Archive for 2012

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot

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Ladies Day at Royal Ascot

It had come to Father Green’s ears, through Emily, that the ladies of the parish, namely, the Catholic Women’s League, thought their priest was less than appreciative of them and their works.

Perry sighed when he heard this, it was sometimes more than he could cope with, keeping all the elements of the parish happy. However, he valued Emily’s opinion and she seemed to think he could do no harm by giving the good ladies a little TLC.

Emily had hinted that his interest could take the form of an event or outing that the women would enjoy and which he could attend with commitment and enthusiasm – quite a challenge!

Perry had vague memories of previous undertakings by the CWL led by their doughty Chairwomen, Brenda Bartholomew. He had in mind a particular trip to a sewing machine museum, where he had to use all his priestly guile to avoid attending.

He needed, therefore, to think hard before something equally dreadful came his way. What would constitute a decent ladies day? Then it hit him – Royal Ascot’s Ladies Day.


The Gold Cup, run on the Thursday, was the centrepiece of the meeting – the Queen, the hats, Frankie Dettori, they’d love it. More to the point, he would love it.

The suggestion was put to the members at the next CWL meeting, where it received a tentative reception. Mainly, it was said, because some of the ladies were worried that Father Green would be bored with such an outing. And while Perry was able to put their minds at rest on that point, Emily had taken a back seat to stifle her amusement.

When the committee suggested that the Grandstand would be the most suitable enclosure at around £50 a head – bookable in advance – there were a few protests. However, Father Perry, not wanting to spend the afternoon on the heath or in the Silver Ring, enthusiastically extolled the Grandstand facilities, which included not only a better view of the race, but of Her Majesty when presenting the Gold Cup. In addition, he stressed, they would benefit from the many bars, food outlets, tote windows and overhead cover should it rain.

Father Perry’s final point won over the last of the doubters, since there had been much debate about their outfits.

As the date loomed nearer, Perry sensed there was a growing excitement, almost to match his own,

A coach was hired and the morning dawned bright. A small crowd gathered outside the Church to see them off. It was generally agreed that the outfits, although rather varied and some bordering on the eccentric, were overall, a credit to St Joseph’s.

Always hoping to air her voice, Brenda had brought along the accordionist, Colin Campbell, to provide a party atmosphere on the coach, and had also booked a local photographer to capture the ladies haute couture.

On the journey, Colin, sitting on the back seat, played a selection of songs from the shows, unaware that the singing and chatter from three dozen excitable women was making it increasingly difficult for Perry to study his Racing Post. But study he did.

If anyone, including Emily and Brenda, had expected Father Green to stay with them once inside the Grandstand, they were soon disillusioned, as he quickly melted into the crowd.

Punting wise, Perry would agree, this was not his finest hour – four straight losers including his nap and next best, had almost emptied his wallet. To make matters worse, although desperate for a drink, he had decided to steer clear of the bars to avoid being waylaid by zealous parishioners. Finally, however, the combination of losing and lying low began to take its toll. He had to have that drink and do a couple of forecasts – at least try to get out of trouble.

He was just downing his second whiskey in quick succession when two of his parish ladies spotted him from across the bar and within seconds it was too late.

“I know you don’t gamble Father,” said Maureen, “but Molly and I have been wicked and guess what, we’ve backed all three of Frankie Dettori’s winners.”

Perry smiled thinly.

“How splendid,” he said hollowly, “You must excuse me now while I watch this race.”

“We’ll come with you,” was the dreaded response. And so it was that Father Perry Green watched the penultimate race – the Chesham Stakes, without a penny on the much fancied World Premier, while his two companions twittered on endlessly.

After a while Perry’s face must have betrayed his tension because Maureen said, “Father you look pale, you have been good bearing with all this racing, we are going to buy you a coffee.”

Mercifully, as they left, he joined a nearby Tote queue to have his last £10 on a dual forecast – but on what?

“Frankie was sure to be in the shake up again,” he thought, “but betting on the favourite wouldn’t help his cause, unless he added a rank outsider.”

He scanned the racecard. Diaghilef was carrying 9st 7lb – top weight and 40-1 – “Even so,” he thought, “top weights are sometimes favoured by firm ground. So, smiling at the Tote girl he muttered, “Nil Desperandum,” and kissed his tenner goodbye.


The queue at the coffee stall must have been very long, for Perry had time to watch the race on a TV monitor under the stands. The King George V Handicap was over a mile and a half, so the horses would start away to the left on the far side of the course – all 20 of them.

Perry scanned the TV for his colours, but with such a big field the images were too small for him to identify clearly, worse still, the shouts of the punters drowned out the commentary – anyway, it looked like a blanket finish.

Just then Maureen and Molly returned.

“Sorry there’s only half a cup Father, we were jostled and nearly knocked over when the race started.”

Suddenly, he found himself sweating – the noise and the disappointment had finally got to him.

What happened next, Perry could never explain. Did he really faint, or was it his self-preservation coming to the rescue as it had in the past. He remembers Maureen’s anxious face and someone calling out, “Look out the priest is falling”.

Father Green felt himself slip gracefully from his chair. Was that his voice saying, “I must get outside, I need air?”

Many willing hands worked towards this end. Until at last, Perry found himself sitting quietly on a bench on the Grandstand lawn.

Attentive, anxious faces were all around him, but through the babble, he heard the tannoy announce, “Here is the result of the photograph for the sixth race: First Number 1, Diaghilef.”

“Oh what a pity,” said a woman nearby, “Frankie was second.”

Moments later, a St Johns ambulance man said, “He’s looking better now, see, he’s smiling.”

“I’ll be alright soon, thankyou,” said Father Green, “Just the heat, I expect.”

Then looking up at Maureen and Molly he said, “Give me a few minutes and I’ll follow you down to the coach.”

