The fact that I spent the first ten years of my life on a farm probably accounts for my love of horses. I would accompany my Dad down to the stable in the evenings to “sort the horse” i.e. settling it down for the night. My role was usually to give it a neep. Some days during the summer we would go out to the fields when work was ended for the day and return to the farmyard perched on the back of one of these mighty steeds. The ground seemed to be a long way off.
When it came to the “Sport of Kings” the Derby and the Grand National were the two races that caught the imagination of the public. Many, who did not bet on a regular basis would have a flutter. My elder brother Tom was no exception. He offered to put sixpence each way for me on my selection for the Derby. I plumped for Pasche strongly fancied and ridden by Gordon Richards the champion jockey. Needless to say it did not win. Little did I know that in later years I would not only see th egreat man in action, I would be there to see his last race.
In my teenage year I developed a passion for paperback novels with a racing background written by a fellow named Nat Gould. A sort of poor man’s Dick Francis, his characters all had alliterative names such as Hilary Hollycroft. The stories were pretty corny but they all served to whet my appetite for the sport.
While stationed in Hampshire in 1946 a trip was organised one Saturday to Salisbury races. It was there that I experienced the thrill of seeing my first winner thunder past the post in the flesh. Kind Regards was its name ridden by Tommy Carey thus establishing him as my favourite jockey. Gordon Richards also had a winner by the name of Combat owned by the Hon. John Dewar of the whisky family. The colours were white with a tartan cross. It was well fancied for the 2000 Guineas but did not win. However I shall never forget the 1000 Guineas that year. I had my modest stake on a filly named Hypericum, sired by the great Hyperion whose statue stands proudly outside the Jockey Club H.Q. In Newmarket. Listening on the radio I was horrified top hear that my horse had bolted from the start and ran almost the entire length of the course before being caught. Needless t osay the odds lengthened and when the race eventually got under way it won at 100-6 a much needed boost to my modest pay as a private soldier. The yellow flowers of the shrub of that name brighten up my garden to his day.
In Coronation year, 1953, Gordon Richards at last won his on and only Derby on Pinza, owned by Sir Victor Sassoon and he became the first jockey to be knighted. Later that year I was lucky enough to be at Ascot when he rode the same horse to victory in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, on of the top races in Europe. I shall never for get the roar from the stands as the horses passed the post. Not from me as my money was on Zucherro ridden by a certain Lester Piggot. It was different story for Sir Gordon at Sandown Park the following year. He was due to ride a horse called Abernicky. First signs that something was amiss was when the board listing the runners came down and his name was replaced by W. Rickaby. It transpired that the horse had thrown him in the paddock and rolled on him, fracturing his pelvis thus ending a career which produced 4870 winners. He than took up a career as trainer.
On another occasion following a holiday in Paris I decided to spend the rest of the week in London. I headed for Windsor races and boarded the coach at the Station which would take me to the track. Guess who came and stood beside me? None other than Prince Monlulu, the legendary tipster with the colourful costume with waving plumes and his well known slogan was "I've gotta horse!". I don’t know if it was my aftershave but he suddenly changed his mind and went to sit elsewhere. Thoughts of a lucrative day as a result of his tips evaporated. I was on the train home that very night. His outfit is on display at the Horseracing Museum in Newmarket.
Another champion I saw riding his last race was National Hunt jockey Richard Dunwoody at Perth Racecourse. Following the meeting he flew to the U.S.A. To consult a specialist about an arm injury. He was advised that if he continued it could cause everlasting damage and he had no option but to retire.
A final special memory was a trip organised by Perth Racecourse to Aintree in November where the main feature was the John Becher chase featuring many of the prospects for the following year’s Grand National. At £20 a head it was a bargain including a hospitality suite with refreshments (excluding drinks) and a race card. To see the famous course and the statue of Red Rumwas a thrill in itself but the icing on the cake was seeing Amberley House trained by Red Rum’s trainer Ginger McCain win the feature race prior to going on to win the Grand National the following April. That was one big race winner that I didn’t miss out on.
The facilities at Perth Racecourse have improved greatly over the years and the meetings now attract the top trainers and jockeys from all over the U.K. and Ireland. If you have never experienced a day at the races I can heartily recommend it.