Archive for the ‘Racing abroad’ Category

I completed the review of the Worcester book and I imagine (but don’t know) that it will be published next Sunday.  I’ll be interested to see how much of my prose will remain.

I’ve reached a mini-landmark with Salisbury, by writing something up to the present – more or less – and now I have to go back through each of my other sources chronologically to add fresh stories from them, and fill in a few gaps.  I can see the time will come quite soon that I find anecdotes that I’d forgotten I had.  After all, I have been researching it for 18 months.

I have another assignment to find 20 iconic events about another racecourse.  With the correct definition of “iconic” in mind, this is of course impossible.  It would be almost as hard to find 20 fantastic events.  I’m hopeful of coming up with 10 interesting incidents, but the next 10 will probably be no more than quite interesting.

Last weekend I was in Frankfurt, the venue for a memorable trip to the races in 2014.  The course was being threatened with closure, which seemed a great shame.  The track was a regular oval, on which you could see the horses all the way round.  The grandstand wasn’t new, but it was fine.  There were lots of seats upstairs, which is where my party were sitting when before one race abseilers descended from the roof with a “save our racecourse” banner.Frankfurt rennbahn protest.jpg

A local referendum voted in favour of keeping the racecourse, but the turnout wasn’t big enough for the result to count.  It was such a shame that it closed a year later, to be turned into some football training academy.  As if Germany is short of footballing talent!


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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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During my first visit to a Uttoxeter race meeting for exactly a year I obtained confirmation that we will aim for 30 October as the launch date. I just need some more pictures from the racecourse and then I can start liaising with the printer.

On the way home I stopped off at Leicester races, which I’ve been to four or five times over the years. It was notable for the presence of some giant animals in a glass display case.


Not wishing to be unkind, I couldn’t help but notice what seemed to be a lot of unused areas around the back of the older parts of the stands, which are painted an unusual yet fetching shade of dark blue. I suppose they were built for bigger crowds than were likely to attend a mundane midweek meeting. I hope they are opened up on busier days. Why are the stands such an odd colour, though? I’d like to know, but I’m not going to enquire. This is one of those times where it’s more fun not knowing the reason for something.

I took the train to Worcester the week before last, a track I first visited in about 1978 and have since visited three times at roughly twelve-year intervals. Regrettably the facilities there don’t seem to have changed a great deal in all that time. It’s probably because it is prone to flooding, despite the river beside the course being about 15-20 feet below it.

The book I ordered from Vienna about the local trotting track has arrived, a month after it was sent. I expect the recent spells of industrial action (surely inaction?) at Calais were to blame for the delay.

I was astonished to find a horse called Racing History won yesterday. I’d never heard of it. There’s no clue in its parents’ names as to why it should be called that. It’s won two out of its three races now and is worth following.

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I’ve pressed on with the online Windsor research this last fortnight – punctuated by four trips to the races and one very fruitful excursion to Windsor library, where I had some particular incidents to search for on their microfilm records of the local newspaper.  Knowing the dates to aim for makes things so much easier when using the microfilm readers.  I headed for the relevant newspaper editions, give or take a week either way, and found what I was looking for each time.  Two hours passed very quickly doing this and noting down the details I found.  In other racecourse researches I have browsed through entire years of newspaper articles hoping to notice any that related to the racecourse, and though one can find gold the ratio of time spent versus interesting findings can be poor.  It depends on the quantity of coverage the local papers give, of course.  And in the local studies libraries themselves one is at the mercy of the microfilm reading machines themselves, which are usually elderly and have their own quirks.  Nevertheless,  preparation by finding out the dates of race meetings each year and again concentrating on those weeks on the microfilm will make library time more productive.

One of the online sources is the Racing Post news archive.  On their website it says it only goes back to 2006, but experimentation revealed one can search as far back as 1999, which has been a real bonus.

Frustratingly, my Vienna book hasn’t arrived.  I have to hope it has been held up temporarily at Calais amongst containerloads of other peoples’ parcels from the continent.

More copies of my Alfred Day book have been printed.  I suppose I can call it a second print run, the first having sold out!

I now have some more copies of my Alfred Day book and they have been added to my Amazon inventory.

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I’ve been contacted by another researcher into the history of the Alfred Day family.  He won’t mind me saying he’s been doing it for many years.  We agreed how difficult it can be to bring to a conclusion a project like that, which one could easily allow to go on indefinitely.  He’s most interested in the eighteenth-century origins of the family that are already fairly public, and wants to verify the commonly-held assumptions about them and ideally go back a generation further.  I can’t help with that but I will be intrigued to see his book when it sees the light of day.

