Monthly Archives: October 2012
BBC’s Bottom Line last week discussed how snooker/darts/cricket/F1 were promoted to reach their glory days.
A key section, for me, was Barry Hearn’s strategy of taking a group of snooker players and giving each of them a ‘soap opera’ personality.
Racing can learn from this, in my opinion. We will never grow the sport substantially by just promoting horses; non-racing folk have no context within which to assess the Frankels of the world.
Which is more interesting (boring), snooker or horse racing? Which was getting TV audiences of 18.5m once Hearn had delivered his strategy?
Nominations now open for which soap opera personalities best fit our racing folk.
BTW, if you click the link above you will find Max Mosley is a guest on the programme so get the ‘whip’ jokes out of the way early.
This, courtesy of my friends at Racenews
FRANKEL (GB) FACTFILE
4 b c Galileo (IRE) – Kind (IRE) (Danehill (USA))
Form: 1111/11111-11111 Owner: Khalid Abdulla Trainer: Sir Henry Cecil
Jockey: Tom Queally Breeder: Juddmonte Farms Ltd Born: February 11, 2008
In 14 racecourse appearances, the unbeaten Frankel has more than proved a fitting tribute to the legendary US trainer Bobby Frankel, who provided owner/breeder Khalid Abdulla with a host of big-race victories in America until his death from cancer at the age of 68 in November, 2009. The home-bred son of Galileo is a three-parts brother to 2010 Lingfield Derby Trial winner Bullet Train, a five-year-old who acts as his pacemaker these days, and a full-brother to three-year-old Noble Mission, winner of the Group Three Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood in 2012.
Frankel made an eye-catching winning debut when readily scoring in a mile maiden on Newmarket’s July Course on August 13, 2010, as he beat subsequent dual Group One victor Nathaniel by half a length. He built on that promising start when quickening clear of two rivals for a bloodless 13-length victory in a seven-furlong conditions race at Doncaster’s St Leger meeting on September 10 that year. The manner of his win saw Frankel propelled towards the head of the ante-post markets for both the 2011 QIPCO 2,000 Guineas and the Investec Derby and he showed himself as a juvenile of uncommon ability with a stunning success in the Group Two Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes over a mile at Ascot on September 25. 2010.
Not content with the sedate pace, Tom Queally took up the running entering the straight and Frankel accelerated away from the field with ease to gain an almost effortless 10-length triumph over Klammer. His trainer then suggested that Frankel was the finest juvenile to have passed through his hands since Wollow in 1975 (who subsequently went on to win the 2,000 Guineas). Frankel’s final start of 2010 came at Newmarket on October 16 in the Group One Dubai Dewhurst Stakes. A strong line-up for the prestigious seven-furlong event also included dual Group One winner Dream Ahead and impressive Group Two victor Saamidd. Held up at the rear of the field, Frankel began to make smooth progress with three furlongs remaining and led before the furlong pole, defeating Roderic O’Connor by two and a quarter lengths in good style. The runner-up strongly endorsed the form when winning a Group One in France afterwards. Frankel was the joint champion two-year-old in Europe on official ratings with Dream Ahead – rated 126 as well as being named the Two-Year-Old Colt of 2010 at the Cartier Racing Awards.
Frankel reappeared in 2011 in the seven-furlong Group Three Greenham Stakes at Newbury on April 16, when he went to the front passing the three-furlong marker to record a comfortable four-length success over subsequent French Group One winner Excelebration. He started the shortest-priced favourite in the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket since Apalachee, third at 4/9 in 1974, going off at ½. He galloped his opponents into submission in the mile Classic and was over 10 lengths clear before halfway, winning most impressively by six lengths from Dubawi Gold with the field strung out.
After this truly stunning performance, he headed to Royal Ascot for the Group One St James’s Palace Stakes, also over a mile, on June 14 and extended his unbeaten run. But the victory was not delivered in the manner expected by his legion of admirers. Queally sent the colt to the lead with well over three furlongs remaining and Frankel was six lengths clear with a quarter of a mile to run. After such an explosive mid-race burst however, his momentum decreased markedly inside the final furlong, allowing the fast closing Zoffany to get within three quarters of a length at the line.
