The Axis Part 2

My old man wasn’t a dustman, he was a runner for an illegal bookmaker in the 50’s, then he was an occasional ‘putter on’ for Eric Cousins who trained in Cheshire, round about the time one RV Sangster was coming into the game as an owner. Prior to that, he was a thrice decorated commando in the war, who saw out the 1940’s playing football in Italy for Cagliari 

The mother was a manager for a bookmaker called Harold Dawson, who sold his shops to Ladbrokes & she was kind of sold with the shops. She then worked for Reg Boyle who had several Teesside shops, stood on most courses & was still running marathons into his seventies.

All our family holidays were to Middleham or Malton, where we had family connections working in several yards like those of Tommy Dent, Sam Hall, Bill Elsey etc

The old man was best mates with a bloke called Bill Lynn, who designed & built the yard at Hurgill Lodge that Bill Watts trained out of & also did similar work on the yard Peter Calver trained out of near Ripon.

Basically, I had no chance, I was always going to have horse shit on my shoes & quite often bugger all in my pockets, with no means of altering that situation save for finding a winner. 

Luckily I seemed to show a fair aptitude for the task at hand & often managed to supplement the pocket money with a well placed wager. The old man wouldn’t let me bet until I was nine (I know that sounds ridiculous) so for a couple of years I had to rely on my great Aunt Rosie who loved a bet & used to get the village idiot to take her bets to the local shop. My 5p round robins blended into the background, despite being suspiciously better written out than the Aunt’s bets.

When I was approaching 10 years of age, the old man decided to teach me what he hoped was a serious lesson. I had been a massive Piggott fan since I could talk & was convinced he would win the derby on The Minstrel. The old man was at pains to point out that the form didn’t stack up & that JO Tobin, thought much better than The Minstrel as a 2yo had been smashed sideways by a horse called Blushing Groom in the Grand criterium in France the year before. I took this into account & announced that I was going to smash my money box & have the contents on The Minstrel on derby day. 

The old man, in the spirit if not the essence of ‘tough love’ pointed out that we were off to Scarborough for a week in two weeks time & if the horse lost, I would have zero money for the week away (& he meant it, he wouldn’t have bailed me out)

Subsequent events are a matter of public record, but I often wonder what would have happened if Hot Grove had held on? I might have been one of those currently lobbying on behalf of SCV?

Anyway, as I got older, racing became more and more important & everything else less and less important. I was almost eighteen when the mother came in from work one night to tell me she had nearly phoned me with a tip from the shop, but had decided not to bother… This old fella had come in and put £2 up and down & a £2 ew double on two horses at the Dante Meeting, Rye Tops, trained  by Geoff Wragg  & Kelly’s Royale trained by Charlie Nelson. He’d told her both trainers had told him they’d win, but he wasn’t having much on because it was hard to be confident at these big meetings

Needless to say, I was thrilled to find both selections had obliged at 12/1 & 14/1

After I’d finished thanking my mother with a torrent of expletives, I asked a few questions, who was he? Had he been in before? Etc She couldn’t answer any of my questions in the affirmative so I was left to stew over this until he came in to collect, which didn’t happen for almost a week
By then mother had been well schooled on questions that needed asking & how to ask them. She came home & reported the bloke was called Edwin  ‘Ted’ Cockerill & the reason he knew those two trainers (& many others) was that he spent his time driving the racecourse blacksmith to the races in  the north. Mother did well & even engineered a meet up for me at Redcar races that month. I was able to meet Ted & in turn, introduced me to the most extraordinary hand with horses I have ever met, Rufus ‘Rusty’ Spoor : Paddock Blacksmith for the Yorkshire courses.

At the time I first met Rusty, I thought my methods were going to earn me plenty punting horses, within a month, I began to realise I knew next to fuck all about thoroughbred racehorses, their physical make up, and their mental frailties. Rustys’ eye for a horse & his way with them was something to behold & I am still grateful that he saw something in me that led him to believe he could teach me something, as my impatience & brashness must have pissed him off enormously some days?

He was very coarse and hard in his outlook, and spoke to everyone in the same way, pulling no punches. A positively glowing Don Enrico Incisa came up to us one day at Beverley, saying to Rusty “I’ve had two winners this week Rusty”  only to be met with the response “you might have had four or five if you didnt let that pissy arsed little bitch ride all your horses” (referring to one Kim Tinkler, former jockey & now coach at the racing school) 

The thing about him was he wasn’t fazed by anyone in racing, he knew as regards horsemanship he was equal to any of them & treated them accordingly. He casually introduced me to Michael Stoute, Henry Cecil, Geoffrey Wragg & loads of others, it was the way in to doing private handicapping for certain trainers & owners, who were all willing to take noticed because I came via the gold seal service of having Rusty recommend me once I was ready & knew what I was looking at.

He’d started me off with horses at Dennis Yeoman’s yard near Scorton, Bill Smith’s jumpers at Richmond, Peter Calver’s at Ripon, showing me what to look for in moderate horses that might reveal a glimmer of ability. Then it was the better Northern trainers, the Dickinson’s at Harewood, Bill Watts at Richmond, seeing horses like Teleprompter close up & Rusty explaining what problems dry brittle feet could cause etc

Our first trip to Newmarket was like someone who’d been trading costume jewelry on a market stall being asked to price up the crown jewels. On the trial ground, I thought I would chance my arm as Michael Stoute’s string was circling waiting to do their 4 & 2 and pointed to a tall hard bay with black points, saying that he looked a proper nice horse. Aye said Rusty, he’s alright, but he’s a bad tempered cunt & they’ll have to do summat with him if he’s gonna win a classic

The horse was Shadeed, who had to swerve the elongated parade before his Guineas win, incurring trainer & jockey hefty fines in the process.

Rusty was my way into the sport & taught me more than I could ever have hoped to learn about horses. I’d never have survived as a punter without the things he taught me and I certainly wouldn’t have made half as many friends as I did in racing without his help with introductions & the heads up he gave me on how to deal with certain people.
Most people you meet in life, it wouldn’t make a difference if you’d never met them. I know for a fact my life would have been very different & not half as much fun without meeting Ted & Rusty 

2 thoughts on “The Axis Part 2

  1. Excellent piece and a great credit to the man described. Thanks to Rusty and Ted for all the stories you can now tell.

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