2013

Back in England, I set off in July for Newmarket with another lovely friend Liz Ampairee who works for the Racing Post and wonderfully promotes their books. We stayed at the Bedford Lodge, a heavenly hotel with blissful food, smiling staff and bedrooms which look on to one of Godolphin’s yards so you can watch Sheik Mohammed’s horses being ridden out, lunged and groomed. All the horses are allowed a pick of grass and it was sweet to see their stable lads sitting beside them patting them occasionally, while gazing at their mobiles.

Next day I opened the Bedford Lodge’s new spa, which is magnificent and beautifully decorated in silver and grey with endless treatments to enjoy and baths and beds to gambol around on. I’m sure there’s the basis of a very naughty novel here. Derek Thompson compered a splendid opening party with his usual charm and jolliness.

2013
Jilly & Derek Thompson

In the afternoon, I had asked Teddy Grimthorpe if we might go and see stallions Oasis Dream and Frankel at Juddmonte Stud where they both stand. Juddmonte is another divine place where you are dazzled by all the gold and silver cups and plates as you go into reception.

2013
Liz Ampaire & Frankel

A magnificent tabby cat called George, who probably thinks the new Prince of Cambridge was named after him and who is Frankel’s great friend strolled across the lovely gardens to welcome us. Both Oasis Dream and Frankel looked amazing, so glossy and fit, it was like patting cement.

2013
Jilly & Frankel

In anticipation of handsome stallion handlers, I’d been stupid enough to splash myself with scent not realising this makes stallions ‘draw’ which is racing slang for getting an erection, so the moment I went into their boxes, both Oasis Dream and Frankel not only ate my notebook but also waved massive willies. Fortunately George the cat came back and restored respectability.

Frankel, allegedly worth £100,000,000 has developed mighty thigh muscles from covering 133 mares in his first season, and getting 99% in foal. Trumpeting with joy, he has taken to his new career with alacrity. Oasis Dream, being a great sprinter, is evidently even quicker in the covering barn – so the future looks bright.

Liz and I then had a magic visit to Sir Mark Prescott, a wonderful trainer, the funniest speaker I’ve ever heard, who lives in a beautiful house with every inch of wall covered in amazing pictures.

Having plied us with quantities of buttered toast made by himself, he took us on the late afternoon tour of his 60-odd horses, known as Evening Stables.

2013
Sir Mark Prescott

Sir Mark, however, only allows a minute per horse, telling us that a former boss used to blindfold the stable lads and expect them to recognise different horses just by their legs. As we whizzed along, he brilliantly rattled off illustrious sires and dams, races won and prospects of each gorgeous horse. Alas, I who like to loiter and absorb, kept getting left behind, like the tourist in the Louvre chided: ‘If you stop to look, we’ll never get round.’
We were then shown the rest of the yard, which is amazingly imaginative with a specially constructed swimming pool into which horses can come straight out of their boxes, then go through adjustable starting gates into a huge straw-baled, padded covered yard, round which they can canter in all weathers.

Liz was in hysterics because when Sir Mark rolled up a door at the far end straight onto the gallops, I leapt outside, rhapsodising so long about their green glory, that he rolled down the door and shut me out. Typical Rupert Campbell-Black behaviour. In fact with his slicked back hair, handsome deadpan face, lean body, passionate yet intellectual attitude to horses and the way he blows cigar smoke into the faces of shocked interviewers, there’s definitely a touch of Campbell-Black about Sir Mark.

After I was allowed back, he made us delicious Pimms and couldn’t have been more endearingly and provocatively entertaining.

Next day, home to Gloucestershire, but I was off again on July 9th to the Great Yorkshire Show, where Deidre Johnston had invited me to present the prizes in a Tattersalls Retraining of Racehorses Class. This wonderful charity campaigns for horses, not to be thrown on the scrap heap but to have a second career after racing. Some make brilliant polo ponies, eventers or hunters, this lot had become show horses.

The difficulty is teaching a horse, trained to run like hell when his feet touch the ground, to behave decorously in the show ring. Apparently last year was chaos, like a wall of death, with all the horses hurtling around. This year they were very well behaved, cantering on the correct leg and giving the judges, one of whom was Anthea Morshead, Assistant Clerk of the Course at York, some lovely rides.

2013
Deirdre & Jilly giving prizes to the horses (Photograph by Louise Pollard Photography)

It was so nice seeing horses enjoying themselves so much. But the most adorable was a gelding called Liverpool, who was eleven, and had run in several races but had never, as they say euphemistically, ‘troubled the judges’. Now he obviously adored being clapped and in the limelight. Although only third, he just stood for the photographers, with head high and ears pricked, refusing to be led away. Horses so love being admired.

Afterwards Deirdre drove me back to Paradise, their lovely yard at Middleham, where it was a huge delight to meet her husband Mark, the great trainer, properly for the first time. He is so clever and has such a dry iconoclastic wit. We had a lovely dinner at home, with people flowing in and out, including a sweet young jockey, an airline pilot, who said he realised he was having a bad day when a wheel went flying past his window and Mark and Deirdre’s handsome sons, Angus and Charlie.

Adding to the pleasure were the Johnston’s heavenly dogs, Gnasher, the Staffie, Fudge the Irish Terrier, who puts up her paw to do high fives, and Doogal, the labradoodle, who has his own Facebook page, so Deirdre can check on him, wherever she is in the world. Doogal so fell in love with the snow this winter that when it finally started to melt he raced frantically round plunging his nose into each drift.

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