Frankel took on older rivals for the first time in the QIPCO Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood on July 27 last year, with his main opposition set to come from five-time Group One winner Canford Cliffs in a race billed as the ‘Duel on the Downs’. In reality the mile contest looked distinctly one-sided as Frankel made the running before powering clear for an imperious five-length success. Connections briefly toyed with the idea of stepping Frankel up to a mile and a quarter for either the Juddmonte International or the QIPCO British Champions Stakes, deciding on the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes Sponsored by QIPCO on QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot, October 15, when he cruised to a four-length victory over Excelebration. The World Thoroughbred Rankings for 2011 handed Frankel a rating of 136, 4lb clear of the outstanding Australian sprinter Black Caviar, making him officially the best horse in the world. He was Cartier Horse Of The Year and Cartier Three-Year-Old Colt in 2011.
He began the current season at Newbury on May 19, when he sauntered to a facile five-length victory over his old rival Excelebration in the Group One JLT Lockinge Stakes at Newbury over a mile. Despite that deficit being the biggest in four meetings with Excelebration, Sir Henry Cecil was expecting a sharper performance at Royal Ascot and the four-year-old did not disappoint. Frankel faced 10 rivals including Excelebration in the Group One Queen Anne Stakes over the straight mile – the opening race of the meeting – and produced a performance of the very highest quality, routing the field for an emphatic 11-length victory. In the aftermath of the performance, Timeform gave Frankel a rating of 147, the highest in the organisation’s 64-year history, while the British Horseracing Authority increased Frankel’s rating to 140, 1lb behind Khalid Abdulla’s outstanding 1986 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Dancing Brave. He achieved another first when capturing his second QIPCO Sussex Stakes at Goodwood by six lengths on August 1.
Frankel ran beyond a mile for the first time when contesting the Group One Juddmonte International over an extended 10 furlongs at York on August 22. The nine-strong field included a host of top-class performers including St Nicholas Abbey, Farhh and Twice Over, but Frankel treated them with complete disdain, cruising into the lead two furlongs out before striding clear for a seven-length victory. The ease of his success persuaded connections to contemplate the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe over an extra furlong and a half but Khalid Abdulla’s racing manager, Lord Grimthorpe, confirmed, after a period of consideration, that Frankel’s target was today’s QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot which he won in good style today. The 10-furlong showpiece was Frankel’s final race before a career at stud. Frankel has started favourite in all his races and, bar his debut, went off at odds-on. Tom Queally has ridden Frankel every time he has run.
Race Record: Starts: 14; 1st: 14 2nd:-; 3rd:-; Win & Place Prize Money: £2,998,302
Prince Khalid Abdulla(h), who prefers to be known as plain Mr K Abdulla on the racecard, is a first cousin to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He owns extensive racing and breeding interests in America, Britain, France and Ireland. He is a semi-retired businessman who, along with his four sons, presides over a huge conglomerate, the Mawarid Group, in Saudi Arabia and beyond. He developed a love for British racing during the 1960s when renting a house in London and, with the help of former trainer Humphrey Cottrill, had his first winner on May 14, 1979, when the Jeremy Tree-trained Charming Native scored at Windsor. Born in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in 1937, Abdulla has been one of the most successful owner-breeders in Europe over the past four decades and is the only current owner to have owned and bred the winners of all five British Classics.
The first British Classic success came when Known Fact was awarded the 1980 QIPCO 2,000 Guineas on the disqualification of Nureyev. He has won the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas thrice more, thanks to Dancing Brave (1986), Zafonic (1993) and Frankel (2011) who promises to be best of them all, while in 1990 Quest For Fame gave him an initial Investec Derby triumph, followed by Commander In Chief in 1993 and Workforce in 2010. His only Ladbrokes St Leger victory came with the Andre Fabre-trained Toulon in 1991. Abdulla also races with great success in France, Ireland and the United States, where under the Juddmonte Farms banner he won a Triple Crown race in 2003 with Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes. In 2003, Abdulla became champion owner in both Britain (78 winners) and France (58 winners), while he also finished third in the USA owners’ championship. The full-sisters out of Hasili, Banks Hill (2001) and Intercontinental (2005), gave Abdulla a notable pair of victories in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, a race he also annexed in 2009 with three-time Nassau Stakes (2009, 2010 & 2011) winner Midday.
