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Archive for August, 2011

I’ve indulged myself with four trips to the races this last week, which is four more than I have in the diary for the week ahead.   That’s meant no time for research, although I did deliver copies of some of my papers to the new owners of Days at Fontwell and returned some which they’d loaned to me.   A montage of drawings of the stable yard in 1891 shows a little tree with spindly horizontal branches.  They think this is the same tree where we sat and discussed its history a few weeks ago.  It’s pretty tall now – three or four storeys maybe -even though a storm apparently took the top off it at some point in its history.  Its trunk is about five or six feet thick.   One of my picture sources has kindly agreed for me to use some for the Alfred Day book – thank you, Julian.

Before going racing at Bath yesterday evening I spent some time with local history-sport-culture expert Michael walking and driving round Claverton, the site of the 18th century racecourse, and trying to work out where a 1778 duel might have taken place.  It was nothing to do with racing but it’s a local mystery which it would be nice to solve.  

Ladies Night at Bath yesterday was colourful, to say the least.  The weather relented and apart from one brief shower it was fair and mild.  The ladies were out in force for the best-dressed competition.  One of the contenders appeared to have an Adam’s apple and a hairy chest.  There were definitely gentlemen entering the Best Hat competition.  Did I see one of them wearing a fascinator?

I met Peter Stevens of National Hunt Chase book fame, who I have seen at the races for years but without knowing who he was.  He has some great stories from behind the scenes of the racing world.  They’d make a good book too!

I signed some books that had been left for dedications to be made in the office.  It wasn’t possible to have a table outside selling any, or a signing session, as Derek Thompson was too busy with his other entertaining commitments.  Maybe another time.

I was interviewed by “Tommo” in the paddock between the first two races.  This was broadcast across the course and visible on the big screen.  Whatever he’s got – chutzpah may be the word – I wish I had some of it.  Straight after that Luke Harvey grabbed me for Attheraces, whose film crew were interviewing some of the members of staff.   There’s no telling when this will hit their screens, but let’s hope it’s shown often.  Repeat publicity is impossible to obtain, as I told the next chap I spoke to, a Racing Post man who approached me.  He was there for another assignment.  By coincidence it was he who reviewed my book for the paper, and he told me it was being published the next day!   It was a happy encounter for me.   That and conversations with various other people contributed to the dazzling, sense-overwhelming nature of the night.  I saw very little horseflesh, never got onto the stands to watch a race, didn’t have a bet, didn’t get a chance to study the form….  There was so much to take in I’d have liked to have done it all over again.

I bought the paper at the first opporunity today!  It’s a well considered and generally favourable review.  There is criticism, but it’s fair.  If not all of it is visible initially, click on it and the whole thing appears.  Well, it did for me.   

The review in the Racing Post

Not for the first time, a review of one of my books is embellished by a picture that isn’t in it , but this is quite an amusing one.

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Little to report this week, with more reviews of Bath appearing in local papers in Wales and the borders as far as Hereford!  It’d be nice to get them repeated every few weeks, but that is not how things work – it wouldn’t be news the second or third time it was mentioned.  I am trying to get in touch with more people who could mention it in the papers and on the radio.  Sundry messages have been left.  Following them up may be necessary, but there’s a fine dividing line between being asking more than once for someone to do you a favour and making a nuisance of yourself. 

Next Saturday’s Ladies Night meeting is a good opportunity for some sales.   This sort of thing is so weather-dependent, though.  Conditions need to be warm enough or dry enough for people to be able to walk about and see and hear about the book.

I have half an eye on Fontwell and the Alfred Day book.  If I am to get that out before Christmas I need to crack on with it.  I need to establish which pictures I can use for little or no cost, while investigating the printing costs for what will be a less glossy production than my more recent ones, as this will be financed solely by me.

I will take the chance to mention another book which some fans of racing history might have missed.  Peter Stevens has written a most comprehensive account of a once-famous 150-year-old race.  This is the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, one of the lesser races at that meeting today, but in the past one of the biggest race of the season other than the Grand National.  It was run at different venues each year until settling at Cheltenham in 1911.   Within living memory it was run on there over a course with 24 different fences, starting behind the main grandstands.  It’s a race which has had its ups and downs, and is all the more interesting for that.   This book is the definitive record of a piece of living National Hunt history.  More details at http://www.nhchase.co.uk/

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There have been more reviews of Bath this week, including one from another writer whose thunder I have inadvertently stolen.  A new aspect of the Francasal case was going to be revealed by Brian Lee in his forthcoming book about Welsh racing gambles and frauds.  One of his stories was going to be the naming of a South Wales man called Benny Jacobs who hadn’t been associated with the Francasal case – until now, when I mentioned him in the Bath book.  Brian found out about him a couple of years ago, but the publication of his book has been delayed because he keeps finding out more and more stories to include!  His book should be all the better for it and I am looking forward to reading it.

I’ve had – and been given – more ideas for publicising Bath but I need to make sure these don’t cut across any plans the Bath racecourse marketeers have.  There are just two weeks to go before another of their big meetings, a Ladies Night, where the enthusiastic racing presenter Derek Thompson will be present.

There has been an exchange of emails between me and the couple at Alfred Day’s house, following our meeting last week.  They have kindly sent numerous pictures of the interior ten years ago, soon after the death of the previous occupant and just before the contents were auctioned.  I hope I can use some of these pictures in the Alfred Day book.

This week I’ve been glad to have paid my first trip to Brighton races for over a year.  Last year was the first time I’d missed their August Festival in ten years.  They had a fairly good crowd on Friday, the third day.  I gather that was because the weather on Thursday was so bad anyone thinking of going that day would’ve deferred it.   I was a frequent visitor there in the early 2000s when I was researching my second book.  I must try and get back there again – if the weather looks like being decent on 16 August I will see if I can get along.

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