The horses to watch in 2024

The definition of good luck in Russia is state security knocking at your front door and demanding ‘Ivan Denisovich?’ when you are able to reply ‘Ivan Denisovich lives two doors down.’ Sometimes you just have to be thankful it is someone else’s bad day. Steaming around the M25 on Saturday towards Newmarket’s Juddmonte-sponsored Cambridgeshire Handicap day, I suddenly noticed there was no traffic on the other side of the motorway. Soon I realised why: a huge overturned truck was blocking all three lanes. As I passed mile after mile of frustrated motorists, some leaning on their car bonnets for a smoke, I realised that if it had been on my

The high and lows of a Hong Kong jockey

You can take a jockey who has ridden there out of Hong Kong; it’s a lot harder, I reflected, after a chat at Newbury with Neil Callan, taking Hong Kong out of the jockey. Even though this is his second season back on home territory after spending ten years in that racing pressure cooker, Neil still watches every one of the 18 races a week at Sha Tin and Happy Valley and remains grateful for what Hong Kong did for him. He went out there as a good jockey – you don’t get invited to take up a Hong Kong contract unless you are in the top echelons elsewhere –

Real life | 25 October 2018

Just when you thought there was nothing more for women of the left to nonsensically oppose, I bring you news of a baffling development. Female horse-riders of a liberal persuasion are burning their bridles. Yes, there’s a new craze among the lunatic fringe of the horse world whose members are casting their reins on to the muck heap. This trend is mainly confined to people who can’t ride very well and who are terrified of horses, making it extremely risky for all concerned. You would have thought nervous riders would put extra tackle on for more control but the happy-clappy hippy-dippies of the horse community — who also happen to

The turf | 7 June 2018

In the previous 17 runnings of the Derby this century no fewer than nine had been won by horses trained in Ireland. The Ballydoyle genius Aidan O’Brien had won four out of the last six for ‘the lads’ behind the Coolmore operation, and with his Saxon Warrior (already the winner of this season’s 2,000 Guineas) the odds-on favourite at Epsom, and four more O’Brien horses in the field of 12, bookies and punters alike were expecting this year to be ‘déjà vu all over again’. The day before, O’Brien and the lads had won the Oaks, the fillies’ equivalent, with Forever Together, sired like so many of their winners by

Real life | 10 May 2018

The first time I saw a woman leading a horse down the lane on a lead, both she and it dressed from head to foot in high viz, she in a crash helmet and safety vest, I thought nothing of it. But that was a good year ago now, and since then the increasing number of terrified, fully armoured women leading horses out for a walk like they were dogs rather than riding them means I can no longer pretend this practice is a one-off or not really happening. Much as I would like to turn a blind eye to the increasing madness in the horse world, I have to

The turf | 10 May 2018

I suppose, given the income and the opportunity to indulge, you could eventually tire of even Meursault, Mauritius and Mrs Oakley’s sublime chicken pudding. Guiltily, because racing means nothing if it is not a celebration of the best, I notice a fleeting thought going through my mind as I slalom through Swinley Bottom and approach Newmarket for the first of the season’s Flat racing Classics: ‘Please can somebody other than Aidan O’Brien win the 2,000 Guineas this year.’ Before this year’s race, the genius who prepares the horses for John Magnier’s Coolmore operation at Ballydoyle Stables in Co. Tipperary had won the race a record eight times, and sure enough

Real life | 19 April 2018

‘If this madness goes on, I will not be able to leave my house without downloading the app,’ I told my friend, who had been exhorting me to download the app for something. In fact, I had been trying to book a fun ride. Every year, my horsey friends and I go on these cross country jollies during the summer months. And every year all we do is ring or email the secretary of the relevant riding club, say we are coming, send a cheque, get our start time and turn up in our trailer on the appointed day. Not any more. The riding clubs have discovered apps. And so

Real life | 14 September 2017

Stefano and his boys got to work with gusto and within a few days the upstairs of my house started looking like the upstairs of a house. ‘I’ve got walls!’ I exclaimed, after one day. The next day: ‘I’ve got doors!’ The day after that I had a wardrobe. ‘Oh, you are wonderful!’ I told Stefano, and he looked at me with his usual expression, a bemused grin. ‘Getting… there…’ he said, in between the screeching of his boys putting electric saws through sheets of plasterboard. ‘There’s just one thing,’ I said. ‘What are these?’ A bag of pink doorknobs lay on a table. ‘You don’t like?’ he said. ‘They

Real life | 3 August 2017

‘This situation is Rorke’s Drift,’ said the builder boyfriend, after our proposed renovations were objected to at the parish council’s notorious planning meeting. ‘When you’re faced with 4,000 warriors armed with spears you may as well go down fighting,’ he declared, as we sat in the cottage ruminating on the news from our architect, who had just come back from the meeting. The BB is apt to get even more dramatic than me when we have a fight on our hands, but I actually think he is not far wrong in his use of metaphor. Certainly, I’ve no hard evidence thus far to deploy in arguing against him comparing the

The Spectator’s Notes | 9 March 2017

After he left the Blues and Royals in 1981, the young Tristan Voorspuy drove a motorbike from London to Cape Town. Thus began his love of Africa. He also learnt to fly, and arranged to travel alone to Kenya from England in a single-engine aeroplane, using only a schoolboy atlas. Luckily, his brother Morvern, a professional pilot, heard of this plan and prevented it. But Tristan reached Kenya by other means, and became a Kenyan citizen. For 30 years, he was a leading conservationist there and set up and ran the accurately named firm Offbeat Safaris, which allows guests to ride among the great beasts of Africa. Recently, armed hordes

Riding the storm

Clover Stroud opens her memoir with the crippling bout of post-natal depression that hit after the birth of her fourth child. ‘I felt like a fist. Dash was always naked, plastered bare to my breast, sucking from me as my body dripped milk and tears.’ She even contemplates harming the baby then killing herself, guilelessly telling the health visitor: ‘But isn’t that normal?’ We spiral back in time to the cataclysmic events that spurred Stroud’s distress. Stroud’s life was idyllic up to the age of 16. Home was a rambling country house in the village of Minety, Wiltshire, filled with adorable siblings and presided over by her father Rick, a

The anti-hunt mob have reached a new low

Last Saturday, on 2 April, 9-year-old Bonnie Armitage was killed by a kick from a horse. This tragic accident could have happened anywhere – at the yard, at a pony club camp, on a fun ride – but as it happened, it was at the closing meet of the Cotswold Hunt.  This last aspect of the accident is what so many people seem to have a problem with: people are now using her death as an excuse to reignite the hunting debate. Many of the comments – on numerous newspaper websites and on social media – are utterly vile, and don’t bear reading, let alone repeating. I know that we should all

In the steppes of a warlord

I suspect travel writing was once a fairly simple business: the author travelled somewhere, the reader did not; the author explained what the place was like and the reader was duly informed and even entertained. Dr Uno von Troil, for example, went to Iceland in 1772 and served up lurid descriptions of the devil holes and lairs of Beelzebub (geysers). None of his readers had been to Iceland; no one was inclined to argue with Uno von Troil. Later, with the advent of mass travel in the 19th century, Uno von Troil’s former audience could go by steamer to Iceland (or ‘Hell’) and witness the infernal pools themselves. More intrepid