Archive for the ‘Fontwell’ Category


The Windsor book is out and it looks fine.  Phew!  People at the racecourse are pleased with it.  We are, however, well behind on the marketing front compared with previous books.  I had expected to be interviewed by the compere there on Monday evening but seeing as the poor weather for most of that day kept the crowd well below expectations, I suggested we defer it until a day with a bigger attendance.  He can’t interview me at every meeting.  The new plan is to do it next Saturday, Gentlemen’s Day.  How many of the gents are prospective book buyers, I wonder?  I hope there can be a second on-course interview later in the summer, ideally to coincide with a book signing – the signer being someone rather better known than me.

The compere is a top man. I will refrain from naming him in order to spare his blushes.  He has contributed to the content and the promotion of my previous books and he is always very supportive.  He’s one of those people who you invariably feel better for having talked to him.

My own marketing duties include contacting people on my mailing list to alert them to the existence and availability of the Windsor book. I also need to send complementary copies to some of my prime helpers who gave me their time, life stories, family histories or photographs from their private collections.

A trip to Uttoxeter last week yielded very welcome news about the number of sales of their book. They’re higher than I dared hope after only seven months.  It’s quickly leapt into second place (behind Fontwell) in terms of total sales.  They have covered their costs, so they’re happy.  By naming their recently-refurbished restaurant “1907”, the year the course started, they have reinforced the heritage aspect of racing there.  They have other plans to extract value from the books, notably by including them in some of the special admission packages for race days.  And then they can push it again on the approach to Christmas (“the ideal gift”).  So there’s no need to put it on Amazon (and therefore drop the price) yet.


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The Uttoxeter book is finished – hooray! I have seen the proofs and agreed them.

The racecourse has decided to put the launch back to 22 November, a Sunday meeting that is a Festive Family Day. Then there are two fixtures in mid-December and another on New Year’s Eve, which are all potential selling opportunities.

I will be interested to hear what ideas for marketing it arise. Having done some local radio shows in the past to plug my other books, I had better brush up a few things to say in case I’m asked to do so again.

Meanwhile there is an end in sight to the Windsor research that I can do using material I have at home. There is, however, more to be done in libraries elsewhere. And I am still waiting and hoping for input from at least one of the family members connected with its management. There’s additional work to be done trying to trace the descendants of other families who used to be involved with it.

The fact that dealings with the printer took much less time than I’d originally estimated, based on my experiences with past books, implies that settling on a format virtually identical to the Bath book was helpful. Some of my earlier books were typeset by someone else and in hindsight that complicated things, as there was a need for them, me and a firm of printers to deal with each other. I can therefore allow myself a little more time to write Windsor, which I anticipate starting after Christmas.

I was glad to get some feedback from the most recent enquiry about Alfred Day, saying that my response helped to pinpoint some of the gallops on the South Downs that he used. I often don’t get to hear the outcome of other enquirers’ researches.

The predominantly fine weather of the last few weeks has encouraged me to go to quite a few meetings and although Brighton last Tuesday turned nasty mid-afternoon, trips to Fontwell and Newmarket took place in glorious conditions.  I am making hay before the hard winter that’s supposed to be approaching – although doesn’t someone say that’s going to happen every year?

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One of the perils of researching is spending a lot of time doing something that doesn’t yield starry results.  Typically this happens when ploughing through form books noting results, in the hope that something interesting turns up when enough has been ploughed.  Of course, you will never know if the golden nugget will appear on the next page.  Otherwise, you have to make what you can of what you find up to the point where boredom or time constraints tell you to go no further.

Some years ago I crunched a lot of Fontwell results data for the inter-war years.  Last week I was corresponding with another researcher and it turned out he has compiled a lot of Windsor data.  I said I’d like to see it.  We agreed it was difficult to put a price on it, and he had the idea of swapping his Windsor spreadsheet for my Fontwell.  I’m game – I hope this will come off.

I continued correspondence with the Croydon jockey’s great-grandson.  His research is hampered (or, depending on your outlook) simplified by being based abroad, and thereby having few opportunities to inspect physical records.

I’ve been given the answer to the Bath riddle from a month or two ago, but I have yet to look in the form book for the year in question to see how visible it was (ie how I missed it).

Windsor continues, though not at the pace of the preceding fortnight – indeed, a few potential sources have replied to say they haven’t got anything for me.  It’s all quiet on the Binda and the Uttoxeter fronts, but there are enough other things going on.


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The McCoy factor

Racing news has been dominated by the announcement by 19-times champion jump jockey A P McCoy of his imminent retirement. My sole encounter with him was a brief one, when he kindly agreed to do a book signing at Fontwell. It was a month or so after the official launch with Josh Gifford, so quite a few of the regulars had already bought their own copy. He spent a precious bit of spare time he had between races sitting next to me at a table with a pile of books. Thanks to him we sold another twenty or thirty in very quick time.

A question came up the other day about whether a horse called Potentate held the record for the most wins at Chepstow. I knew he’d won nine times there and thought it was about 20 years ago, but what if there was something else that had won more back in the distant past? Fortunately the local racing history expert came to the rescue with the information that a horse called Chaos had won ten there.

