Monthly Archives: August 2011

David Ashforth offers the best tip you will ever get from a racing journalist

Every hour, in the UK, one man dies of prostate cancer. Respected racing journalist, David Ashforth, has prostate cancer. David kindly agreed to write this guest piece to help publicise a charity walk a few of us are doing next month to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Charity. 

John Hanley, a racing broadcaster, organised the walk which was completed successfully and raised its target of £10,000 thanks to many racing and non-racing folk who donated.  There’s a report on the walk, and a short video here which is good, at least, for a few chuckles.

David Ashforth

David Ashforth

Joe, preparing (I hope) for his charity walk in the Lake District next month, has invited me to write a frank piece about my experience of prostate cancer; prostate cancer with the jokes taken out. The important bit had better come first, in case the next race at Wolverhampton is looming up or you’re bored already.

If your peeing habits change – if you persistently pee more often than usual, or have trouble peeing, or ‘leak,’ or notice some other change – go to your doctor, even though you don’t want to. If you are over 50, and the doctor doesn’t suggest it himself/herself, ask to have a PSA test. Even if you have no symptoms, ask about an annual PSA test, which is standard practice in the USA. Doctors have different opinions about the value of such tests but, if you are over 50, at least discuss it with your doctor.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with 36,000 new cases diagnosed every year, and 10,000 deaths each year. It is rare in men aged under 50 and, in common with many other cancers, early diagnosis can significantly increase the chance of a cure.

PSA stands for prostate specific antigen, a protein produced only by prostate cells. The prostate is a walnut size gland which produces semen. It is situated near your bladder. The PSA test is a simple blood test. I used to dislike needles but since I’ve become a pin cushion they don’t bother me anymore.

There is no symptom unique to prostate cancer and a higher than normal PSA reading can be caused by other things but, if you have prostate cancer, you will have an elevated level of PSA. It is a prompt for further investigation.

The most difficult thing I had to deal with was not discovering that I had cancer but the knowledge that I should have been diagnosed earlier. I have always had good GPs – with one exception. Unfortunately, it was the one that mattered. In 2004 I moved and got a new doctor. I wasn’t impressed by him and thought of asking to change but didn’t. Several times during the next few years, I saw the doctor about peeing issues. He didn’t examine me, or suggest having a PSA test, but told me that it was part of ageing. If I had known then what I know now, I would have insisted on a test.

Eventually, in 2008, when I was 59, my doctor arranged a PSA test. My reading was 11.2. The doctor told me that, if it had been 7 or 8, that would have been alright but, as it was higher, it was probably advisable to see a specialist. 7 or 8 is not alright. Anything above 3 or 4 is cause for concern. It is not just patients who need to be better informed about prostate cancer, so do some doctors.

The next step was a biopsy. They stick an instrument up your backside to take samples of tissue from different parts of your prostate, to find out whether or not there are cancer cells and, if so, how widespread they are. It didn’t take long but was quite painful. The results are expressed on the Gleason scale, from 2 to 10. My Gleason score was 7. I had a fairly aggressive cancer which had reached the edge of my prostate.

Depending on the nature of the case, various treatment options are available. I was told that I needed to have my prostate removed and, in October 2008, had a radical prostatectomy. It is a major operation, which took over four hours and, because the cancer had reached the edge of my prostate, surrounding tissues were also removed, which made nerve damage more likely. In terms of quality of life, the two main potential impacts are incontinence and impotence. Mercifully, I was largely spared the first but not the second. If you like penetrative sex, prostate cancer can be pretty disastrous, although there are things that can be done, particularly if you are prepared to stick a needle in your penis and inject a drug. Losing erections is better than losing your life, probably.

Friends, meaning well, would tell me that I’d live to be 90 – not necessarily a prospect to relish – but my reaction to my situation was to make myself as well informed as possible. I wanted to know the likely course of events and, for me, the fact that nothing that has happened since has been a surprise (well, apart from a spell in hospital with blood clots in both lungs, and surgery following bleeding in an eye) has made it easier to deal with. To me, it is not a battle but just a matter of the way in which cancer cells behave and the medical profession’s imperfect but improving ability to deal with it.

Since only prostate cells produce PSA, your PSA reading after having your prostate removed should be close to zero, preferably no higher than 0.1. Mine was initially 0.2. Last year, when it reached 0.5, indicating a recurrence of cancer, I was given a course of radiotherapy, “retrieval radiotherapy.” If the cancer cells were confined to the area near the site of my prostate, there was still a chance of a cure. Last autumn I had 33 treatment sessions. The radiotherapy itself is painless and, until more than half way through the course of treatment, I experienced virtually no side-effects. Later on, the lining of my bowel was affected, along with my bottom, and I was glad when it ended. There is still some legacy of that.