Hasili also produced the owner’s dual Grade One winning mare Heat Haze, trained by the late Bobby Frankel. 2010 was a superb year and Abdulla finished it as champion owner in Britain (74 winners & prize money of over £3 million) for the second time, while Juddmonte was crowned the top breeder once again. Workforce won both the Investec Derby and Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in great style, while the unbeaten Frankel was crowned joint-champion European juvenile after victory in the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes. Special Duty also won two 2010 Classics in the stewards’ room. In the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket, she was promoted to first ahead of Jacqueline Quest after finishing a nose second and in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, the filly was awarded first place after coming home the head runner-up to Liliside. Abdulla’s other 1,000 Guineas win came with Wince in 1999. Twice Over has also been a leading light over the past few seasons, taking the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes at Newmarket in 2009 and 2010 as well as the 2010 Coral-Eclipse and 2011 Juddmonte International. Frankel is probably Abdulla’s greatest horse and remains unbeaten in 14 races, 10 of which have come at Group One level, including the QIPCO 2,000 Guineas, St James’s Palace Stakes, QIPCO Sussex Stakes (2011 & 2012), Queen Elizabeth II Stakes sponsored by QIPCO, the Queen Anne Stakes, the Juddmonte International and the QIPCO Champion Stakes. Frankel’s exploits last year played a large part in Abdulla winning another owners’ championship in Britain in 2011 (63 wins and over £3.4 million in prize money).
The owner’s Juddmonte breeding operation has nine properties in England, Ireland and Kentucky, including the 373-acre Banstead Manor Stud just outside Newmarket and the 2,500-acre Juddmonte Farms south of Lexington. Juddmonte Farms stand 10 stallions, including Oasis Dream and Dansili, as well as outstanding broodmares in Britain and the US including Hasili, Toussaud and Slightly Dangerous. Abdulla is an honorary member of the British Jockey Club and his daughter was married to the late Prince Fahd Salman, owner of 1991 Derby victor Generous. His notable horses have included the great Dancing Brave, narrowly beaten in the 1986 Derby but successful in the 2,000 Guineas, Eclipse, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Rainbow Quest, Warning, Danehill, Reams Of Verse, Rail Link, Zafonic, Oasis Dream, Chester House, Observatory, Xaar, All At Sea, Commander In Chief, Sanglamore, Ryafan, Exbourne, Marquetry, Raintrap, Sun Shack, Aptitude, Senure, Tates Creek, Cacique, Ventura and Proviso. Abdulla has over 300 broodmares and a similar number of horses in training. Lord Grimthorpe is his racing manager in Europe and Dr John Chandler oversees his US interests. He has won 10 Eclipse Awards in America as well as plenty of Cartier Racing Awards in Europe including the Award of Merit in 2002.
Sir Henry Cecil
Sir Henry Cecil, who was awarded a knighthood for services to racing in the Queen’s 2011 Birthday Honours List, has been Britain’s champion trainer 10 times and is master of Warren Place Stables in Newmarket. Since taking out a licence in 1969, he has compiled a record of success that ranks him among the pantheon of training legends. He has won 36 European Classics, including 25 in Britain, collected over 400 Pattern successes and saddled well over 3,000 individual winners. He is also the most successful trainer at Royal Ascot, having won 75 races at the meeting. Henry Richard Amherst Cecil was born in Aberdeen on January 11, 1943, 10 minutes before his twin brother David, with whom he enjoyed a close bond.
His father, Captain Henry Cecil of the Welsh Guards, brother of the third Baron Amherst of Hackney, was killed in action in North Africa some two weeks prior to the birth. Henry’s widowed mother Rohays subsequently married royal trainer Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort and moved her brood of four boys to Freemason Lodge from the family farm near Newmarket. His formative years at Freemason Lodge stables, along with his brothers Bow, James, David and later Arthur, infused a desire to pursue a life in racing. This was undoubtedly detrimental to any potential academic distractions that may have robbed the sport of one of its most intuitive talents.
