Archive for February, 2017

Salisbury research continues steadily. There is so much material to go through that one steps back and questions the hours being spent on it, but putting in the effort is necessary – you never know if that “scoop” will be on the next page,  So far I’ve concentrated on its existence prior to 1899, which is when it started staging meetings run by the Bibury Club, a very exclusive institution that had already been going for at least a hundred years.  They were then forced to relocate their fixtures from Stockbridge.  The reason why is, I think, pretty well known.  I hope I can find a way of telling the story in a way that retains the attention of readers who are already aware of it.

Acting on a tip-off about publicly-available information about the location of some private race meetings in the Bromley area I put my walking boots on the other day and not only found it, but realised I had overlooked another very obvious source when I was researching the subject last year.  I may treat myself to a little more time on Bromley.

Having talked about long-forgotten but popular horses in their time such as Suspicion last month, I find the National Horse Racing Museum featured another one on its blog recently, the admirable Red Prince II, a star of the 1890s.  https://t.co/J4zt0saNsv

I’ve been to Epsom many times but never to the Rubbing House until the other day, when I was there for lunch. By luck rather than design I was seated at a table that looks more or less down the length of the finishing straight, with the stands on the left and Tattenham Corner in the distance.  It was a fine view to have on a fine, almost spring-like day.  Modest numbers of people were out on the downs, exercising themselves or, more commonly, their dogs.  The service road that leads to the pub is a great benefit to the locals, for they can leave their cars there and get out onto the great invigorating open space that is free for all to use.  They can extend their walk if they wish by using a public footpath that crosses the track close to the winning post, though not on race days.  I wonder if anyone has ever compiled a list of the rights of way that cross all our racecourses?

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The Blood Is Racing is a brilliantly titled book, for its author Andrew Ager is a descendant of the Day family of nineteenth century trainers and jockeys.  Family lore, combined with a desire to challenge the received wisdom that some of his ancestors were distinctly unscrupulous, encouraged him to research the subject for fourteen years.  He writes with enthusiasm and from the heart.

This unusual book basically divides into two sections. The second part concentrates on the Cannons, a branch of the Days that produced several top jockeys from the 1870s up to the First World War.  The first and meatiest section covers the stories of the principal members of the Day family in detail.  This takes in the Bibury Club, an exclusive group who were associated with a fashionable meeting at Stockbridge racecourse, another subject dear to the author as the course was put on the map by his family.  Its regrettable demise in 1898 signalled the end of Stockbridge as a major racing centre.

A number of racing scandals in the 1830s and 40s are recalled, notably those affecting the Days. Ager’s provocative contention is that the leading Turf administrator of that period, Lord George Bentinck, turned against jockey-turned-trainer John Barham Day and took every opportunity to do him and his family down, using the weight of the Jockey Club’s supreme authority to reinforce his view.

While Ager certainly compiles enough material to form a workable defence, a fair part of it depends on the autobiography forty years later of John Barham Day’s son William, who could just as well be accused of bias. This reader wasn’t wholly convinced by his proposition, which is compromised by the structural difficulty of having individual biographies mixed with spin-off topics and that series of scandals.  Duplication occurs, and a lack of rigorous editing means one is distracted by ambiguities and excess detail, which is a shame.

The Cannons were successful and relatively uncontroversial, and their story is much easier to read. It’s a mystery why there hasn’t already been a biography of them, for it was interesting to learn not just about the leading lights – Tom senior and Mornington – but also the less well-known members of that branch of the family.  For example, Tom’s son Charles rode, and he lived well into the second half of the twentieth century, until just a few years before the birth of the author, his grandson.

The text is accompanied by a terrific variety of illustrations, and the author shows his workings with copious footnotes and appendices. The under-editing makes it a challenging read, but anyone interested in nineteenth century racing should buy it, wallow in the atmosphere of Victorian-era racing conjured up by Ager and make their own minds up about whether his ancestors were hard done by.

There’s more about it, and a link to Amazon at http://www.thebloodisracing.com/

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