Over the stable door: Only luck prevents jockey mix up

Kempton racecourse is to be sold for housing.
Kempton racecourse is to be sold for housing.
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We were asked for a day’s hunting with the Bedale a few weeks ago. It was lashing down with rain as we drove north up the A1, puddles were joining up along the roadside threatening to flood. I could sense Tris was about as excited as I was at the thought of spending hours in a soaking wet saddle but as we neared Masham the clouds hurried south taking the rain with them and the sun shone across James Herriot’s country.

Arriving at the meet we unloaded our excited steeds. I was riding my Irish hunter who seems to draw attention wherever he goes. Tris was on Jesus, our lovable rogue who has decided hunting is his new favourite pastime. There was a big field out and among them some familiar faces I hadn’t seen for ages. The afternoon gave me chance for a catch up, conversations generally held at a shout as we cantered around the edge of the plough.

I bumped into the jockey who was to ride my horse at Sedgefield the following day - Yorkshire’s most talented amateur - John Dawson. I had booked John through his agent, as is usual when declaring a runner, and I was keen to talk tactics. As my words tumbled out John just smiled politely as though he hadn’t a clue what I was talking about.

“Tomorrow?” he said mystified. “Yes, Sedgefield when you ride my horse,” I replied.

John looked at a loss. The gifted amateur has ridden for me many times and I know him better than most of my jockeys. “Your agent didn’t tell you, did he?” I asked.

It turned out the jockey had no idea he’d been booked and had agreed to ride at Thorpe point to point near Newark the following day as neither he nor his agent had made contact with each other. It was a situation neither John or I would’ve been aware of had we not met on the hunting field that afternoon. I would have been tentatively waiting for him to weigh out at Sedgefield whilst he would be pulling his breeches on in a drafty tent in a field in deepest Nottinghamshire, both of us blissfully unaware of the mix up.

Thanks to the discovery, a potentially tricky situation was rectified without further repercussions. John explained the mix up to the authorities without incurring the usual hefty fine - it was a genuine mistake. Bryan Hughes, who had won on my horse previously, was booked to ride for me. The horse finished third - a pleasing result for the owners considering it was the horse’s second run in five days.

I am mortified to read Kempton park racecourse, home of the King George VI chase, is to be sold to build 3,000 houses. The Jockey Club, who own the 230-acre site, said they will reinvest the money in the racing industry including building an all-weather flat track at Newmarket.

Kempton is one of the greatest jump racing tracks in the country where racing dates back to 1878. The great Desert Orchid was laid to rest there and it is one of the few courses to offer well drained jumping ground all year round. It would be a devastating blow for the jump industry to lose such a significant and historic course, to replace it with another sand track will degrade the sport yet further.

Last week the Newcastle all weather meeting attracted only 19 paying customers through the turnstiles. The industry desperately needs investment but not at the cost of quality and assets. Obviously money still talks louder than a nation of disenchanted of National Hunt trainers when it comes to the powers that be.