The City Diary: Waley-Cohen proves he's more than a show pony

Slackbelly in Cheltenham
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The Independent Online

Congratulations to my old friend Sam Waley-Cohen, who took time off from his day job to ride Long Run, the winner of Friday's Gold Cup.

The amateur is a former Louis Dreyfus Commodities trader who then quit the City to become an entrepreneur running his own dental practice group called Portman Healthcare, and if such gentlemanly success is not irritating enough for the big name riders, there's more. After finishing fifth on Liberthine in the 2007 Grand National, Waley-Cohen promised that he was about to concentrate on his business career and abandon serious racing. He has now followed his impressive Aintree finish with national hunt's most sought after prize.

Black almost makes the winners' enclosure

A long overdue return to form for Andrew "Bertie" Black the entertaining multi-millionaire founder of Betfair. Despite making his fortune inventing the betting exchange concept, he has found life in the FTSE 250 rather heavy going since listing last autumn. Black's career as a racehorse owner has not yet hit the heights either, while his investment in Swindon Town is suffering from a decidedly rocky season.

Still, there was better news in the last race at the Cheltenham Festival last Wednesday, when Bertie's horse Nemo Spirit, which he owns jointly with footballer Michael Owen, came second in the St Patrick's Day Derby, a charity race, with a jockey who had shed a whopping 5st to make the weight.

So should we all be betting on Black once again? Possibly not. Betfair's finance director, Stephen Morana, reckons that Black's most successful investment since Betfair is in a medical company on which he made another fortune. The rationale behind his punt? "Bert fell asleep during the presentaton and then felt guilty," Morana reveals. The indicator remains intact.



Gelding Morana is sad omen for Betfair namesake

There is also a case for avoiding betting on Morana – the horse, not the beancounter. Black has named one of his beasts after his FD and while the nag won early on as a two-year-old there has not been much to cheer since. With an eye on the Betfair share price, which has slumped since looking well-placed straight after flotation, Morano admits how he hopes the horse does not prove to be a cruel metaphor. He adds ruefully: "And it's been gelded."

O'Leary is first past the post in the business stakes

Andy Stewart, who has flown the flag for the City of London at the Cheltenham Festival for many years, celebrated hard after his winner with Big Buck's in the World Hurdle on Thursday. But ultimately he was trounced in the business stakes by Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary who used the millions of euros he's made from the budget airline to fund 27 entries at the festival and three winners. At least some of O'Leary's punters are happy.



Lame Evans limps out of festival for early rub down

The exploits of Barni Evans, the marketing director of listed bookmaker Paddy Power, are legion. In the interest of promoting his company, Barni once dressed in a rubber Gold Cup suit, only to get beaten up by a group of youths. Later, as his wife visited relatives in Australia, his efforts to plug another company-sponsored event implausibly found his spouse flicking on her television and being shocked by images of her husband enjoying the World Strip Poker Championship, resplendent in only a pair of shorts.

There are plenty more of these, including the tale of how the champagne for the corporate box at the 2007 Festival was nicked out of Evans's car (while he was sitting in it), meaning there was a short price on our man having another tale of woe this time around. Sure enough he's delivered.

This time the Paddy Power coach driver forgot the booze for Tuesday's trip – leading to a detour on the M4 to re-stock. That meant a late arrival, missing out on the usual parking slot and leaving our hero with a three-mile walk. Normally that wouldn't matter, but naturally there are complications. Evans is suffering from a foot injury which has now been aggravated - leaving him desk bound and missing out on the rest of the festival. Who says the bookies always win?



The Price for racing royalty

Over in Cheltenham's mass corporate catering dining rooms, a notable clash. Dolly bird Katie Price arrived with her entourage and was perturbed to discover that her table was positioned in the chalet's window, where those in the cheap seats might have watched her eat. This proved unacceptable to Price who kicked fellow diners off a nearby table. They included racing legend Lester Piggott.



What the bookies don't take ...

Nobody has ever accused Cheltenham racecourse of undercharging. Nor will they on current form. The course's cash point machines naturally make a charge to punters in need of replenishing their betting stash. The charge per withdrawal? £2.95. Ouch.



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