Thursday, September 01, 2016

Living, racing history

We didn't go to Bangor on the Bank Holiday, but we did go to Epsom, and we had a suitable loverly time.  As I had feared, Roy did find the opposition just a touch too strong, but that's the constant concern off his current career-high mark.  Even so, he ran his usual creditable and ultra-honest race to finish fifth, helped by an excellent ride from Ross Birkett.  The both did their best, and one can't ask for more than that.  So as we spent the day at a very special racecourse in very good company and weather, we really did have as loverly time as Fiddler's Dram did going to, at and on the way home from Bangor that time.

The day was an excellent advertisement for Bank Holiday racing.  The racing wasn't top-class but it was very good; there was a large, happy and well-behaved crowd; and (which, of course, is out of the management's control) the weather was glorious.  A further bonus was the titles of the races.  When Roy had run there earlier this summer, going into the meeting his race had seemed set to be called the Dorling Handicap, named presumably after the family which provided several generations of clerks of the course.  On the day, however, it turned out to be the Molson Coors Handicap.  (Incidentally, on that occasion he competed from Harzand's stable, and this time he stood in Quest For Fame's box, both of which fortuitous events gave me pleasure).

There was no such loss of heritage this time, however.  In a lovely nod to the racecourse's rich history, we had the Bunbury Handicap (after the instigator of the Derby), the Indigenous Handicap (over five furlongs, of course, after the horse who is likely to remain indefinitely the record-holder), the Henry Dorling Conditions Stakes (after Epsom's most famous clerk of the course), the Stanley Wootton Stakes (how can one sum up Stanley Wootton?  We might just say the most distinguished man ever to train at Epsom, and the guarantor of its future, and leave it at that) and the Isabella Beeton Handicap (after the famous cook who grew up in the grandstand).

If one were to suggest alterations to the titles, I would offer that the Mrs Beeton Handicap might have been more appropriate, simply because we all know who Mrs Beeton was, but I'd say that very few of us know that she was called Isabella.  In fact, I'd say that to her millions of discipes she wasn't Isabella: she was just Mrs Beeton, and none the worse for that.  The other change I'd make (and I feel rather churlish in saying this) is that I'd call our race the Amateurs' Derby, rather than the Amateur Derby.  But, then again, I am one of the very few people who refer to an "apprentices' race" rather than an "apprentice race".

It is, of course, years since Moet & Chandon sponsored the Amateurs' Derby.  I was thinking about the race's past as I was getting Roy ready, thinking about John Oaksey winning on Prince Hansel for Dave Thom, about Philip Mitchell, the Duke d'Albuquerque and Ray Hutchinson competing, and about the late and much-missed John Hills winning on Humdoleila, beating Sea Pigeon I seem to recall.  I know that Roy didn't win, but it was lovely to be following in such a tradition.

It is surprising that the race seemed to be unsponsored this year as it would be a wonderful race to carry one's name.  I seem to remember Lester Bowden, the great saddler in the High Street, sponsoring it at some point after Moet & Chandon had withdrawn, but I could be wrong there.  I would not be surprised if Lester Bowden's shop no longer exists (well, not as a saddlery, anyway) but c'est la vie.  Sic transit gloria mundi.  But, above all else, fair play to Epsom for keeping so much tradition alive on its thoroughly enjoyable August Bank Holiday fixture.

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