Archive for 2013

The Centenary of the Suffragette Derby

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The Centenary of the Suffragette Derby

Suffragette plaque on 18-4-13


Having recently attended the unveiling of a plaque at Tattenham Corner

to commemorate Emily Davison’s martyrdom at Epsom,

I thought it appropriate to run the chapter covering the incident in my book –

The Derby Stakes – The Complete History – 1780-2006.


Suffragette 1913 Derby - p1

Suffragette 1913  Derby  - p2

Suffragette  1913 Derby - p3Suffragette 1913  Derby - p4Suffragette 1913 Derby - p5


A Monday Grand National

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A Monday Grand National

Grand National racecard 1997


  Father Green had been reading in the Press that the up-coming 1997 Grand National was to be the 150th running. This year’s race looked wide open and in Perry’s words, “Was not to be missed.”

  Although he had previously booked his County Stand Badge, how he would travel to Liverpool and, whether he would stay up there for more than a day, he had yet to decide. Then strangely, on the Monday, he received a call from a long lost friend, Father Tod Abraham.

  “This is a surprise, after all this time too. What’s been happening?”

   “Well, remember old Tom Tooley from our seminary days? He and I were talking about the Grand National and your name came up. We were remembering how you loved the race and the good times we had at Aintree. So, we thought, why not do it again?”

  “It took me a couple of days to track you down on the Catholic radar, but now that I’ve found you, what do you say?”

  “Count me in,” said Perry, enthusiastically and straight away agreed to share their Aintree B & B.

  “We’ve booked it Wednesday to Wednesday,” said Tod, “so, Thursday to Saturday we’ll be racing and the rest of the time acting like tourists.”

  “There is just one thing Perry, I’m told there are only two single beds and, the living room’s quite small, but there’s a large settee which makes up into a bed, if you don’t mind sleeping there?” 

   A short silence followed, after which, Perry, ever conscious of his six-foot-

four-inch frame, answered bravely, “Oh that’s fine, really it is.”  

  The conversation then drifted to old seminary days and some uncomfortable memories for Perry, as Tod touched on the late night poker school in which Tom Tooley claimed he had lost a tidy sum to Perry, who had bluffed the pot with a pair of three’s.

  Perry sighed – “Ah, the stuff of legends,” but then quickly and diplomatically ended the call with, “It’ll be fantastic to see you both again, let’s hope this year we get the winner.”


 For the rest of the day, Perry seemed a little reflective. He had really only planned to go to Aintree for a day or two, but somehow, he’d got carried away in the excitement. Emily, however, having overheard part of the conversation and unable to bear his indecision any longer, came up with the following suggestion.

  “Father, why don’t you ring Father Abraham and tell him you’ll be travelling up early on the Friday morning – Euston to Lime Street – drop your bag in at their B & B and then go racing?”   


  Arriving at Aintree racecourse, Perry felt a surge of excitement. It looked like a fair size crowd for the Friday and although the weather was overcast and grey, he was very glad to be there. On meeting up with Tod Abraham and Tom Tooley, he learned that Tod had heroically relinquished his bed to him during his stay and now, he looked forward to two days’ racing.

 Father Green His betting, however, could have gone a little better, having backed The Last Fling, second to Cyborgo in the Mildmay, and then Highlandman, second again, to Blue Cheek in the Fox Hunters. Never mind this was like a holiday to Perry and he was determined to enjoy every minute of it.

  The following morning, after a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs, he left his fellow priests to take the Racing Post back to his bedroom in anticipation of the afternoon’s sport – this was the time that he loved best.

  Arriving on course, the view from the County Stand was exhilarating. High in the stand he was opposite the winning post and, with his binoculars and view of the big screen he hoped to follow the big race throughout.     

  Perry’s luck, however, was still absent without leave – the first three races returning winning S.P’s of 25-1, 20-1 and 14-1 – so filling the bags of almost every bookmaker to the brim. Only a popular National winner would remove the hurt of some 60,000 spectators on course and a further ten million punters at home.

  Then, with the horses coming into the paddock, the Merseyside police received a coded warning that a bomb had been planted at Aintree. Nigel Payne, Aintree’s Press Officer, broke the news, live, to BBC’s anchor-man Des Lynam and immediately after, loudspeaker instructions were broadcast to evacuate the course. In addition, as part of the security operation, racegoers were forbidden to remove their vehicles from the car parks for the remainder of that day.     

