Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Springing into action....!

I can’t believe Spring is finally here and I’ve just surfaced for air after a rather hectic start to the year juggling a busy work schedule with moving house.
The move came just a few weeks before Aintree to which we returned for the third year in a row for the John Smith’s Aintree Legends Race in aid of The Bob Champion Cancer Trust.  Every year, we like to have a few new names in the Legends race and this year we were lucky enough to be able to add the newly retired Hills twins, George Duffield and Kevin Darley to our stellar line up of the old guard.  The Hills twins brought Frankie Dettori along on the day, which went down a treat with the huge Aintree crowds (it has to be said, noticeably just slightly more conservatively dressed in the arctic northern temperatures!)

As always Frankie works the crowd!
We seem to have become part of the weighing room furniture on Grand National day and Lucy Wilkinson, Bob and I thoroughly enjoy working on this race, something which both the jockeys and the public love and which sets off the day in a wholly good and positive way.  Needless to say, the awareness it brings to the charity, and the donations that come in as a result, make it achieve its objectives on all levels and make the stress of juggling the horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners completely worthwhile (I think!).

Being the first race on the day, Jeremy and I then managed to escape from the crowds to go and watch the John Smith’s Grand National out on the course next to The Chair with the injured Choc Thornton and Ollie Wardle, Alan King’s Assistant Trainer.  ‘AP’ was ‘unseated’ next to us and it was noticeable how forgiving the fence was in its new format.  In previous years, with a mistake such as that this horse would have come down, but with the new fence structure, it managed to stay on its feet with poor AP getting a rare ‘U’ next to his name!  The fact that all 40 horses and riders came back unscathed proved what an incredible job Aintree and the BHA have done working with the RSPCA to ensure that horse welfare is paramount.  There can never be a ‘safe’ horse race, but at least for once, our show case race was highlighted in all its glory and those who knock it were silenced for another year.

The Chair - note how far the spruce extends on the landing side!

Jonjo O’Neill again ‘rode out’ with Bob Champion and cantered in front of the stands before the Legends race, so we are thrilled to be organising a dinner ‘An Evening with Jonjo O’Neill’ on Saturday 28th September later this year.  In a similar vein to the dinner we organised with Sir Henry Cecil last year, the heart of the evening will be a Q+A with Jonjo between courses conducted by Mike Cattermole and focusing on Jonjo’s extraordinary life and career.  Details can be found on www.bobchampion.org.uk and work for this should keep me as busy as ever over the summer.
This iconic image we are using for 'An Evening with Jonjo O'Neill'
The dark side of racing was displayed fully this year with the terrible accident that befell the Irish jockey JT McNamara on the Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival meeting.  Working closely with Lisa Hancock, CEO of the IJF, Dr Adrian McGoldrick, Irish Turf Club Senior Officer, Julia Mangan, our almoner who was on the ground at Frenchay Hospital helping JT’s family, plus other involved parties, my role was to help manage the information being delivered to the press during this difficult time.  Having dealt with numerous ‘crisis’ situations in a professional capacity in the past, I am used to intrusive media but from a PR perspective it is a volte face type situation.  Usually, I need the media to support the work I do and write about the products and services I am promoting.  But in this situation, and certainly in the early stages where things are extremely sensitive for the people involved, I have to almost ‘ignore’ the media and not take investigative calls.  It is an alien concept to a PR and one which you struggle with when taking calls and getting back to people immediately, is something that becomes second nature on a daily and hourly basis. 
I hope though that we managed to strike the right balance between putting the family first but keeping everyone informed, and it does have to be said that the racing media I deal with every day were extremely respectful, and the other more intrusive media were only doing their job in the news driven world in which we operate.
The whole situation just served to make me more impressed with the magnificent set up that is the Injured Jockeys Fund and our almoners all over the country who drop their own lives at a minute’s notice to provide this incredible support to the families of the injured jockeys.  Racing is truly blessed to have such a charity and it is exciting to be part of the planning team as the charity moves towards its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Another slightly difficult situation I have been involved in in previous months is the launch of Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius, Brough Scott’s portrait of the Warren Place maestro.  Having spent time with Henry and Jane at Warren Place myself, it has been personally as well as professionally upsetting that Brough and Henry have publicly ‘fallen out’ over the book.  I hope that in time the public reaction to this masterpiece will negate some of the tension.  Sir Henry Cecil is someone I hugely admire and I personally came away from reading the book only having this view enforced a million fold.  I also find Brough Scott’s writing and exquisite turn of phrase unparalleled and I know how much effort he put into getting the right balance in the writing of this book.  My friend Jilly Cooper summed it up in a way that only she can when she said:
I loved this book.  With any biography written while the subject is alive you have to accept the Brough with the smooth.  This is not a glow job - but what emerges is a fabulously entertaining portrait of a glorious and truly heroic man. Three cheers for Sir Henry!  Bravo Brough.”
I can’t wait to spend a few days with Jilly at our favourite Bedford Lodge Hotel in Newmarket in July as she embarks on her latest novel based on bloodstock and flat racing.

The book!
Finally, last week I was also in Newmarket for the Martin Wills Writing Awards, at which John Inverdale presented this year’s three winners with their awards.  In their 21st year, these awards have launched the careers of some of the industry’s top journalists and are another example of just how much racing has to offer as an industry and career.  The winning entries, (viewable on www.willswritingawards.co.uk) all original and showing such talent from their young authors are really worth a read (but be prepared to be a little shocked at some of the rather dark subject matter!)

