Sir Peter O’Sullevan loved champagne. I only visited his flat in Chelsea once — but once was enough for it to leave a lasting impression.
I was there to present a cheque to his Charitable Trust back in Spring 2005 and arrived in near total fear, praying that my five-minute stay wouldn’t be marked by me smashing any precious furniture or blundering my way through a conversation and exposing my lack of knowledge. He was 87 years young back then and I thought it best to tread carefully.
Fully three hours later, fuelled by champagne and decidedly more comfortable and confident than when I had arrived, I realised I had missed my next two appointments as Sir Peter and I had chatted.
On reflection I cringe to think what he must have thought as I spoke; I really ought to have just listened, but he was too brilliant a host to just talk. We all grew up listening to him and all the tributes that have been written are heart-felt. I won’t for one minute pretend to have been a friend of Sir Peter; he was kind to me and invited me to his annual fundraising lunch each November but I have been lucky enough to work with some of his closest friends and they all revered and worshipped Sir Peter. In their own right, many of them are industry and media giants, but Sir Peter soared above them all.
With his passing, do we not all feel that a bit of our childhood has passed away too? He lived in our houses at weekends when our grandparents set the telly to racing and his voice oozed knowledge and reassurance in equal measure. We admired him, we respected him from a distance and some of us had the rare privilege of drinking with him in later life in that exquisite flat in Chelsea.
When the sorrow of his death begins to subside, all of us who love racing can look back on a giant of a broadcaster but an even bigger, better gentleman, who lived life to the full and gave us all such measureless happiness.
I missed the racing at the weekend as I was on my Stag do. I joined 25 of my good friends (some are still my good friends today) in my old university city of Oxford and we, almost without fail, disgraced ourselves. I was joined mainly by non-work colleagues and only a handful of racing fans.
However, one of my ushers, Tony, has the dubious honor of being the man who took me to the bookies for the first time in my University career. On Saturday, before things took a turn for the unspeakable, Tony and I returned to that same bookies, round the back of the Covered Market and up some unassuming stairs. We loved it. We spent 20 minutes there reminiscing and punting away, losing and smiling as we went.
It was a very different experience to the one I watched on BBC1 last night as the third and final part of Britain At The Bookies was shown. Sure, there were a couple of guys who were playing roulette on the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. They were minding their own business, and we were minding ours. We had no interest in their spin of the wheel and they had no interest in our losing bets at Goodwood and the dogs. There was no violence, no misery, just a few blokes getting on with their thing. Funnily enough, there were more blokes filling in their Scottish football coupons than the rest of us put together.
I’m not pretending that the bookies are on par with the local parish office or the doctor’s surgery, but for those premises that get it right, it’s far from the den of sin and sorrow that some would have us believe.
I’ve become increasingly fed up in recent years listening to racing hacks knocking the Shergar Cup which will once again take place at Ascot this weekend.
Will I be going? I doubt it. Will I have a bet? I doubt it too. Will I whinge and complain that it’s a gimmick with no redeeming features and a no-go zone for other customers? Absolutely not!
I don’t pretend that it’s the best Saturday of the Summer nor a happy punting puzzle for the bettors out there, but it’s different. I have often been to it and have never experienced anything other than a terrific day out.
The crowds are fantastic and the entertainment after racing is a blast. The jockeys seem to enjoy themselves, the racing is half decent and there are new faces on the racecourse who aren’t necessarily turned on by the thought of half a dozen hot heats without the prospect of the not-so-hot Rick Astley taking to the stage afterwards. I don’t see what the problem is.
It’s high time I reviewed my tipping policy, although I suspect most of you have stopped reading this final section by this point and I can hardly blame you.
I’m prepared to run the risk of sending readers to the funeral having missed the wedding, but let’s stick with David O’Meara to win everything in sight throughout the course of August. His training of Amazing Maria this Summer has been off the charts and he wins with the less celebrated too.
I’m not going to sort the wheat from the chaff because here is a man who seems to turn chaff to wheat. Back the whole lot of them (responsibly).