In his book, On The Level, published in 1983, Cecil recalls at the age of seven being sent to prep school at Sunningdale where, with his twin David, he “went straight to the bottom form and stayed there”. He failed to get into Eton and spent the remainder of his school life at Canford School in Dorset, which he left with 10 O-Levels, before embarking on a high-spirited year at Cirencester’s Royal Agricultural College, where he and David “studied drinking and gambling”, before leaving without sitting any exams. Henry was destined for a career in stud management until accepting the role of assistant to his step-father in 1964.
Two years later he married Julie Murless, daughter of the great trainer Sir Noel Murless. Boyd-Rochfort, the man he called Uncle Cecil, retired at the end of the 1968 Flat season, at which point Henry took over the reins at Freemason Lodge. He did not exactly hit the ground running and it was two months before he sighted the winner’s enclosure. His initial victory as a licensed trainer came on May 17, 1969, when Celestial Cloud was the short-head winner of an amateur riders’ event at Ripon. That success came after a piece of anxious advice from his then father-in-law. After watching the Cecil string work, Sir Noel Murless, never one to interfere, awkwardly declared: “Your horses are galloping like a lot of old gentlemen. You must make them work.” Henry gratefully heeded the advice and big-race glory soon followed with Wolver Hollow in the 1969 Eclipse.
A move to Marriott Stables brought his first European Classic, courtesy of Cloonagh in the 1973 Irish 1,000 Guineas. Bolkonski’s win in the 1975 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket set the ball rolling in Britain. Wollow’s 2,000 Guineas victory a year later came in his first season training at Warren Place, formerly the yard of his father-in-law, and heralded an era of success that has etched his name indelibly in the annals of racing greatness. As the 1980s dawned, the Henry Cecil legend took shape. Supported by wife Julie, head man Paddy Rudkin, travelling head man George Winsor and others, he reigned supreme. He ended the 1979 season as champion trainer with a 20th century record of 128 wins to his name. That was his third title in four seasons, in a year that saw One In A Million land the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and Le Moss and Kris emerge as champions.
The following decade brought five more training titles, while eight individual British Classic winners, including the Derby heroes Slip Anchor (1985) and Reference Point (1987), and the brilliant fillies’ Triple Crown scorer Oh So Sharp (1985), were complemented by champions such as Ardross, Diesis, Indian Skimmer and Old Vic. In 1985, the year of Slip Anchor and Oh So Sharp, Henry became the first trainer in history to pass the £1-million mark in prize money. The 1987 season brought an even more phenomenal feat as Warren Place runners captured 180 races, smashing John Day’s 1867 record of 146. Success continued throughout the next decade with a further clutch of Classic triumphs including four Oaks wins in five years with Lady Carla (1996), Reams Of Verse (1997), Ramruma (1999) and Love Divine (2000).
He produced the brilliant Bosra Sham to be champion filly, nursing her fragile feet with the patience and care with which he is renowned, while enjoying two further successes in the Derby with Commander In Chief (1993) and Oath (1999). The latter’s owner, the late Prince Ahmed Salman, summed up the feeling of many after Oath’s triumph when he said, “winning Classics is easy. You just buy a horse and send it to Henry Cecil”. The years have seen many of his owner-breeders pass away, while the loss of Sheikh Mohammed’s patronage in 1995 was an undoubted blow.
The numbers housed at Warren Place fell dramatically from a peak of near 200, so that by midway through the decade 2000 to 2010 Cecil was no longer seen as a force in the contests that mattered. Owners deserted him, though notably Khalid Abdulla and the Niarchos Family remained loyal. The family standard, run up the flag pole after each Group One win, gathered dust for over six years after Beat Hollow’s Grand Prix de Paris win in 2000. In 2006, however, a corner was turned as Multidimensional gave Cecil his first Pattern success in four years. October of that year marked a return to the top table as the Khalid Abdulla-owned Passage Of Time captured the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud. Classic success made a welcome return to Warren Place in 2007 when Light Shift, owned by the Niarchos Family, clinched an emotional success in the Investec Oaks under Ted Durcan, while Midday went close to handing the stable a ninth victory in the premier fillies’ Classic when a close runner-up to Sariska in 2009. The Khalid Abdulla-owned filly subsequently proved a bona fide superstar, with an unprecedented three victories in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood in 2009, 2010 and 2011 as well as the Yorkshire Oaks and Prix Vermeille in 2010. She also provided Cecil with a first success at the Breeders’ Cup when landing the 2009 Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita.
