Archive for the ‘Epsom’ Category

Sir Gordon

I’ve had cause to be reminded of the achievements of Gordon Richards.

In 1933 he rode twelve consecutive winners, one at Nottingham and then eleven at Chepstow on two days.  He was only beaten a head and a neck in the last race on the second day,  ironically riding the shortest-priced of all of them – three to one on.  He had already ridden a five-timer and four winners in a day on five occasions that same year. He was 29 years old, but had already been champion jockey six times and was immensely popular with punters who could bet almost blindly on him.  Well Done Gordon! was a song written about him.  Opinions differ whether it is a foxtrot or a quickstep.

After winning the jockeys’ championship 26 times and failing to win the Derby in all those years he, and the public, were relieved when he steered Pinza to victory at Epsom in 1953, his 28th attempt.  In fairness the horse was so superior to his rivals quite a few others might have won on him.  On the other hand, most of his previous Derby mounts hadn’t been likely to stay the mile and a half and he didn’t hunt around for better prospects, being scrupulously loyal to the owners and trainers he was contracted to ride for. Unlike Lester Piggott!

Sir Gordon, Lester and possibly Frankie Dettori are the only jockeys to become household names in the last hundred years, but they haven’t had songs written specifically about them.   Or not that I know about.  There is one called Sometimes (Lester Piggott) by a band called James, although its lyrics are not obviously about racing.

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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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I’ve more or less completed the fifth and last of my local newspaper articles.  I’ll polish it off tomorrow.  And a good job too, as inspiration has become increasingly difficult!

My trip to Eastbourne to sign a Windsor book was very enjoyable apart from heaps of traffic on the way from Brighton, and even more on the return journey via another route. (At least I was crawling along on a fine warm day in pleasant countryside.)  My hosts were very welcoming and I was surprised to find that, despite actively contributing to reminiscences of Windsor on the local history forum they had moved away from there over 50 years ago.  It was further confirmation of the impression I have that as time goes by, memories of one’s youth become clearer.

Brighton races were enjoyable and one bet resulted in one winner.  That was also the case at Salisbury a few days ago, where the “Jim Beavis Signing” sign given to me at the Epsom book signing a fortnight earlier was back in use, advertising a variety of my books on display.  It was another sunny day and the good crowd included some buyers.  Strangely no Windsors were sold, but two Bath books were quickly snapped up and I had to go back to the car for reinforcements. We also sold some Brightons, Fontwells and The Days.

In the last couple of months I’ve been to Salisbury as much as I had in the previous ten years.  It really is a very pleasant place when the weather is good, though when departing the road from the course to the A36 is slow going.

Earlier in the week I met a fellow author of much greater esteem than me.  Amongst other things he told me about readability statistics in Microsoft Word, of which I was unaware.  He also told me the advice he’d been given about never starting a sentence with “It” or “I”.

I venture to suggest that last one is difficult when blogging.

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The Windsor Observer local history correspondent kindly sent me a copy of his review and I am relieved to see it is accurate and encouraging. Though it didn’t mention the price, it directed readers to obtain the book from the racecourse, a very necessary consideration that some book reviewers in the past have overlooked!  I wish he could have said more, but I suspect pressure of space was a limiting factor.  I am grateful for all publicity, especially free and complimentary.  Nothing in the Racing Post yet….

I am very grateful to one of my supporters who arranged a book signing for me at a recent Epsom evening meeting, with a table for Windsor and some of my old books and several announcements about it on the public address. It was a great surprise to me.  There wasn’t a huge crowd and clearly not many of them were readers, but money changed hands and there will be more selling opportunities – maybe at Salisbury races in the next few weeks.

I neglected to sign a book I sent to one correspondent as she requested, and the upshot is I am going to see her in Eastbourne to remedy that. I can do that en route (in an admittedly roundabout way) to Brighton races one day in the week ahead.  They’re having their big three-day festival this week.  Brighton is a place where fine weather makes a tremendous difference to the racing experience so let’s hope the sun shines, or it’s warm, or preferably both.

