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Archive for the ‘Book review’ Category

I only met John McCririck once, when he agreed to do some book-signing at Fontwell – not a course at which he was seen regularly.  We’d  already had the exceedingly successful launch, where Josh Gifford signed a hundred copies and remarked that he’d not written so much since his school days.  On a later occasion A P McCoy agreed to sign some.

McCririck was dressed in his familiar winter gear of tweeds, deerstalker and cigar.  I’m sure he completely baffled people who bought The History of Fontwell Park by scribbling a great long spidery screed on the title page that included something about Edwina Currie.  This was a few years after he appeared with her on the TV reality show Celebrity Wife Swap.  They didn’t hit it off.

People who didn’t want a book, but asked for their racecards or something else to be signed, were firmly rebuffed.  Yet anyone who wanted a photo taken with him was welcomed and he posed in his trademark wide-eyed open-mouthed style.  It was puzzlingly why one but not the other was acceptable.

I couldn’t find the Salisbury book in the Racing Post’s online Shop but I was reassured it was there, under New Titles, and it is also in the section called “Flat”.

Incidentally, when selling the book at Ascot a month or two ago a relatively new hardback “The Triumph of Henry Cecil” attracted a lot of interest from browsers.  Other racegoers who had already bought and read it commended it.  There have been other books about Cecil, but this one is the inside story about his revival from what had seemed a career-ending slump, with the glory of the Frankel years contrasting with his battle against cancer.

Now that Salisbury has been reviewed by the Post, I ought to send them Ffos Las.  I hope they treat it on its merits and don’t compare it with Salisbury, which has 400 years more history behind it.  I need to send copies of both to the British Library so that they will be there for posterity.

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The Salisbury book is reviewed in today’s Racing Post.

It’s pleasing, although quite sparing as regards comments about the quality of the book (“tales told in detail and told with devotion” is more or less all).

The writer takes the view that the older history is much more interesting than the present.  He does refer to several highlights of the course’s long-ago past that I hope will entice buyers. Racing Post review 300619

It’s a mixed blessing that the review is printed directly below one about Chris Pitt’s excellent book about the history of Warwick races.  Another course with a long history, it has the benefit of staging jump racing for the best part of 200 years, which is an activity that I feel generates more – and more interesting – incidents and anecdotes in a biography than a flat race-only course.  Presentationally the Warwick book is very attractive, there is a constant flow of interesting content and I’d say Chris is a livelier writer than me.  So, if you have any cash left over after buying Salisbury and Ffos Las, the Warwick book (titled Chandler’s Leap and Other Stories from Warwick Racecourse) is available from the racecourse for £16.50, presumably with postage and packing to add if necessary.

Last Monday the Daily Express article by Neil Clark about me was printed.  It’s pretty good, although the newspaper’s sub-editors have deleted some text and added some of their own.  There are some baffling typos (three years were added to my age, which instantly made me feel that much older) and it’s a pity it wasn’t published during Royal Ascot, but I am happy with it on the whole.  Their decision to have a picture of the Queen rather than me was a wise one.

Daily Express article re JB with pictures

I see no sign of it on the Express website.  Perhaps I’m being greedy!  Given that it was in the general features section in the middle of the printed newspaper, I wondered whether it would go under Sport, Lifestyle or Entertainment.

We sold some more books at Salisbury’s very pleasant meeting on Wednesday and heard some more positive feedback from those who had read it.

I’ve been writing to some of my old book-buying customers – some of whom have been on the mailing list for 20 years – and was gratified to receive prompt replies, containing cheques, asking with just one exception for both Salisbury and Ffos Las.  There are more marketing avenues to follow up for both books in the next few weeks.

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I am doggedly indexing the Salisbury text now.  It’s amazing how many proper names (human and equine) there are on each page.  Not to mention race names and places.  Some can be quite a headache.  Gordon Richards is one example.  I suppose I should be consistent with my general practice of referring to people by their surnames, but “Richards” sounds so stuffy considering he was known so widely as “Gordon”.  Eventually he became Sir Gordon, but I haven’t got that far yet.

The nobility are also tiresome.  At any one time the senior member of the Pembroke family, which owns the land the racecourse is on, can be referred to as “Pembroke”, “the umpteenth Earl”, or “—- Herbert”, Herbert being the family’s surname.  With no regard for future indexers, the same Christian names tend to recur in different generations or centuries.

Worse still are common surnames.  You might have A Green being mentioned on a range of pages, but indexing in Word you can’t simply highlight Green and “Mark All” because B Green is in the story later and your don’t want the index to direct you to both A and B Green.  Not to mention extensions such as Greenham and Greenwood.  Still, it’s all on schedule.

It’s about this time of year that the Racing Post have in the past asked me to write a book review.  If the new Books Editor is reading this, hello.  I’d be happy to hear from you.

I spent a very pleasant afternoon at Fontwell earlier in the week.  We are now past the 10th anniversary of the book about the racecourse!  The happy combination of blue skies, no wind and a temperature that wasn’t too cold made it one of those days that prove winter isn’t all bad.

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George Baker’s autobiography Taking My Time is a splendidly honest account of his riding career, the devastating fall that ended it and his gradual, painful recovery.

A farrier’s son, George was anything but an overnight success as a jockey, and the majority of the book describes his stop-start progress through the ranks.  In that sense it begins as a fairly typical story, with juvenile escapades, boozy nights out and mistakes when riding or dealing with people.  However, these decrease as maturity and ability begin to assert, and he is sought by more and more leading trainers.

His height and weight limited his opportunities, yet he amply compensated for that with his thoughtful approach to race-riding.  The chapter titled “Secrets of Success” contains some interesting insights, such as the section about getting horses to lead on a particular leg.

Passing the hundred winners a season mark, getting married and riding his first classic winner in the 2016 St Leger showed George’s life was very much on an upward trajectory.  That is, until the brutal fall in a race on the ice at St Moritz in February 2017, which left him at death’s door.  At this point in the book his wife Nicola takes up the story, as Baker’s horrific head injuries were so bad that some periods are blanks in his memory.  Unaware of what he was doing, his erratic behaviour meant that recovery was far from certain.

The latter part of the book takes us into territory beyond that of the normal racing autobiography and gives the reader a frank account of the medical, logistical and emotional struggles to bring the old George back.  The result can be guessed from the title of the final chapter, “A Slightly Changed Man”.

Taking My Time costs £20 and is available from the Racing Post and Rupert Mackeson’s bookstall at various racecourses.

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