  Meanwhile, the search for the bomb continued.

  Jenny Pitman, a previous winning trainer, made a tearful plea to Lynam:

  “We have the lunatic element here and we can’t give in to them.”  


  As the gravity of the situation became known, the Managing Director and Clerk of the Course, Charlie Barnett, confirmed that two coded bomb warnings had been received and with the minimum of decorum, asked Lynam and the BBC to leave Aintree immediately.

   At this point, Father Green, and those around him, still hoped that racing would continue later. However, the sight of tens of thousands of people spilling out onto the course and a few hooligans clambering over the fences, caused that hope to disappear, leaving only a painful memory of the day that had promised so much. 


  Being six-foot-four sometimes has an advantage, for although Father Green was hemmed in against the running rail, he could at least see where the meandering mob was heading.  Similarly, those within shouting distance could

see the tall figure of a priest in a Homburg, trying to move through the crush without forcefully pushing or shoving.

  “Father Perry, Father Perry,” a strong Irish brogue cut through the dejected babble and soon, Tod, Tommy and Perry were reunited.


   Later that evening, when Tod went out to get a Chinese takeaway for them all, he was delighted to hear from Larry Wong that the National was to be run on Monday at 5 p.m. – the only race on the card.

  In the meantime, Perry had nipped out to buy a bottle of Glenmorangie whisky and six cans of Guinness. It was going to be a good night after all.


   It was some time after the three men demolished their Chinese supper, and only then, as an afterthought, Tommy enquired, “Does anyone fancy a game of cards?”

  “I found an old pack,” Tommy continued, “in the chest of draws in my bedroom – they’re all there, I’ve counted them, what do you think?”  

  Tod looked a little uncomfortable at first, before referring the question to Perry.     

  “You’re the expert, so they tell me. What should we play Perry?”

  “Five-card brag can be fun. It’s a simple game,” he said airily, “you are dealt five cards each; make a hand with your best three and throw the other two away. Like poker really, but a run beats a flush. Oh, and a A-2-3 beats a A-K-Q,” he added, nonchalantly, “that’s usual I believe.”   

   They decided to play for 50p stakes and since none of them had much in the way of change, Perry found a full box of matches by the gas fire to improvise as chips.

  Tommy and Tod both remembered playing 3-card brag as schoolboys, so having two further cards to choose from felt like a luxury.

 After half-an-hour, with the game heading towards boredom, Perry made the suggestion that they open the Glenmorangie. Not surprisingly, the game took off.


     Tod was the first to get a really good hand – a 6-7-8 all in spades. Tom and Perry went with him for a while, till Tommy threw in. But Perry, for reasons best known to himself, stayed in longer than perhaps he should. Tod picked up around 20 matches and looked very pleased.

  As the night went on and the whisky went down, so the stakes grew bigger. In fact, Tom found it necessary to knock on the landlady’s door for another box of matches. Then, as so often happens with this game, all three men drew

exceptional hands at the same time. Tod picked up three Kings, Tommy a Q-J-10 of Diamonds and Perry, well, we’ll have to wait to see his cards.

  Needless to say, each player thought they had the winning hand and when the matches ran out, apologetically, but nevertheless enthusiastically, fivers and then tenners took their place. 

  After ten minutes of building up a sizable kitty, each player was faced with the strong possibility that there might be a better hand than their own. And whilst Tom had liberally contributed, he was the first to crack, and threw in.

  Thereafter, Tod and Perry continued to bet as if their money were only lent, until Tommy counted the kitty as nearing £150. At this point, they braced themselves with another whisky and tried to take stock. 

  Tod could not believe that Perry had three aces and although happy with the original 50p stakes, he now felt the need to press on, quietly harbouring the thought that it would teach Father Green a lesson.

  Perry, too, took stock and slowly developed the face of a gravedigger – but whose grave was he digging?

  Ten minutes later, with the kitty up to £250, Perry paid his final twenty to see Tod’s hand.

  “Read’em and weep,” Tod said joyfully, having remembered the phrase from an old movie, and then spread his Kings out in front of Perry.

    There followed a short silence, until Father Green slowly tipped over his cards – three fives!

   “What a relief,” said Tod, “Thank heavens for that.”

  But it was Perry who scooped up the money.