My PSA dropped to 0.2. By May this year it had returned to 0.5 and, by the end of July, had reached 0.9. Cancer cells are multiplying and producing more PSA. The consultant wrote to tell me, “the difficulty is that we are limited in other treatment approaches apart from using hormone manipulation.” I will be seeing him on September 1 to discuss hormone therapy. That will inhibit the progress of the disease but has some unwelcome side-effects, does not offer a cure and is effective only for so long. I will find out more when I see the consultant.

Unless something else strikes me down in the meantime, the cancer will eventually spread, and kill me. If, for me, diagnosis turns out to be a death sentence it is a suspended sentence. It is now three years since I was diagnosed and I am feeling well and happy. Finding peace of mind is important. I make a point of seeing friends and enjoying life, and am doing some work for the Prostate Cancer Charity, to raise awareness among followers of racing.

I am now 62. I’ve had and have a great life and have a fighting chance of collecting my state pension, while being spared the horrors of extreme old age. I have got nothing to complain about, except the infuriating slowness of my selections. Let’s hope Joe doesn’t trip over and kill himself during the walk.

Please share this article by whichever means you can in the hope someone is alerted to ask for that vital PSA test in time.  Thanks.

£100,000 bonus if Autumn Double landed by one trainer

This is a press release from Newmarket

Betfred will generously award a fantastic £100,000 bonus to any stable that wins both legs of the historic Autumn Double, the £160,000 Betfred Cambridgeshire and the £160,000 Betfred Cesarewitch, at Newmarket’s Rowley Mile Racecourse.

Strong entries for both races are revealed today, Wednesday 17th August, with 158 horses engaged in the nine-furlong Betfred Cambridgeshire (4.15pm), to be staged on Saturday 24th September, and 115 entered for the two and a quarter-mile Betfred Cesarewitch (4.15pm) on Saturday, October 8th.

The 158 entries for the Betfred Cambridgeshire mark an increase of 44 on the 114 entered in 2010. These include several exciting international raiders with five from Ireland and a pair from Germany trained by Mario Hofer in the shapes of Combat Zone, third in the Internationales Super Handicap at Hoppegarten last month, and recent Deauville winner Ideology.

The Betfred Cesarewitch has attracted 33 more entries than last year with nine of those trained in Ireland, two in France and one in Germany.  The Francois Doumen-trained Diamond Boy was second to Americain in a Deauville Listed contest last time while German raider Lacateno was runner-up in a similar contest at the same track on July 29.

Betfred is sponsoring both races for the first time and should any stable land the lucrative bonus being offered, the prize will be split so that the trainer receives £50,000 and the yard’s staff share the remaining £50,000.

Betfred chairman Fred Done said: “The Betfred Cambridgeshire and Betfred Cesarewitch are two of the most historic handicaps in the turf calendar and I’m delighted to be sponsoring both races for the first time this year.

“I hope that the £100,000 bonus will give trainers a real incentive to aim their very best horses at the two races and make this year’s renewal of both the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch the best in recent memory.”

The last trainer to win both races in a season was Sam Darling in 1925, who saddled Forseti to win the Cesarewitch having already taken that year’s Cambridgeshire with Masked Marvel.

The Roger Varian-trained Mijhaar, fourth to Nathaniel in the Group Two King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, has been installed as Betfred’s 8/1 favourite for the Betfred Cambridgeshire, while the Sir Mark Prescott-trained Tuscan Gold is the sponsor’s current 10/1 market leader for the Betfred Cesarewitch.

John Gosden saddled back-to-back winners of the Betfred Cambridgeshire in 2007 and 2008 with Pipedreamer and Tazeezrespectively. The Newmarket handler had previously scored with subsequent champion Halling in 1994.

Tazeez is among Gosden’s four entries that also include DhaamerQuestioning and Robemaker. The trainer has not yet captured the Betfred Cesarewitch and this year his single entry in the long-distance handicap is the progressive three-year-old,Manifestation.   


Malton-based trainer Brian Ellison has entered 10 of his charges for the Betfred Cambridgeshire, notably Saptapadi who was fifth to Twice Over in a Group Two race at York last month and the useful hurdler Ultimate. Ellison’s eight entries for the Betfred Cesarewitch are headed by the talented hurdlers, Bothy and Neptune Equester.

Tony Martin took the Betfred Cambridgeshire in 1999 with She’s Our Mare and the 2007 Cesarewitch with Leg Spinner. He has entered Pires for the former while Buy Back Bob could represent in the latter. 

Among the notable entries for the Betfred Cambridgeshire are the Hughie Morrison-trained (successful with Supaseus in 2009) Britannia Stakes victor Sagramor and the Marcus Tregoning-trained Boom And Bust who took the totesport Mile at Glorious Goodwood from the Roger Charlton-trained Proponent, with Pintura, trained by David Simcock, back in third.

Charlton, who won the race with Cap Juluca (1995) and Blue Monday (2005), could also saddle London Gold Cup winner Al Kazeem and Glorious Goodwood winner Cry Fury, while he has the improving Brown Jack Handicap victor Keys entered for the Betfred Cesarewitch.

