JONATHAN QUAYLE HIGGINS, IRC COLUMNIST
Holding his own in close knit town
Almost 20 years ago, a self-confessed racing nut was cheering home his third Listed win from a bargain 1,800gns filly. She was called Vita Spericolata and when Peter Charalambous first showed his proud acquisition after the yearling sale to his three advisors, it was all that Conrad Allen, his fellow Newmarket trainer the late David Cosgrove and former jockey Jimmy Black could do to keep a straight face.
“Haven’t you seen her legs?” they asked. “They go in three different directions. She’ll never stand training.” Yet in the manner of an even better filly, the four-years-younger Attraction, whose five Group 1 wins included both the 1,000 Guineas and Irish 1,000, despite very crooked forelegs, stand training she did.
That second successive win in the Listed Queensferry Stakes at Chester came on August 4 2002 when the daughter of Prince Sabo was five years old. In all she ran in 63 races winning five. Her three Listed wins – she also won the Dragon Stakes as a two-year-old at Sandown – came from 40 races at Listed level and above.
She was trained in Yorkshire by John Wainwright but by then Peter was involved enough to travel up from North London to the stables to oversee much of the filly’s work.
I knew Peter in those days when he went under the name of Peter Charles in an attempt to cloud his Greek Cypriot heritage as he says: “Because there was always an antipathy to me just because of where I came from”.
“Never mind that my family had a thriving estate agency business in North London, which we retain to this day. Also one cousin is a Labour MP while my daughter – I also have two sons – has opened a branch of the estate agents in Mildenhall, near Newmarket”, Peter proudly says.
“Thinking back to the end of the Millenium”, Peter continued: “Newmarket trainers could be characterised as British white, public school-educated , upper-middle class or more often not far short of the nobility and it really was almost a closed shop. Someone like Conrad Allen, who’d been a jockey and then worked in the City could be there on the fringes, but apart from someone like the genius that is now Sir Michael Stoute, the stereotype was fixed.
“I first got into racing because of my brother Andreas who had horses with Merrick Francis – world-famous author Dick’s son – Kim Brassey and Mel Brittain. I got to like Mel when I went along to the races with Andreas and he said: I’ve got 15 yearlings that I’ve bought, from between £800 and £4,000. I won’t tell you which is which, you just choose.’
“I went up to Warthill and picked out the one I liked from the group and was delighted when he said, “that one’s 800 quid,” I took her. She was a filly by the sire Anfield and blow me down if she didn’t win five times as a two-year-old. You can imagine, from then I was totally hooked.
“From that day until now I’ve had 250 winners, almost always in syndicates and nowadays at Newmarket I have at least a half-share in all my horses, mostly home -breds which my partner Trudie and I look after from conception to retirement. We do all the foaling and preparation, so when we get a nice one, we have to make the most of it, said Peter.”
Charalambous is now in his early 60’s having finally decided to “have a go at training” as he recalls, in 2010. He says it’s a very costly exercise, training around ten and also carrying around ten of their own mares and he needs to get partners in “to help with the expenses. We certainly can’t afford to cover all the mares every year!”
But then one morning on the gallops last summer, that hoped-for moment happened. “I always rated Acclamation as a stallion and had done well with his progeny, so I also like his son Equiano, who stood at Newsells Park alongside Enable’s sire Nathaniel.
“We have a lovely mare Boonga Roogeta. She had once been rated 96 and won 11 of 46 races so she was talented as well as durable. Unusually, she won four in a row as a three-year-old and three in succession at four. For her first cover we chose Nathaniel and while selling the colt for 20k, didn’t get back anywhere near what it had cost to produce him. At least he has won in Italy,” says Peter.
He continued: “Next time we went for speed with Equiano but we got very little interest, surprisingly as he looked very racy, going round the ring at the yearling sale. I was forced to take him home when the bidding stopped at what I thought was an insulting 3,500gns.
“The following spring my high opinion of the horse was proven right when we had that Eureka moment on the gallops. So I canvassed all my owners and friends and six of them took one-twentieth shares at £2,000 each. I think they might have got that investment back by now as on debut, on August 25 last year, backed from 85-1 on Betfair down to 20’s – I just kept hitting the buttons and only stopped when the stalls opened – he bolted up by four lengths.
“The race didn’t really work out for him next time in the Solario Stakes but he was still a close third and then disappointed for the only time at Doncaster. But he got his mojo back on soft ground when winning his last race of the year back at six furlongs,” says Charalambous.
Last month he gained that valuable Listed prize on Lingfield’s all-weather track despite what his jockey Martin Harley, Peter’s next-door neighbour described as “the worst ride of my career”, backed up as we came off the stands by John Gosden who said: “He must be some horse, winning after THAT ride”.
Harley found himself on the wide outside, gave his horse one tap and he flew several lengths clear. Coming into the last furlong he was screaming for the line, as the trainer says – “I thought even though he was only 85 per cent fit he would win. He did, my first Listed winner for 19 years – but only just!”
Peter hadn’t even got home before his phone started ringing with enquiries and when one agent made an appointment to come to look at the horse and learn the asking price, he instantly irritated the trainer.
“All my life I’ve made a point of keeping good time for my appointments. This guy showed up five minutes late and that is just disrespect because of who I am. Imagine if he’d kept Sir Mark Prescott or John Gosden waiting. He wouldn’t! The perception is still there though that the old Greek-Cypriot guy can wait. Quite a few of the agents have that upper-crust background too.”
Charalambous says he still sees examples that the old discriminations are alive and well in racing “Where I’m concerned. I know it was during Covid but when Apollo One won at Salisbury last autumn we didn’t even get sent a photo. Trudie said more than a week later I must phone them to ask whether there was a trophy for the race.
“They must have hunted around for what was in the cupboard and I’ll be surprised if what we finally received was the trophy that was intended for the race. Again, think that if Charlie Hills’ horse, the even-money favourite had won, how quickly they would have made sure to send a suitable commemorative prize.
“For all the thrill of winning at Lingfield, you couldn’t help feel frustrated that there was absolutely nowhere to get something to eat or drink. I know owners weren’t allowed on track at the time, but when they could before that latest closure, very few tracks made any effort.
“I’m an owner and trainer and I think it’s time that from Weatherbys down, through the racing journalists and television channels to the bookmakers that live off the sport, people realise that it’s only the owners that truly keep the show on the road and acknowledge the fact.
“Yet the television pundits can feel free without fear or favour to criticise horses that may have cost many thousands at the sales or as in our case 25k a year to keep in training having bred them.
Apollo One didn’t have much luck in his next race, the six-furlong race on All-Weather Championship day, having trouble in getting a run and finishing third, but back up to seven furlongs the trainer has no doubt that he’ll return to winning form.
And another horse that has already started to appreciate Peter’s training skills this year is his French acquisition Classical Wave, a Juddmonte cast-off. “We had a right touch with him first time at Wolverhampton – at much bigger than the 5-1 SP! – and another at Lingfield soon after.”
Classical Wave was only denied in the last strides in the hat-trick attempt back there on Saturday but he too looks like having a very rewarding year.
“Who’d be an owner?” asks Peter, “ It’s madness really. But then an Apollo One comes along and suddenly it’s all been worthwhile”. Happy man, Mr Charalambous – finally! -IRC.
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