Twice Over has also been a standard bearer for Warren Place over the past few seasons, taking the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes at Newmarket in 2009 and 2010 as well as the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown in 2010 and York’s Juddmonte International in 2011. The unbeaten Frankel is the latest superstar on the block, having won 14 races, 10 of which have come at Group One level (the Dewhurst Stakes, the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, the St James’ Palace Stakes, the QIPCO Sussex Stakes (2011 & 2012), the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes sponsored by QIPCO, the JLT Lockinge Stakes, the Queen Anne Stakes, the Juddmonte International and the QIPCO Champion Stakes). He is rated the top horse in the world and Cecil believes he is the best he has ever trained and the best horse ever.
As well as housing equine superstars, Warren Place was also the haunt of champion jockeys, with Joe Mercer, Lester Piggott, Steve Cauthen, Pat Eddery and later Kieren Fallon each doing their bit and enjoying the spoils of the master trainer’s meticulously-planned campaigns. Nowadays, the talented young Irishman Tom Queally is the jockey proving his worth atop Cecil-trained contenders. The record books do not lie and Cecil rewrote them as he cultivated and nurtured a string of champions.
He is a trainer of great flair – a gifted horseman with an exceptional ability in assessing a horse, and possesses a rare instinctive genius that enables him to appreciate potential far earlier than most. He is also the focus of great fascination, particularly among the media – a champion trainer with a penchant for gardening and fine clothes. He has fought cancer over the last few years and married Jane McKeown, his third wife, in 2008.
Tom Queally, born on October 8, 1984, has come a long way since riding his first winner on the John Roche-trained Larifaari at Clonmel on April 13, 2000, when 15. He was crowned Ireland’s champion apprentice the same season. From Dungarvan in County Waterford, where his father Declan combines farming with a small training operation, Queally was out hunting on his pony by the age of seven.
After a spell showjumping, he was a leading figure on the pony racing circuit by the age of 13 and was apprenticed to trainer Pat Flynn two years later. The apprenticeship was terminated when Queally’s parents insisted he finish his leaving certificate at school. At the end of a quiet 2002, when apprenticed to his father, he moved to Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle, winning the following year’s Group Three Ballysax Stakes on Balestrini. With the help of owner/trainer Barney Curley, he moved to Britain in 2004 and joined David Loder’s Newmarket stable, becoming British champion apprentice that year. He won the 2008 Group Three Princess Elizabeth Stakes at Epsom aboard Lady Gloria and is now attached to Sir Henry Cecil’s Warren Place stable.
Since his move to Cecil’s yard, he has recorded significant victories on Midday, who finished runner-up in the 2009 Investec Oaks before going on to claim the Group One Nassau Stakes at Goodwood (2009, 2010 and 2011), the Darley Yorkshire Oaks (2010), Qatar Prix Vermeille (2010) and the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (2009). Twice Over has given him success in the Emirates Airline Champion Stakes (2009 and 2010), and the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (2010).
Queally gained his first Group One success in Ireland when Chachamaidee was awarded the 2012 Matron Stakes in the stewards’ room after she was hampered in the closing stages. In 2009, he also won two Group One sprints, partnering the Michael Bell-trained Art Connoisseur in Royal Ascot’s Golden Jubilee Stakes (Queally’s first top level win) and Fleeting Spirit, trained by Jeremy Noseda, in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. He has partnered the world’s highest-rated horse Frankel on all the colt’s 14 appearances, including Group One wins in the Darley Dewhurst Stakes (2010), QIPCO 2,000 Guineas (2011), St James’s Palace Stakes (2011), QIPCO Sussex Stakes (2011 & 2012), Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by QIPCO) (2011), JLT Lockinge Stakes (2012), Queen Anne Stakes (2012), Juddmonte International (2012) and QIPCO Champion Stakes.