Which he did, but not before revisiting the Tote windows, where incredibly, he learned that the payout for his £10 dual forecast was £4,147 – “Certainly Nil Desperandum there,” he mused, and looking back, thought it could be his biggest win ever.


On the way home, Brenda, with accordion accompaniment, gave them soulful renditions of Climb every Mountain and Luck be your Lady Tonight.”

Meanwhile the ladies assured each other that in spite of everything, Father Green looked to have enjoyed the day.

Maureen and Molly vouched that he never stopped smiling all the way home.

Later, Emily gave further testimony that his smile had continued well into the evening.



This story is from Michael’s book,

The Gambling Adventures of Father Green,

of which he has a few signed copies for sale.


Investec Derby Day 2012

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Investec Derby Day 2012


With Derby Day honoured to start the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, what better winner than one named after the legendary court of a king – Camelot.

And to please the media, this was a Derby with many stories – the smallest field since 1907; the shortest priced favourite since Tudor Minstrel in 1947; the fourth winner of the race in eight years by Montjeu and, the first time a father & son were the Derby winning trainer & jockey. But let’s start at the beginning. 


Camelot, a well-made bay colt, was purchased by Coolmore for 525,000 guineas from Highclere Stud at the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale. His dam, Tarfah (by Kingmambo), won five races including the Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket and had one previous winner – Ideal, by Galileo. 


Trained by Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle and ridden by his son Joseph, Camelot commenced his career at Leopardstown, winning an 2-y-o Maiden over one mile in mid-July.

  In October, he travelled to Doncaster for the Racing Post Trophy, and after an impressive performance, beating Jim Bolger’s Zip Top by 2¼ lengths, he became the winter favourite for the Derby.

 Camelot made his 3-y-o debut in the Two Thousand Guineas; kept at the rear of the field throughout, he burst through inside the final furlong, to win by a neck, from French Fifteen.

The following Derby trials brought forth their challengers, but despite victories for Bonfire in the Dante Stakes, Mickdam and Astrology in the Chester Vase and Dee Stakes and Main Sequence in the Lingfield Derby Trial, this year run on the All-weather course, none could prevent Camelot from starting the 8-13 favourite. 


The weather, cold and blustery for the Queen’s arrival, changed suddenly to sunshine in time for the Derby.

  All nine runners got off to a good start, and after the first furlong, Astrology led Thought Worthy and Rugged Cross. There was little change in the order to the top of the hill, where Camelot remained last but one. 

  Rounding Tattenham Corner, Astrology and Thought Worthy fought out the lead, while Camelot was still seven lengths adrift. However, approaching the two furlong marker, 19-year-old, Joseph O’Brien boldly brought Camelot with a strong run up the outside, to join Astrology at the furlong pole, then, accelerated away to win easily by five lengths. Main Sequence ran on gamely to be second, with Astrology third, a short head away.

The winning time was 2 min. 33.90 sec.


The last horse home was Cavaleiro, ridden by Hayley Turner, matching the position of Alex Greaves, aboard Portuguese Lil in 1996; Haley and Alex being the only ladies to have ridden in the Derby.  


In the interviews that followed the trophy presentation to owners, Derek Smith, Mrs John Magnier and Michael Tabor, it became apparent that their wishes were to run Camelot in the St Leger, and so attempt the first Triple Crown victory since Nijinsky in 1970.


Finally, the estimated attendance of 130,000, was an encouraging sign for Investec, who have renewed their sponsorship for a further 10 years.  



Here follows, the result of the 2012 Investec Derby in the style of my book,

together with the details of  Montjeu’s four Epsom Derby winners.


Racing to School

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Racing to School

As the Official Derby Historian, I was recently asked by the Marketing Department of Epsom Racecourse, to give the pupils of six local schools a series of half-hour talks on the history of the Derby, as part of the racecourse experience.

“This should be fun,” I thought. And when I was told the age of the 240 pupils attending over two days – 10-11 year-olds – I knew it would be have to be different from any other talk I had given.

The educational programme was run by the charity, British Horseracing Education and Standards Trust, known as Bhest. Their programme, which went to all 60 racecourses in Britain, was free and available to pupils and students of all ages throughout the UK. The daily schedule, which ran from 9.30 am to 2.40 pm, was hectic, but well run under the leadership of Ollie McPhail, an ex National Hunt jockey who had previously survived nine operations after a fall at the Chair fence at Aintree.

Although the children were taken to various parts of the stands and racecourse I was billeted in the Queen’s Stand cinema, where one class after another rushed in and rushed out after being given a brief history – racing at Epsom in the time of the Roundheads and Cavaliers, the foundation of the Derby, the suffragette, Emily Davison, Mill Reef, the disappearance of Shergar, modern day racing and the Queen’s involvement at Epsom.

The “any questions” at the conclusion of each session was both interesting and hilarious. One earnest little boy inquired, “When a horse breaks its leg and they shoot it, do they also shoot the jockey if he breaks his leg?”

Ollie McPhail was living proof that they don’t!”

Since I was standing in front of an Investec sponsors board, another boy inquired, are Zebra’s allowed to run in the Derby?”

All the children and their teacher’s seemed to have had a good time, washed down in the interval with various squashes and biscuits.

Needless to say, the more informed teacher’s and pupils discreetly asked who they should watch for in this year’s Derby. My reply of, “ Camelot,” was seen written into one or two exercise books!

The schools taking part were:

The Vale Primary School

Shawley Community Primary School

Tadworth Primary School

Warren Mead Junior School

Walton On The Hill Primary School

Riverview C Of E Primary School

The Derby Chart

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The Derby Chart

Her Majesty the Queen was due to open Epsom’s magnificent, new Queen’s Stand on the first Wednesday in June 1992 – Derby Day.

