By Simon Mapletoft
Never before has an All-Weather seller created as much interest as the one won by CAPTAIN LARS at Southwell during Cheltenham week.
Archie Watson’s veteran sprinter recorded his seventh win of the season to edge in front of Spare Parts in a thrilling battle to become the winning-most horse when Oisin Murphy got him home in the 5f dash.
But, not surprisingly, the £10,000 prize he stands to collect for connections if he maintains his lead by Good Friday attracted some spirited bidding at the auction that followed and Watson had to go to £17,500 to retain the gelding.
“You go into these types of races with your eyes open but I didn’t want to lose him and was prepared to go a bit further to keep him if need be,” Watson told me. “I knew he would attract a lot of interest whatever happened so it’s a relief to have won the race and to get him back home.
“He’s taken his racing so well. We obviously don’t do much with him at home as he’s run nine times since I claimed him only last month. It’s remarkable to think he’s now won four times for us in the space of just five weeks and has been places another three times in nine outings.
“We’ll give him a little freshen up now and he’ll probably run again at the end of the month. He’s a lovely old horse to have about the place and will hopefully remain competitive in sprints on turf this year, including in some of those veterans’ handicaps.”
The Upper Lambourn handler shrewdly laid out just £7,000 to claim Captain Lars out of Derek Shaw’s stable after he had finished second in a Lingfield claimer on 2nd February. He had already won three times for the Grantham handler this winter, including a claimer at Chelmsford City in November when Paddy Mathers made all despite a broken rein.
Interestingly, Watson is quick to point out that both horse and trainer have something in common. The gelding with 17 wins to his name, who runs under his Greenfield Racing banner, raced for leading international trainer Mike de Kock in South Africa in his younger days – a country that played a formative part in Watson’s own career.
“I spent time in South Africa running a satellite yard for top trainer Alec Laird and remember Captain Lars from his days with Mike de Kock. When you look at him now, winning over 5f, it’s hard to believe he won a Listed handicap at Turffontein over 9f. He wouldn’t get that trip now in a horse box.”
Race replay: Captain Lars scores for the seventh time this season at Southwell in March.
SPARE PARTS was an 11-race maiden for Charles Hills by the time he found himself in the sales ring at Tattersalls in Newmarket at the end of October. He was rated just 49 when he made his first start for Phil McEntee and owner Steve Jakes – a promising third at Lingfield in December - and what has happened since has captured the imagination of racing enthusiasts everywhere.
‘Graham’, as he’s affectionately known at McEntee’s Newmarket yard, has won six races – four of them for star apprentice Nicola Currie - and was far from disgraced off a career-high mark of 86 in a Chelmsford handicap on 15th March, finishing a close, front-running fourth.
“There’s a couple more chances left before Good Friday but Captain Lars is making it hard for our boy’, concedes Jakes, whose red and white silks have become synonymous with All-Weather racing.
“Whatever Captain Lars does we’ve got to try and match it but it’s getting harder all the time. Our horse just keeps on surprising us but I don’t know how much further he can go before the handicapper really catches up with him.”
Jakes is happy to admit that he didn’t really want the long-standing maiden when he was knocked down to renowned bargain hunter McEntee for just 2,000gns.
“Phil had already bought me Mother Of Dragons and I told him ‘that’s it now, don’t buy any more because we haven’t got anything else to get rid of.’ But he said he’d got another one that I really should have as well so reluctantly I took Spare Parts on and the rest is history, as they say. It’s been a great story.
“We always knew he would be better than 55 grade but when he got up to 80 we all said that his winning would stop. Then last week he went and won again at Kempton off 80.
“We just don’t know where this story is going to end. Whatever we ask him to try and do he seems to find another leg. There’s only a couple of races left for him now and you’d never write him off, but whatever happens it’s been an unforgettable few months.”
Race replay: Spare Parts takes his first race of the season at Wolverhampton in January.
Spare Parts, a gelded son of Choisir, has not only established himself as a family pet, but is also enjoying celebrity status on social media.
“Phil deserves most of the credit. He’s really found the key to this horse. He loves being turned out in his little muddy paddock at home, which they call Glastonbury, and doesn’t do a lot between races. Phil’s daughter Grace looks after him and loves him.
“They call him Graham but I prefer to call him ‘G-Man’ and I get told off for it. I don’t like Graham, I think it’s a bit … whatever … but they love him and he’s become a real celebrity. They keep putting those pictures of him covered in mud in his paddock on Twitter and the response we’ve had has been unbelievable. Everybody I bump into wants to talk about Graham.
“It just goes to show that you don’t have to spend a fortune to have success. You can buy them cheap and win with them but there’s a little bit of luck involved. We’re having a great time with Spare Parts but there are plenty of bad times in this game so we’re determined to enjoy it while it lasts.”
Whichever horse clinches the £10,000 prize come Good Friday, you certainly wouldn’t bet against either Captain Lars or Spare Parts adding to their tally for their lucky connections as the year progresses.