Amo Racing’s Flat supremacy

You don’t often walk into a racing yard and find the trainer engrossed with two owners –apropos of horse names – discussing the role in the French Revolution of Count Mirabeau,  but Dominic Ffrench Davis is a rounded man. When I first met Dominic 25 years ago he was a young start-up trainer who’d had to wait a year for a couple of winners. But these days he is being noticed for more than just the unusual moniker (worked into the family line by a female forbear with a touch of grandeur who didn’t fancy being just another Davis). Top trainers argue that they would rather have four £50,000 horses

The magic of Aintree

However hard some people try to make it a business, jump racing remains a sport and the Grand National its greatest race. Two fences out this year 20 horses were still in contention, ten still seemingly in with a serious chance of winning. As Ruby Walsh noted: ‘If that doesn’t convince people it’s a wonderful sport I’m not sure what will.’ Of the 32 starters 21 finished. Four horses unseated their riders and seven were pulled up but not one fell. The Grand Nationalwill remain a great race. But it is changing Still in the battle two out were the three ‘story horses’. Latenightpass was point to point trainer Tom

The battle of the racehorse trainers

A famous American horse-handler – after seeing an English trainer who had been his assistant starting to win races back in the UK – declared: ‘I taught him everything he knows.’ He then added: ‘But not everything I know.’ With a friendly but intense end-of-season battle this year for the Jump Trainers’ Championship between Paul Nicholls and his former assistant Dan Skelton, I suspect that Paul is secretly hoping that he too has retained an edge despite their successful years together. Paul has been telling us that it would mean more to him this year for his stable jockey Harry Cobden to win his first Jump Jockeys’ Championship than for

Why won’t Tesco bank let me change my address?

‘Thanks for calling Tesco bank,’ said the voice, before rather lavishly promising to get me to a member of the team who was going to help me. This wasn’t quite how it turned out, although I would say, up until the moment I asked to change my address I was a very satisfied customer. If any of these questions did not suit me, I would be allowed to object, he said, as though reading me my rights This credit card has a very reasonable interest rate, and a nice big limit. However, it has decided that I do not have the security clearance to change my address because I have

Have I cursed myself by drinking holy water?

The mountain spring that feeds our house froze during the first ground frost, and we had no water. The builder boyfriend filled a bucket from the fountain in the garden so we could flush the loo. This really is living in faded grandeur. I spent the evening worrying about how we had cursed ourselves by drinking and bathing in holy water We are waiting on various tradesmen to turn up and do things to the plumbing in our run-down Georgian pile. We know we might have to drop a bore hole. But until then the water coming out of our taps is from a ‘holy well’. The stream pools into

Is it really un-Christian to listen to social media gossip?

‘Let’s get out of here,’ I whispered, almost in tears, as the priest finished his horrible homily. Standing at the altar in front of a stained-glass window showing Jesus with his arms outstretched, this priest was telling us all off for what had happened in Dublin, three hours’ drive away. I suppose we expected a bit of a lecture, going by the speeches about Palestine that we had been subjected to in previous weeks. We did so want to fit in by going to Mass, which had been noted by our Irish neighbours as a good thing. The priest told us how un-Christian we were being for listening to social

In praise of Harry Cobden

For the past two years anybody who has asked Harry Cobden, Paul Nicholls’s stable jockey, which horse in the yard he was most looking forward to partnering, the answer has always been the same: Bravemansgame. But when declarations were made for the Grade 1 Betfair Chase at Haydock last weekend, the rider’s name attached to King George winner Bravemansgame was that of Daryl Jacob. Jacob was thus in line for the jockey’s share of the £112,000 prize. Cobden, said Nicholls, would be riding the yard’s entrants at Ascot instead. Although it was rapidly announced that Cobden was happy about the arrangement, a few eyebrows were raised and tails swished, particularly

I’m taking on the Hilton through its breakfast buffet

‘Have you ever eaten breakfast at the Hilton before?’ shouted the woman on the door of the restaurant, as a guest attempted to gain entry. She told me I could help myself to coffee and I said I would, because I had As he mumbled something, she shouted: ‘And how are you this morning?’ He mumbled something else, and looked scared. I was already sitting down, having dodged the Cerberus of the breakfast bar because, when I entered, she had been marching around the diners shouting, ‘Anything else? More coffee? No?’ and I managed to help myself to what I wanted from the buffet and choose a table. This did

My top tips for the racing season

The cockerels of jump racing had better look out: the Hen is back. At 76, Henrietta Knight, whose feat of training Best Mate to win three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups will probably never be equalled, is to renew the licence she relinquished 11 years ago to care for her late husband, Terry Biddlecombe. Racing fans will be delighted; perhaps a few of the 27 trainers interviewed in depth by a ‘retired’ Henrietta for her revealing book The Jumping Game: How National Hunt Trainers Work and What Makes Them Tick slightly less so. Henrietta, who has continued pre-training and advising owners looking for future stars, is known as the best judge

My battle to get hold of the good stuff

In the pitch dark, we stormed from the house to the pick-up truck and screeched out of our farmyard with me shouting: ‘Come on! This is our only chance! If we don’t get there now we’re done for!’ ‘They won’t sell to us because we’re English. It’s like those stories you hear about idiots who move to Wales’ It was nearly 10 p.m. and I had just scored something on the phone so elusive on this remote hillside that I was physically itching from the desperation of trying to get it. The dealer concerned had answered his phone after I had rung him repeatedly, on the hour every hour, like