  The previous Monday, knowing of my life-long interest in the great race, Father Green telephoned me to enquire if Pat and I would be going as usual.

 “The opening of the Queen’s Stand, will be a historic occasion,” Perry enthused, “and I would dearly like to see the Queen herself.”

“O.K, well how about if we meet you on the front steps of the new stand at noon,” I suggested.

“We may be able to get a close view of the ceremony from near the winner’s enclosure and afterwards, you can come back to meet our picnic party in the Members car park.

“Sounds great, Michael. Give Pat my love and I’ll see you both on Wednesday.”


On a sunny Derby Day, Father Green and I watched the Queen, in a straw-coloured outfit with hat to match, unveil a plaque near the weighing room, so officially opening the Queen’s Stand.

Perry was delighted to see the Queen close-up, although he appeared to be embarrassed when recognised by a group of regular racegoers.

Returning to our little picnic, we introduced him to Pat’s friends Ingrid and Irene, who kept his glass replenished until we all made our way over to the stands for the first race at 2.15.

At this point, I must tell you that today, I was to add the name of this year’s Derby winner to my new Derby Charta large, hand written parchment chart showing the male linage of every winner from 1780, which, when completed, was to be shown live on Channel 4.

Just before the first race, I was informed by one of the Channel 4 staff to go down to the Paddock, then situated about a furlong away. There, I would find a green corrugated iron tower, and after entering by a dilapidated door at the bottom and climbing a makeshift staircase, I would meet John Francome and Lord Oaksey.

“You can spread your chart on the floor behind us”, said Francome, cheerfully.

“When you’ve put today’s winner in, I’ll give ‘mission control’ the word and they’ll take you back to the cameras.”

It sounded reasonable and having previously traced the descent of all the fancied runners back to the Thoroughbred’s founding fathers, I waited, papers spread out on the floor, whilst two feet away Messers Oaksey and Francome gave their paddock comments live to the nation.

But, imagine my horror, when I realised I would now have to watch the Derby with them on their 12 inch TV monitor.

Slowly, my mood changed to total despondency – watching the Derby live was one of the highlights of my year – and in over 40 years I had only missed it twice.

Strangely, when the Derby was in progress, I found myself constantly checking the leaders, to see where they would fit into my chart, rather than eagerly following the horses I had backed.

Accepting my lot, I watched the tiny image of Twist and Turn lead into the straight followed by Great Palm, Dr Devious and St Jovite. Then, approaching the distance, the three of us huddled together, our intense faces, only a foot from the screen, as Dr Devious drew alongside Twist and Turn, before clearing away to win by two lengths.

Oaksey commented that, “St Jovite has kept on one-paced to be second, while Silver Wisp has run on to be third.”


Stifling my frayed emotions I delved into my notes. Incredibly, Dr Devious had been the only runner descended from the Byerley Turk – a Founding Father of the Thoroughbred who was captured from the Turkish army at Buda in 1687 and ridden by Captain Byerley at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Whilst I waited and waited, to present my updated chart, Pat and her friends, together with Father Green were enjoying the sunny afternoon and backing the winners, Dr Devious at 8-1 and Viceroy at 13-2.

At the end of the broadcast, I was escorted to Channel 4 ‘mission control,’ where I was told sympathetically that if I could come back tomorrow, they would make every effort to show the chart. Even so, I felt a deep regret at the loss of a Derby Day I had so eagerly awaited.


  When eventually, I got back to our party, Father Green had gone, apologising to Pat, that he had to get back, “But tell Michael, I’ll be here again tomorrow for the Coronation Cup.”



  The next day, I spotted Perry on the horizon, almost head and shoulders above the other racegoers, dog collar back on today and that distinctive Homburg – unmistakable.

“Glad to see you again Father,” I said, as we negotiated the revolving door into the Queen’s Stand.

“There is a cloakroom on the right if you want to check-in your case.”  Father Green handed in a very large Lieberman & Gortz binocular case, which looked as if it had survived its own private war. He then accompanied me to Channel 4 mission control, where I was told John Oaksey and Derek Thompson would discuss the chart in front of the cameras immediately after the first race.

At that time, Lord Oaksey very kindly came out and signed his latest book for me, a present from my daughter Mia. Soon after, Brough Scott came to reassure me that my chart was on the schedule.

Meanwhile, Father Green, having already accepted some liquid hospitality, was quizzing another TV pundit on the true state of the going.

However, with the first race off and running, I urgently called out,

“I’ll have to go now, Father, or I’ll miss seeing the chart on TV.”

Perry and I stood just behind the cameras as the double act of Thompson and Oaksey traced the lineage from the Byerley Turk down to Dr Devious, stopping briefly on the more recent horses to add a comment on their achievements. Finally, John Oaksey kindly gave viewers the phone number of Racing Post, where the chart was on sale.

It worked well. Perry congratulated me, and we celebrated in the bar with a pint or two of Guinness.

It was not until we emerged from the bar into the bright sunlight, that we realised we had missed yet another race. Nonetheless, Perry, undeterred, went about thumbing the pages of his form book.

Patiently waiting nearby for ten minutes in stony silence, I ventured to ask him what he fancied.

“Tis a terrible tricky race yer know. So, Michael, I’m going to let my heart rule my head and go for Allthruthenight. It’s a sort of lullaby yer know.”


He broke off to softly sing the first lines.

“Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee,

All through the night.”

“I remember my mammy singing it to me as a child. Silly, I know, but I’m having a tenner on it anyway.”

“And why not?” I responded, “Put me a tenner on too.”

Minutes later, Graham Goode cut in.

“All in for the Stanley Wootton Handicap, run over the fastest five-furlong course in the world, and…. they’re off.”