In the next few weeks I’ve got five racing articles to ghost-write for a couple of local newspapers. They have weekly racing-oriented columns using material supplied by their local racecourse normally, but for the next fortnight I am providing holiday cover.  I’ve done it before.  Having to come up with and write articles for different audiences, and to a strict deadline, is a nice change.

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14,000 and counting

Brighton a fortnight ago was enjoyable, but the car played up again and has had its fourth trip to the garage.  Since then it’s been all right and I am more confident about its stamina for a long distance run than I have been for months.  I have a few distant racing forays – ie more than a hundred miles each way – in mind.  How necessary are they though?  Is it a case of fancying a trip rather than “needing” one?  Fitting them in with work dates and minimising hotel costs are factors.   Would I be better off waiting for more gaps in the research to appear before revisiting my Staffordshire sources?  There’s one I know I should go back to, but if I wait a bit perhaps I could justify a three-day trip including a race meeting rather than a two-dayer.

I tell myself I am getting on with the Uttoxeter text, although it is mainly at weekends.  The rough draft stands at 14,000 words so far and I feel I am roughly half way.  That suggests it will be a shorter book than Bath or Fontwell, but that’s OK – not having an editor standing over me means they can be as long or as short as I like. I didn’t get much done yesterday, though,when I spent about four hours replacing a light switch – don’t ask – nor today when I’ve been to Epsom races.  I can do bits and pieces on some evenings after work.

It seems odd having Epsom meetings so late in the year. There used to be a three-day midweek meeting in April, which was one of my first regular racing events – my parents took me there two or three times in the early 1970s. As every old racing fogey recalls, though there was a Derby Trial (and still is) the two and a quarter mile Great Metropolitan Handicap was the highlight, when the field started at the winning post, ran towards Tattenham Corner and just before reaching it peeled off right and took an S-shaped course marked only by a few white posts at isolated intervals on the downs before rejoining the railed main track with a mile to go. They couldn’t do it nowadays – health and safety.

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I’ve had a couple of sessions with 19th Century UK Periodicals to find more information for research projects put on the back burner while doing Fontwell, Bath and the Days.  I also did some more work on the Chichester Theatre enquiry.  I learn that their exhibition celebrating the theatre’s 50th anniversary changes each month, so anyone living nearby should look in on it more than once!  I haven’t booked my annual trip to see a musical there yet.

I am no further forward with the Brighton Tomlinson enquiry, but I still have one line of enquiry which may help.  It hasn’t proved possible to get to the library in question.

Another new enquiry has come in from a gentleman in Bath wanting a synopsis of the course’s history for a booklet accompanying its Pageant of Motoring next month.   This is being held at the racecourse.  Although I am not very interested in cars I have to say that it looks quite a good day out, as a spectacle and through some less carrish events.  http://bathpageantofmotoring.com/event+info

Last weekend I managed two racecourses in one day!  There was only racing at one – Lingfield.  At the other, Epsom, I and a friend followed one of six racing walks published in the Racing Post earlier this year.  I knew or had passed over quite a bit of it before, but walking down Chalk Lane past the Durdans and then meandering through side roads that had been populated by busy stables 60-70 years ago brought home to me more just how big a training centre it used to be.   The second half of the walk took us across the course, through the woods on the far side and along a ridge with splendid views across unspoilt Surrey, before making our way back to the stands.  Highly recommended, especially on a nice day like we had.  A book by Bill Eacott, who I believe is the father of the Racing Post reporter, gives a thorough analysis of all the Epsom trainers up till quite recently.  http://www.amazon.co.uk/History-Racehorse-Training-Epsom/dp/0954827813

Imminent employment prospects are still in the balance but I really should know more in a fortnight.  That may determine how much more time I might spend on research this summer.

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