Friday, January 07, 2011

In memoriam

The first week of the year should be a time of looking forward, but sadly this parish has had a few deaths recently which oblige us to look back. Most notably, the new year has seen the death of Bridget Rickaby, widow of the former jockey Bill. Bridget's passing really does mark the end of an era because she embodied so much of Newmarket's racing history. She was a lovely lady whom it was my pleasure and privilege to know, and I fondly recall having the honour of lunching in her house on a few occasions, most notably on birthdays of her brother-in-law Fred, who sadly passed away early last year. The most obvious thing about Bridget was her love for Bill, and time spent in her house at the top of town - readily identifiable by a beautiful old gypsy caravan standing in the garden, which apparently Bill had tracked down and bought after spotting it on his way home from Yarmouth one day - was full of reminders of the happy and magical life which she had spent with him. Happily, the story of their lives lives on in their memoirs, Bill having written his at the time of his retirement from race-riding in the late '60s and Bridget having written hers after Bill's death a couple of decades later. Bridget's family history, of which she was rightly extremely proud, is pretty much the history of Newmarket over the last century or two: leaving aside her relatives by marriage, the Rickabys and Piggotts, she was born a Jarvis (her late brother Ryan trained in Phantom House, where her nephew William trains now) while her two grandmothers were also from great racing families (Butters and Godding). The last time I saw Bridget was at her daughter Melanie's house after Fred's funeral last February and she was clearly ageing then. I just hope that her last year has been a peaceful one - and that she and Bill are now re-united in Heaven.

New Year has also seen the death another popular Newmarket character, Gordon Welsh. Gordon worked for Sir Mark Prescott for years, although I think that he served his apprenticeship with Bridget's uncle, Sir Jack Jarvis. He wasn't from round here - he was a Geordie - but he spent his entire adult life in Newmarket and he really was part of the town's furniture. Gordon was a very successful apprentice 40 or so years ago, but sadly whatever longer-term potential he had to forge a long-term career as a jockey went unfulfilled. His biggest victory in the saddle came in the John Smith's Magnet Cup at York in 1970 on Lord Rosebery's Timon, carrying 7 stone 4lb and trained by Doug Smith, who had taken over Lord Rosebery's string on the death of Jack Jarvis 18 months previously and to whom I presume Gordon was thus apprenticed at the time. A very nice post-script to this victory came 27 years later when Gordon looked after the winner of the same race, the Sir Mark-trained and Graham Rock-owned Pasternak; and Gordon was rightly very proud of having visited the winner's enclosure after this famous race in two separate roles. Sadly, by this time Gordon was already becoming increasing more frail and less able to work. Sir Mark kept him on for quite a long time after he had ceased to be of much help, reasoning that if he didn't keep Gordon under his wing nobody else would - but of course eventually even he had to admit that Gordon couldn't remain in his employment forever. Gordon spent his final years living in Racing Welfare accomodation and, sad though it is to relate, drinking himself to death; but he did so with a permanent smile on his face, a kind word for everyone he met and without any enemy in the world. As is the case with Bridget, a very popular and special member of the community has been lost with Gordon's passing.

The lead-up to Christmas saw the death of another great racing identity: Roy Crowther. If you ever saw much of Dave Morris at the races over the past decade or more, you'd have seen Roy because, until last year when his health began to deteriorate, Roy in retirement would always go racing with Dave. Roy is probably best remembered as Jeremy Hindley's travelling head lad; and after Jeremy retired from training in 1987 Roy spent the remainder of his working life as one of the people dope-testing the horses at the races. His son Neil was a successful apprentice with Jeremy Hindley (and then I think I recall Neil going up north to ride for Steve Norton for a while). Roy was very much one of the old school in the best possible sense of the word, and he too leaves this town the poorer for his absence.

Lastly, I, like all racing fans in this country, very much hope that lovely Monet's Garden won't be joining the ranks of the departed in the near future. His foot problems really sound very bad and it might well be the case that he can't pull through - but if communal wishful thinking counted for anything, he'd already be out of the woods. It's hard enough to believe that the youthful 12-year-old who was charging around the Heath early last year, when he and some of his stable companions took up temporary residence in Abington Place Stables to escape the Cumbrian freeze-up, should so soon afterwards be on death's door - never mind that this has struck him down so soon after he posted his magnificent win at Aintree on 23rd October. One never knows what's around the corner.


problemwalrus said...

My goodness.. that day in 1985. I was there.Your mount, Golden River was beaten by Ribobelle trtained by Martin Pipe.However sadly I need to correct the Racing Post as the SGB was actually won by Jim Joel's striking chaser Door Latch from West Tip with Burrough Hill Lad , who was also a very striking chaser, in third.That SGB chase was memorable because Corbiere the National winner of 1983 was in the field.
I'm now racking my brains to answer the question you pose regarding two Gold cup winners winning on te same card. The floor is awash currently with old racecards and form books.
Meanwhile my Sporting Life National Hunt Results in full doesn't contain full enough info on where Golden River(opened 20s, touched 14s started 16s) finished.

John Berry said...

Aaah - so two Gold Cup winners DIDN'T win on that day after all. The funny thing was that, when I read in the paper that Burrough Hill Lad had won, I was surprised as, if you'd asked me, I'd have said that Door Latch had won the SGB Chase that day. (The Racing Post's version of history, of course, was that Door Latch had finished second to Burrough Hill Lad. Revisionism at its best/worst). As Door Latch was owned by Andy Turnell's principal patron (but trained by Josh Gifford) he is a horse whose exploits I remember very well.

It's now looking as if Desert Orchid and Garrison Savannah winning 'chases at Wincanton on the same day seems the only qualifying entry - but if there's another instance, you'll be the one to find it, problemwalrus.

Golden River (who had been bred and previously raced by Mr Joel, in whose colours he once beat Sea Pigeon, albeit on the Flat rather than over hurdles) finished well in arrears, I'm afraid. The fact that he'd have received almost no assistance from his rider can't have helped his cause.

problemwalrus said...

Does revisionism extend to giving Crisp the 1973 National? Every time I see the replay I still think he's going to win!!!

John Berry said...

I think he does eventually!