Racing: The Tatling transports Bradley into a brave new world at Happy Valley

By Richard Edmondson
Friday 12 December 2003 01:00

Hong Kong, perhaps the most technically-minded city in the world, hosts its own version of the turf world championships here on Sunday. All week, the former colony has also entertained the trainer with the least requirement of its gadgetry and advancements.

Milton Bradley has not needed fancy stuff for the first 68 years of his life and is not about to start now.

There has been much interest in Hong Kong recently about the Yuen Long crocodile, a reptile which has appeared in the local water. Bradley is now the celebrated fish out of it, the bluff farmer appearing in a land and company which he never imagined.

When the pensioner travelled to the Orient this week it was the first time he had been on an aeroplane in his life. "My seat was very comfortable," he said yesterday in the clubhouse at Sha Tin racecourse, "but I'd rather have been up in the turret there with a machine gun." It is a somewhat delayed wanderlust. The only other time that Bradley has left the British islands was in October for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe meeting. He drove the box over himself and tagged along behind another which knew the way.

The reason for this new Marco Polo tendency was The Tatling, the very same horse which appears in the Hong Kong Sprint on Sunday, one of four Group One International races on the card. The Tatling is typical of a Bradley horse in that he seems to run as soon as he gets his breath back. Sunday will be his 16th race of the season. "I don't keep them to look at," the trainer said over his fried breakfast yesterday.

"I remember someone telling Richard Hannon one day that his horse had no chance. That it had run too many times. He pointed out that it had more chance than the ones with their heads hanging over the stable door."

The Tatling is like his trainer also in that this has been his first time in the air. "I was all right, but he kicked quite a bit on the flight," Bradley says. "For about six hours. He spread all his shoes.

"But his temperature is good now, he's eaten everything up and drunk plenty of water." The temperature of Bradley himself fluctuated somewhat during his horse's routine blood test. He imagined his brown gelding was going to end up looking like Desert Orchid. "They don't half take a lot here," the trainer said. "I had to ask the vet to leave a drop in there for Sunday."

It has been a full life for John Milton Bradley, primarily because it has been started each day at 5am. A former leading plougher and exponent of the flapping circuit, he operates from a farm at Sedbury, just on the Gloucestershire side of the Welsh border. You can guess much of this by looking at features which have obviously collided with a few raw mornings and his sausage-type fingers. He is not obvious office material.

Bradley admits that though he may be named for one, he is no scholar. Yet that does not mean that self-doubt is part of the package. "If I trained Michael Stoute's horses I'd like to think I'd just about do as well as he does," he said. "I do know that if he trained mine he'd hang himself with a rope inside a month." Bradley has not had a holiday for 51 years. "It was Torquay," he says. "I think."

This week has been vacation for the man. "We went to Happy Valley last night and you should have seen the food they had for the owners and trainers," he said. "I've taken a photograph of it to show the Jockey Club."

It has not been what Bradley would call real work. The Tatling did little more than appear on the inner ring at Sha Tin yesterday. Today will be slightly more strenuous. "He'll probably do the first 400m as a steady half-speed, and then 600m quickly," his trainer revealed. "I was trying to work out in the middle of the night when I woke up how far that was altogether. Furlongs are easier aren't they?

"It's all been such good fun," added Milton Bradley, his shirt hanging out of the back of his pants. "Sometimes I wonder why I've never really got round to doing all this before."

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