Onwards and upwards ...

The rain has helped the ground

Friday, 25 May 2018

"There is just one life for each of us: our own."



Garrel Glen far side plus Velvet Vista

It rained overnight which has certainly refreshed the grass. It is overcast at present with a few patches of sunshine. I think it is set to stay this way for most of the day. We have a good lot of staff in this morning so the horses have been having another good exercise without anything too strenuous on the various polytracks on Racecourse Side.


Reporting back

The welfare of horse’s week continues in the Racing Post today with two or three more articles, as well as a good question & answer section. This covers a lot of topics and explains many aspects of what goes on in our world. As you know we support the Thoroughbred Retraining Centre which is chaired by one of our owners, John Sexton. Everybody is always welcome to go and visit and see the excellent work they do. We, in Britain, are the world leaders of horse welfare and of retraining of racehorses when they have finished, or come to the end of their racing careers. We should be proud of what we have achieved but not be complacent. I am sure this initiative by the BHA will keep us to the forefront and set an example to the world.


Graham the Heathman, the Guv'nor and Tim putting the world to rights

I must mention the heathmen at this time of year that do a great job keeping everything running smoothly. There is great pressure on the gallops on both sides of the heath with the Limekilns the main galloping area on Bury Side, and Across The Flat, the peat moss and Watered Gallop on Racecourse Side. The Watered Gallop especially, comes into its own when it is firm ground and Graham, the foreman, has to water at the right time of day and the right amount to keep it even throughout its length. It is a very tricky operation but he gets it right and must take great credit for it. The Limekilns is a triangular piece of land which gets a lot of use from early in the year and can quickly get worn if it is overused. It used to be very carefully monitored and only open when it was very firm, but nowadays, with the rise of the big stables on Bury Side, there has been a lot of pressure to have it constantly open. The foreman over there, Colin, and his men, keep it as pristine as possible, but when it rains you have to be very careful how you use it as you can hit a false patch quite easily. But great credit needs to go to all the heathmen who keep the gallops, whether it be the turf, or artificial, in tiptop condition. Thank you from all the trainers.


Walking in via the long route from the Rubbing House


Tim with his comfrey harvest

Phil on Friday


No apologies for delving back into my family’s past again this week. There have been a few eccentrics in the clan over the years and one of the most adorable, and admirable, of all was Aunt Maisie, my father’s sister.

She was a bookmaker for nearly 50 years, running everything from the front room of her little rural bungalow. For much of the time the business was illegal and consisted largely of the odd sixpence each way, probably written on the back of a Woodbines fag packet.

Just to paint the picture; she set up the business with her husband Bill, the most remarkable man it has ever been my privilege to meet. He broke his neck in a road accident riding his motor-bike home on leave from the RAF in the war-time black-out. He was paralysed from the neck down for more than 40 years of his life and the only work they thought he could undertake to earn an honest crust was bookmaking – Aunt Maisie, while tending to the needs of her paralysed husband, would take all the bets, he would work out whether anything needed to be ‘laid off’, and then she would calculate the pay-out.

After Bill died she kept up the business on her own for many more years until red tape and bureaucracy in general got the better of her and she was forced to give up, aged 83. She was an incredible woman (she  introduced me to the delights of greyhound racing, by the way, but that’s another story) and I was reminded last week, writing about racing nicknames, of the one and only dispute I believe she ever had with a customer.

The champion jockey at the time (Doug Smith) was affectionately known among us yokels, who generally dropped our aitches, as ‘Big ‘ed’. One day a regular punter called ‘Trunky Sharpe’ – you can guess what unfortunate physical attribute led to that – called out to Aunt Maisie: ‘Put me two bob on Big ed.’ Well, there was a horse running that day called Big Head, so obviously Trunky’s two bob had to go on that. It lost, and Doug Smith won the 2,000 Guineas on the Queen’s Pall Mall. What would you have done? Anyway, the dispute was soon forgotten, Trunky continued to have his bets, and Aunt Maisie carried on the business for several more decades.

The Guvnor and Mrs T met her a few times and always welcomed her warmly to the old Flint Cottage. She was thrilled by that.

We scattered her ashes at Ascot Racecourse on the same piece of turf where she, Bill’s brother and I had spread those of her husband years before – it was the one spot from which he had been able to view racing clearly from his wheelchair at the royal meeting.

Aunt Maisie was very special!