  “Sorry Tod, but three fives is the top hand – just like three-three’s in three-card brag.”

  Tod’s face was a picture of disbelief, until Tommy backed up Father Green.

  “He’s right Tod, remember when we played three-card brag as kids and you won my wristwatch with three three’s.”

  Tod regained his composure, while Perry folded the notes into his pocket.

  “Well, I really have to thank you both,” Tod said unconvincingly, “you have taught me a valuable lesson, one, I should have learned long ago.”

  Then, with a noticeably croaking voice he enquired, “Say, is there any more of that fine scotch whisky left?”


   Sunday morning, the three of them trooped off to Hope Street to hear the 11 o’clock Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. None of them had visited it before and so when the crowds had gone they took time for a personal tour. Towards the end, Perry read the first lines of a poem written by a local newspaper editor on how the people of Liverpool had built the Cathedral.


   “They did it by touting the streets and pubs and knocking on doors like their own.

  They did it, bless ‘em, by giving, when they had so little to give.”


 As they were about to leave, Perry excused himself, saying, “I’ll catch up with you boys.”

  Tod and Tommy then surreptitiously watched him engage one of the priests and pass him a bulky envelope.

   Later when out in the road, Tod asked, “Where did you go Perry?”

  “Oh, I just went to slip the priest a couple of quid.”


 *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    


    Monday’s Grand National was due off at 5 p.m., the time set to encourage as many locals as possible to attend. It was a fine day and Tod, Tommy and Perry, joined the large crowd with a spirit of Dunkirk defiance, as the 36 runners went to post.

  Go Ballistic (fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup) and the grey, Suny Bay, headed the market, whilst the New Zealand bred Lord Gyllene was a popular each way choice at 14-1.

  My own recollection of the race at the Raynes Park offices of Racing Post was that work stopped completely, while staff gathered to see courage and tenacity triumph in the face of adversity.

  Back at Aintree, Lord Gyllene, under the joint bottom weight of 10 stone, made virtually all the running to win by 25 lengths from the gallant Suny Bay, with the 100-1 shot Camelot Knight, third of the 17 finishers.


  That evening, Tod, Tommy and Perry tucked in to large portions of steak and mushroom pie, washed down with pints of Guinness, until finally, Perry’s taxi arrived to take him to Lime Street Railway Station.

  They all agreed that in spite of the disruption, they’d had a great time and promised each other to do it all again next year.

  “But, with some other card game, aye,” said Tod, with feeling, as he carried Perry’s bag to the door.





This story was taken from Michael’s latest book of short stories,
The Gambling Adventures of Father Green,
of which he has a few signed copies for sale.



Spreading the News

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Spreading the News (p1)


 Spreading the News (p2)

The above article is from Michael’s book
The Derby Stakes – The Complete History – 1780-2006
of which he has a few signed copies for sale.


The Derby Bibliography

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The Derby Bibliography


For those who enjoy the rich history of the Turf and especially book lovers, I have set out below, the list of books used whilst writing my two histories of the Derby.

Such has been the prominence of the Derby, now accepted as the longest continuously run sporting event in the world, the Derby Bibliography goes some way in covering the complete history of the Turf in Great Britain.

Hopefully, it will be useful for racing enthusiasts and Turf Historians alike, and perhaps, for some, the start of a new quest.



Derby Stakes Bibliography 2

Copies of Michael’s  – The Derby Stakes 1780-1997
 and The Derby Stakes – The Blue Ribbon of the Turf – 1780-2016
can be obtained under Books for Sale.

Brighton Races

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Brighton Races


This is a story of racing at the end of the 1940s, a young Michael, his dad and a dodgy bookies runner known to the family.


I had recently seen ‘Brighton Rock’, the film of Graham Greene’s classic crime thriller, where a young Richard Attenborough plays ‘Pinkie’, the leader of a razor gang, working a bookmaker protection racket at Brighton races.  And although this era was at an end, the film had given the racecourse a popular folklore notoriety that added a buzz to the meetings.

    On learning that a race meeting at Brighton coincided with our family holiday, I persuaded my father to take me, and, it proved a day to remember for this impressionable 13-year-old.  To begin with, I spotted Billy Cook, the Australian champion jockey, walking towards us at the back of the stands.  Hastily producing a racecard and pen, I asked him for his autograph.  Cook, who had been in England for about three months, already had the tinge of a London accent, and his gaunt face and heavy eyebrows belied his pleasant manner.  Plucking up courage I said, “Are you riding anything good today Billy?”

