Magazine article The Spectator

The Caring Touch

Magazine article The Spectator

The Caring Touch

Article excerpt

York must be the cleanest, neatest course in Britain. The painted `barber's poles' and fretwork facade of the County Stand, the hanging baskets on the redbrick offices, the bank of marigolds spelling out a welcome to racegoers and a parade ring so neatly mowed you could play billiards on it are evidence of a management which cares. There is, too, a specially green, springy lushness about the Knavesmire turf.

Last weekend there were particular pleasures attached to racing at York for those of us lucky enough to be invited to the Timeform charity dinner. Ned Sherrin, who is to one-liners what Tiger Woods is to the approach shot, was the first of a brace of after-dinner speakers. He insisted that the organisers had really wanted a politician rather than him, but it was Gordon Brown's day counting the unmarried mothers in Sainsbury's and Peter Mandelson had to be back in his coffin by sun-up. His fellow entertainer, the distinguished churchman Lord Runcie, provided a tactful blend of God and Mammon with grace, encouraging us all to dig into our pockets for the charity day which has raised over 2.1 million since 1971. He pleased his Timeform hosts by remarking that every religion needed its sacred texts and he revealed a racing past.

As a Liverpool lad he used to go round Aintree on the traditional `Jumps Sunday', and when, in his own teens, his father's sight failed, he used to help him with his daily wager, on one occasion being urged to turn off the radio as the subject switched from sport to religion. His parent, little suspecting what lay ahead, declared, `That's the Archbishop of Canterbury, unctuous old bugger.'

Runcie pere would have approved of his son's company last Friday night as racing's Great and Good gave a hefty boost to Macmillan Cancer Relief. I did have visions of cracking the birthday present problem for my wife. Perhaps Neil Cawthorne's oil painting of `At the Start' or Caroline Wallace's bronze of Frankie Dettori. Unfortunately, failure to bring off the Tote jackpot at the Derby meeting, or ever, had left me several thousands short of the wherewithal to compete. But the thought was there . .

If the Yorkshire lasses wearing their mini-skirts two inches higher than Epsom levels were bold, some of the punting and riding over two days was bolder still. John McCririck pointed out to me the backer who had invested 10,000 to win on Sandbaggedagain, a Mick Easterby bargain purchase which had been placed in seven of its previous ten starts without ever managing to reach the jamstick in first position. …

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