Archive for April, 2018

Salisbury writing has continued, and I’m now touching on the 21st century.  Which is not to say it’s nearly finished; I’m referring to one source to make an outline of events, and I will go to others in due course to fill in the gaps.  And then I’ll go back to the very beginning and feel very dissatisfied with what I’ve done and make lots of changes.

One of the discoveries I made when researching the book is, I hope, going to be announced – I might say unveiled – before the first meeting of their season on 29 April.   More about that next time.

By going to Fontwell a fortnight ago I was breaking a seven-week racing-free drought.  That’s an almost unprecedented period for me to be absent from a racecourse in the last 20 years.  I blame winter.  The cool breeze that looked like it would mitigate the effect of the sunshine wore off during the afternoon and it became almost warm.  Not as warm as in the last three or four days, though.  One of the highlight’s was Simon Holt’s commentary of the last circuit of a three mile chase.  The duel between the two leaders was wonderfully conveyed – have a listen to it on the Attheraces website.

The last of the boxes of old Sporting Lifes that Simon gave me over a year ago remains in our conservatory.  Not only have no further inroads been made for the last three months or so, but it has been surrounded by a dozen or so other cardboard boxes of non-racing archives that I’ve had to look after on behalf of a charity I’m involved with.  Some of their contents will go to a proper archive, some will be put up for sale, some will be taken to the dump.   None of it as quickly as my wife would like!

I’ve been given a new book about the history of Worcester racecourse to review.  It’s by Chris Pitt, the author of A Long Time Gone, the definitive work on defunct courses of the 20th century, and Go Down To The Beaten, a collection of offbeat stories about horses that didn’t win the Grand National.  I fancy I could write the review without reading the book, but I will do the decent thing.  It (the review, that is) should with any luck be in print in the Racing Post on the Sunday after Worcester’s first meeting of the season, which is on 10 May.

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I learned recently of the death of John Saville, the author of Insane and Unseemly, an unbeatable account of racing during the war years – mainly WW2.  It was a subject never before written about, and when I first heard about his book I thought, “Of course!”  It was obvious, when you came to think about it, what a huge and fertile field it would be for the racing researcher.  Or rather, it was obvious once he thought of the idea and carried it through.  He had burrowed through old government files to find the complete story of decision-makers that went through the should we-shouldn’t we continue the ultimate frivolity of horse racing while millions were being killed and millions more were in deadly peril.  Insane and Unseemly is a great work of reference as well as being very readable.  It’s one of the very best books about racing.

I have relied on it so much when writing my own about the history of individual racecourses.  I never met him, but he was unfailingly helpful whenever I posed him questions on wartime racing, which I did as recently as February.

I can do no better than quote from a 2008 review of his book.  “He is a long-standing member of the congregation of Derby Cathedral, and deputy chairman of the Diocesan Board of Finance.

He said: ‘If the Church of England and horse racing seems an odd combination, I should say that the Bishop of Repton and his wife are both keen racegoers, and that I still go racing occasionally with the former Canon Theologian.’

He went on, ‘My aim is to tell a story that has never been done at length before, in a way that will interest both racing people and readers of more general social life.’  In both he has succeeded in style.”

His funeral service is in Derby Cathedral at 1pm on the 13th.

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