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Archive for the ‘Windsor’ Category

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the new project, which I will keep under my hat until I know that my sponsor is willing to give it the official go-ahead.  In anticipation of that I’ve already acquired plenty of material.  In the past I’ve been apt to start researching a book before full and final authorisation to proceed – I can’t help myself.  It’s the same again now.  I mentioned it to a friend at Brighton races the other day, who promptly told Matt Chapman, who was on duty there for Sky Sports Racing.  I had to tell him it was still premature to broadcast it, but he was fine with that and said we could do it another time.

I doubt if it’ll be the next Brighton meeting, which is on Tuesday week after Windsor’s final Monday evening meeting of the season.  Matt often appears at them, so I’d be surprised if he did Brighton the next day.   Coincidentally, I had called in at Windsor a few days earlier, hoping they could find some copies of the remaining stock of my book marking its 150th anniversary in 2016.  I was down to my last few, but they’ve given me a decent number.  I hope I will be able to sell a few more if and when Rupert invites me onto this bookstall again.  I could do with some more Fontwells and I am waiting to hear if the staff there can find some for me.

We are on the verge of moving house and this is going to be a significant distraction in the weeks ahead.  Huge numbers of books need to be shifted and there is talk from Mrs B about having custom-made bookshelves in the new abode.  It has three storeys but I’m not sure that’ll be enough.

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I’ve just come back from two long days at Ascot on Rupert’s bookstall.  Key rings and fridge magnets were on sale as well as dozens of different racing titles.  It was in an excellent position inside the main stand near one of the most-used routes to the paddock, and in front of a huge picture of Estimate, who won the Gold Cup for The Queen not so many years ago.

I was there from about 11 till 6.45 on Friday and 11.30 to 7.30 yesterday.  Ascot opened its doors to the public at 11 each day and stayed open a long time after racing, especially on Saturday when there was music afterwards.  That’s all potential book-selling time, hence the long days.  I had it easy compared to Rupert and his colleague Neil, who had to get all the stock inside and move their cars away to a designated area well before I arrived, and they couldn’t reverse the process at the end of the meeting until most racegoers had left, so I dread to think what time they got home.

From my catalogue (!) we were selling Salisbury, Fontwell and Windsor (reduced prices if buying two or three) and Croydon.  We sold 18 over the two days, so I was very pleased.

One sees very little of the actual racing when helping to man the bookstall.  At any moment someone might want to talk about one, buy one or have one signed.

On Saturday a couple of gigantic racing trophies were put on display next to our stall, and that helped bring browsers along too.  One book that caught the eye of quite a few racegoers was the Croydon book, which hasn’t been on public display for many, many years.  People were, not surprisingly, astonished that there had ever been a racecourse there.

I had ten fresh copies of it printed recently.  It’s 20 years since that was published, yet sales still occur from time to time and every couple of years or so I have to replenish the stock.  I’m getting very low on the other old ones and need to find out if the racecourses have any to spare.

While I was at the races on Friday a suggestion came from out of the blue about another racing history book I might write.  Even though I’ve been adamant that I want a rest from it after working on Salisbury and Ffos Las for the best part of three years, I find it difficult to say no.  I am getting in touch with the proposer to see if we can take the idea further.

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I did a Radio Stoke interview last week to tie in with a Uttoxeter race meeting marking its 110th anniversary on the present site.  As a result of that I’ve had one or two enquiries about the book – it’s still only on sale from me and the racecourse, as they haven’t said they want to put it on Amazon yet.

With Salisbury I’m on the verge of starting to write about one of the key episodes in its history. There’s a lot of material to play with from several sources, but quite a few of them feed off each other or come from the same minority of earlier writers.

After coming to a standstill with my scrutiny of the four boxes of Sporting Lifes I took on almost a year ago – getting stuck two thirds of the way through the third one – a blitz in the last fortnight has left me with just one box to go through. These are newspapers from the 1980s and 90s which I’m trawling for information about Salisbury and the courses I’ve written about before.  I still continue to collect stories about them just in case there’s ever a need for a revised edition.

I made my usual last-meeting-of-the-season pilgrimage to Brighton, where conditions were decidedly autumnal and pretty dark mid-afternoon. Earlier in the week I’d been to Windsor for the first time this season.  The day was supposed to be warm but under strangely grey-yellow skies, it wasn’t.  I was sorry to see that the old Jamstick bar had been renamed The Princes Head, and had a sign outside depicting the Prince Regent.  All very incongruous, as he died 36 years before racing started there.  Whoever decided to make that change hadn’t read my book!

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Four weeks on …. goodness knows what happened to the post I scheduled a fortnight ago.

I see a new book about the history of Wincanton races is being launched at the start of their new season on 20 October.  I wish them good luck with it but if, as their website says, it consists of only 60 pages then charging £25 for it is, in my view, ambitious.

The book about Chelmsford races I referred to a while ago deals much more with the old racecourse, paradoxically much nearer the city than the modern incarnation called “Chelmsford City” – which to many of us is still “Great Leighs”, as it was called when it first opened in 2008.  There is much, much more to be told about its origins, oft-delayed inauguration, its closure less than a year later and the behind-the-scenes planning in the intervening years that led to its revival.

I was sorry to see that one of “my” courses, Bath, has been hit by an infestation of a type of beetle that eats grass roots, thereby causing the ground to become dangerously uneven.  They’ve lost a couple of meetings and with their season now over I feel I have neglected them by not going racing there at all this year.  Similarly, I haven’t visited Windsor races this year either.  I hope I can put that right this month.

Congratulations to the boss at Uttoxeter, David MacDonald, who has been elected on to his local council in a neighbouring county.  It’s strangely appropriate, considering the extensive part played by local authorities in the history of his racecourse.   If you’ve read the book you will get my drift.