John Inverdale with the Martin Wills Awards winners 2013
Jeremy and I managed to get away to Spain for a few days in January to stay with Richard Dunwoody, who is doing brilliantly in his new role as a very talented photographer, and we can’t wait to return there for a week in May to lie by the pool and recharge our batteries before the next phase of 2013 kicks into motion! Happy happy days! 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Again the last six months have been entirely manic so my first blog for 2013 is going to be a rather lazy attempt delivered mainly in pictures and quotes…

2012 can pretty much be summed up by the horse they called Frankel.

Frankel as a foal, Banstead Manor 2008
There is a joke amongst my Racing Post colleagues as to one’s claim to fame with well-known horses.  Brough Scott has galloped Red Rum along the sands at Southport beach (getting slightly run away with, it does have to be said!), Lee Mottershead has ridden Florida Pearl and Julian Muscat has been bitten by Mill Reef.  Whatever happens to me in the future, my claim to racing fame will always be that I had the extreme privilege to ride out in the same string as Frankel.  I also got to see him at home up close on quite a few occasions in 2012 and spent some memorable time with his connections.  Those few months I shall always remember.  As a result working on our Racing Post book, Frankel: The Wonder Horse last autumn was a real pleasure.  I don’t think it’s possible to ever get tired of reading the Frankel story over and over again or watching those 14 unbelievable races, especially the Guineas, Queen Anne and Juddmonte - the sort of races where time stands still and nothing else seems to matter.

I was in awe of Sir Henry Cecil last year as he battled his cancer with such fortitude and bravery and I think this was best summed up at the time by a quote from Paul Hayward in the Daily Telegraph last October:

“At Ascot, winter was drawing in, but it could not dim the light around Sir Henry Cecil.”

Currently, as we prepare to launch Brough’s long awaited book, Henry Cecil: Trainer of Genius (out on 12 April) this view will be aired by the most eloquent of pens and people will be able to read for themselves the whole story of Henry’s remarkable life and special gift for handling racehorses.

“It was a classic Cecil mix of almost feminine sensitivity and unmistakeable masculine authority.  No words had been said but the exchange had been eloquent.”
Brough Scott (from the book) on Cecil’s handling of his horses

Not only is the book about Henry but all those fascinating characters who have played such an important - and colourful - part along the way.  Like Steve Cauthen:

“Talking to English stuttering questioners was like having tea with your granny.  He had clear blue eyes and a deep Kentucky voice. We were in love.”
Brough Scott on Steve Cauthen

And Lester Piggott:
“Now we had locked him up.  It was sad because whilst it was proven how much he took, no one could ever assess how much he gave.”  
Brough Scott on Lester Piggott

Henry and Lester deep in The Sporting Life!
The book has involved such herculean effort from so many people and I know that it will be reviewed as one of the classics in racing history.  It will be available from www.racingpost.com/shop

Other exciting plans on the horizon include some projects for The Bob Champion Cancer Trust. 
We go back to Aintree for our third year of the John Smith’s Aintree Legends race on Grand National Day – and this year the recently retired Hills twins join another stellar line up http://www.grandnationallegends.com/legends-charity-race.php

Adrian Maguire makes his Legends debut in 2012!
After the success of our black tie dinner with Sir Henry Cecil last year (which raised almost £100,000 for the Trust) we are organising ‘An Evening with Jonjo O’Neill’ that will be held on Sat 28th Sept at Cheltenham Racecourse at the heart of which Jonjo will speak candidly to Mike Cattermole about  his fascinating life and career.  
Ticket details for the dinner can be found at http://www.bobchampion.org.uk/

As 2014 approaches, we are starting to think about plans for the IJF’s 50th anniversary and ways in which to commemorate and celebrate this. 
It’s an exciting time for the charity which hopes to have planning permission for Jack Berry House approved in the next few days.  This will open in Malton, North Yorks in 2014 and serve as the North’s equivalent to Oaksey House in Lambourn as a centre of respite and rehab for injured jockeys and sports people.  The rest of this year will see a concerted fundraising drive to work towards the £3.5 million needed to build Jack Berry House.

The architect's design for Jack Berry House
At Oaksey too, things don’t stand still and a recent innovation is the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill (which is like running on air) that aids rehab for injured sports people meaning they can return to fitness quicker.  The AlterG is used in the wider sporting world by the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Rafael Nadal (sadly no sign of him in Lambourn yet!) and is already making a real difference to jockeys recovering and training at Oaksey.

Racing is so fortunate to be able to look after its own in a way that so few other sports do.  Similarly, it boasts some of the best writers and journalists in any sport and this year I am helping the Wills Writing Awards with the publicity as they celebrate 21 years of excellence http://www.willswritingawards.co.uk/

Finally, I’ve been delighted to involved with Equi Vivre racehorse retraining http://www.equivivre.co.uk who had a great piece on Channel 4 on Boxing Day 2012.  My second horse, the recently retired chestnut ‘galloping pistol’ from Barbury Castle, Kings Troop, is currently up there for a holiday and some basic retraining before he comes to me in April.  I’m hoping to hunt him (with added brakes!) when I move to Wiltshire soon.

'Troopy' enjoying his new life post racing