Wednesday 20 September 2017

Hoof It pays way for golf's joker in the pack

Greg Wood

For some, the first Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot next Saturday will be all about the money, more than £3m of it, which will change hands during the richest race meeting ever staged in Britain. For others, it will be the competition, as the brilliant Frankel tries to extend his unbeaten streak to nine and Henry Cecil attempts to win the trainers' championship in a single afternoon. Speak to Andrew "Chubby" Chandler for half an hour, though, and you are reminded of a third, vital ingredient.

It's called fun.

Chandler is the most successful agent in professional golf, with a client list that includes Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel, who between them won three of the four Majors in 2011. But when it comes to racing, he claims to be "just a mug owner", a description which is in danger of giving mugging a good name.

This Saturday, a gelding called Hoof It, which Chandler co-owns with Lee Westwood, another of his clients, is due to run in the Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot, with £250,000 in the purse. Both Westwood and Chandler will be in China on golf business when the race is run, but the excitement that bubbles through as Chandler looks forward to the race is infectious.

"We've got ways and means," he says. "We've both got a Slingbox, and we'll be watching, at 11 o'clock at night, somewhere in China."

Chandler and Westwood have been partners in plenty of horses over the last 10 years, most notably Right Approach, which was bought from the Queen and dead-heated for the 2004 Dubai Duty Free at Nad Al Sheba, one of the most valuable events in world racing. Neither man was able to pick up the prize in person, though, because golf intervened.

"Lee was playing in the TPC at Sawgrass," Chandler says. "He was on the 14th, and you're not allowed to use a mobile on the golf course, so I remember disappearing into a portable toilet to listen to the race. It sounded like we'd got beat on the line, then it took about five minutes to get the result of the photo, and it turned out we'd got a dead-heat and won $800,000 (£515,000).

"I wandered out and there was a queue of about 15 people outside, all giving me very quizzical looks. I must have ridden the finish in the toilet, but that paid for our racing for two years."

Chandler and Westwood's racing interests now extend to nearly 20 horses in South Africa and England, but Hoof It, which was beaten by a whisker when third in the Group One Haydock Sprint Cup in September, is the clear leader of the team. He is outstanding in any paddock too, a huge, muscular four-year-old whose best years may well lie ahead.

And Chandler and Westwood have been there for the whole ride, from the early days when fourth-place finishes in Hoof It's first two starts did not offer many hints about what was to follow.

"David Easterby (the son of Hoof It's trainer, Mick) gave us a tip on a hurdler at Wetherby, I think it was backed from 14/1 to 4/1 and it won,"

Chandler says. "I said to David, should I get you some champagne, and he said, why not buy a horse with us?

"We ended up buying into a couple and Hoof It was one of them. He's not only the biggest horse I've ever seen, but he's also pretty genuine. Number one, he wins, and number two, he wins at good prices. We've not only knocked it off in prize money, we've also made quite a bit betting on him.

"The best day I've had was when he won the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood. I was looking at them all in the paddock before the race, and I thought, there's 28 runners here, and there's 27 Amir Khans and one Mike Tyson. He walked around the ring like he owned it."

What matters more than victory is the entertainment. Stress is what Chandler and Westwood deal with out on the course in their day jobs. Racing is what they do to escape from the pressure.

"We just laugh about it and we enjoy the buzz," Chandler says. "Lee's always very good at giving interviews when he goes to the races, because he knows that people

are going to talk about racing rather

than golf. We've decided that it's always going to be a bit of fun, we'll never pay a lot for anything, and mostly we've paid about 15 grand for a share.

"If we own 20 per cent of a horse, we think that we own it, and the lucky thing is that if Lee's involved, people don't mind if it runs in his colours or mine.

"We're mug owners, but because we're sportsmen, we know a bit about what we're trying to look at. We've got a book with a list in it of 25 different trainers' excuses, and to save time after a race, we just tell them the number of the one that we think they're going to use.

"The two of us are quite similar. We've not really got any other hobbies, so racing's our hobby. It's got quite a grip on us."

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