Father Green and I stood at the bottom the slopping Members lawn, glasses trained down the course and hearing only the names of Absolutely Nuts and Inherent Magic. Then, no more than half-a-dozen strides from the post, Allthruthenight thundered past to join Inherent Magic on the line – Photograph, photograph.

“Unbelievable,” said Perry, although his facial expression was still in no-man’s land, until finally, we heard “First, Allthruthenight.”


Having collected our £300 from the genial John White, BPA, we decided it was appropriate to revisit the bar. At the end of his second pint, Perry looked up to catch sight of himself in the mirror behind the bar. It was then he realised he wasn’t wearing his Homburg.

“Someone must have kept it behind the bar?” he said, hopefully.

But no, no-one had seen it and the barman couldn’t remember if he had it on when he was there earlier.

From then on, the rest of the afternoon was taken up with fitful visits to the Racing Office, Channel 4 mission control, the cloakroom check in, and then back to enquire at the bar again. But, for all that, no-one, and that must have included half the attendance of the Queen’s Stand, had seen Father Green’s Homburg.

Perry was now descending into depression. As much, I thought, from the booze as from the sentimental attachment he placed on his hat.

With my sympathy almost exhausted, I tried to uplift his mood by reminding him, “Last race Perry. Have you got a fancy?”

“No, but I suppose I should have,” he said, plunging into his brief case for the form book.

The race was a three-year-old maiden, over ten furlongs and the Gosden-trained Scrutineer, a recent second to Cezanne, looked according to Father Green, “The nearest thing to a certainty on a racecourse.”

Gathering perhaps the last of his optimism he walked along the line of bookies, taking £60 to 40 three times. The last bet synchronising with the commentators, “Off and running in the lucky last.”

Perry, hatless of course, never blinked after lowering his binoculars two furlongs out. But a weaker man might have, as Milzig began to rein in the favourite, with both jockeys hard at work.

Yards from the post, Scrutineer, responding well, got there by half-a-length.

Coming into the winner’s enclosure, Perry shouted out, “Well done,” to Ray Cochrane, who pleased him by touching his cap.

“Time to go home I suppose, Michael,” said Perry, stuffing £300 into his already bulging wallet. After which, his mood softened to admit, “In truth, you know Michael, that Homburg was really quite battered, and due for replacement anyway.”

Just then, coming out of the Queen’s Stand and across the grass, we saw three young lads, one on the shoulders of a donkey. They were laughing and fooling around. Suddenly, they all ran off and on top of the donkey’s head appeared a Homburg hat!

Perry instinctively ran towards them and when almost within reach of his beloved Homburg, two policemen came up behind him.

“What sought of a prank do you call this, Father? Surely, a man of the cloth ought to be setting the younger generation an example?”

Perry didn’t wait to explain, but took off to try and retrieve his hat. Thus leaving me with a picture, I was never to forget, of a tall priest pursuing a lively donkey wearing a battered Homburg!


 This story is from Michael’s book, 

 The Gambling Adventures of Father Green,

of which he has a few signed copies for sale.

Wild Woolley at White City

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 Wild Woolley at White City

“Have you seen the new greyhound paper out this week Charlie – the Greyhound Express? All dogs it is, except for the back page, and that’s horses. You get this, you don’t need another paper!”
Roy and Charlie boarded the fast train at Woking – first stop London Waterloo. They were bound for White City; it was Greyhound Derby Final night, the year, 1932.
Had you been on their Central Line underground train you might have guesed anyway; hundreds of young men, and a few women, strap hanging, swaying, and more than a few reading the new paper. White City had become the Mecca of this fascinating sport and tonight, an unbelievable crowd of 80,000 people would push through the turnstiles to see a race that would go down in history.
Even so, the reason for Charlie and Roy’s attendance, and they insisted on this when they told me some 20 years later, was to back a white dog in a red jacket earlier on the card – or as Charlie put it, a red dog of a different colour.
The greyhound was known to them as Jack, or sometimes Jack o’Lantern when appearing on the London flapping tracks, but more of that later.
Spilling out from the tube station, they were swept along the road towards the track, like the course of a river.
Charlie, a bricklayer and one of the nine Church brothers, had been a fan of the dogs for almost three years, taking in the exploits of the legendary Mick the Miller. Meantime, Charlie’s pal Roy, was a bookies-runner, who would call every day at the Church’s home in West Street, to pick up and pay out bets; number 45 being one of the ‘safer houses’, during the years in which illegal betting flourished.
Forging their way down the street, they were constantly approached by men selling out of suitcases – watches, clothing, tin foods, quite apart from the tipsters and programme sellers. Nearing the stadium, one van, driven off the road, near one of the entrances, was selling a pile of white boxes. Charlie, being inquisitive, pushed in to see.
“They’re shoes Roy. All leather, hand-made shoes, Oxford style, fallen off the back of a lorry in the West End, only this morning!”
Roy came to look. They were selling fast, that’s for sure. And Roy said he could do with a posh pair of shoes for when he went racing. They weren’t cheap, unless they were the real thing that was.

Like almost everything Roy did, it was a gamble and he took it.
“Have you got two pairs of size nine’s there?” he asked the spiv, remembering generously that Charlie took the same size. A well-worn camel-coat dived into the back of the van.
“Two nine’s coming up Gov. Two quid each, OK.”
“Two quid,” recoiled Roy, that’s a bit steep.”
“A bit steep,” the spiv objected. “You won’t see the likes of these for two quid anywhere else – they’re a steal!”
And so they were.