Sir Mark Prescott has triumphed three times in the Betfred Cambridgeshire (1988 Quinlan Terry, 1997 Pasternak & 2003 Chivalry) and has entered the progressive Tenby Lady, while Tuscan Gold could bid to give him a first Betfred Cesarewitch success.

It is 35 years since Intermission gave Sir Michael Stoute victory in the Cambridgeshire and the trainer has entered Labarinto, 10/1 second-favourite with sponsor Betfred. The three-year-old landed a 10-furlong handicap at Glorious Goodwood on July 28.

The soon to retire Barry Hills has entered Maqaraat, while John Dunlop has engaged impressive recent Haydock winnerMahareb. Both are owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum.

Looking more closely at the Betfred Cesarewitch, Dermot Weld took the race with subsequent Melbourne Cup hero Vintage Crop in 1992 and the Irish handler could be aiming Rainforest Magic at the £100,000 bonus should either Stunning View or Rock Critic have already triumphed in the Betfred Cambridgeshire.

Ireland’s champion trainer Aidan O’Brien has entered a quintet for the Betfred Cesarewitch that consists of Group Three Queen’s Vase fourth Regent StreetAdmiral Of The RedApacheLong Live The King and Nantucket Bay. 

Aaim To Prosper prevailed in 2010 for trainer Brian Meehan, while Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor could saddle Darley Sun, successful in the 2009 Cesarewitch when trained by David Simcock. 

The Andrew Balding-trained Whiplash Willie landed a brace when winning at Glorious Goodwood last month, while the John Dunlop-trained Swingkeel won the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

The Queen’s Tactician, trained by Michael Bell, won the Listed John Smith’s Silver Cup  at York on July 9 and is an interesting Betfred Cesarewitch entry alongside another Royal contender, Lingfield maiden winner Wayward Glance.

Others of note for the second leg of the Autumn Double are the David Pipe-trained MamlookBeyondBig Occasion andTasheba, while Nicky Henderson, successful in the race with Landing Light (2003) and Caracciola (2008), has entered Sentry Duty and Ascot Stakes winner Veiled. Micky Hammond could rely on Goodwood Stakes victor Hollins.

Noel Meade has entered top class hurdler Donnas Palm, while Ian Williams has engaged Shergar Cup Stayers’ winner Ile De Re and Petara Bay could line up for Robert Mills having landed the Summer Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last time.

Mark Johnston has engaged nine in pursuit of a third Betfred Cesarewitch success to follow Spirit Of Love (1998) and Contact Dancer (2004), including Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes winner Fox Hunt. Johnston also has six entries for the Betfred Cambridgeshire with Jutland leading the Middleham trainer’s pursuit of Betfred’s £100,000 bonus.

Betfred has released prices for both races and will be paying out on the first five home on all ante-post bets from the entry stages onwards.

Betfred Cambridgeshire – sponsors bet: 8 Mijhaar, 10 Labarinto, 12 Cry Fury, Tenby Lady, 14 Maqaraat, Maraheb, 16 Agent Archie, Al Kazeem, Boom And Bust, Dhaamer, Diescentric, Forte Dei Marmi, Markazzi, 20 Albaqaa, Club Oceanic, Dare To Dance, Invisible Man, Kirthill, Man Of Action, Naqshabaan, Nordic Sky, Pintura, Proponent, Questioning, Red Glich, Sagramor, Saptapadi, Sarrsar, Stunning View, Tazeez, Terdaad, 25 Absinthe, Aerial Acclaim, Anmar, Arlequin, Belgian Bill, Circumvent, Credit Swap, Distant Memories, Don’t Call Me, Emirates Dream, Galiando, Haylaman, Heddwyn, High Twelve, Highland Knight, Hillview Boy, Hot Prospect, Jutland, Our Joe Mac, Paramour, Pendragon, Pires, Prince Of Johanne, Quick Wit, Rock Critic, Sahara Kingdom, Swop, Tinkertown, Truism, 33 Askaud, Atlantis Star, Axiom, Blaise Chorus, Brick Red, Capaill Liath, Combat Zone, Con Artist, Constant Contact, Dubai Hills, Fareer, Grumeti, Gunner Lindlay, Harrison George, Ideology, Invincible Soul, Janood, Kay Gee Be, Kings Gambit, Kingscroft, Leviathan, Little Rocky, Loving Spirit, Madam Macie, Mawaakee, Merchant Of Dubai, Nanton, Nice Style, Norman Orpen, Oceanway, Point North, Pravda Street, Printmaker, Riggins, Roayh, Robemaker, Seattle Drive, Shavansky, Stevie Thunder, Ultimate, Vanguard Dream, Voodoo Dream, Wannabe King, West Brit, 40 Desert Romance, Maali, Sadler’s Mark, Sergeant Ablett, Vainglory, 50 Afkar, Arabian Star, Camerooney, Classic Colori, Dolphin Rock, First Post, Izzy The Ozzy, Kiwi Bay, License To Till, Night Lily, Peponi, Sam Sharp, Satwa Pearl, Tinshu, Tres Coronas, 66 Breakheart, Destiny Blue, Dhaular Dhar, Dream Lodge, Hawaana, Jo’burg, Koo And The Gang, Laughing Jack, Layline, Nazreef, Nelson’s Bounty, Ravi River, Swiftly Done, Viva Vettori, 100 All For You, Daaweitza, Daring Dream, Eltheeb, Emerald Wilderness, Fujin Dancer, Full Toss, Jewelled, Shamdarley, South Cape, Toto Skyllachy, 150 Carragold, Follow The Flag, Global, Mattoral, Piceno, Sirgarfieldsobers.