    “Well I’ve only got two rides; the one in the first is a long shot, but my ride in the last has a chance.”

    “Last race Cook, eh?” I replied, for this was what Fleet Street had dubbed him after a recent run of last race successes.

    Getting into racecourses was quite expensive in those days, and as I recall, Dad paid an uncomfortable amount to get into Tattersalls, followed by a small contribution to the Gateman to look the other way as I scrambled over the turnstile.

    Once inside, we found our bearings and marked our selections in the racecard.  It was a bright sunny day, the smell of freshly cut grass, mingling with the shimmering heat-haze and the sound of horses hooves, created a sudden assault on my boyhood senses which crystallised itself into a lasting memory.

    Neither Dad nor I had a bet in the first race, and Billy Cook’s long shot finished well down the field. But running in the next was National Spirit, a long time favourite of mine, who, trained by Vic Smyth at Epsom, had twice won the Champion Hurdle.  I made him my ‘Nap of the Day,’ and, having obtained evens to a pound note, our cheers were drowned in the deafening roar, as the old fella drew away coming up the hill.

    Just after Dad had collected our winnings, an incident occurred that changed our day.  Frank Rogers, a bookies runner and one of Uncle Albert’s shadier friends, appeared hurrying towards us.

    “Are you staying for the last, Stan?” he anxiously enquired.

    “Yes it’s a lovely day isn’t it,” said Dad.

    “Would you do me a great favour and look after my briefcase?”

    Dad hesitated. “It will get me out of a spot,” Frank added.

    “OK, but where will we meet you?” Dad cautiously enquired.

    “Up there at the back of the stand,” Frank said pointing, “after the weigh-in.”



As the runners were leaving the Paddock for the next – the Brighton Mile – I persuaded Dad to go halves on Star Signal in the first leg of a Tote Double, while I looked after Frank’s case. Once again we had something to shout about, as Star Signal won in a canter, while Dad resumed control of the briefcase.

    Finding a place to sit while enjoying our tea and buns, we began to question why Frank had trusted us with his briefcase and why he looked so anxious about it.

    After the second sticky bun, I could no longer contain my curiosity.

    “Come on Dad, let’s have a quick look inside.”

    “Its probably locked,” he replied.

    “It isn’t Dad, I’ve just tried it.”

    “Well, OK then,” Dad said with uncharacteristic abandon, “just a quick look.”

    I flicked the case open … “Bloody hell!”… and shut it smartly.

It was full of bundles and bundles of pound notes.  Just then, the loudspeakers announced the overweights for the next race and Dad scuttled off, unsteadily, to bet a few shillings on the Tote, leaving me to clasp the briefcase tightly with sweaty hands.

    In stark contrast to the contents of the case, Dad’s place on the Tote paid 4/3d (21p).  And even then it took us a minute or two to sort out the right ticket, since in those days, they had to be held up to the light to read a series of perforations that revealed not only the number of the horse and race, but also a four letter code-word.  This persistent scrutiny tested the patience of both the punters and cashiers alike, and continually caused lengthy, slow moving queues at the pay-out windows.

    Exchanging our Daily Double ticket for the second leg, we both agreed on the Duchess of Norfolk’s Suivi, the long odds on favourite, and, after checking the safety of the briefcase for the tenth-time, Dad was able to relax in time to see the horse skate home by four lengths.

    It was now time for the last race and, remembering to back Billy Cook, we opted to bet with the bookies, as the Tote queues continued to grow. The bet on, Dad and I stood high in the stand to watch the race and wait for Frank.  Cook was riding Dorothy Paget’s Wynola, and we watched her famous blue, with yellow hoop colours glide gracefully to the start. The best price available was 13-8, but, having bumped into Billy at the start of the day, we felt duty bound to back it.

    A furlong out, the roar of the crowd told the story, as Cook cruised into the lead to win easily, and whilst by our standards we had had a stunningly successful day’s racing, the presence of Frank’s briefcase put our profit into perspective. Ten minutes later, when we were just beginning to worry about him, he suddenly appeared at our side.

    “Thanks for looking after the case Stan. Saved my day. Have to dash now I’m afraid.”