I first published this in October 2012. With the National approaching, I thought it worth another ‘outing’
Seventeen years ago today I was having breakfast in Winterborne Cottage where I was living at the time. It was the shortest commute I’d ever had, nestled in the trees about a hundred yards west of the winner’s enclosure at Aintree racecourse. Aintree’s 270 enclosed acres held a few properties and I was fortunate to live in one, at a peppercorn rent. I’d left SiS the year before to become Aintree’s first marketing manager.
At 8.20 my mobile rang. Aintree MD Charles Barnett, perfect diction unruffled as ever said, ‘Joe, Red Rum died this morning. He’s on his way here. We want him under the ground before telling the press. Can you meet me by the winning post in half an hour?’
It was a job. I didn’t stop to reflect on my life or the part Red Rum had played in it, or the path that had led me from a pit village in Lanarkshire to the best racecourse in the world. I was a working class boy whose habitual truancy led to a note from the headmaster to my father eight weeks short of my fifteenth birthday: “If your son dislikes school so much, tell him not to come back.” (Oh those pre-politically correct days!).
And I never went back, considering myself expelled at 14. I rejoiced and headed out into the world without a qualification to my name but armed with a twenty-two carat romantic view of life gained from all the books I’d read, huddled in the corner of warm libraries when I should have been at school.
The only teacher I ever paid attention to was one I’d never met, Dick Francis. I’d got through a book of his a day.
On a patch of old farm land behind St Pat’s school in my village, an optimistic farmer called Jim Barrett trained a dozen horses. I never thought then how incongruous it was, these ten acres or so, surrounded by steelworks and abandoned pits. I never noticed the smoky industry; I saw Uplands, Saxon House, Seven Barrows. But no Lanzarote or Bula was housed there.
Still, third-rate thoroughbreds were racehorses, creatures of unlimited potential and I’d be there in many frozen dawns to groom and muck out and sometimes ride and watch the stable jockey, three years my senior and better known in the village as the son of the owner of the fish and chip shop. His name was Len Lungo and a couple of years later he headed south to ride Martin Pipe’s first ever winner, Hit Parade.
The Guv’nor (oh, how I loved calling him that) used to weigh me once a week and I’d starve in the previous twenty four hours hoping that next day he’d tell me I’d make it as a jockey. But he never did and I never stopped growing. Jim Barrett died a relatively young man and I was cast adrift looking for some way to stay in ‘the sport’.
The best I could manage was a job with Ladbrokes. By the time of Red Rum’s first National I was nineteen and managing a busy betting shop in Hamilton and cursing Red Rum not just for catching the magnificent Crisp in the dying strides of that wonderful race, but for being the best bet for many at 9/1 joint-fav with the runner-up.
Those were the days when settling was done without machines. We worked furiously through around 5,000 betting slips as the queues of happy punters snaked around the shop and out the door.
That was the first of Rummy’s Nationals. It was the first of mine as a bona fide worker in the betting industry. That race, that finish, the particpants were to play a huge part in my life – unplanned, never knowingly sought. Had someone told me that day how it would all pan out, even at my most romantic and optimistic, I’d never have believed it.
Twenty two years later, breakfast abandoned, I sat in Winterborne Cottage drafting the press release to fax to my great friend Nigel Payne who had recruited me to SiS and had been instrumental in me getting the job at Aintree. The plan was to give the old horse a quiet burial without the media swarming all over the track. One of the reasons for the secrecy was, I suppose, the fact that it is almost impossible to bury half a ton of thoroughbred in a dignified manner.
Walking toward the winning post on that fine dry morning, I passed the place where I’d stood with Red Rum on the day of his 30th birthday, five months before.
May 3rd was to be just another meeting at Aintree. We were down to five meetings a year. In the 60s, Aintree had staged about 17 meetings a year, flat and jumps, but as the course fell further into disrepair, Mrs Topham gradually surrendered meetings till we were left with just a handful.