Each-Way Terms: ¼ the odds 1-2-3-4-5


Betfred Cesarewitch – sponsors bet: 10 Tuscan Gold, 11 Veiled, 12 Keys, Rainforest Magic, 14 Admiral Of The Red, Fox Hunt, Mount Athos, Tactician, 16 Activate, Beyond, Big Occasion, Bothy, Colour Vision, Donnas Palm, Ile De Re, Petara Bay, 20 Aaim To Prosper, Apache, Bollin Judith, Buy Back Bob, Darley Sun, Kazbow, La Vecchia Scuola, Mamlook, Mystery Star, Pateese, Regent Street, Swingkeel, Whiplash Willie, 25 Ajaan, Ashbrittle, Bernie The Bolt, Diamond Boy, Ermyn Lodge, Gifted Leader, Hawk Mountain, Hollins, Long Live The King, Manifestation, Mountain Hiker, Never Can Tell, Ocean’s Minstrel, Palomar, Planetoid, Plato, Plymouth Rock, Sentry Duty, Tasheba, 33 Abergavenny, Alazan, Alcalde, Bay Willow, Becausewecan, Blimey O’Riley, Bowdler’s Magic, Dayia, Divapour, Downhiller, English Summer, Eshtyaaq, Exemplary, Halifax, Hawaafez, La Estrella, Lacateno, Mobaasher, My Arch, Nantucket Bay, Phoenix Flight, Regal Park, Rosewin, Sunwise, Waldvogel, Wayward Glance, 40 Advisor, Bow To No One, Braveheart Move, Cosimo De Medici, Dazinski, French Hollow, John Forbes, Lastroseofsummer, Sherman McCoy, Spiekeroog, Trovare, Wells Lyrical, 50 Forest Flyer, Gordonsville, Hong Kong Island, Jonny Delta, L Frank Baum, Magicalmysterytour, Money Money Money, Montparnasse, Nave, Neptune Equester, Petella, Red Anthem, Right Stuff, Rosewood Lad, Sea Change, Simonside, Slight Advantage, Soprano, Valid Readon, 66 Blackmore, Cotton King, Dark Ranger, Gogeo, Mohanad, Mr Crystal, Sancho Panza, Secret Tune, Union Island, 100 Kingsdale Orion.


Each-Way Terms: ¼ the odds 1-2-3-4-5

Tweet Lady’s sweet victory for free racehorse ownership (and you can still join!)

5th, 6th, 2nd and . . . on the fourth run of her short life, Tweet Lady won her first race at Kempton tonight at 16/1.

The two-year-old bay filly is known as #Peopleshorse by her 1300+  twitter followers, 500 of whom are also her owners. Tweet Lady was bought by Racing for Change, the body set up to give horse racing a much higher profile.  Racing for Change was panned for some of its early ideas but it has stuck doggedly and admirably to its task under CEO Rod Street, a man who knows that time, patience, good grace and perseverance can turn attitudes around.

He won’t boast and bluster about it but tonight’s victory will mean an awful lot to Rod Street who knows the value of social media in any marketing campaign. Racing badly needs young blood and were Dracula to take a deep bite of the collective social media market, 90% of his subsequent intake would be frothing with teenage oxygen.

Of tonight’s victory Rod Street said,

The aim of the initiative was to give a diverse group of people a taste of racehorse ownership with the objective of making racing more accessible. The mix of people involved is as we envisaged – horse lovers, punters and newcomers. To have such an early success with a win on only her fourth run is magical. So many people were willing her on. Racing is made for social media initiatives like this.

Let’s hope many more enrol free  here as Tweet Lady owners and cheer her, and racing, to more victories.

Changes to Grand National Course after review of 2011 meeting

Aintree Racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) today announced the interim findings of their review into the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National meeting.

The findings of the Grand National Review Group relate specifically to the Grand National Course and its fences, which will be subject to a balanced package of modifications with the aim of enhancing safety for competitors.

The balanced changes to the course and fences follow detailed expert analysis of all races run on the Grand National Course since 1990 (when the course was significantly remodelled).