    And with that, he took the case, looking back to say “Must buy you a drink next time.”

    For a moment we stood there stunned, until Dad said, “Thank heavens for that, I thought we were going to get stuck with all that money!”

    Suddenly, we remembered we hadn’t collected our winnings, so in a bit of a panic, Dad gave me the bookie’s ticket to collect, while he went off to cash our Daily Double.

    I caught up with Dad at the back of the Tote queue.

    “One pound sixteen shillings between us,” he said.

    “Oh well, it could be worse,” I replied, “but I’d have rather hung on to the briefcase!” And part of me meant it.

  It should come as no surprise to the reader, that flashbacks of Frank’s briefcase haunted me throughout my teenage years.



This short story is from Ripping Gambling Yarns,

of which Michael has a few signed copies for sale.

Illustrations by Julia Jacs

A Portrait of Galileo

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  • A Portrait of Galileo

Galileo 2001

 In 2012 Galileo became Champion Sire in G.B. & Ireland for the fourth time, and is now generally regarded as the natural successor to his phenomenal sire, Sadler’s Wells.

In this portrait of Galileo, it is worth recalling his racing achievements and in particular, his impressive victory in the Epsom Derby, after which, the press had a field day with their headlines – Galileo the star turn and Galileo in orbit” – so recording the tale of his impressive victory over Golan, before a modern-day record attendance of 150,000.

    In that year, 2001, “Britain’s biggest day out,” gave some racegoers long traffic delays, including Sir Michael Stoute and Frankie Dettori, who had to abandon their cars to complete their journey on foot. But for most, once there, this Derby Day was reward enough.

Galileo arrived at Epsom via three wins at Leopardstown: a maiden victory at two, by a staggering 14 lengths, followed at three by an easy win in the Ballysax Stakes from the future English and Irish St Leger winners Milan and Vinnie Roe, and then finally, he took the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes, beating Exaltation.

  On the face of it, the form was not quite good enough to win the Derby but, with his ongoing improvement in the hands of trainer Aidan O’Brien, he looked sure to be a major player.

The opposition was headed by the Michael Stoute-trained Golan, winner of the Two Thousand Guineas and ante-post-favourite. Other dangers included Perfect Sunday, winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial; Dilshaan, winner of the Racing Post Trophy, and Tobougg, winner of both the Prix la Salamandre and Dewhurst Stakes, and now ridden by Frankie Dettori.  Twelve runners went to post, with Golan and Galileo going off 11-4 joint-favourites.

    Rounding Tattenham Corner, the Barry Hills pair, Mr Combustible and Perfect Sunday, led the field, with Galileo just outside them in third.

    Two and a half furlongs out, Mick Kinane brought Galileo smoothly to the front, from where he accelerated away to win by three and a half lengths, with Golan and Tobougg running on to fill the minor placings.

     In the joyous scenes that followed, it did not go unnoticed that Galileo was the first son of Sadler’s Wells to win the Derby, and despite the modest early pace, he did so in the third fastest time (2 min 33.27 sec) in the history of the race.

     The previous day, daughters of Sadler’s Wells filled the first three places in the Oaks – a feat not equalled since the daughters of Birdcatcher did so in 1852.

     In the Irish Derby, Galileo retained his unbeaten record by beating the Italian Derby winner Morshdi by four lengths, with Golan a further four lengths away third. At Ascot in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Galileo received a hero’s welcome for his two-length defeat of the five-year-old Fantastic Light. But when the pair were re-matched in the mile and a quarter Irish Champion Stakes, Fantastic Light took his revenge by a head, albeit with Dettori being cautioned for his excessive use of the whip.

     Galileo’s finale was the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Belmont Park, but as second favourite to the Bobby Frankel-trained Aptitude, both ran unplaced to Tiznow, America’s ‘Horse of the Year’ in 2000 and, the first horse to win the race twice. Galileo was afterwards reported as being unable to handle the dirt surface and was later retired to Coolmore Stud in Ireland.

      Galileo was the Champion Sire in G.B. & Ireland in 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012.            Notably, he is the sire of the unbeaten Frankel and the Epsom Derby winner New Approach, who has already made an exceptional start at stud. Galileo continues to stand at Coolmore Stud, Fethard, Co. Tipperary, where his fee is now private.


Galileo’s race-record, notable progeny and pedigree follow below.


Galileo  - progeny