Roy and Charlie joined the long queues to the turnstiles with shoeboxes underarm. People had been arriving at the track from the middle of the afternoon, many with their own food and drink, enough to last them the evening. For such were the crowds inside the stadium, that in order to get a meat pie and a cup of tea, you would run the risk of missing a race and not getting a bet on.
Eventually, after waiting more than half an hour, Roy and Charlie got inside the stadium.
At this point, I think it best that Charlie tells you the story as he told me.
“Inside White City, it looked more like a Cup Final than a dog meeting; the size of the crowd was staggering. Quite apart from all the pushing and shoving, there were long lines to get to the Tote windows, and large clusters of punters hovering in front of the 200 or so bookmakers spread round the track. There was also a military band on the go: ‘Pack up your Troubles, Tipperary’, and that sort of thing, although most of us were too busy, either studying the form, or trying to get a bet on, to take much notice.
“You see, Roy had been given this strong tip from his governor that ‘Jack o’Lantern’, shall we call him, would be on a going night and, we should get on, bundles if we could.
“We decided that a tenner each was the best we could muster (a monster bet for a working man at the time), and when the time came, we positioned ourselves within striking distance of the boards of O’Hara and Billy Broadbent.
“During the parade we kept a careful eye on Jack, his powerful white frame contrasting with the red jacket under the glare of the lights. Then, just before they went in the traps we made our move. O’Hara laid me, £55 to £10, while seconds later, Broadbent laid Roy £50 to £10.
“We were on and the hare was running.”
Uncle Charlie recalled the race as if it was happening in front of him.
“The favourite was in the five box and he got a flyer; two lengths up before the bend. Jack, as we knew, was often slowly away and so he was tonight. But it looked as if he had a bit of trackcraft, and going into the second bend he kept on the rails, moving up to third down the back straight. Around the final bend, he still had a length to make up on the favourite, but he kept gaining, and hugging the rails he went by to win by a neck.”
“I’m sweating now just thinking about it,” Charlie said, as he reached in his top pocket for a handkerchief.
“Tell Michael about the shoeboxes,” interrupted Roy, enjoying the telling as much as Charlie.
“Oh yeah, the shoeboxes, but first came the track announcement over the Tannoy. Apparently, gangs of pickpockets were at work in the crowds, lifting wallets and watches. Then Roy came up with this bright idea,” Roy beamed, as Charlie continued.

“We would go to the lavatory and empty our wallets into the toes of the shoes in the boxes; all except for two fivers – one to celebrate with and the other for emergencies. We reckoned if we were going to get turned over, or hit on the head going home, the last thing they would rob us for was a pair of shoes.”
“Anyway, after about seven races our feet were beginning to give us gyp, so back to the lavs, to switch the cash into our old shoes and try on the new ones.
Now I know what you are thinking Michael, but you’d be wrong, they fitted like gloves, real toff’s shoes they were.”
“And that was another shrewd move,” interrupted Roy, “You see, no-one would be interested in robbing us for two scruffy pair of shoes.”
However, by now, even to this 16-year-old, Roy and Charlie were becoming a tad obsessive.
“Tell us about the Derby,” I pressed, pouring both our visitors another bottle of Bass each. Charlie took a drink, wiped his lips and continued.
“Oh yes, I must tell you that before the dogs came out for the final, they paraded four previous Derby winners, including the great Mick the Miller – he got a fantastic cheer from the crowd. It made you feel as if you were part of history. But back to the race. From the bookies boards it looked like a two-dog race: 8-13 Future Cutlet (trap5); 5-2 Wild Woolley (trap 6), and 10-1 bar. Both dogs had won their semis, but in a first round heat Future Cutlet had beaten Woolley fair and square, to set a new track record.
However, despite all the excitement, neither Roy nor I, wanted to have a bet – you see we had already made our money for the night and there didn’t seem any sense in opening the shoeboxes again.”
Mum and dad started to laugh, visualising Charlie and Roy opening their shoeboxes in front of the bookies!
Charlie pressed on, hardly breaking stride.
“With all the noise going on – I guess you could call it the Derby roar – neither of the favourites broke well. However, Future Cutlet soon took off and crossing to the rails forced Woolley wide. Along the back straight, it was as we expected, a two-dog race, with Woolley chasing hard. Neck and neck into the third bend, Woolley had regained the rails and, when the improving Cutlet ran wide at the last – some said the driver had slowed the hare – Woolley pressed his advantage to win by a diminishing neck. The distance between second and third was 10 lengths and the time, 29.72, was a record for the 525-yard final.”

Charlie’s impressive account brought Dad to say that he should challenge Lesley Welch (the memory man), on the radio.
Suddenly, Charlie looked a bit embarrassed. “Have you got another Bass there Dorothy,” he said to Mum, offering his glass.
Roy, taking advantage of the lull, then said, “Shall I tell ‘em about the presentation of the trophy, Charlie?”
“Oh yeah, go on, Dorothy will like that.”

“Well, Charlie and I worked our way along to the area where we could see the ceremony. Lady Chatham, a good-looking woman, presented an impressive trophy to the owner, Sam Johnson of Manchester. Apparently, he had only paid 25 guineas for the dog. Imagine that, Charlie and I had won four times that amount on Jack. Also, I must tell you, that Wild Woolley, a dark brindle,  by the way, had the special 1932 Derby winner’s jacket put on, before they paraded him around the track.”
With Charlie, having run out of steam, it was Roy, who revealed their nightmare journey home.
“After a couple more drinks in the stadium, we joined the 500-yard queue at White City underground station and then, onto the overcrowded platforms at Tottenham Court Road. Eventually, to cap it all, when we got to Waterloo, a Guard told us that there was a Sunday service in operation.”
At this point, Charlie, having downed the Bass, continued the story.
“I remember saying something like, ‘Oh bugger this, let’s have another drink and then get a cab – all the way to Woking.’”
“However, I don’t remember much of the journey, apart from us singing, with the cabbie joining in, friendly like. It had been a great night, so we tipped him handsomely and waved goodbye.”