In addition, consultation has been conducted with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare and invaluable input has been provided by leading trainers and jockeys in conjunction with the National Trainers Federation (NTF) and Professional Jockeys Association (PJA).

Work will now commence to ensure all modifications are fully bedded-in ahead of Aintree’s next race on the Grand National Course, the Becher Chase on Saturday, December 3, 2011.

Julian Thick, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse, said: “The safety and welfare of horses and riders is always our number one priority at Aintree. This is the latest stage in our continuous drive to make the Grand National Course as safe as possible. The Grand National is an unparalleled challenge over four miles and four furlongs and this unique event is the most famous race in the world.

“It is not possible to completely eliminate risk in horse racing. However, I am confident the course changes we are announcing today will, over time, have a positive impact. We will continue to monitor this carefully and make further improvements and modifications to the course if required as part of our ongoing commitment to safety.”

Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for the British Horseracing Authority, said: “These modifications are sensible and balanced. Aintree, our team of Course Inspectors and our Senior Veterinary Advisor have analysed DVD footage of races and fallers over the National Course since 2000. We have also received a lot of valuable feedback from our sport’s participants and welfare groups. I truly believe it all makes for a strong package of track changes that will enhance rider and equine welfare.”


The modifications to the Grand National Course announced today are: 

1. The landing side of Becher’s Brook (fence six on the first circuit and fence twenty-two on the second circuit) will be re-profiled to reduce the current drop (i.e. the difference in height between the level of the ground on takeoff and landing) by between 10cm (4 inches) and 12.5cm (5 inches) across the width of the fence. This will provide a more level landing area for horses. After the work is complete the drop will be approximately 25cm (10 inches) on the inside of the course and 15cm (6 inches) on the outside of the course. This difference in drop from the inside to the outside of the fence is being retained to encourage riders to spread out across the width of the fence and also to retain the unique characteristics of Becher’s Brook. The height of the fence will remain unaltered at 4 feet 10 inches (1.47 metres).

2. Levelling work will also be undertaken on the landing side of the First fence (fence 17 on the second circuit) to reduce the current drop and provide a more level landing.  By doing so, this amendment aims to avoid catching out horses that may ‘over-jump’ the (first) fence in the early stage of the race. The height of the fence will remain unaltered at 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 metres).

3. The Fourth fence will be reduced in height by 2 inches to 4 foot 10 inches (1.47 metres). It was identified during the review that fence Four and fence Six (Becher’s) were statistically more difficult to jump than other fences in all races over the National fences and this is the reason for this change.

4. The height of toe boards on all National fences will be increased to 14 inches (36cm). Toe boards are the orange board, positioned at the base of the fence and provide a clear ground line to assist horses in determining the base of the fence.


British Horseracing Authority Grand National Review continues


The BHA has launched a wider review of all operational aspects of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National in April 2011, which is ongoing. The Review aims to explore all available options to reduce manageable risk to horses and riders in the world’s most famous race. The results of the full review will be published in October.

The Review includes consideration of the pre and post-race care of all horses in light of raceday weather conditions in recent years. A range of procedural modifications will be implemented in time for the 2012 John Smith’s Grand National meeting. The details of these modifications will be finalised and announced in due course. However, the Review Group is considering:

A new post-race horse wash down and cooling area off the course for all horses. 

Flexibility in the Grand National race conditions to allow for the shortening or removal of the pre-race parade. This would shorten the time that horses are mounted before the race in the event of unseasonably warm weather.

Fixtures – pass the parcel – who’ll be left holding it?

The wriggling has started.  A few weeks ago the BHA admitted it was effectively ‘powerless’ over fixtures.

Responsibility for commercialising fixtures now lies with what I will call a ‘new group’ (they seem to have no formal title) The Horsemen’s Group and the Racecourse Association.  What role the BHA will play in fixture allocation is unclear – perhaps Paul Struthers, head of communications at the BHA would care to clarify by way of leaving a  comment here?

The BHA and the ‘new group’ are now arguing in public:

Dixon, (Paul Dixon, chairman of The Horsemen’s Group) who helped develop the Horsemen’s prize-money tariff, which has resulted in some tracks downgrading races, said: “British racing must, as a matter of urgency, conduct a radical overhaul of both the fixture list and race programme – much more radical than the BHA has so far proposed – and as a result create a race programme that optimises the abilities of horses in training, creating competitive and exciting racing based on aspiration.”

Addressing this point, BHA spokesman Paul Struthers said: “We have urged the Horsemen’s Group to develop their race planning proposals for nearly a year, with little apparent progress.

“We’ll continue to encourage them and help them along the way, but it really is time for them to make progress on this and on other structural issues, rather than focusing on soundbites and PR. This will then allow us to work with them and the racecourses to find the best solution for the sport as a whole.”

Racecourse Association chief executive Stephen Atkin said: “We are working closely with the BHA and the Horsemen’s Group on the construction of next year’s fixture list and we hope the work will be concluded by the middle of next month. The issues involved are complex and include both field sizes and the financial return from fixtures.

