Stef's The Girl For Me !
SO, I'M sitting, minding my own business, endeavouring to select my seventh loser of the afternoon at Baden Baden racecourse when a charming gentleman approaches the table, introduces himself and says, 'You may be interested to know that I recently met a man who owns William Hill's Cartier cuff-links, and who may be interested in selling them.'
This is quite exciting news - not because I wish to purchase said cuff-links - in fact I strongly suspect they will be well outside my price bracket when and if they do come to auction - but because I have just started work on researching for the book I have been (after a fashion) asked to write about the history of William Hill, the man and his company.
Normally when I write a book, and I have done so many times, it is the culmination of several months trying to persuade, cajole and convince some gullible - sorry,discerning - publisher that they need to have on their lists for the coming year a gambling-related tome such as the one I have had in mind for some while and which is bound to prove irresistible to the reading public.
They usually hum and ha before making some derisory offer to me which just about justifies me putting quill to vellum, and off we go.
Not this time. This time I discovered I was to write the book when the current top man at William Hill stood me up in front of 270 of the company's great and good and told them that not only was I going to write the William Hill history, but they would all have a copy on their desk(s) within eighteen months.
I'm here to tell you that they will have no such thing. In fact, they'll be lucky if the research is anywhere near complete by then. I mean, who even knew William Hill favoured Cartier cuff-links, let alone had them with the names of high quality horses he had owned and/or bred on them? Not me, for sure.
But if you did - or, indeed, if you have any knowledge whatsover of either William Hill the man himself, indisputably the world's greatest bookmaker, orf the company he created, which you believe could even possibly be of interest to a man engaged in writing a book about said leviathan of turf accountancy, then I would be delighted, nay, fawningly grateful, if you choose to pass on that information.
I will happily take a phone call from you in my office on 0208 918 3731, accept an email from you at firstname.lastname@example.org or receive a letter from you via this august organ or at my place of work, William Hill; Greenside House; 50 Station Road; Wood Green; London N22 7TP.
If we are all spared that long I very much hope the book will hit the streets at some point in the year 2014, which will be celebrated as the 80th year of the existence of the William Hill betting company.
But, back to Baden Baden, where I was in the process of squandering a significant proportion of the Sharpe family fortunes, having missed an obvious invitation by the gods of gambling to cash in big time. As we arrived at the course the first horse box I'd spotted had just decanted a horse named in a similar manner to the town we were visiting - ie by thinking of a good name then saying it twice. So, Berlin Berlin, duly romped home at odds of 13/2 leaving me wondering why I had backed Mertesacker for football-associated reasons.
Then a horse from a stable clearly named after my daughter in law charged home, also without any of my cash burdening it and I knew it was going to be a long, financially painful afternoon.
What light relief there was appeared in the shape - and I use the word advisedly - of a youngish (she's 25) female jockey called Stefanie Hofer. We'd gone down to the paddock to watch the horses parading around and been struck by Ms Hofer's diminutive, if aerodynamically efficient, stature, which meant that once loaded on top of the animal she was riding she looked rather like a picture I'd once seen of a short-lived American experment which had involved tiny robot riders being attached to the backs of horses and then raced. Stefanie also reminded me of Gary Bardwell, a jockey from a few years back who, you may remember, became known as the 'Angry Ant'.
However, this 'Hof' belied the impression given by her appearance and proved a decent enough pilot, actually winning the race, even though only one of our number was confident enough to back her 12/1 winner.
Taking the hint, we all decided to 'adopt' Stef at this point, so on day two of the meeting we cheered loudly as she appeared on the card again, and rode Mantino into 3rd in the 8th race of the afternoon.
Stef also had a ride on Key to Passion in the 19th and final race of the two day meeting. By now quite flushed with love for the Hof (and perhaps the odd libation or two) we all trooped down to the paddock and sent out positive vibes to our girl who was on board the 22/1 outsider of the 14 runner field.Undaunted, we scrabbled around for a few remaining Euros to stick on the no-hoper then trooped off to watch the '1400 meter' handicap unfold in front of us.
Sure enough, as the field galloped round the final bend, into the final furlong, and up towards the line there was no sign of the Hof. Disappointed, but realistic, we prepared to give her sympathetic applause as she trailed in last - only for her horse to sprout equine wings, weave in and out and around the rest of the field and, incredibly,Arazi-like, pass the post a length to the good.
A stunned silence hung over the crowd, virtually all of whose 'get-out' bets had indeed got out - but in their midst, wild celebrations erupted amongst the small English contingent from the Horse Racing Abroad party (we'd even tipped the horse to HRA's top man, Ian Fry, who, not unnaturally, ignored us) who had just seen their new heroine produce perhaps the most unexpected and exciting performance they had ever witnessed on a racecourse.
Winners at Iffezheim, which is the BB track's official name, come back in to the winner's enclosure via a walk-way flanked by racegoers who are within touching and even talking distance. Earlier in the afternoon, Arc winner Danedream and renowned jockey Andrasche Starke had been given an ecstatic ovation after winning the 250,000 Euro big race of the afternoon, but I can assure you the reception and ovation we gave Stef Hofer put even that in the shade - Stef looked stunned and delighted as we cheered and whooped - she even smiled and acknowledged her new Brit fan club.
If she hadn't had to go and weigh in we may have kidnapped her and brought her home with us- we could have got her in our suitcase and still not gone over Ryanair's paltry weight allowance!
Remember the name - Stefanie Hofer - let's hope she turns up in Hayley Turner's team for next year's Shergar Cup - we'll be there to welcome her if she does.
And now I don't even have enough space left to tell you about earlier in the afternoon when I'd spotted what looked like the first cross-dressing trainer I've ever seen legging a jockey up before a race...