Archive for the ‘Newmarket’ Category

The Salisbury printing problem has been solved, with a lot of give and take all round.  In fact, it was sorted by last Friday week.  That left two full weeks for copies to be printed and delivered to the racecourse.  I expect I won’t see any until that fateful Sunday the 28th, the launch date.  There will be one (I hope) last moment of trepidation when I handle a copy for the first time, wondering if it has been printed upside down or inside out.

Ffos Las is still on ice as my proof-reader has found faults with it, but not told me what.  We do at least know what the pictures are going to be inside the book, and we have a firm of printers lined up. Welsh, of course.  The front and back covers are, I think, undecided, although I have my own preferred template in mind, which can easily be explained to the printers.

I was at Stratford last Sunday to see a horse I have a share in run.  He was down the field that day, but there will be better times ahead.  He was bought for a modest amount two years ago and has won three times for us since then, so we certainly can’t complain.   Then to Newmarket on Thursday where some rather more expensive animals were racing.  One of the faces in the crowd was the indefatigable Derek Thompson.  He was commentating and presenting at Chelmsford when I was there a few weeks ago.  The old Tommo style was undimmed.  A jockey called Philip Prince won one race.  “I always call him Prince Philip.”

Later a horse called La Cumparsita won.  Tommo took the trouble to google the name, and told the crowd it was a tango composed in Uruguay in 1916.  (You may not know the name, but the tune will be familiar.)  He used his smartphone to play a recording of part of it over the public address.  Who else would do that?

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Continuing to compose the Salisbury text, I feel as if I have covered the first 200 years fairly quickly.  Yet I also know it will take a lot of revision.  There’ll be much more content involved in its more recent history.   There are still gaps that might be plugged by visiting the Chippenham archives again, Newmarket and one or two other places.

A fair amount of the last fortnight has been swallowed up by grappling with my first ever smart phone, which has entailed four visits to the O2 shop in that time. I downloaded my first app the other day; it must have taken three quarters of an hour between decision and completion.

Earlier this week I met an old chum who’s been working on the history of Alexandra Park racecourse for quite a while. I think he has gathered a stupendous amount of information, as a sample page I saw was very fully referenced with footnotes.  That’s a degree of academic thoroughness I choose not to exhibit, in spite of always being told at school to “show your workings!” when in exams involving calculations.  I always used to do so, in the hope that if my answer was wrong, I would get some credit if the workings showed my logic was correct.

I could use footnotes, which certainly add an air of authority to a book. Thinking about my reason for not doing so, it comes down to laziness.  Footnotes must add a lot of extra time to do, and to check and revise each time the body of the text changes.  (They also mean more pages, and therefore more expense when it comes to printing.)  I will see if I can continue not to attract brickbats for this.

Reviewers of some of my early books said they’d be better with an index, and I complied with my later ones.  I’ve been given a book to review for the Racing Post, and while it is very good, I keep wishing it had an index.  If I put that recommendation in my review it wouldn’t exactly be the pot calling the kettle black – would it?

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The Newmarket Town Plate was in the news this week, partly thanks to the Qatari Sheikh who rode the winner last year being unseated three furlongs from the finish and crashing through the rails.   He wasn’t badly hurt, and only needed a stitch or two to patch up a cut.

It is a race that needs careful definition, as it’s the longest flat race run on a British racecourse, though it’s not run under Jockey Club rules.  It’s been going since 1665, on a unique three and three quarter mile course which doesn’t quite comprise one full circuit.  This year’s race prefaced the first day of the big July meeting, but I distinctly remember seeing it one October when it was part of an Arab horse race meeting.

I’m pretty sure the conditions as well as the timing has changed over the years.  (I’d be glad to hear from anyone who knows.)  Currently riders have to apply to take part, and they have to be “genuine amateurs” – my phrase – as those participating in this year’s race didn’t appear to be the people that are licensed to ride in normal races for amateurs.

Definitions also needed care when I wrote about Bath, which was ostensibly to celebrate their 200th anniversary in 2011.  However, racing around Bath started about a hundred years before on the other side of the city.  The first racing on Lansdown, the area where today’s track is, was in the 1780s.  After a hiatus racing resumed in 1811, but not where it is now; it was about half a mile nearer the city.  Not until 1831 was the current track used.  The wording for publicity for the celebrations couldn’t, in reasonableness, spell out all this.

