Archive for the ‘Sandown’ Category

Good progress with Salisbury.  I’m halfway through revising the first draft now.

I made welcome contact with a fellow researcher who bought three of my books.  His passion is Sea Pigeon, who was good enough to run in the Derby but is best known as a Champion Hurdler with a fine turn of foot.  He won it twice, latterly at the age of eleven under the most confident ride imaginable from John Francome.  He was the last in a glorious golden age of hurdlers from 1971-81 including Bula, Comedy Of Errors, Lanzarote, Night Nurse and Monksfield.

Fellow Researcher has 15 lever arch files about Sea Pigeon and I am now on a mission to help him identify some people in a photo of the horse on Derby Day 1973.   There’s somebody I know who might recognise them, who I hope to visit next month.  This is of academic interest, to say the least, but sometimes We Just Have To Find These Things Out.

Sandown on Thursday was very hot, but relative coolness and comfort was found by darting between various shady places, such as the trees by the pre-parade ring (NB: very few horses pre-paraded) and the breezy upper level of the grandstand overlooking the paddock.  At one stage of the afternoon when I was at the latter vantage point, the commentator for the day, Mike Cattermole, came and stood not far from me to familarise himself with the horses who were walking round the paddock.  It wasn’t long before he was approached by a lady asking to be photographed with him, clearly a fan of his from his Channel 4 days.  Then her friends joined in, seeking autographs and more photos.  A jolly conversation between them all ensued.  Mike couldn’t have been nicer.  I fear he will never escape being labelled as charming, suave and debonair.  I wish I had his problem.


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To Salisbury this week for my first proper meeting with Jeremy, the clerk of the course and in essence the general manager.  I gleaned quite a bit of fresh information, and the icing on the cake was the “history file” he has accumulated during his tenure, containing an assortment of cuttings, articles and, best of all, old photos.  I’m looking forward to browsing through that.  I was given a tour of the racecourse buildings, many of which are undergoing refurbishment in time for their first meeting on 30 April.  One that wasn’t is the old rubbing house.  We’re not sure when that dates from, but it’s visible on a 1773 map.

What with the tour and meeting Jeremy and other racecourse staff, I feel a bit more at home with the place now.

Driving there a different way from my usual route I found much to admire in the quiet side roads that undulate through the pleasing countryside round about.  The racecourse itself is on the top of a ridge three miles out of town, and on a fine day, as it was when I was there, being able to look down on Salisbury and the famous cathedral spire gives you one of those all’s-well-with-the-world moments.  The pub lunch didn’t do any harm, either. Reminded that it was National Pie Week, I did my bit to support the cause.

I like to go to Sandown for one or other of its two annual military meetings and did so on Friday.  These fixtures have their own special character, thanks to two of the races being confined to past or present military personnel.  The main event was the Grand Military Gold Cup, first run in 1841.  This was won by Captain Guy Disney, who followed up on his win here last month, which was the first time a jockey with a prosthetic leg had won a race.  However, before the first race I had been impressed with Major Domenico d’Alo, who not only removed his helmet when greeting connections in the parade ring but also bowed fractionally as if to kiss the ladies’ hands.  Yes, he was an Italian.  He held back when he realised from the body language that a gentle handshake and the now-conventional embrace were all that was expected.  He hadn’t ridden in this country before, but I’d done a bit of research earlier that revealed he’d taken part in 140 races at home, and was therefore more experienced than some of our own riders.  My small investment on him proved worthwhile when after the last hurdle he crouched low in the saddle and swung his whip swiftly and rhythmically – albeit in a style of his own – to galvanise his mount to a three length win.  His delight will have been augmented when the band struck up the Italian national anthem as he made his way to the winner’s enclosure.

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