The fight over jockey saunas is heating up

When the nine equine athletes involved in the seven-furlong contest for Newbury’s Saturday highlight, the Group Two BetVictor Hungerford Stakes, strolled around the parade ring there was nowhere else in the world I would have preferred to be. As the sun gleamed off perfectly burnished coats and perfectly toned muscles rippled in sturdy hindquarters I wanted every one of them gift-wrapped and delivered to a paddock behind my garden. The classy Chindit, a Wootton Bassett colt trained by Richard Hannon, looked glorious. His stable companion Witch Hunter, sired like this year’s wonder-horse Paddington by Siyouni, gazed intelligently around him. Spain had a rare representative in the Lope de Vega colt

An extraordinary woman: The Art of Lucy Kemp-Welch, at Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, reviewed

In March 1913 two horse painters met at the Lyceum Club to discuss the establishment of a Society of Animal Painters to raise the profile of their genre. Of the two, it was Alfred Munnings whose profile needed raising. Lucy Kemp-Welch had been a celebrity since her twenties when her 5x10ft canvas ‘Colt Hunting in the New Forest’ caused a sensation at the 1897 RA Summer Exhibition and was purchased by the Chantrey Bequest for the new National Gallery of British Art on Millbank. She threw herself into every activity she depicted, whether rounding up colts or hauling timber The daughter of a Bournemouth solicitor, Kemp-Welch had been riding and

Her Majesty’s enduring love of dogs and horses

In 1995, Her Majesty was heard to remark that the worst aspect of the Parker Bowles divorce was that she had got Danny back. Danny was a corgi given to Camilla and me by the Queen in the early 1990s. She had previously given us a corgi called Windsor Flame who was wonderful, intelligent and brave. Danny had none of these qualities. He was short in looks, legs and temper. After the divorce he returned to Windsor, where he spent the rest of his life, very happy, in the care of Mrs Nancy Fenwick, who was unofficially the keeper of the Queen’s dogs. I came to realise how much the

Everything’s burned to a crisp – and the horses are suffering

Everything is well and truly burned to a crisp, and we are piling through hundreds of pounds of hay a week. When the sun shines relentlessly and it never rains, keeping horses gets awfully expensive. The poor gee-gees themselves are bored stiff. We heave mountains of hay into the fields but they miss the ability to mooch about foraging and munching the greenery. There is no greenery. Everything is brown and white. I don’t think I can recall ever seeing the fields white before. When the grass first burned off, the paddocks went a taupe colour. But after weeks and weeks of relentless sun and no more than the odd

The builder and I are done with Surrey

As he grouted the last tile, five years after the bathroom was finished, I knew the game was up. ‘I guess this is it,’ I said, as the builder boyfriend used a filler gun to bring about closure. This single ungrouted tile where the bath meets the wall has been something of a symbolic fight between the two of us. It baffled and infuriated me until I simply gave up wondering and made my peace with it. I plastered it with Hippo tape, thinking that would shame him, but it didn’t. Why he stopped short of an otherwise perfect job two seconds short of completion, he never did explain. I

Are the builder boyfriend and I falling apart?

After the landowner told us to be out in three weeks, then admitted we had three months to move our horses under the terms of our lease, the search began. We set about putting my house on the market and looking for a place with a few acres, but it was soon clear we were not going to find anything in budget. With the clock ticking on our notice period at the farm we’ve been renting, we had to look for livery for the horses. The timing could hardly be worse. Vacancies don’t tend to come up as winter approaches. But I always find the Good Lord provides when your

The end of an era: after 20 years we must move our horses off the farm

The letter arrived in a hand-addressed envelope, inside of which was a handwritten note. After everything we have been through, we were expecting something typed, from a solicitor. It began by politely thanking us for looking after the land so well. But in the next paragraph, the landowner attempted to serve us three weeks’ notice to move our horses, claiming that was all she needed to give. We texted her immediately to say our lease states three months. She replied later to say three weeks had been a mistake, she meant three months. She tried to make light of it. But we already know we are losing our smallholding because

The ancient Greeks had no time for losers

Every red-blooded Englishman has believed that exercise in the open air is the finest prophylactic against popery, adultery and the fine arts. Baron de Coubertin, who dreamt up the modern Olympic Games, took a different view. He admired the spirit of games on the playing fields of Eton and thought that they might provide a model for games of the sort he imagined the ancient Greeks enjoyed at Olympia: competitive but amateur, fair, wholesome, played for the sake of it and also, he hoped, acting as a stimulus to world peace. Up to a point, Lord Copper. The Olympic Games, founded in 776 bc, celebrated Zeus, god of Mount Olympus,

Can we forgive Gordon Elliott?

What has happened to forgiveness? That question hangs heavy over the Gordon Elliott controversy. He’s the racehorse trainer currently in the eye of a media storm after a photo emerged showing him sitting on top of a dead horse. There has been virtually no discussion about forgiving Elliott for this error. Instead the knives of cancellation have been drawn. He must be destroyed. It’s the only way, apparently. The fury has been relentless. The photo, taken in 2019, shows Elliott atop one of the racehorses that he trains. The horse had just died from a heart attack. It’s an unpleasant image, for sure. The horse’s eyes are glazed over, its

What’s a squashed dog between neighbours?

Not long after he took on a smallholding for his cobs, the builder boyfriend found a couple walking through his fields with their dog. They had appeared out of nowhere, apparently by squeezing through a small hole in the hedge with a neighbouring property. As there is no footpath through his land, the BB was perplexed. ‘Can I help you?’ he called. But the smartly dressed couple waved him away. ‘No, thank you!’ the man called back politely enough, as he and his wife walked on with their spaniel, which darted this way and that, soon entangling itself with Jimmy and Duey, the builder b’s black and white cobs. The