As author and broadcaster Brough Scott notes: “It is an often-forgotten fact that horses played an important part in Winston Churchill’s life. They were his escape in childhood, his challenge in youth, his transport in war, his triumph in sport and his diversion in old age.”
This is reflected in Scott’s immaculately produced book Churchill At The Gallop (Racing Post Books, £25), which charts this previously untold story using historical photographs, artefacts and correspondence written by the former prime minister.
A politician who excused himself of Cabinet duties to attend the Epsom Derby, or Doncaster’s St Leger so he could accompany the Queen in Coronation year, his spirit shines through in a letter that he wrote in May 1951 after his talented horse Colonist II won the appropriately-named Winston Churchill Stakes at Hurst Park, beating King George VI’s Above Board.
He had clearly been blessed by the company of a young Princess Elizabeth, now racing’s greatest ambassador. His subsequent letter to the future Queen, obtained by Scott, is a priceless gem that would chime with all those who have had contact with Her Majesty through her sport, hobby and passion.
Addressed to ‘Madam’, it begins: “I must thank Your Royal Highness for so kindly asking me to luncheon with you at Hurst Park on Saturday, and for the gracious compliments with which you honoured me.
“I wish indeed that we both could have been victorious – but that would have been no foundation for the excitements and liveliness of the Turf.” It is signed: “Believe me Your Royal Highness’ devoted servant Winston S Churchill.”
Though there were Tories who feared that their leader’s passion for racing might have been a liability – there were elections in both 1950 and 1951 when Churchill won back the keys to 10 Downing Street – Scott says it was “a huge political bonus” thanks to the great grey Colonist II.
“As a little boy growing up in London, I remember the pictures in the papers and the images on the Pathe News of the famous old man that my father clearly revered,” adds Scott.
“The Homburg hat, the cheering crowds, the V for Victory sign, and the gallant grey and his Scottish jockey Tommy Gosling setting off in front and defying the others to pass.”
Just like the great man himself.
Moments In The Sun(Racing Post Books, £20) is also a compelling trip down memory lane as Claude Duval recalls his career as racing editor of The Sun.
As well as his more hair-raising escapades – his dealings with the redoubtable Grand National and Gold Cup-winning trainer Jenny Pitman are worth the purchase price alone – Duval’s respect, and regard for the sport’s self-made heroes shines through.
He clearly admires the sport’s rags-to-riches heroes and this is reflected by the chapters devoted to Yorkshire greats like Peter Easterby, the five-time Champion Hurdle-winning trainer, and Andrew Thornton, who rode his 1,000th winner on Boxing Day last year.
“When he started he was originally nicknamed Eddie The Eagle, because of his big thick glasses,” discloses Duval. “Then he became Blindman, then Lensio because of his contact lenses.”
Yet, as the journalist reveals, Thornton only found out that he needed to wear glasses when he mistook a sheep for a cow. And to think he won the King George VI Chase 20 years ago on See More Business and then the 1998 Gold Cup on Cool Dawn.
Duval’s regret, and it is sincerely held, is that he had retired weeks before reaching his landmark last year. As he noted wryly: “He has proved that blind faith can move mountains.”
Andrew Pennington’s Queens Of The Turf (Racing Post Books, £18.99) is an ambitious attempt to celebrate 50 illustrious fillies and mares who have excelled under both codes of racing.
Headed by Pretty Polly, Pebbles and Dawn Run, it is fortunate that Enable – this year’s horse of the year – was included before she won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe under a near perfect ride by Dettori. Yet, just as Mark Johnston’s Attraction is a disappointing omission from a Yorkshire perspective, the inclusion of Soba is a heartwarming surprise.
Trained by the late David Chapman, and ridden by David Nicholls, who passed away earlier this year, she won 11 races in 1982 including the Stewards Cup in a then course-record at Goodwood.
What a pity that she could not land a Grade One race in 1983. On four occasions she chased home the John Dunlop-trained Habibti, but, in doing so, Soba earned the respect and admiration of her loyal fans.