“A minute later, as we staggered through the front door, it hit us simultaneously – the shoeboxes, the bloody shoeboxes!!   

All that money and we’d left it in the bloody cab.
We were desolate – neither of us slept that night. We had no receipt for the fare, we hadn’t taken the cab number, I mean, why would we?”
Charlie continued, “On Monday, the pain grew worse when our pals asked us if we’d had a good time at White City. And Roy’s boss, who had given him the tip, was gobsmacked at our stupidity. Ain’t that right Roy?”
Roy cut in for the finale.
“But miraculously, there was a happy ending. The following Friday, Jane, (dad’s Mum), opened the front door to a grinning taxi driver who handed her our two white shoeboxes. The cabbie told Jane, ‘I dropped a fare here last Saturday night; two blokes who couldn’t stop singing; I reckon anyone who carries such scruffy old shoes around with them must really need them. So here they are. And thank them again for the fat tip.’”
“That evening,” Roy concluded, “Mrs Stebbings, our neighbour, said she heard Charlie shouting and laughing from as far as four doors away. ‘It’s amazing, just amazing,’ he kept shouting – ‘Taxi driver, I love you.’”

Looking back, Charlie’s story went some way to explaining a phenomenon that had always puzzled me.
Why Charlie, although a heavy bettor, but in every other way a reluctant spender, was such a generous tipper?


Footnote: Trained by Jimmy Rimmer, Wild Woolley went on to run in the Greyhound Derby a further three times. In the 1933 final, he finished third to his old rival, Future Cutlet and in 1934, he finished third again, this time to Davesland. Finally, in 1935, now five years old, he was eliminated in the first round heats and subsequently, retired to stud.


This short story is from Michael’s book Black Horse – Red Dog ,

of which he has a few signed copies for sale.

Pinza and Sir Gordon Richards

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Pinza and Sir Gordon Richards

As we celebrate The Queen’s 60th anniversary, I should like to recall the events of the Coronation Derby. A race in which her first Derby runner, Aureole, finished second to Pinza.

A few days before the 1953 Derby, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II conferred a knighthood on Gordon Richards for his services to racing. On Derby Day, Sir Gordon was to make his 28th and final attempt to win the race, this time on Pinza, a powerful bay of 16.1 hands by the French stayer Chanteur out of Pasqua, by Donatello.
Bred by Fred Darling, Pinza was sold as a yearling to Sir Victor Sassoon at the Newmarket Sales for 1,500 guineas. Sent to Newmarket trainer Norman Bertie, although backward as a two-year-old, Pinza won two of his four starts, concluding with an impressive five lengths victory in the Dewhurst Stakes.


He was allotted 9st 2lb in the Free Handicap, 5lb less than the Middle Park winner Nearula. Slow to recover from a fall on gravel in the winter, Pinza missed the Guineas and returned in mid-May to win the Newmarket Stakes in a canter. After which, his Derby price was immediately cut from 33-1 to 8-1.


Derby Day was hot and sunny and the crowd, reported to be more than half-a-million, had been swelled by the thousands who had come to London for the Coronation earlier in the week. The Queen’s runner Aureole, having won the Lingfield Derby Trial, had been a leading fancy for some weeks, but after sweating up in the preliminaries drifted out to 9-1. Joint-favourites at 5-1 were Pinza and Aureole’s stable companion Premonition, winner of the Great Northern Stakes at York. Also in contention was the Two Thousand Guineas winner Nearula, who had missed a vital week of preparation and was now offered at 10-1.
The 27 runners on their way, Shikampur took an early lead and coming down the hill he was four lengths clear of Victory Roll and Mountain King, with Pinza close up. Around Tattenham Corner, Richards, finding an opening on the rails, moved Pinza into second place.
Once in the straight, Charlie Smirke continued to ride out Shikampur, but Pinza closed rapidly and swept by two furlongs out. In the final stages, Aureole made steady progress on the outside, but by now it was too late and the deafening cheers from the distance told the tale – Gordon Richards had finally won the Derby.

To all those who witnessed the occasion (including the author) it was a never-to-be-forgotten day. Aureole was second, four lengths away, with Pink Horse running on in third and the gallant Shikampur fourth. After the weigh-in the Queen sent for the winning jockey to offer her congratulations.


Sir Gordon Richards (1904-1986), one of a family of 12 children, was born at Donnington Wood, near Oakengates in Shropshire, where his father was a coal miner. Gordon served his apprenticeship with Martin Hartigan at Foxhill and rode his first winner on Jimmy White’s Gay Lord at Leicester on 16 October, 1920. He was Champion Jockey for the first time in 1925 and, in 1933, made the front pages of every Daily newspaper when beating Fred Archer’s record of 146 winners in a season.
A modest, dedicated man of great integrity, Gordon Richards was the undisputed hero of those who followed racing for the first half of the 20th century, and his Derby victory on Pinza the most popular of that period.
In 1954, when leaving the paddock at Sandown, the filly Abergeldie reared up and fell over backwards on top of Richards, breaking his pevis and dislocating four ribs. The following year, fully recovered, he trained from Beckhampton, later moving first to Ogbourne-Maizey and then to Whitsbury in Hampshire, with Scobie Breasley as stable jockey.
Gordon Richards was Champion Jockey 26 times and from 21,834 mounts rode 4,870 winners. His 14 Classic winners included Tudor Minstrel (1947 Two Thousand Guineas) and Sun Chariot (1942 fillies’ Triple Crown).
Returning to Pinza, in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, he again beat Aureole, this time by three lengths. However, shortly afterwards, he broke down and never raced again. Syndicated at a value of £200,000, he retired to stud.

With the exception of Pinturischio, who was sensationally, twice poisoned when favourite for the 1961 Derby, Pinza never produced a horse equal to himself.