I’ve realised that I only have one copy of my Alfred Day book left.  I need a few more, as there are still occasional orders for it.  I am waiting for quotes from a high street printer for five more and ten more.  Whichever I choose, I’m sure the unit cost will be more than I can charge for it, but as is the case with my other books, if I charged what they really cost they wouldn’t sell very many.

Windsor work continues, ploughing through the many online sources of potential data.  There is a load more information in my own collection of racing books.  I need to get out and about to try and get some more from libraries, or to find individuals with anecdotes.  The latter are proving elusive at the moment.

A postscript regarding the Krieau trotting track in Vienna – I found another source selling the book about its history and gave in to the temptation to order it, especially as it was cheaper.  With a great deal of help from Google Translate I hope amongst other things to find out the origins of the Lady Ford Cup that I saw run there (or should I say trotted for), which googling in the ordinary way tells me used to be a ladies’ golf trophy played for in Scotland.

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The main racing interest in the last fortnight was my visit to the trotting track at Krieau, a mile or two from the centre of Vienna.  At the entrance I couldn’t help noticing a little display cabinet containing a small book about the history of the course.  The idea of buying a book written in a foreign language was not as much of a deterrent as the price of 26 euros.  Can I find one somewhere else, or shall I cobble my own history together from internet sources?  On one such page I found a flamboyantly blond-moustached character called Gerhard Mayr being proclaimed as champion jockey (if that’s the right word; driver? rider? pilot?) in 1992, and he is the leading exponent of the art there this year too.  And his moustaches look just the same.

The track dates from 1878 and has a strange mixture of architecture.  The grandstand, like many of the other continental tracks I’ve been to, appears to me to be a fairly dull 1970s edifice that is functional but well looked after.  There was plenty of space for the spectators, who numbered about a thousand; a mixture of grizzled punters and groups of friends and families (who are all plainly very respectable and moderate in their drinking habits).

Next to it are two fenced-off concrete stands which have, quite simply, been left to rot over many years.  The vista around the outside of the track, which is only five furlongs round, presents a contrasting mixture of ultra-modern office blocks and industrial buildings and a pleasing mustard-coloured tavern of rather older vintage.  In the centre, in line with the winning post, is a bizarre tower that looks to me like a creation of the 1960s but that actually dates from 1919. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trabrennbahn_Krieau#/media/File:Vienna_-_Trotting_racing_stadium_Krieau_-_6631.jpg

Trotting itself consists of a horse slightly smaller than our thoroughbreds pulling a rudimentary lightweight chariot with the jockey lying almost horizontally, guiding the horse with long reins and, at the business end of the race, a long whip.  Races are started by getting the horses running well before the starting line behind a car with what looks like two big ladders sticking out sideways from it; when they are all lined up, running immediately behind the ladders, the car accelerates away and the race begins.  Horses that break out of a trot into a canter or a gallop are disqualified (and informed over the public address) during the race.  There is no parade ring or winner’s enclosure, but they parade before each race on the track itself.   Races come at 25-minute intervals and there were twelve on the day I went, including one for the unexpectedly-titled Lady Ford Cup, which I’ll have to look into now that I am back from the land of the Wiener Schnitzel and scrumptious cakes and ice creams.

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It’s still quiet here, with domestic activity unrelated to racing filling the hiatus before news of the next book can be confirmed (soon though!) and indeed any developments on the Uttoxeter launch.

I will have to start preparing for a couple of foreign forays in the next three months. I have been to Chantilly once before and I need to muster enough understanding of French to get the right train and the right tickets. It’s about 25 miles north of Paris and the SNCF trains get there quicker than the other sort. According to the results section of the Racing Post French race meetings can start very early by our standards (dans le matin), but even if that’s the case we should be in time for enough races for it to be worthwhile. There is a truly unique backdrop in the form of a splendid chateau and Les Grandes Ecuries, a monumental 18th century stable, both of which deserve visits on a non-race day.

Later in the year I will be on holiday in Vienna and hope to take in a trotting meeting at Krieau, a track close to the city centre that dates back to 1878. What more can I find out about that before I go, apart from what’s on Wikipedia?

From past experience I know that homework is vital when going to foreign tracks. Take railway journeys into the Parisian suburbs, for example – what’s the difference between SNCF, RER and Transilien? SNCF is quickest but doesn’t always stop where you want. I’d studied Chantilly several times prior to my first trip there using internet maps and satellite images before realising that the name popping up next to the railway station symbol with the RER suffix was in fact where SNCFs stopped too.

