The joy of jump-racing

When famous folk die you sometimes fish for memories of any encounter you may have had with them. The memorial service for Nigel Lawson spurred no memory-searching for me. I will never forget meeting him at around 4 a.m. on the pavement outside The Grand in Brighton on 12 October 1984, surrounded by blue police tape and with emergency service sirens blaring following the IRA’s attempt to blow up Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet at that year’s Conservative party conference. He was in pyjamas and a blue, braided dressing-gown; I was still in my suit having fortunately walked out of The Grand about half an hour before the bomb went off. I

How modesty triumphed in the Derby

In the absence on her Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty, such an avid Derby attender in the past, and following the death just days before of the legendary Lester Piggott, it could have been a low-key, insignificant Derby. Instead, a truly impressive victory for the favourite, Desert Crown, turned it into a different kind of celebration. He had never really been away, but how the crowd welcomed the comeback when Desert Crown won Sir Michael Stoute his sixth Derby, becoming at 76 the oldest to perform the feat. The previous holder of the record was the 75-year-old Matt Dawson with Sir Visto in 1895, but in those days there were

A feast of feelgood emotion

Ascot’s image is all champagne and fascinators, high society and high rollers. Said Art Buchwald: ‘Ascot is so exclusive that it is the only racecourse in the world where the horses own the people.’ But there is another Ascot — one entirely comfortable with tweeds, corduroys, cloth caps and woolly jumpers. It might not have been. Bernard Fitzalan-Howard, the 16th Duke of Norfolk and the Queen’s doughty representative at the course from 1945 to 1972, allegedly declared that jumping would be introduced at Ascot only over his dead body. Fortunately it didn’t require his early demise. There has been jump racing at Ascot since 1965 and I doubt you could

The Derby was a game of musical saddles

We all know it takes courage to win races over jumps, along with athleticism, stamina and speed. But you need courage to win on the Flat too and Adayar showed that in abundance winning this year’s Derby. The aerial shots show vividly the moment, two furlongs from the finish, when early leader Gear Up moved fractionally away from the rail. Jockey Adam Kirby, who had been tracking him all the way, saw his opportunity and asked Adayar to forge through the narrow gap. His brave mount responded and suddenly they were clear, going on to win by four lengths in a success that was truly popular with the racing community.

Our Twelve to Follow have generated a record-breaking profit

First the company report. Readers who invested a tenner on the nose each time our Twelve to Follow for the Flat turned out have made a wallet-warming profit of £638. Only the management consultants on whom a panicky government has showered gold-plated contracts with no questions asked have done better than that in these Covid times. The dozen contested 39 races and seven won, four of them more than once. The standout was James Fanshawe’s filly Audarya. After a 12-1 Newcastle success she was sent to France for the Group One Prix Jean Romanet. Ridden by Ionitz Mendizabal, she won by a neck with British bookmakers paying 33-1. On-course investors

Why racing will miss Barry Geraghty

When I first began racing, few jump jockeys reckoned their careers would last beyond the ages of 32 or 33. But they last longer these days. Lying on the Aintree turf, though, after a fall in April last year, with his leg bent impossibly inwards, the 39-year-old Barry Geraghty wondered if that was where it was all going to end for him. (He has in the past few years broken both legs, both arms, fractured eight ribs and punctured a lung.) But that was only until the morphine kicked in. After six months of rehab for a broken fibula and tibia, he returned once more to the saddle and demonstrated

Royal Ascot was a triumph – even without the cheers and the hats

Royal Ascot it wasn’t: for the first time in her 68-year reign, thanks to Covid-19, the Queen was not there. Nor were the owners, the crowds, the hats or the morning suits. But just as the Cheltenham Festival gave us the last great sporting spectacle before lockdown, so Ascot celebrated the behind-closed-doors return of sport with five days of supreme skill and drama. As the no-nonsense Hayley Turner put it after a 33-1 victory: ‘It’s still an Ascot winner. Still the same race, the same grade of horses. It’s just as hard to ride winners whether anyone is here or not.’ The smooth Ascot operation provided a masked-up, biosecure environment

What the Queen will miss most in self-isolation

Seven hundred pages of memoir is stretching it a bit even for an ex-inhabitant of No. 10 with David Cameron’s need for self-justification. Halfway through For the Record I was tempted to skip a chapter or two, but then I encountered a passage that made the slog worthwhile. Talking about his relationship with the Queen, her 12th prime minister notes two essentials in preparing for the weekly audience. First check the BBC news headlines because she is always formidably well informed. Second get up to speed on what is happening in the horse-racing world. (He used to check with his bloodstock agent friend Tom Goff whether one of her horses

Cheltenham Festival was a triumph

The socialite MP Chips Channon once noted in his diaries his feelings about an after-lunch snooze in parliament’s Library: ‘It was,’ he said, ‘a true House of Commons sleep. There is no sleep to compare with it — rich, deep and guilty.’ With racing by then almost the only spectator sport available, the 60,000 a day who turned up for this year’s Cheltenham Festival had similar instincts. Thanks to coronavirus, millions were facing ill health, bankruptcy or worse while we gloried in the comparatively trivial distractions of who arrived first past the post in 28 races. Yet the vividness of the spectacle and the intensity of emotion were as gripping