Friday, August 28, 2015

Another good man gone

Today has been a lovely day.  The temperature dipped just into single figures overnight and then only got into the low 20s during the day, so it wasn't a real scorcher - but it was a true summer's day in every other respect, because the blue skies and sunshine would have fitted in perfectly with a 30-degree day.  That was grand because I took loads of lovely photographs which I wanted to use on this blog - and I had a ready-made topic which would fill enough paragraphs to use them.  Having waffled on about the stalls, I was planning to bore both readers with a few worthless observations on another topical topic: the interference rules.

However, that plan has been overtaken by events, or rather by one event: the death today of Lindsay Charnock.  I know that I've been known to make some abrupt changes of subject within some chapters - but not in this one.  Lindsay deserves a tribute on its own, and this is it.  We're always told that the game has not got many characters nowadays, and I'm afraid that we've got one fewer now.  A character, of course, is someone who makes sure that we don't take the game too seriously - but he/she does so while doing his/her own job very, very well.  If he/she merely does the former without the latter, then he/she's just an idiot.  But that is exactly what Lindsay was not: he was a bloody good jockey, a proper hard-working professional, and a lovely, friendly and very, very funny man to boot.

I can only remember Lindsay having one ride for this stable.  I didn't know it at the time, but it turned out to have been one of his last rides.  He rode Bold Cardowan at Musselburgh in the two-miler on the Wednesday of the last week of the season in 1999, and that transpired to have been Lindsay's last week as a jockey.  I saw less of him that day than I would have liked because we ran two horses in the race - the other being the John Egan-ridden Warring Kingdom - and the other one was fatally injured in the race.  Consequently I wasn't really on the ball after the race, but Lindsay,who had finished in the middle on Bold Cardowan, was as sympathetic and as helpful as you'd expect a proper professional to be.

Lindsay's health problems intervened shortly afterwards, and he didn't ride again.  In fact, it wasn't long until he had to have a leg amputated.  He had spent most of career in the pre-agents era, but his wife Gloria was booking his rides, and she had started booking the rides for a few other jockeys too.  David Allan was starting to get going as an apprentice with Tim Easterby at the time, and she was booking his rides; and I have a feeling that she might have been looking after Terry Lucas too, although I could be wrong about that.  Anyway, she carried on doing that for a while.

Consequently, for a few years I used to speak to her on the telephone in her agent's role once in a while, and always asked her to pass on my regards to Lindsay.  But I haven't spoken to her for years now.  The thought has regularly passed through my mind that I must give them a call to say 'G'day' - but, as usual, I adopted my usual modus operandi of putting off until manana everything which doesn't absolutely have to be done today.  And, of course, you keep doing that, until one day you wake up and it's too late.

I remember Lindsay riding an Ayr Gold Cup winner (I think for Denys Smith, and I'd imagine carrying less than 7 stone) as an apprentice in the '70s when I was a boy, but it transpired that he was to save the best until last.  His best seasons all came in the '90s in his final years in the saddle, largely thanks to a few high-class sprinting fillies whom he rode for Tim Easterby, fillies such as Pipalong and Flanders.  His partnerships with them became racing mini-legends, and I remember John Francome commenting on their victories on Channel Four, remarking that Lindsay's riding was totally unorthodox but massively effective at getting them home in front.  But Lindsay's status was far greater than any list of his successes would imply: he was a titan of the turf, as well liked as he was respected, a legend not only in his lifetime but for many years to come.

My favourite Lindsay Charnock story came when he rode a winner for Keith Stone, I think on one of Peter Bottomley's 'Qualitair' horses, at the Craven Meeting, Newmarket's first meeting of the year, some time in the mid-'80s.  This was in the pre-AW days, so the jockeys (unless they went overseas in the winter, and this was, of course, in the pre-Dubai days, so there weren't too many opportunities to do that) didn't race-ride between the November Handicap Meeting in early November and the Lincoln Meeting at the end of March.  Lindsay did go overseas a few years later when racing in Macau started and he went there with Keith Stone, but in those days fitness at the opening meetings was a big issue, especially as, even once the season was finally under way, they - and particularly the northern ones - would not be race-riding every day in the first month anyway.

Anyway, this Qualitair horse of Keith's was off the bridle for most of the race, probably over a mile and a half, but Lindsay kept pushing, and the horse ground out a dour win.  Channel Four was covering the Craven Meeting, and Brough Scott interviewed Lindsay after the race.  Brough remarked that Lindsay's fitness so early in the season was clearly good, and observed that he had clearly worked hard over the winter to keep fit, asking how he had done it.  Lindsay's response was typically short and enigmatic: "In t'Hyde Park".  Brough, clearly slightly confused, replied, "Oh, that's good, you go running in Hyde Park, do you?"  Lindsay, with a deadpan expression on his face and explaining things simply as one would to a child who is a bit slow on the uptake, paused momentarily and then spelt it out: "Hyde Park is pub in Malton".

That was Lindsay all over.  A bloody good jockey, a bloody good laugh, a proper professional, a true old-fashioned lightweight who was a giant of his sport.  A character.  To know him was to like him, and to know him was to respect him.  I am very glad and thankful that I knew him, and I wish that I'd known him better.  The racing world is a poorer and duller place now that he's gone - but it will remain enriched by his memory for as long as there is even one person alive who knew him, because the only way one could forget about him is by dying. Condolences to Gloria and the rest of his family.  Rest in peace, Lindsay.

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