It’s approaching 12 noon here in the York press room and I’m back on a course which still tries to take the gold medal in my affections. Sadly, I’m only here today, as work and wedding planning duties loom large back at the barracks. Still, I’m determined to enjoy it — although mine will be a bittersweet joy as I, along with many others at York, commemorate the life of one of racing’s great and good.
The top jockey award here this week will be presented in memory of a press-room stalwart, Ray Gilpin. Ray passed away last week after a long illness and his famous red scarf will be much missed in the background of TV interviews at all the big northern race meetings. Strangely enough, I knew of Ray before I even began working in racing. When I told my uncle, who has lived in Wales all his life and has next to no interest in the sport, that I was trying to bungle my way into racing, he told me “Waste of time. There was a bloke I used to play football with here in Wrexham called Ray. Tiny bloke and red hair. Lightning-quick winger. Could have made it but went into racing instead.”
Well, Ray’s hair turned grey and he never made it as a footballer. However, he did make it as a thoroughly great journalist, who was professional to the end, had a waspish humour and a delightfully filthy mouth behind closed doors. He will be much missed. Here’s to hoping the jockeys this week do him proud.
It didn’t happen. Gleneagles didn’t turn up for his much-anticipated encounter with Golden Horn on the first day of the Ebor Festival. It’s a shame, because it had all the ingredients to be the clash of the season, with the superstar miler of the Classic generation meeting the best middle-distance horse of our time (the two now look set to face off at Leopardstown).
My gut told me it wouldn’t happen: it rained a lot in York on Tuesday night and Gleneagles “needs” fast ground. Well, that in itself has got my goat. The reason Sea The Stars and Frankel etched their way into our affections was not purely because of their undoubted brilliance, but also because they ran over different trips (especially the former) and on different grounds (especially the latter).
Thinking back to Frankel, it was thrilling when the rain came at Ascot in that final October of his career, and everyone started worrying. Sir Henry Cecil looked to the skies, furrowed his brow, and said “Hell yeah. Let’s roll the dice.” He ground out an historic win over Cirrus Des Aigles, who loved the cut, and his legend was complete. Frankel hated it, too, as did Desert Orchid when he won his Gold Cup in the mud and the cold. And that’s why we loved him.
Ducking York didn’t make Gleneagles any less of a horse — and I can hardly blame Coolmore for looking to protect their commercial interests — but nor will it make him any more of a great horse in our affections. Greatness comes not by winning everything, but by winning mostly and always rolling the dice when things are far from certain.
There was scandal in Ripon earlier this week, and I never thought I’d write those words. The racecourse have their own Tote operation, called RiponBet, which calculates on-course pool returns and deducts a hefty cut. In a dead-heat situation, some headline writers made an easy “Rip-off” pun and Yorkshire fell quiet as the tight-fistedness of the racecourse operators was highlighted in the press.
Fast forward a couple of days and the good folk of Yorkshire are doing their best to restore their reputations here on the Knavesmire. It’s £32.50 for a bottle of pretty good (no product placement here, readers) champagne.
What? You think you can get it at two thirds of the price in Asda? Well, that might be the case. But you can also be forced to pay over 85 quid for the same bottle at Ascot, 70 at Aintree and over 80 at Chester. I am, of course, entirely reliant on press-room friends to inform me of these prices, as I’m fully devoted to writing my blog rather than lounging in the various champagne bars of the turf.
On Saturday, the marvellous handicap that is the Ebor takes place, in front of what are sure to be packed crowds. I’m tipping up a 16/1 poke at time of writing, in Arab Dawn. I can’t help but remember his Royal Ascot win and I am determined to forget his John Smith’s Cup run, which was never really part of the plan for this season.
The Ebor, however, absolutely is, and Hughie Morrison’s words “I’d love to win the Ebor with him” back in June are echoing in my ears as I go searching for the remnants of my wallet. Good luck!