Sunday, October 31, 2010

Camp coffee

The big excitement this week (apart, of course, from the Melbourne Cup, the Breeders' Cup and various other races) will be the return from honeymoon of Gemma and Simon. They're currently in Africa - I just thought that I ought to say that because there had been a school of thought that they might have been going to the Andes, with Simon's possible participation in an iron man competition in Tierra del Fuego having been discussed. But that's not right: Africa it is. On safari. There's actually already been a film made about them touring round Africa, with Brad Pitt playing Simon and Cate Blanchett naturally playing Gemma. It's called 'Babel', but it's actually not very true to life because they're in Morocco (whereas I think that Gemma and Simon have actually gone to Botswana) and Gemma gets shot (which I hope won't have happened in real life). Anyway, I hope that they are having a lovely time and that they are finding that time spent in preparation is seldom wasted. Gemma, as we know, rides regularly, but Simon, who used to ride out for Martin Pipe in his younger days, had got out of the habit, so he put in some practice during the summer on Panto to make sure that he'd be prepared for riding around the bush, or jungle, or veldt, or whatever it's called. Anyway, it'll be good to hear of their adventures when they get back - and to hear just how useful their provisions turned out to be, because, like William Boot in 'Scoop', they headed off armed, I believe, with all the things which one needs for Africa, such as Camp Coffee, pith helmets and, probably, cleft sticks.

To bring this chapter back to something vaguely resembling normality, I can't resist quoting from James Underwood in the current edition of 'Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder'. You might have gathered that my view is that Racing For Change is worse than an expensive piece of futility: I feel that it is an expensive way of doing harm, which is particularly hard to swallow as racing is currently bracing itself for potentially hard times, so harm is particularly unwanted at present, as are ways of wasting money. James Underwood, whose opinions are always worth reading, clearly holds similar views: "As for Racing For Change, I would sack everybody and dissolve it. It is tragic that so many well-meaning people in the sport have presided over such an awful waste of money ... The current plan to hold the Champion Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II on the same day won't work, nor will a Champions' Day without any two-year-old championships. The idea of having the Dewhurst and the Middle Park on the same day at Newmarket is another waste of resources".

Similar sentiments are expressed in a very good book which has just been published: 'Bayardo - The Life, Times and Legacy of an Edwardian Champion', by Peter Corbett. Bayardo, for those who didn't know, was a truly great horse who 100 years ago posted arguably the most impressive victory ever seen in an Ascot Gold Cup, but who is often overlooked because of his failure to win the Derby, a race which his year-younger, and inferior, half-brother Lemburg (who is buried in Hamilton Road, as this gravestone shows) landed the same year. Bayardo went on to sire two Triple Crown winners, including Hyperion's sire Gainsborough. As the book makes clear, Peter's views on dumbing down and having a time-honoured racing programme torn apart for no good reason by people who show no appreciation for its heritage appear to be the same as my own. And he, like me, loves history and loves a great horse - so his passion means that anyone who feels likewise will surely enjoy reading this informative and entertaining book. If you do read the book, you will, I am sure, come away with a great feeling of affection and respect not only for Bayardo, but also for one of his rivals: Dean Swift, who won the Coronation Cup in 1909 before finishing second to Bayardo in that year's Champion Stakes at Newmarket (where else!). Peter writes very movingly of what was clearly a very special horse, including saying of Dean Swift that "there have been a few better handicappers, not many, in racing's history but none with more determination and courage. He finished his career at the age of ten by winning the Chesterfield Cup at Goodwood, an occasion which reduced many of the more emotional racegoers to tears." So I'm sure that Peter, like me, will be horrified that this month has seen not only supposedly the last Champion Stakes up the Rowley Mile, but also a two-year-old called Dean Swift racing (yesterday) up the same strip of turf. Is nothing sacred?

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