The heritage plays a big part, horses and horses racing have so long been part of the world’s culture – racing is happening in only slightly different forms in every corner of the globe
1. What inspired you to pursue a career as a horseracing correspondent?
I loved the sport from an early age but not as a rider or somebody who particularly placed bets – though I do recall trying to place small bets from my pocket money at the races when very young – but I loved the world of racing. The magnificent horses and courageous jump jockeys, and the highs and lows of winning and losing and the intrigue – Dick Francis has a lot to answer for. As children my late sister and I used to race each other on bicycles pretending they were horses.
2.Do you have a favourite racecourse, if so, please tell us a little more about it.
Hard to say because in the UK I like pretty much all of them at least a little bit, but Cheltenham stages such high quality racing, and the people and the layout generate such a massive atmosphere. The noise there is amazing, and similar applies to Doncaster – St Leger day at Doncaster is wonderful: all quite raucous but with racing’s oldest Classic at the centre of it all. Britain has many fabulous smaller tracks that are not household names as racecourses – Newton Abbot, Thirsk, Brighton, Hereford, Perth amongst them – and of those Perth set in hundreds of acres of Scottish countryside is really magnificent because of its setting, and because it’s quite a long way for a lot of owners, trainers and jockeys there’s usually a great party alongside the racing which is very competitive.
3. In your opinion, what do you think makes for an exceptional racecourse?
A combination of quality racing which generates a great atmosphere, and I do think the setting is important. If it’s picturesque or even if it’s just different to the norm.
4. Tell us about your most memorable moment as a horseracing correspondent.
So many. It would be any Grand National day because in a sporting media dominated by football, and in which every sport has to fight to hold its own in the public’s consciousness, on that day so many eyes are trained on Aintree. Individually, my most memorable day would be the success of the highly charismatic chaser Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2016, three years after his previous success in the race at which time he was being billed as something of a world beater. During the intervening years, Sprinter had had a heart condition and other problems so had been thoroughly written off by many, but this wonderful horse bounced back spectacularly. Every fan of jump racing loved it.
5. Why do you think horseracing continues to be such a popular sport, second only to football, in the UK and abroad?
The heritage plays a big part, horses and horses racing have so long been part of the world’s culture – racing is happening in only slightly different forms in every corner of the globe. And thankfully the admiration for horses as animals shows no sign of abating – I suppose we have so much to be thankful to them for from the days of pre-mechanisation.
6. Frankie Dettori provided the foreword for World Racecourses, when did you first meet Frankie?
I’m not sure exactly when but I well recall when he won his first ever British race – at Goodwood in 1987 I think it was, a horse called Lizzie Hare – everyone was saying ‘look out for this kid, he’s going places’, and how right they were. Flat racing as a whole, and we in the media in particular, have been astonishing fortunate to have Frankie as a focal point for twenty five years, often very successfully and never, ever boringly.
7. World Racecourses is centred around stunning photography, can you tell us a little bit about the selection process and how you worked with Dan Abraham to shortlist images?
If Dan was a diplomat rather than a highly accomplished photographer he’d be running an international spy network with tentacles all around the world – he contacted so many photographers. I was very keen for him to get photos that were a bit different from the norm that appear in magazines or on websites all the time, and I think that’s what he’s pulled off. From the UK tracks, I love the shot from the back of the open top double decker at Epsom, while further afield you have to love Christ the Redeemer looking down, benignly I like to think, over Gavea in Rio de Janeiro.
8. We know that your parents owned and ran an independent bookstore, how involved were you in this as a child and as you got older?
My first job was during the school holidays working in Ross Books, 42 the High Street, Ross-on-Wye – I can still remember the address – before it moved round the corner to, I think, number 49 Broad Street. It was in Ross not Hay-on-Wye – there was quite a lot of confusion. We had great friends called Jonathan and Sally, but my parents didn’t think a lot of Jonathan’s taste in reading matter, and I had obviously heard them say that he only ever bought ‘trash’. When he next came in, and I was there on my own, I think I said to him ‘are you in to buy more trash’. He was a little taken aback, but said nothing. My parents, however, were mortified and I was given quite a lecture about how to treat customers even if I knew them.
9. What is your fondest memory of your parents’ bookstore?
It was a real lively ‘hub’ which prided itself on turning around customer orders, which came from a wholesaler called Bertrams in Norwich, in double quick time . In those days, ordering a book by lunchtime and getting it the next day seemed amazing. My parents’ friends used to use it as a meeting place as much as a shop, but sadly the building has been empty since it all finished, after something like 32 years, in 2010. Recently, some kind of a council notice was imposed on the owners to smarten up the frontage, and considering how bustling it had been in days gone by that was really quite upsetting.
10. What do you hope your readers will take away from World Racecourses?
It’s not a Cornelius guide book to the world’s top 100 racecourses in the style of a Rough Guide or Egon Ronay guide but a reference book with plenty of facts and some terrific photos. Hopefully however it might encourage a few visits when readers are travelling.
Out 4th October 2018