Magazine article The Spectator

Drink: Riders and Diners

Magazine article The Spectator

Drink: Riders and Diners

Article excerpt

Not quite nil humanum a me alienum , but I have always been interested in other people's trades and worlds. That was one reason why I enjoyed the late Woodrow Wyatt's invitations to the annual Tote board lunch. I always found myself on a table with racehorse owners and trainers. When they realised that I barely knew the difference between a fetlock and a bridle, they became politely distant, until they discovered that I was a political journalist, which made them barely politely suspicious. Politicians they disdained. As for hacks, they only took notice of the ones that they could ride.

That said, I am sure that they would have paid attention to Marcus Armytage, a delightful fellow who writes about equine matters in the Telegraph . I once met him at a dinner party and when the conversation moved to horses it was clear that he knew whereof he spoke. Just when I was on the point of asking him whether he had done much riding, someone said: 'You know Marcus won the Grand National?'

Shock and awe among the non-horsey guests: 'Talk us through the final stages,' he was asked. He told us that approaching the last fence, he was in the lead. For fear of upsetting the horse, he had been strictly forbidden to turn round, but he could not hear any hoof-pounds behind. Over the fence, and it was wonderful. The horse was still full of horse. Indeed, it seemed to be enjoying itself. The winning post came closer and closer -- and no sound of pursuit -- he had won. From the rapt audience, there were congratulations, handshakes, requests for autographs to give to children; Marcus, modestly uneasy with celebrity status, tried to lighten the atmosphere, 'The next year, I was on one of the favourites. Fell at the first fence.'

Then I came under attack. In the Times , I had written that because the National should be a supreme test of horse-ship and jockey-ship, a horse ought to be killed most years: a jockey once a decade. …

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