Sunday, May 20, 2018

Gone, but never forgotten

I can't believe this.  I'd been going on about the Royal Wedding, and saying that I hadn't been this excited about a wedding since Prince Charles got married the first time.  Anyway, what happened?  I didn't see it!  Well, I saw some of it, but only as far as the first hymn.  That was a debacle, but what's done is done.  And I'm sure that I'll be able to rectify at least some of the omission.  I'm told that it's London to a brick on that the American preacher's stint in the spotlight will be on Youtube.  So that's been the excitement of the weekend: the Royal Wedding.  (Post-script: I've now read the text of Reverend Curry's sermon on the internet.  Very good indeed.  All you need is love).

It isn't, though, 100% true that I wasn't this excited about a wedding between 1981 and 2018 because I did attend a few in the interim which I enjoyed.  (Including, of course, two of my own).  As things happen, I've been thinking a lot about one very special wedding over the past couple of days.  In August 2012 I was blessed to attend the wedding at the Curragh of two of the nicest people I know, Wayne and Lisa Smith.  (Lisa, nee Jones, was a huge help to us when she was apprenticed to my neighbour Willie Musson, including riding several winners for us, including one in my own colours, Sangita at Warwick in September 2002, led in by Cliff Rimmer in this Les Hurley photograph).

What has brought that occasion to mind, sadly, has been the death of Joe Byrne, who passed away during week.  I treasure my memory of meeting him there and enjoying his company during the reception in the evening.  No one could have been more friendly, and I count myself fortunate to have made his acquaintance on that very special occasion.  It happens that Joe was one of four men who helped to make that weekend very special for me who have passed away in the past year; and I would like to use this chapter to pay a brief tribute to them.

Arriving at the church ahead of the wedding was slightly daunting as I knew that I wouldn't know many people there.  (Although it wasn't daunting once I'd arrived as it was such a friendly crew, with Wayne leading from the front: he seemed to spend his wedding day with one priority in his mind, ie to ensure that his and Lisa's guests were made welcome and enjoyed themselves, even to extent of ensuring as the night went on that everyone was organised for getting home safely.  That really is the mark of a man of the highest calibre).

However, one of the first people whom I bumped into was someone who had also travelled over from Newmarket: Peter Boothman, formerly one of Ireland's leading riders (after having been Britain's champion apprentice of 1958) who then spent his final years before retirement riding out first for Gavin Pritchard-Gordon and finally Ed Dunlop.  Having chatted with Peter before the service, I then had the pleasure of spending time with two more champion riders.  Firstly I found myself sitting next to Johnny Roe during the service; and then I was delighted to meet Joe Byrne at the reception.  (The photograph which illustrates this paragraph shows them both enjoying the evening together).

It was rather nice as Johnny Roe didn't expect me to know who he was, bearing in mind that he had retired from race-riding in the mid-'70s, so seemed pleasantly surprised that I recognised and quite clearly admired and respected him.  And Joe Byrne's surprise was my recollection of having seen him ride a double (an occasion which he too remembered) at a National Hunt meeting at Ayr in the late '70s when a Northern Irish trainer (I think it was Jeremy Maxwell) sent two horses over to Scotland (one was called Going Straight; I can't remember the name of the other) and they both won.

Anyway, my happy memories of that very special occasion include how delighted and honoured I was to make the acquaintance and then enjoy the company that day/night of these two great men.  Sadly, both now have passed on, as has Peter Boothman.  And sadly too has my host for the weekend: I was lucky enough to stay with (and be welcomed royally by) Vivian and Kathleen Kennedy, patriarch and matriarch of one of the best families in racing, two of whose members (their son William Kennedy and their grandson Jamie Insole) have ridden over jumps for us.  Vivian, of course, died last year - and his friend, neighbour and former colleague T. P. Burns, whom I idolised but sadly never met, is another to have passed away this month.

There are some chapters of this blog in which I discuss racing's big current issues, political or otherwise. And there are some in which I look inwards, giving an overview of the state of play in this stable.  And there are some which follow on from topics recently aired in previous chapters.  And there are some which are just silly.  This chapter doesn't fall into any of those categories.  But it's here because I generally write about whatever is in my mind - and I'm doing that here.  What has been in my mind the past couple of days, since reading of Joe Byrne's death, is how lucky I was to have met him, how much I liked and respected him, and how sad I was to read of his passing.  I wanted to pay my respects, to him and to some of the other great racing men whom we have lost and whom I have also been thinking about this week. Gone, maybe; but never forgotten.

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