Jack Berry, vice-president of the Injured Jockeys Fund, rang me earlier this week. He is a man anyone would have difficulty saying no to, his enthusiastic optimism for life is so infectious.
Before I had time to collect my thoughts he’d signed me up to ride in his charity ladies race at Kelso races on May 24.
“But I’m just so unfit Jack,” I tried, but my lame excuses were never going to work.
“Then it’s the perfect opportunity to get fit pal.”
The ex-trainer was excited about The Jack Berry House in Malton which is well on its way to completion. Sixty workers are on site daily at this state-of-the-art rehabilitation centre to ensure completion before the Princess Royal officially opens it in early summer.
What started out as Jack’s dream has become a reality and it seemed only right the man who made it happen should be there for all to see. A spectacular life-size bronze sculpture was commissioned by William Newton and arrived on site earlier this week.
Lowering it into position was a precarious job. The crane held aloft the heavy figurine of Jack, a bag covering its head and a strong noose fixed around the neck. It dangled motionless in the damp Yorkshire air before being painstakingly lowered to its final resting place. A chill went down the vice-president’s spine: “The last time they hung a trainer in Yorkshire was on the Knavesmire 200 years ago,” he laughed.
When I asked if he was heading to the Cheltenham festival next week he explained he would be staying at a hotel owned by Trevor Hemmings, the Grand National winning owner.
“We travel to the track in Trevor’s helicopter,” Jack told me. “Years ago I trained two flat horses for him, probably the only flat horses he ever had. Anyway after two weeks in training I told him to take them home. I could cry faster than they could gallop, ever since then we’ve been friends.”
It’s a shame I won’t be free to join Jack or the 50,000 other racing fans charging up the electric atmosphere at the Prestbury Park Track next week. My destination is Sedgefield and Hexham, not quite the same excitement level but my horses are running well and if I have a winner it will make the sacrifice worthwhile.
Last week we took Jesus and Pindar hunting for the final day of the season. Pindar loves his hunting and his job was to nursemaid the boisterous Jesus who had never been out hunting before. We drove through hail and snow but finally the weather cleared and the sun broke through the heavy clouds. Jesus wasn’t sure what to make of the situation and pulled more faces than a clown as we stood at the meet but when we set off he soon realised the hunters in front of him were easy to overtake.
My intention of freshening them both up must have worked. A few days later Pindar ran at Catterick and finished a close second at 18-1. He’s 11-years-old so it’s pleasing to see him enjoying his job. Jesus seems very perky so maybe he will be my consolation prize for missing Cheltenham.
The saying goes, ‘variety’s the spice of life’, and in my job those words ring true every day. Most of the racehorses thrive on new encounters. Later this month we will be able to turn them out in the pastures every afternoon. They soon relax, relishing the freedom to frolic and roll in the spring sunshine.