He died in 1977 and is buried at Woodditton Stud, Newmarket.


The Investec Derby 2011

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The Investec Derby 2011

As the Official Derby Historian part of my service is to continue the ongoing history of the race in the style of my previous books. So, I feel it appropriate, that my first Blog should be about the great race.

The 2011 Derby was both exciting and dramatic, with the Queen’s horse Carlton House and the French-trained Pour Moi at the head of the betting.

Here is my account of the race and the events surrounding it.


In a Derby filled with passion and drama, the iconic moment came yards from the post. Mickael Barzalona, aboard Pour Moi, having come from stone last, to win the Derby in the final stride, simultaneously, stood upright in the saddle to salute the crowd – the photofinish print capturing his exuberance together with a mere head victory over Treasure Beach.

All would agree that the print was not only an exceptional statement, but one that will forever remain a part of Derby history.

2011 Derby website edit

Ten days before the Derby, Andre Fabre, France’s 22-times champion trainer, brought Pour Moi, the recent winner of the 1m.2f. Prix Greffulhe, to the Epsom event, Breakfast with the Stars. After an impressive mile gallop, Fabre, delighted by what he saw, asserted that this was his best chance ever, to win the race.

Ironically, the event’s other racecourse gallop involved the Ed Dunlop trained, Native Khan, ridden by Kieren Fallon, who, having previously signed an agreement to ride the horse in the Derby, later agreed to ride the Aidan O’Brien trained, Recital. The case was put before a High Court judge, and following an appeal, Fallon ended up riding neither horse.

However, the main topic going into the race was the Queen’s horse, Carlton House, winner of the Dante Stakes and 6-4 favourite, until incurring an injury to his
near-foreleg a week before the race. Bulletin’s were posted daily and the colts Epsom chances were closely monitored on Betfair, until, eventually, Sir Michael Stoute gave him the all-clear and the nation breathed a sigh of relief.

On a glorious summer’s day, before a crowd of 120,000, thirteen went to post on good to firm ground. Her Majesties’ Carlton House, ridden by Ryan Moore, was sent off the 5-2 favourite. While there was strong support for Pour Moi, from 6-1 into
4-1, with Recital, the best backed of the Aidan O’Brien quartet and now ridden by P.J. Smullen, at 5-1.

After an even start, the early leaders were Memphis Tennessee, Marhaba Malyoon and Treasure Beach, while Carlton House was steadied at the back of the field and, Pour Moi remained last.

Coming down the hill, Memphis Tennessee extended his lead to six lengths, until rounding Tattenham Corner, where Carlton House made his move, rapidly making up ground wide of the pack. Approaching the two-furlong marker, Memphis Tennessee’s lead was down to three lengths from Treasure Beach, with Carlton House, Native Khan and Recital in hot pursuit. At the furlong pole, Treasure Beach moved up challenge Memphis Tennessee, while Ryan Moore was now hard at work to close the gap.

With 80 yards to run Treasure Beach was holding Carlton House, however, Pour Moi, having tracked the Queen’s horse all along the straight, produced an incredible burst of speed to pass everything close home.

The official winning distance was a head. Treasure Beach was second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Carlton House, with Memphis Tennessee fourth.


An attractive, dark bay colt with a blaze, Pour Moi was bred by Lynch Bages Ltd, alias Paul Shanahan of Coolmore Stud. He is the third Derby winner in seven years from his sire Montjeu, and the fourth foal of his unraced dam Gwynn, whose Sadler’s Wells filly, Gagnoa, was placed in both the French and Irish Oaks.

Sadly, in late August, Pour Moi suffered a severe overreach to his near fore fetlock during exercise at Chantilly. He did not race again and stands at Coolmore Stud, where, for the 2014 breeding season, his fee was reduced from E17,500 to E12,500.




Harry Wragg and the Brylcreem Boy

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Harry Wragg and the Brylcreem Boy

I knocked twice on the dark stained door at the end of the passage.

A small hatch slid open.

  “Oxo,” I said boldly, standing on tiptoe.

Alice let me in.

  “Is the 1.15 off,” I enquired.

  “You’ve got a few minutes yet,” she said, dragging on her Woodbine.

I entered the smoke-filled room where the usual crowd huddled around the ticker-tape machine, its stuttering chatter competing with the ringing telephones.

This is the back room of Charlie Young’s Hairdressing Salon and, as a chirpy, skinny ten-year-old, my excessive enthusiasm for racing and betting has led me to be accepted by all the regulars.  Today is both the last day of the 1946 Flat Season and the last day in the riding career of Harry Wragg, so consequently, my last chance to back him.

Harry was the thinking man’s jockey, known nationally as ‘The Head Waiter’ because of his effective waiting tactics. He had been champion jockey in 1941, and ridden the winners of 13 Classic races, including three Derby winners – Felstead (in 1928), Blenheim (1930) and Watling Street (1942). He also had two younger brothers, Sam and Arthur who were both successful jockeys in their own right.

Time running out, I quickly scribbled my first bet, 2/- win Tiffin Bell, (Harry’s first mount), and slid it across to Charlie’s lanky blonde wife Alice, who promptly secured it among 50 or so others in a giant bulldog clip.

  “Two lumps today, Alice,” I piped, reaching for the obligatory cup of tea.  But before I had put the cup to my lips, Uncle Albert shouted across “Result Manchester – 1.15 – first Tiffin Bell – 5-2.”

  “Blimey, I’m off to a good start,” I squeaked.

During the next 30 minutes, a pipe and two Capstan full strength passed through the security system and quickly contributed to the diminishing visibility.

Continuing my loyalty to H. Wragg, I invested 2/- to win on Aprolon in the next, and made myself useful by taking a tray of tea and biscuits out to Charlie in the shop.

