Magazine article The Spectator

New Year Disappointment

Magazine article The Spectator

New Year Disappointment

Article excerpt

New Year's Day was to have been such a splendid start to the year. Mrs Oakley had been fully organised for one of her thrice-yearly visits to the racecourse, a process much on a par with equipping an RAF squadron for a month-long exercise in the Antarctic. Boots, coat, thermals, mittens and lip-salve were laid out. So were two Biros, plus the crossword and the novel which she had promised me were for the journey down and not for what she finds an interminably long interval between races (and which I find an incident-crammed 25 minutes bustling between unsaddling enclosure, saddling boxes, parade ring and bookies' lines). I nearly had the search parties out for her once at Sandown, only to discover that she had slipped back to the car for an extra half-hour with the latest Salman Rushdie. It was a Group race too.

I had marked her card for the placepot with what I was convinced was fiendish cunning. The frost had gone. And I had promised her there would be no `beef-in-a bun' this time - we were lunching with the hospitable Adrian Pratt in the directors' box. But then I double-checked on Ceefax before we left to discover the dread news: `Plumpton: ABANDONED due to waterlogging.'

The pub we then chose for lunch instead proved to be closed. And as we walked round Battersea Park for our fresh air she wouldn't even take my bets on which rich kid was going to fall off its gleaming silver scooter first. Even though I had let her make my first three New Year resolutions. All right, since you ask, I am never again to leave on a foreign assignment 'saying, `Oh, and, by the way, you'd better keep an eye on the back tyre, passenger's side.' (Yes, it did go when I was in Hong Kong and she was in a thunderstorm in Wandsworth.) I am strictly forbidden to explain at any length how and why the third leg of the treble failed me. And finally when working at home I am to stop answering the phone to her friends saying, `Oh, you again.'

What made the cancelled day's racing all the more galling was that as I settled down that afternoon to read Stewart Nash's Plumpton, an illustrated history of the course (published by Plumpton Racecourse at 9.99), the first thing I noticed was Stewart's remark that, since Peter Savill and Adrian Pratt took control and David McHarg became clerk of the course, they had gone through two full seasons, 32 meetings in all, without an abandonment. Aficionados will enjoy Stewart's book, complete with splendid grainy black and white photographs of past stars like Lord Mildmay, Bill Rees and Bill Gore, the Findon trainer who sent out at least a hundred winners at Fontwell. …

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