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Rockavon a classic highlight of 40 years in racing

IT is 33 years ago, but the memory is still as sharp as a stake. Tommy Craig was in the horse-box all the way from Dunbar to Newmarket, the 2000 Guineas contender Rockavon in his charge.

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There were occasional stops as he nipped in to the nearest bookie to stick on another quid.

This was a special horse to Tommy as he had broken him in himself. There was confidence in the camp, but not much interest anywhere else.

You could get 100-1 against the Scottish representative, trained by Tommy's uncle, the legendary George Boyd. The trainer himself never saw the race. He was due to fly down on the day but was fogged in at Edinburgh Airport.

His nephew did. ''He came up the home straight in front and I just knew nothing would catch him.'' The official starting price was 66-1, but the Tote paid 108-1. It would be fair to say the connections went home a lot richer than when they arrived.

Tommy, once with ambitions to be a jockey, went to his uncle's yard in East Lothian straight from school. Apart from two years' National Service in the Army he never left it.

At the height of his career George Boyd was Scotland's biggest and most successful Flat race trainer. He had more then 40 horses in his stable and, when he retired in 1969, he had saddled 700 winners.

Rockavon was the only classic success, but he also took the Cambridgeshire with Rexequus at 66-1. The Boyd reputation was for good-priced winners -- there were occasionally explanations to be given for much improved form -- and he loved preparing runners for a gamble.

Tommy became head lad, then assistant in the yard, and finally took over from his uncle when the old maestro gave up. Last week, after 40 years in the game, Tommy hung up his saddles as well.

''The main reason is that no-one in the family wants to carry on. I had very few horses left and it seems the right time to go. Mind you, I've had a grand life.''

He never did become a jockey, he was a bit heavy for the Flat and his uncle decided to avoid the National Hunt scene. But Tommy himself trained almost 300 winners and held the Edinburgh Gold Cup, twice, as well as scoring in the prestigious Portland Handicap at Doncaster.

When he had 30 mounts to look after he thought nothing of driving 78,000 miles every year. His own favourite was a horse called Tacachio, who called into the winner's enclosure 11 times.

''Of course, the game has changed in many respects. There is much more competition on the Scottish circuit, improved roads have meant English trainers are keener to come up here. A syndicate of owners was unheard of when I started. Nowadays many more people can have an interest in a horse.

''But there are old maxims which are as true as ever. You need patience in racing. My tip to owners is to listen to their trainers, not to their friends. To anyone going racing I say always be prepared to lose what is in your pocket . . . and no more. If that goes, somebody will usually stand you a drink. If you win, you are on the bell. That is how racing should be.''

Tommy Craig will still be seen around the circuit. He still gets a thrill from watching an exciting young horse. And who, I enquired, would he finger as Scotland's most successful trainer of the future? ''Keep your eye on Len Lungo down at Dumfries. He has made a big investment in his facilities and I think he has the ability to come good.''

That could be your best tip of the season.

* I HAVE to tell you I am tired of the debate about whether THAT penalty for England was really justified. Proving that it was somebody else's hand that touched the ball is not going to alter the fact that we lost.

In any case, if we are going to question the last-minute award, would it not be fair to examine all the other penalties in as much detail? I will tell you this - the majority of the England team were extremely doubtful about Scotland's dropped goal and Gregor Townsend was far from certain it had gone over.

The referee was a decent bloke who did his job as he saw it. Yes, we were unlucky, but the better we play the luckier we will become. Believe me.

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