“Also we are working with the BHA and the Horsemen’s Group on the structural review of the sport, which includes the fixture list, race programme and prizemoney, and we are part of the way through producing a joint approach on these issues.”

Full article here

I’ve criticised the BHA in the past for ceding control of fixtures, and I stand by that.  But I can understand if there’s a tingle of Schadenfreude at BHA HQ as the ‘new group’ realise the chalice they so gleefully and greedily grabbed is poisoned.  Agreeing a fixture list that will offer optimum benefit to racing via the Levy (and its replacement) is a devilish challenge in itself.  Add the explosive mix of two bodies trying to carve the list up between them to maximise their own share of revenue from media rights, gate money, sponsorship etc and you have a Labyrinth.

It will take people of substantial intellect to resolve these problems.  Nobody in the current set-up has shown any signs of possessing half the intelligence or commercial nous necessary to safeguard racing’s future.  Hence these early public exchanges as the realisation dawns on The Horsemen that imposing tariffs requires only bluff and bludgeon; facing the challenge of organising a fixture list without undermining the foundations of the industry demands surgical-level skills.

In the absence of surgeons, the panicked search for scapegoats is now on.

Breathing Ops – should they be subject to greater scrutiny?

Paul Nicholls reports that more than 20 of his string have had breathing operations during the summer. Mr Nicholls seems to be the chief advocate for this process.
Does anyone have any stats on the effectiveness of this surgery? Anecdotally, my impression is that they rarely offer more than very short term benefit.

If the stats show these ops are effective, should trainers be obliged formally to declare them before the horse next runs?

If Mr Nicholls who, arguably has his pick of the best and healthiest horses, deems surgery necessary on such a high percentage of his string, how many among the general population of racehorses suffer breathing problems?

Should horses with breathing problems be racing at all? (welfare issue?)

Surgery is invasive and must carry a degree of risk to the animal; if medication were available to do the same job, would the BHA allow it to be administered? If not why is a different medical intervention allowed which produces the same result?

Are breathing ops performed to correct ‘faults’ or enhance oxygen intake in an otherwise healthy animal? If the latter, should they be permitted?

I’ve asked Paul Struthers (head of communications at the BHA) if the BHA keep any stats on horses who’ve had breathing ops. Paul says that , in short, they do not. He points out that there are numerous different procedures which tend to be bracketed as ‘breathing ops’.

“The William Hill I Knew” By ex-Sporting Life Man, Angus Dalrymple

Angus Dalrymple (left) began his career in the bookmaking business during the Second World War. Billed as Gus Dalrymple in the Sporting Life from 1962 to 1966 (and again in 1972) he wrote about betting shops and racing personalities.  He now writes for CBC-TV News in Toronto.

I’m indebted to BOS magazine for permission to reproduce this article.

Joe McNally

The William Hill I knew

by Angus Dalrymple

         JULY 30 IS a very important anniversary in my life. It’s exactly 66 years – nearly two thirds of a century!  – since I began working for William Hill in Park Lane, London, as a settler. But it was a close-run thing, desperately tight.

I was a teenager and getting my first glimpse of a city dreadfully damaged by Hitler’s bombs. The fighting in Europe was over but the war against Japan was still on.

“Can YOU settle?” Henry (“Nick”) Nicholls, Hill’s bluff and hearty staff manager, gave a bemused look as he gazed down at my slight figure that summer afternoon in 1945.  (In less than two years I would tower over him.)

He took me into the phone room and gave me a very tricky settling test: five pound each-way doubles, trebles and an accumulator on four winners including, I shudder even now to recall, a 100-7 shot and one at 13-8 on in a dead-heat.

I set to work and after many minutes gave my completed paper to Nick. He took it to a man with a pronounced limp who was walking near a desk. This was Don Hart, Hill’s communist racing manager; the Soviets of course were our allies then. Don took a paper from the desk and gave it to Nick. I then saw them shake their heads as they compared my returns with theirs. Nick, frowning, came back over.

“Your doubles are wrong, lad, and so are your trebles. Your accumulator’s adrift too.  So I’m afraid it’s no go.”

He saw my face fall. “Look, son, we’ll take care of your fare up from Cardiff and any other expenses. I’m sorry.”

I’d double-checked my answers and could not believe it. How could I be so wrong? I was just going out to head for Paddington Station and home when I heard Don Hart’s deep voice suddenly call out, “Hold it, Nick, just a sec.”

Don was again looking at my answers, but this time with a slight smile. Nick went back to him. The two whispered for a second. Then Nick, also smiling now, came over.

“Our racing manager’s just noticed something. Tell me, have you ever settled bets on a credit basis before?”

“Never, sir, I’ve only worked on cash letters and street stuff from our runners. It’s all ready money, you see.”