It made me think how that sort of course record is not easy to find. How does one find out about each course’s record holders or frequent winners? It occurred to me there is no publicly available computerised record containing all race results going back (say) a hundred years. How good it would be to be able to tap into something like that! There are a few organisations who possess the information in book form. I should enquire with them to see if there is any prospect of computerising it – especially as I will have more time to spend on that sort of thing when I pack up work at Easter. I can’t imagine it will have any commercial value, but it won’t hurt to ask.


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An October launch?

The main conclusion of the Uttoxeter meeting was that the launch should be at the end of October.  I had hoped for May, aware that they have a lot of race meetings between then and the end of July.  However, when it was pointed out to me that they are predominantly family fundays and ladies nights, the clientele they are trying to attract is, with the best will in the world, unlikely to be bookish.  I’m disappointed, but the new marketing lady at the racecourse was very clear on the need to operate on the basis of plans worked out well in advance and I can appreciate her scientific approach.

While there are some “traditional racegoer” days in September, I preferred to wait a bit so as to catch the Christmas book-buying market.  The Fontwell book launched successfully in mid-November, but Uttoxeter’s two meetings that month already have their themes.  I therefore hope that the late October date will be ratified as Book Day.

More immediately the racecourse are going to dig out some more recent pictures to go into the book, and after that I can liaise with the printer to get a revised quote.   That entails giving him the final text and the pictures in either physical or electronic form.  Let’s hope the cost won’t be too different from the provisional quote, which was based on an educated guess of the number of pages and pictures.

I had a call from Fontwell last week asking where they could get one of the pictures in my book.  That was easily sorted out, but it’s nice to be asked.  The enquirer was directed to me by one of the longest-serving members of the office staff.  I first met her before she worked for the racecourse.  In the early stages of my research I was mooching around the grounds on a non-raceday, trying to get a feel for what would have been where a hundred years ago, and to find the actual “well” of Fontwell.  There was a function of some sort being held there, in the characterful Fontwell House.  http://www.fontwellpark.co.uk/venue-hire/our-venues-fontwell-house.php   She was working for the caterers and challenged me, probably thinking I was up to no good.  Fortunately she believed my explanation.


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A Hole lot of news

Harking back to the last blog, I hear that Towcester dogs’ first meeting went very well, with a good atmosphere, but it’s the horses I will go back to see.

In a quiet fortnight on the Uttoxeter front, I have had a striking reminder of how a subject that seemed virtually closed can suddenly come alive again.  A fascinating though totally unexpected development has been contact from a lady living overseas (who I’m sure will read this) whose family history research has led her to me and the realisation that I have written books about Fontwell and the Alfred Day family.  This lady – let’s call her S – is a descendant of the Hole family, and avid readers will know that Alfred married a Hole.  Indeed, his sister married another of them.

S has probed much further into the history of the Holes than I and is interested in the question of how Binda Billsborough is related; you may remember that while there is circumstantial evidence supporting the likelihood that Binda was a cousin of the Days or the Holes, I have found no direct family tree connections.  S has some appealing theories about that, and some great stories about the black sheep of the Hole family, expressed in a series of entertaining emails.  While I am not sure the theories are correct, S certainly gives food for thought and I am certain that by pooling our knowledge we will both learn something – and it just might make a breakthrough with the Binda mystery.

S is in England for a few weeks and I hope we will be able to meet and compare notes.  To that end I have brought all my old Fontwell files down from the loft and re-read the relevant parts in conjunction with S’s emails.  I need to refresh my memory about the various family relationships, key dates, and places where they lived. I also hope to arrange to collect the 19th century photo albums I loaned to another Day descendant eighteen months ago.  I suspect the majority of the people in the photos are Holes, and what with other assorted images I have stored electronically, I am confident some of it will interest S.


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A short visit to Uttoxeter a fortnight ago paid great dividends.   Some photos belonging to the racecourse, which I wanted for the book and whose whereabouts were temporarily unknown, were found.  A new marketing person is about to start there, which should help get things going again.  A launch around May was provisionally agreed and a more formal meeting to discuss the book in mid January was agreed.

I always try to walk the course during each visit provided there’s no racing going on and I did so this time on a brilliantly sunny morning.  Not for the first time, I bumped into another walker and we said hello and before long they are chatting away about being born and bred in Uttoxeter and how they used to play on the track when they were young.

Away from the racecourse, I enjoyed a splendid meal with old friends and helpers; sampled some unusual culture (for me) in the form of a three-man a capella group performing at the Lichfield Guildhall; scoffed a sumptuous truckers’ breakfast at an archetypal roadside café; and pitched up at Southwell races for a low-key but very pleasant, relaxed and profitable afternoon.

Since then I’ve spent a little more time than I planned on tackling the family history question I referred to previously.  Though I found a few winners trained by the ancestor in question, as I feared quite a bit of time was spent finding out nothing very remarkable – ie that the majority of their runners had finished unplaced.  A comprehensive review would take a long time, with no guarantee of throwing up any more exciting results.

I’m sad to say the British Horseracing Authority didn’t answer properly my email about the August 2015 Fontwell – Brighton fixture clash I pointed out to them.  They emphasised the collaborative and consultative nature of the fixture-setting process, ignoring the inference that the process is faulty if it allows two very nearby courses to have meetings overlapping one another.


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