Charlie, a dead ringer for Alfred Hitchcock, often used his ventriloquist talents whilst cutting hair.

  “How’s it going young squirt?” he enquired, throwing his voice to the corner of the salon.

I backed Tiffin Bell, won 5-2,” I boasted.

“Then you can afford a hair cut he replied,” still in the high squeaky voice.

  “Sit in the end chair.”

  Ten minutes later I re-entered the betting room sporting a well-slicked head.

  “Aprolon won at 7-4 Michael,” Alice said, coughing manfully, adding, “it must be your lucky day.”

  “And Harry’s,” I said.

  “What are you doing in the big one?” she enquired.

  “Well, I’ve got to stick to Wragg now, but c-c-can I have a sub on my winnings?  I did have a shilling left over, but I had my hair cut.”

  “Ask Taffy to settle up on one of your slips.”

  “Bloody hell boyo,” said Taffy, “its like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Tell you what, I’ll lend you two bob until Monday.”

  “Super,” I replied, and instantly returned the coin to his hand.

  “Put it on Las Vegas in the N-November Handicap,” I stammered.

Two fifteen approached and the request for prices from the ticker-tape had the ring of an auction. Five to one Dornot – Rae Johnson; 100-8 Star of Autumn – Charlie Smirke; 20-1 Las Vegas – Harry Wragg.

Arriving just in time for the big race, I recognised the voices of Uncle Arthur (Craven A), and Uncle Henry (Rothmans), through the blue haze.  At this time, it was thought expedient by a health fanatic, to take the drastic step of opening a window an inch or two, as visibility had fallen to one pace, and it was difficult to hear the odds over the coughing.

Standing on a chair, Taffy shouted out, “Under orders Manchester,” shortly followed by, “Off Manchester 2-20.”

A stillness now came over the assembly, and strangely, the absence of a running commentary in no way diminished the excitement, as each man prepared himself for the instant finality of the result.

The silence was finally broken by the sound of the ticker-tape. Taffy crouched over it assisting its passage like a midwife at a birth.

  “Here it comes,” Taffy warned … “Manchester – 2.15 – first, Las Vegas
20-1, second, Delville Wood 33-1, third, Star of Autumn….”

At this point, Charlie burst in shouting, “Quiet everybody, quiet, I’ve just seen two coppers hanging about outside – there’s going to be a raid – everyone upstairs, quick as you can.”

Charlie then went into his raid-drill, “Alice get rid of the ash-trays, Taffy give me the cash and the books, and put the ticker-tape under the stairs, NOW!”

A crocodile of disgruntled men climbed the stairs to temporarily pay their respects to Alice’s bewildered mother, Violet.  Meanwhile, Charlie beckoned to me, “You come with me boy.”

  “They’re at the back door Charlie,” Alice cried out.

  “Hold them up for as long as you can,” he replied, then staring close into the faces of two bemused customers, said, “You’ve seen nothing, OK – and your haircuts are on the house.”

  “Michael, put the plank across the arms of that chair, and sit up on it.”  I obeyed instinctively.  Charlie then put the books, cash and betting slips into a pillowcase, pushed it under the plank and threw a large white cape around me to cover everything.

   “Afternoon Mr Young.” The stentorian voice preceded the presence of two uniformed police officers.

  “You’ve been very busy this afternoon.”

  “Yes, usual Saturday afternoon you know,” Charlie replied, looking a little pale.

  “Alice looks as if she has been washing up cups for an army,” the sergeant added sarcastically.

  “Customers like a cup of tea with their haircut you know.”

  “Yes of course, we must try that approach down at the station,” he retorted.

  “Given up the betting, have you Charlie?” he persisted.

  “Yes, a mug’s game really you know officer.”

  “You’d be a mug if you got caught Charlie – a heavy fine could close your business down.”

  “Yes officer, but all that’s in the past now,” said Charlie, riding his luck.

The sergeant’s gaze turned to the customers.

  “Been waiting long, gents?” he probed, but their nervous mutterings revealed nothing.

Looking in the facing mirror, I watched the copper circle my chair. I could feel my heart beating – my winnings were in that pillowcase.

  “This boy’s nearly done.  Perhaps as a favour you could cut my hair next.”

  “Crikey,” I thought, feeling a rush of blood to my head.

Suddenly, I blurted out,

  “Ch-Charlie’s got to wash it first, officer, I’ve only just got here.”

Charlie’s blenched face sprang to life.

  “Yes, course I have. His Mum hates all that Brylcreem plastered all over it.”

I felt myself propelled forward to the basin for a vigorous hair washing.  This having been done under the sergeant’s steady gaze, Charlie was then obliged to begin my second haircut of the afternoon.  As the sergeant’s puzzled frown deepened, Charlie explained helpfully, “His mum likes it short!”

  “Oh well, must be getting along, I suppose.” The sergeant slowly moved towards the door before pausing.

  “There’s just one thing you might like to help with Charlie,” he said thoughtfully.

  “Of course officer, anything,” said Charlie obsequiously.

  “I’ve got ten tickets left for the Police Dance next Saturday, would you like to take them off my hands?  Be good for you and Alice to get out occasionally.”

Charlie gritted his teeth and paid up.

Leaving by the front door the two policemen were joined by Uncles Arthur and Henry tiptoeing down the stairs from the now profoundly bewildered Violet.

  “What are you two up to – leaving the scene of the crime?” questioned the sergeant.

  “No officer,” said Arthur, “we’ve just been estimating for a wallpapering job.”

  “A cover up job, more likely.”

As the story of this raid went around Woking, so I became the boy hero, albeit with the shortest haircut in Surrey.

This short story is taken from Ripping Gambling Yarns,

of which Michael has a few signed copies for sale.


Illustrations by Julia Jacs