After a fairly quiet period with regard to Salisbury, due to domestic reasons, I’d allowed myself to think that most of the data-gathering was done, and that I should start reviewing it with a view to starting to actually composing something.  I started reading one of my Word files of Salisbury notes.  I had only got about six lines down page one when I realised there could be untapped material in one of my online sources.  Lo and behold, a search there using different criteria brought up some very useful new material.  And more has emerged since then.  While browsing through my files has allowed me to start on a chronology of the most important dates, to misquote the voiceover at the end of each episode of The Apprentice, “The (re)search goes on.”

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It makes so much difference to be able to walk the courses that I write about, in order to get a proper feel for them.  I regret only having walked Windsor, and that was unaccompanied.  I went round my other courses several times; I never tired of them.  On Thursday I donned the wellies and stomped round Salisbury with Jeremy, the executive director and clerk of the course, and one of the stewards.  Its undulations and turns are now much more real to me.  I knew the mile-long straight course is not actually straight, and bears gently to the right; I could see that on TV.  Yet in situ I found the last three furlongs were straight.  I’d heard of a dip somewhere in the straight, and now I’ve seen it – or I should say I’ve seen a little rise, but the descent into it I thought was hardly perceptible.

I also now appreciate their problem with golf balls.  The golf course is alongside much of the track and within a loop at the far end.  During our walk we found seven or eight balls lying on the racecourse.  The length of the grass is such that you can’t see them until you’re almost on top of them.  They are potential hazards, if one should be kicked up by a galloping horse into the face of a horse or rider following.  Jeremy recalled an occasion seeing golfers playing shots from the racetrack back onto the golf course and was indignant and the notion of them churning up his beloved turf. In any case they were were technically “out of bounds” and should not have been playing a shot from there.

More contacts have been made who I hope can provide me information about Salisbury’s past, and there’s been one particularly thought-provoking email from a lady seeking historical information from me.

That major statistical exercise I mentioned before is finished, and now the stats only need regular maintenance.  “Only” implies there’s not too much effort, but judging by the first week’s updates it’s amazing how much time rushes past when doing it.  That second newspaper column is also now part of what has quickly become a weekly routine of racing work alongside the Salisbury research.

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I’ve completed project number 2 in the last fortnight and I’m now waiting and hoping it will appear in print, but that might be any time between next weekend and Christmas.

I enjoyed the hospitality of the Windsor management last week in their Castle Restaurant overlooking the racecourse. It was a kind thank you gesture for writing the book.  The food was amazing, although I could not identify all of the ingredients in the rather exotic dishes I consumed.  So was the weather, with warmth and blue skies more appropriate to midsummer.  Naff though it may be, I took a picture of the dessert as a memento.  No, it’s not going on this blog or any other social media.  Another favourable review of the book has appeared in the Oct-Nov edition of Horse & Countryside.

I made the long trek by rail to Hereford on Thursday to be present for the much-appreciated reopening of the course after four years in mothballs.  (A course with a very long history and no book about it)  I and other rail travellers were disconcerted to come out of the station forty minutes before the first race to find no taxis.  One or two came along, but they had been pre-booked by other people.  After ten minutes a free one appeared, which four of us piled into.  It soon became apparent that many of the roads around the course were gridlocked through sheer volume of people trying to get there.  Our taxi driver took us a back way that avoided the mayhem in the car park.

We got to the main entrance with a quarter of an hour to go, where there were about a hundred people milling round waiting to get in. Brandishing my Brighton member’s badge, which entitles me to free entry to other tracks in the same ownership such as Hereford, I sailed through another gate and instantly bumped into David, my great helper from Uttoxeter, who with his wife was a guest of the management.  Though he was particularly associated with the Staffordshire track, he had also been clerk of the course at Hereford in his time.  It was a wonderful bonus to see them.  With his help I was able to enjoy the comfort of the hospitality marquee and catch up with news from Staffordshire while outside the rest of the unexpectedly huge crowd watched a series of favourites win.

Let’s hope the locals turn out in sufficient numbers for its other fixtures to justify its renaissance.

Post-race plus rush hour traffic meant I missed my homeward train and my connection at Birmingham, and in the end I didn’t get in till after midnight. Fortunately I had a good book with me (not one of mine).  It all made for a memorable day.

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Most of my old book-buyers have now bought Windsor. While I was packing one to fulfil my most recent order a bookshop rang, asking me to supply a copy. Oh good, that’s another one, I thought.   Five minutes later they called back to say their customer had decided to order it direct from the racecourse.  Well, at least that shows there is some awareness that they are selling it.  They haven’t asked me to do any active promoting of it and as there’s been no need for me to be there, I’ve not been to the races for two months.  I expect to return for their next Monday afternoon meeting.  I know the usual race day presenter and some of the commentators have been plugging it, for which I am very grateful.

Meanwhile “light relief research” is being directed toward Bromley, a fairly short-lived Victorian suburban course close to where I live. Unlike Croydon, the subject of my first book, it never had any great status and nobody has written much about it before.  At least my work helps keep library user statistics up at a time when so many are under threat of closure due to austerity measures.  One of the readers of this blog is fighting to keep his local library going.

I am running low on Fontwell books and the other day I asked the racecourse if they could spare some. It sounds like the answer may be no; they could only lay their hands on a few.  It’s not 100% confirmed, but if they are also close to running out that’s quite an achievement.  For some years I believe they’ve been giving them out as mementos to winning owners, so even if they’re not selling many they are still getting value from them.  I never expected that the thousand we printed would all be used.  Do I dare to dream of a second edition?

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