Thursday, 6 March 2014

The year that was...

As part of the celebrations for the Injured Jockeys Fund’s 50 year anniversary we have put together 50 facts about 1964 - the year that was - as well as about the history of the IJF.  These are really worth a read and give fascinating historical context e.g. in the year the IJF was set up Nelson Mandela was sent to prison for life and Top of the Pops first aired on the BBC! 

1964 was also the year that Arkle won the first of his three Cheltenham Gold Cups and to commemorate this, Racing Post Books have published a special anniversary edition of Sean Magee’s celebrated book Arkle: The Story of the World’s Greatest Steeplechaser.

The Racing Post also sponsor the Arkle so we are all looking forward to Cheltenham next Tuesday.  We are particularly delighted that Arkle’s groom, Johnny Lumley, will be joining us for the day.  Johnny had no previous experience with horses before going to Tom Dreaper’s yard; never sat on any horse during his time with Dreaper; also looked after Flyingbolt, the second-highest rated chaser ever (Arkle was highest); left racing soon after Arkle retired and worked in various jobs, but nothing again in racing.  He has many fascinating stories to tell…  As well as presenting the trophy for the race with Racing Post’s CEO, Alan Byrne, we have put together a programme of on course media for him the day – so look out for him and his stories on C4, 5 Live and talkSport.

Cheltenham is always such an exciting week, although with JT McNamara’s terrible fall last year, this year there will be an added sense of poignancy.  I remember spending Gold Cup day in the weighing room last year working with the racecourse, Dr Adrian McGoldrick, Lisa Hancock, the BHA and in liaison with the hospital, as we dealt with the huge media spotlight that turned to Cheltenham and to racing after JT’s life-changing fall the day before.
A year on, JT now continues his rehabilitation at the North West Regional Spinal Injuries Centre in Southport.  In spite of his situation, he is in excellent spirits and looking forward to watching the Festival.  His plight is yet another reminder of why the IJF was set up in 1964 and how important its work always has been and will continue to be.

I was personally thrilled this week by the entries for this year’s Martin Wills Writing Awards, which at 140 were 50% up on the year before.  I have been working in conjunction with Jack Cantillon in Ireland to develop the reach of the awards with PR and social media activity and we are so pleased that this seems to have produced a really good strength and depth of entry.  The awards will now be judged and Jilly Cooper has kindly agreed to come to Newmarket on 16th April to present the prizes to the three winners.  Jilly and I will take the opportunity to have a night away at my favourite hotel, the Bedford Lodge (home from home in 2009 as Richard Dunwoody walked up and down the road for 1000 hours!), and no doubt we will go and visit a trainer or a stud for research for Jilly’s next book – and she will ask a few interesting questions that have never been asked before (she is still the Queen of the ‘bonkbuster’ after all!)

On our last Newmarket trip Jilly and I went to visit an old friend!
In mentioning Richard Dunwoody, he was on R4 Midweek on Wednesday and his interview is really worth a listen as he talks about some of the far flung places he has been to recently in his new career as a photo journalist.  He also mentions the Mongol Derby, that he will work on again in August this year, and for which I have just started the PR.

One of my PR ‘riders’ in the Mongol Derby, Csgt Rob Skinner, is also riding in the Grand Military at Sandown today and I am off there this afternoon to cheer him on!