Robin Oakley

The Turf | 17 January 2009

Family business

One of my favourite spectator sports is sitting, glass in hand, watching Mrs Oakley in the kitchen. There will be a stock reducing here, a pan with a few chopped leeks and onions there. A pinch of this, a sprinkle of that. A handful of coriander and a scrinch of lemon, a shlurp of rather better wine than should really be devoted to culinary purposes — and then probably another shlurp. It is all done with the confidence of a surgeon taking the first slice into a patient, the dexterity of a master cooper. There is no sign of the hesitation that seizes Mrs O when she is asked to choose from someone else’s menu in a restaurant.

In short she is not a book cook but an instinctive cook. And most of the best trainers are the same. Theirs is not an art which can be reduced to a syllabus or taught by correspondence course, which is why it proves so often to be a family business. The Easterbys or the Rimells, the Wraggs or the Hills, the Hannons and the Moores absorb racing lore through their pores.

The other morning I was at Andy Turnell’s yard at Broad Hinton, near Swindon. As the second lot clattered down the lane towards the snow-covered Wiltshire Downs you could see the ridge beyond which Andy’s much-respected father Bob had sent out from his training yard in the 1960s and 1970s horses like Bird’s Nest and The Laird. In those days the young Andy was competing for rides with Bill Rees and Jeff King and Johnny Haine. He was famous then for how high he hitched his leathers when he rode their burly hurdlers and hefty chasers. He did it partly, he says, because he had begun his riding career on the Flat.

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