“That accounts for it, you’ve included the stakes in your returns; we don’t do that up here because all bets with us are on credit, that’s what misled us. It’s lucky Don spotted that your shillings and pence are correct, it’s only the pounds that are different because you didn’t deduct the stakes. Congratulations. Would you like to meet Mr. Hill?”

Would I?  My heart was thumping with relief and joy.

Soon I was being shown into a private office. The head of William Hill (Park Lane) Limited was in London that day because there was no horse racing, only a greyhound meeting; wartime restrictions permitted turf meetings just a few days a week so as not to jeopardise the war effort.

The tycoon who was one of the few bookmakers to keep operating during five years of war and now ran the biggest firm in the country, rose from his desk to greet me. I was looking at a dynamic, well-dressed, dark-haired man in his early forties with a genial smile and twinkling eyes. What Hill saw was an awkward 17-year-old in a suit from the Fifty

Shilling Tailor and a shirt and tie from Marks & Spencer.

“Sit down, son. Nick tells me you’ve done a good test and would like to join us.  Cigarette?”

His mellow Midlands accent rolled over me like syrup. I couldn’t believe the firm’s founder was lighting me up.

“Nick says you’re with Sherman’s in Cardiff. I know old Harry. How long have you been working for him?”

“I started as an office boy just before the Derby last year, sir, but a few weeks later I was promoted to settler.”

Hill picked up a pair of spectacles and put them on, thoughtfully writing down what I told him. “So you started with him in May last year. Tell me, how much is Harry paying you a week to work out bets for him?”

“Thirty-two and six, plus 18 pence a night tea money.”

Hill gravely wrote down this information, then looked up. “TEA money? Never heard of it. What’s that?”

“We get one and six a night for staying late and getting all the settling done before we go home.”

“And you get paid this five times a week so you can buy yourself a cup of tea and a sandwich?”

I nodded and he got busy with his pen again. “At eighteen pence a night that’d bring your money up to…”

“Two pounds a week, sir,” I said helpfully.

Britain’s Number One oddsmaker took off his glasses. “I’m afraid we don’t pay tea money here, but what I can give you is five pounds a week basic pay and an extra pound every time you work a dog night. You can do that five times a week if you want, so that’d bring your money up to..”

“Ten pounds a week. And thank you very much, sir.”

Mr. Hill put down his pen and smiled. I was in!

*     *     *     *     *

I JOINED the firm on Monday, July 30, 1945, and soon found I was luckier than I thought. The news came from racing manager Don Hart, the Communist crippled when he was stabbed in the leg during a clash with Fascists in Hyde Park in the ’30s. He also told me he religiously bought two copies of the pro-Soviet newspaper the Daily Worker every day and left one on the bus in the hope another passenger might be converted.

“Your boss Harry Sherman tried to stop you coming to us,” Don said on my first day as we stood by his desk overlooking the same Hyde Park that had maimed him. “He phoned last week asking for Mr. Hill but as he was away at the races I took the call. ‘Mr. Hart,’ he said, ‘I’m terribly short of good staff and it would really help if Bill could hold off on taking Dalrymple away from me. The fact is, most of my best settlers are still in the army and can’t come back till they’re demobbed, you know how it is. So if you’ll please tell Bill my problem, I’m sure he’ll understand’.”

Don Hart’s lantern jaw twitched as he recalled the way a bloated capitalist was trying to exploit a lowly worker.

“I said, ‘No, Mr. Sherman, and I know Mr. Hill will agree with me on this. I think we should let the boy have his chance’. That’s why, Angus, you’re here with us now.”

It was then Don told me something Harry Sherman couldn’t have imagined and not many people realise today: it’s that William Hill was a staunch supporter of the Labour Party and as much of a left-winger as his racing manager was.

I went to work with a will and loved it. Most of the staff were men and women too old to have been called up or who’d been invalided out of the services on compassionate grounds or because of war wounds. The crowded settling department was on the first floor next to the phone room.

Accounts staff worked on the ground floor (here I met Ron Pollard, who went on to be one of the heads at Ladbroke’s). Our mail room and filing department were on the second floor.
DAILY ROUTINE: Mornings began by finishing up greyhound business from the night before. Then came the settling of thousands of postal bets from across the country. Next we calculated ante-post wagers and wrote out clients’ vouchers.

If there was time before lunch we engaged in the “stuffing” of envelopes with Hill’s latest promotions or took bets in the phone room using a brand-new invention, ballpoint pens.