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The correspondence with S has continued, debating the niceties of the Hole family history and its connection with Binda.   We haven’t arrived at any firm conclusions, though, and neither albums nor meetings have been forthcoming yet.  Nevertheless I’m sure this story has further to go.  Quite apart from the fact that I am reminded by the presence of six files/boxes of Fontwell-related research material in the living room rather than in their customary place (the loft), in readiness for further review and theorising with S.

There is no more news about Uttoxeter this time.   I have, however, been continuing the research on that possible future project.   I’m still not saying what it is, in case it comes to nothing.

In the last fortnight there’s been a seasonal increase in visits to the blog from people doing the Racing Post Christmas Quiz.  I don’t know if there were any questions relating to anything I have written about, but one gentleman contacted me to ask about two multiple-choice questions of a historical nature.  I enjoyed fathoming out the answer to one that was pleasingly cryptic, but the other was tougher; in the end I came out with two tentative suggestions based on circumstantial evidence only for my interrogator to come up with a better answer himself!

I have booked a trip to Chantilly races in the spring, which will be a little adventure.  It’s 25 or 45 minutes’ train ride outside Paris, depending which train you get.   Simply buying a railway ticket when in Paris to the Chantilly station will be exciting in its own right.  The monumental stables on the far side of the racecourse and the adjacent chateau are on my to-do list but a Eurostar day return means they’ll have to wait for another day.

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I’ve enjoyed five contrasting visits to race meetings this month.  Firstly, a glorious summerlike day at Frankfurt races, with everyone in a very good crowd signing a petition to keep the course from being closed down; the authorities want to turn it into a football academy.  A quiet afternoon at Windsor, where in recent years I’ve only ever been on busy evening meetings.  This was a day dominated by rain; rain overnight and in the first half of the morning; the continual threat for the journey there and the first three races, followed by the threat turning into reality in the second half.   A dry, relatively mild afternoon for the last meeting of the season at Brighton, which in the past has suffered from fog, wind and rain.  A warm sunny day at Newmarket with a large crowd, lots of sideshows and a variety of musical attractions in bizarre competition; a classical trio on the strings, a Spanish senorita singing solo, and a thumping disco from inside a marquee, all within about thirty yards of each other.  Prior to that I had completed the clearout of dozens of surplus racing books by giving them to the local library either to sell or to add to their collection.

Yesterday it was Chepstow, for a good quality card full of promising horses that will be seen more and more as the National Hunt season gets going. There was a 33/1 shocker in the first race, but nevertheless there were people in two groups near where I was standing who clearly had bet on it.  One pair of ladies, who did not look like archetypal form students, were literally jumping for joy at being able to collect £200.  Later on in the day a chap in the Tote queue ahead of me, who had clearly avoided suffering from thirst, collected even more than that.  He may well have patronised the beer tent, which had an Oktoberfest theme, and though my bratwurst was rather more brat than wurst, the slightly over-the-top versions of German national costumes worn by the barmaids (and a very game barman) will live long in the memory.  The long drive back was made to feel very short thanks to the company of two chaps to whom I was introduced by a mutual friend.  So displeased were they by the onerous journey they had made to Chepstow via public transport, they were glad to forego a possible repetition for the homeward trip by getting a lift back to London.

With Uttoxeter on hold, the subject of the next book is already very much in mind, and I hope a decision will be made before too long.

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More tinkering

I’ve been making more adjustments to the Uttoxeter text and the index, reformatted it to give it more of a finished bookish appearance. Tinkering could go on ad infinitum but once I get the last proof-readers changes that’ll be it as regards the text.  I am still waiting for some of the pictures to be sent to me.  I still need to set out exactly where all the pictures go for the benefit of the printers, but if I can do that in the next week we’ll still be on schedule.  Though there are still two months before the planned publication date, I’m sure we’ll need a lot of that to get the printers’ proofs to a satisfactory state.  Not wishing to denigrate printers, but experience shows there is infinite scope for proofs to emerge in a way one hadn’t planned.  Sometimes this is because of duff authorial guidance, sometimes it’s a quirk of the IT, sometimes it’s just plain unforeseeable.

The ghosted articles for two newspapers I referred to last time seem to have been acceptable to the editors.

Quite a few racing excursions to different racecourses this autumn are being planned at the moment, chiefly Frankfurt, to see it before it is closed down. As far as I can tell using Google Auto Translate the last races are supposed to be next year, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to me if they don’t bother with the 2015 fixtures.  The area is going to be turned into a super-duper football training academy.  After winning the World Cup you wonder why Germany needs even more football facilities!  I also continue to wonder if a book on German horse racing history exists.  I hear, coincidentally, that some British racecourse managers have recently been over to Berlin and meet their counterparts there to exchange some ideas.

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