There was also the old sort-of trick question, “What is the longest race run under Jockey Club Rules?”, to which the answer was the Boat Race.  Is this an old wives’ tale?  I’ve read that this is not the case now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it used to be true.  The JC rules define disqualifiable offences such as crossing in front of your opponent.  I think it’s quite likely that the organisers of the early Boat Races would have used the JC rules rather than invent some of their own.  That’s a line of research I wouldn’t mind pursuing,  but not right now, as Salisbury beckons.

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Having titled the last post “The Galloping Major” I noticed last week that, by coincidence, the Talking Pictures TV channel was showing a film of the same name.  It’s a black and white film made in 1951; I’d never heard of it, and I had to watch it because it’s a comedy about people who live and work in a London suburb who buy a racehorse.  I’m afraid that nowadays a lot of the action and humour would only amuse young children and people at the other end of the age spectrum who’d be interested in the film’s nostalgia value.  It was a good illustration of how, as recently as the early 1950s, horses were not an uncommon sight on city streets and there were still stables tucked away in built-up areas.  You could also watch out for a host of not-yet-famous names in bit parts such as Kenneth More, Sid James and Charles Hawtrey.

It would also amuse those of us interested in old racecourses, as the film gives us a lot of action at the old Alexandra Park track – where they went round and round a tight circle before dashing up the straight to the finish – and later on at the Grand National. The leading jockey Charlie Smirke has a speaking role, as does Raymond Glendenning, the best-known commentator prior to Peter O’Sullevan.

I get the impression that there’s a fair number of cheap and cheerful racing-themed films made in this country in the middle of the twentieth century.  I’ve got the DVD of one of them, a rather more grown-up 1954 production from Ealing Studios in colour called The Rainbow Jacket, which has scenes at Newmarket and Lingfield and stars Honor Blackman, Robert Morley and Bill Owen.  They may not be great works of art but they’re good clean fun, and for the racing historian they provide a chance to see not just shots of racecourses but also the way people looked and behaved on them.

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Six weeks to go before the launch. I am still waiting for the copyright to a couple of pictures to be paid for by the racecourse, so that the electronic images can be sent to me; I also need them to provide some colour pictures of their own, and to say if they are happy with some revised wording I’ve composed for the last chapter.

While anxiously awaiting a response on these matters I sent the provisional text and all the pictures I have to the printers. With them they can make a start on formatting the book.  Any changes to the text should only be near the end and will therefore cause relatively little disturbance.  All the colour pictures will be going into a single block of pages, so that is a self-contained issue that shouldn’t disrupt the preparation of the rest of the book.

Normally I manage one trip each year to a foreign racecourse, and last week I went to Enghien, in the northern suburbs of Paris. Betting is all done via the pari-mutuel (PMU), the French equivalent of the Tote, and I was surprised to see very few windows for taking bets.  That was because machines had replaced them and punters were placing their bets using them.  I didn’t see them paying out anyone! I had a winner and the machine churned out a glorifed credit note, which I cashed in at one of the few PMU windows with a human in attendance.  I foresee the appearance of Tote betting machines in this country in the next few years.

Next week I will be going to Newmarket, not only for some racing but also to see a couple I met via my Bath research. I hope that they will be able to give me some information that will help me with one of the topics I have in mind for research in the post-Windsor era.

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The main development since last time was getting Windsor’s agreement to one of the options I put forward regarding the purchase of images. That meant a day of emails and phone calls trying to knock down some of their prices in order to stay within the budget set for me.  Mission accomplished, and the next task is to make sure the racecourse pays for those images so that they can be released to me; then I can put them in the package to be sent to the printer with instructions of where they go in the book.  Those instructions are nearly finished.  The index is done, and will only now need updating when pdfs are swapped by me and the printer.

The text has been proof-read by my wife and I’ve made some changes as a result of that. I haven’t read it through myself for a few weeks and I hope to do that before sending everything to the printer.

Windsor’s first meeting of the season is tomorrow afternoon and they are holding a special dinner after racing to kick-start their 150th anniversary celebrations.  Their next meeting, on the evening of Monday 18th, is free to enter.  Given good weather they could expect the best part of 10,000 people to attend judging by what happened when free entry was offered before.

My thoughts are beginning to turn more and more towards life after Windsor and the research I might do then. There will also be time then to do justice to three major new racing books that I possess, but am saving up to read when I’m not distracted by Windsor business.  The Heath and the Horse is a comprehensive history of racing at Newmarket with many fine examples of sporting art; Beckhampton, the story of famous racing stables, and Aintree: The History of the Racecourse.  These are works by proper racing historians whose standards I can admire but can hardly hope to match.

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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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