After lunch we got down to the nitty of the afternoon’s horse or dog racing. Runners and results were shouted to us in a strong northern accent by “Willie” Williams from the phone room’s doorway. Then came his bawling of the “weighed-in” signal followed by his equally clamorous delivery of the Tote dividends. The uproar reigned until the day’s work ended.
OFFICE VISITORS: I saw fiery Phil Bull, a man with flaming red hair and a beard to match wearing a navy uniform (he was the founder of Timeform); Florence Desmond, a stunning actress who went on to star in the William Hill Show on Radio Luxembourg and with whom it was said Hill was having an affair (she certainly paid enough visits to Hill’s

private office on non-racing days); Hill’s best client, the millionairess Dorothy Paget, owner of a large string of racehorses (she was the subject of one of Hill’s favourite jokes, of which more later); singers and comedians Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen (both gamblers from the famous variety act “The Crazy Gang”); and Roy Sutterlin, a debonair young man in air force uniform who said he was hoping to work for us after the war (he eventually joined us as a telephonist and trainee settler – I showed him the new “block” system, a time-saving method of working out bets – and the aircraftman went on to become one of Hill’s top aides and a director of the company!).

One day in the phone room I tried a new tack. Instead of announcing “William Hill” when I took a call, (many of the Londoners around me said “William ’llI” including one ripe

Cockney named Tom Simpkins who actually said “This is ’Ill speakin’”), I decided to say “William Hill of Park Lane at your service.” My greeting brought me a nice surprise.

It happened when Don Hart limped his painful way over to me. “You’re to go to the cashier and tell him you’re getting an increase in pay of a pound a week. That was Mr. Hill you just put through to me. He said to tell you he likes the way you answer the phone.”

I never saw William Hill in a bad temper. Not even when he bought large and shiny highly polished tables for the settling room along with dozens of self-extinguishing tall black plastic ashtrays with gleaming chrome tops. Within weeks every ashtray in the place had vanished. Hill remarked to Nick: “Well, at least we’ve still got the tables.”

On non-racing days he often came into the settling room to regale us with racing jokes. He often told the same stories but so enjoyed chuckling over them no one ever reminded him we’d heard them all before.

One he never tired of telling was about the punter who went to Epsom with only ten shillings (50p), backed winner after winner and was thousands of pounds up until the last race when he lost everything. He had to walk all the way home, where his wife greeted him with “How d’you get on, Fred?” and Fred answered, “I lost ten shillings.”

His Dorothy Paget story told how a new Welsh announcer at Chepstow races got the sack on his first day. His voice sang out over the loudspeakers: “Attention, please! The Stewards have informed me that Miss Dorothy Paget’s Fanny has just been scratched. In the paddock.”

Hill said the news naturally turned the betting market upside down: it was only minutes before the race and a new favourite had to be quickly installed. Then the announcer came on with the extra information that cost him his job: “May I have your attention again, please! The Stewards now inform me that to the best of their knowledge and belief, Miss Dorothy Paget’s Fanny has never even been entered!”

*     *     *     *     *

THE WAR in the Far East ended and a great Victory Parade was planned. Park Lane was on the route and Hill’s office gave a great view of the marchers passing the reviewing stand. Friends of the firm packed the phone room and settling department on the great day.  What with the blaring bands, cheering crowds, and Willie Williams bawling the results, bedlam reigned throughout that memorable afternoon.

Months later as Christmas approached I received two invitations: one was from the government, telling me to report for military service in January; the other was from William Hill asking me to go to his first-ever staff party.

The occasion, the first of many I attended down the years, was held at Fisher’s nightclub in Bond Street. On the big night, our racing manager, Don Hart, made us all sit up.

Hill’s principal guests were announced by a doorman at the top of the grand staircase. We all gaped when we suddenly heard him call: “Sir Donald Hart!”

Don, immaculate in a dinner jacket with a white carnation, came limping sideways down the stairway, one at a time. When he reached the foot, the Master of Ceremonies boomed again: “Sir Donald Hart!”

What an entrance. The sight of a onetime communist agitator masquerading as a knight for a night made William Hill, Nick Nicholls and the rest of us break up.

Later Mr. Hill, in his speech to the company, said that while I was away doing my service in the army he was arranging for me to be paid my salary in full every week.

What a man.

William Hill

The late Willam Hill on Dorothy Paget’s Fanny

Dorothy Paget and Golden Miller


There’s a lovely piece by Angus Dalrymple in this month’s edition of BOS magazine. Angus talks of his early days working as a settler for William Hill.  He tells of the big bookie’s sense of humour and one of his best-remembered tales about the infamous Dorothy Paget who owned many horses, including Golden Miller, winner of 5 Cheltenham Gold Cups and a Grand National.

Hill’s tale was of a new Welsh announcer at Chepstow races, sacked on his first day for informing racegoers over the tannoy: “Attention please! The Stewards have informed me that Miss Dorothy Paget’s Fanny has been scratched in the paddock.”

Hill said the news turned the betting market upside down and just minutes before the race a new favourite was installed.  The announcer then came on with extra information that cost him his job: “May I have your attention again please!  The Stewards now inform me that to the best of their knowledge and belief, Miss Dorothy Paget’s Fanny has never been entered!”

As the saying goes, if it’s not true, it should be!

I’ve asked BOS for permission to reproduce the full article on my blog


William Hill