it is also worth noting that both Nadal and Djokovic played their first Grand Slam competitions wearing backwards-facing caps and, having comprehensively lost, took to sporting different headgear or wearing the baseball cap in line with its purpose.

This year, two Wimbledon competitors n the final eight are attempting to beat the 22-year hat-backwards grand slam record – Christopher Eubanks and Holger Rune, and they are also trying to achieve a unique accomplishment in the annals of the 146-year-old Championships, capturing a singles title at the All England Club, looking silly.

“I think it really suits me,” said no one, ever.

Still reeling from my F1 perspicacity for The British GP,  by suggesting that you consider backing Lando Norris for a Top 6 at 4/1 and a Podium at 40/1, if you were feeling brave, I can also suggest that Red Bull is actively considering him to replace Sergio Perez, at the end of the season. However, if the enhancement programme continues at McLaren, he might make more staying put, The second option of a move to Alpine, which is also being mooted, is I think, a non-story.

Enough of all that… it’s the July Meeting

Another G2 race with just 4 runners and a guaranteed £125k – not good enough. I’m guessing 2mm overnight and a few relatively easy showers tomorrow. Nothing to make the declared going (GF/Good in places) much different.

1:50 Bahrain Trophy Stks (G3) Cl1 (3yo) 1m5f 6 run

SAINT GEORGE just seems to keep improving. 2nd in The Queen’s Vase, he can take this Listed race on his upwards journey. TOWER OF LONDON and CASTLE WAY wouldn’t be a surprise – the latter looked a proper stayer when taking a 10f Listed Rowley Mile race LTO. TOWER OF LONDON was noteworthy with his 4½l victory in the Ulster Derby at Down Royal and a number of bookies moved him from 33/1 to 14/1 for The Leger. I would think he has to win this to maintain that particular course.

SAINT GEORGE 4 pts Win

2:25 Kingdom Of Bahrain July Stks (G2) (Colts & Geldings) Cl1 (2yo) 6f 9 run

Nothing from the Coventry Stakes, which would normally be the case. MALC is on my ratings radar but my slightly wonky crystal ball suggests JASOUR and PUROSANGUEM fighting this out between them if they get to the front quickly. PUROSNAGUE however has to defy the stat of 1 winner from the last 20 years to have had a single career run to date. You should also note that the 2nd and 3rd from his debut win at Haydock have been soundly beaten since. MAXIMUM IMPACT wouldn’t be a surprise to see gaining a podium.

MALC 4 pts Win – MAXIMUM IMPACT – JASOUR 1 pt e/w each

3:00 bet365 Hcap Cl2 (3yo 0-105) 6f 17 run

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS has probably got the best form on display – but no favourite has won this in the last 17 years! EMINENCY (who gets first-time cheekpieces) and ANIMATE wouldn’t be a total surprise. The former can reverse placings with QUINAULT, WASHINGTON HEIGHTS and MILL STREAM who beat him but not by much, in York’s strong June sprint handicap. You should note all the runners from that race. ROUSING ENCORE has a decent draw and this is his first run since being gelded. 5 places generally 6 places with Skybet.

EMINENCY 3 pts e/w – ROUSING ENCORE 1½ pts e/w

3:35 Princess Of Wales’s Stks (Sponsored By The Kingdom Of Bahrain) (G2) Cl1 (3yo+) 1m4f 4 run

The form says he can’t be beaten, the stats say that running over 10f, as ADAYAR has been doing, is not the way to prep for this. In fact, all of the last 12 winners ran over 12f+ LTO. Instead, I rather think ISRAR might be the answer – despite not having won a Group race to date. However, ten of the last dozen winners hadn’t either. GLOBAL STORM will provide the principal opposition and as I type I’m thinking Dutch – in a 4-horse race…madness. No, at current odds I’m getting approx 13/8.

 ISRAR and GLOBAL STORM 8 pts total Dutch

4:10 British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Fillies’ Stks Cl2 (2yo) 6f 10 run

DUBAI TREASURE 2 pts e/w at SP if bigger than 7/1. Smaller odds 3 pts win

4:45 Edmondson Hall Solicitors Sir Henry Cecil Stks Cl1 (3yo) 1m 6 run

This is one of the trickiest races of the day. IMPERIAL EMPEROR and MOSTABSHIR are both on the shortlist, and my eye is also caught by the reappearance of Stoutey’s former 2000 Gns fancy NOSTRUM. He was 3rd to Chaldean (unimpressive in France this weekend), in The Dewhurst and looked as though he needed to fill out and ran a bit flat for a Stoute runner. Quite possibly he was already feeling whatever the issue was. MOSTABSHIR was 6th in The St James Palace won by Paddington, but the next two have been roundly beaten since and other than Paddington’s appearance I’m not sure that form line has any merit. At the price then, I think I’m going for NEW ENDEAVOUR who did everything right in the Britannia Stakes, winning the far side race, and narrowly losing out to Docklands – the only horse who managed to get competitive on the stands side.

NEW ENDEAVOUR 3 pts e/w

5:20 Boodles Hcap Cl3 (3yo+ 0-95) 1m 10 run

GOOD KARMA 2 pts e/w.

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