Anyway, preparing for that May meeting, I noticed in Red Rum’s Timeform essay that he’d been born on May 3rd 1965. I suggested to Charles Barnett that we call our meeting Red Rum’s 30th Birthday Meeting. Charles, always open to ideas said “Crack on.”
I rang Ginger to see if the horse would be well enough to attend and, cheery and helpful as ever, he said. “Of course he will, old son.” It didn’t take long to get a buzz going. The BBC and ITV asked if they could send news teams. We were getting calls from the international media and I got kind of carried away and told Charles I was going to create a special racecard and order 10,000 of them. That May meeting had seldom attracted more than 3,000 racegoers.
“You won’t sell them, Joe.”
“We will. Trust me. I’ve got an interview with Ginger in there, a special portrait of Red Rum on the cover. Timeform have agreed to let me publish their full essay on him from Chasers and Hurdlers!”
“There’s no way, you’ll sell close to ten thousand.”
“Trust me, Charles!”
He smiled and gave one of his shrugs (think Hooper in Jaws trying to dissuade the men in the overcrowded boat “They’re all gonna die!”)
When the track emptied after the meeting I was left staring at a stack of unopened boxes holding about 7,000 racecards. But CB never ever said “I told you so,” and the fact that he didn’t meant a lot to me.
Anyway, on that May evening, I’d walked out with Red Rum and his handler from the old stables. We came across behind the stands, Rummy looking splendid in his coat in the fading sun, ambling along quietly. But just as we came around the end of the Queen Mother stand, about thirty yards beyond the winning post, Rummy raised his head quickly and pricked his ears. His eyes became brighter and he stood very still for what seemed a long time, just watching. Lord knows what he was remembering but I will never forget that image.
Twenty four weeks later he was back close to the winning post he loved so well. This time he was lying on his left side, head toward the red and white disk above him, eyes closed, breath gone. No pallbearers, no coffin, no shroud.
Ginger was on my left, Charles on my right beside the only other man there, Bob Dixon, head groundsman whose precious turf had been gouged by the shovel of a yellow JCB which scooped out more than enough earth to make sure there’d be no embarrassing ‘rehearsal’.
Charles turned toward Ginger. Ginger looked at his oldest equine friend one final time and nodded. Charles raised a thumb to the JCB driver and the shovel was lowered to slip slowly below the spine of the finest Grand National horse that had ever galloped those acres since the first National in 1839. Slowly, slowly, slowly, Rummy was pushed toward the edge of his grave until gravity took over. Ginger walked forward and threw in a handful of fresh earth. I turned and went to my office to place an order for his headstone and to write his epitaph for it.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that a square yard of marble was never going to be enough on which to do credit to a true equine legend and I settled for the simplest of words. I showed them to Charles and to Ginger and they agreed there was nothing more to say.
A couple of weeks ago, on a beautiful morning, another player in that 1973 National sat with me on Fred Winter’s memorial bench outside his old yard Uplands, the place I’d dreamed of as a teenager. Richard Pitman and I published our first novel 20 years after Rummy’s first win and Richard’s heart-rending defeat on Crisp.
I’d wanted to go there with Richard. Next year is the 40th anniversary of the great race. From that famous yard behind us, Crisp had been driven north to Liverpool. He came back having endeared himself to anyone who had a heart. His jockey came back with the memory of an experience no other human being would ever have. Richard never claimed to be a great jockey. He wasn’t, but he has always been too modest. There were few who could get a horse jumping the way he could and even fewer who would blame themselves for losing the most famous race in the world when giving 23lbs to what turned out to be the greatest Grand National horse in history.
Sitting on that bench Richard explained to me, “It wasn’t so much picking up my stick before the Elbow that was the mistake, it was taking my hand off the reins to use it.” He has had almost 40 years of being tough on himself. I have had 40 years in a sport I love. I never knew the touchstone for me would turn out to be the 1973 Grand National. I helped bury the winning horse. I wrote novels with the man who rode Crisp. I have not sat on a racehorse these past 40 years but it has turned out a great ride through life for me – no skill required from the pilot, carried safely round the course by Lady Luck.
Richard and Joe’s first novel Warned Off is on Kindle. Click on the book cover to see details and reviews. Thanks