Felix, Emily and I have been deeply touched and comforted by the affection and admiration for Leo, and the sympathy for us, expressed in the many letters and cards we have received. As you probably know Leo died peacefully at home after a long, cruel illness and we all miss him very much.

The Cooper family would particularly like to thank the doctors and district nurses at the Frithwood Surgery and all members of the Gloucestershire National Health Service for their incredible kindness during Leo’s long illness. We would like to thank everyone for their wonderful letters and messages of support.

Nor can we praise enough the selfless dedication of Leo’s live-in carers and those carers who visited him several times a day.

Nor would we have survived without the warmth and solicitude of our neighbours in Bisley.


I am bitterly ashamed that except for a few lines at Christmas, I have neglected my website for nearly eleven months. The eleven months is, in a way, symbolic because this is the gestation period for horses and I have in turn spent much of the time giving birth to a massive 193 page synopsis of my new novel about flat racing, which is called Leading Sire.

I have always worked in this peculiar way, liking to know where a novel is going before I actually write it which involves a ludicrous amount of research. The problem with this way of working is that every time my sweet publishers gently suggest I bring my website up to date, I am wrestling with a difficult chapter in the synopsis, or now the book, and say I will produce something in a fortnight and of course don’t. The nice thing about writing Leading Sire is that having written JUMP! and fallen madly in love with all the people in jump racing, I now find the flat racing crowd equally enchanting and glamorous and seductively generous in their hospitality.

Leading Sire is actually the title awarded to the stallion whose progeny notch up the most prize money, or win the most races over a year. In my story, my on-going hero Rupert Campbell-Black is determined that his favourite stallion, Love Rat, shall nail the title. To do this he has above all to beat Roberto’s Revenge, an all-powerful stallion, belonging to his arch enemy Isa Lovell, son of his even arch-er enemy Jake Lovell. To make matters worse, Isa has gone into alarming partnership with Cosmo Rannaldini, Machiavellian son of monster conductor Roberto Rannaldini who was murdered in SCORE! Rupert is centre stage throughout Leading Sire as his obsession with victory takes him all over the world ending up at the ten million pound World Cup in Dubai.

Leading Sire also brings back a host of old characters, Rupert’s sweet wife Taggie; foxy fixer Dora Belvedon; the predatory journalist Janie Lloyd-Fox and Rupert’s ex-wife Helen hanging around making a nuisance of herself. Also living in the house are Rupert’s glamorous and wayward grandson, Young Eddie, who is trying to make it as a flat jockey and Old Eddie, Rupert’s father who is getting steadily dottier.

The moment Rupert sets off abroad in pursuit of prize money, his own progeny: children, grand-children, nannies and assorted dogs descend on poor Taggie who is too sweet to complain of “over-crowded nest syndrome”.

Also, centre stage is Mrs Wilkinson the heroine mare of my last book JUMP! who has a foal by Love Rat called Master Quickly. Master Quickly turns out utterly brilliant but unbelievable naughty, ‘whose only rival is himself’, because he only races if he feels like it. This drives everyone, particularly Rupert who needs him to boost Love Rat’s earnings, absolutely crackers.

So during the past year, researching naughty horses and nail biting finishes, I’ve enjoyed some glorious racing. At York, last August, my son Felix and I were the guests of the enchanting Lord ‘Teddy’ Grimthorpe, Chairman of the course, who is also racing manager of Khalid Abdullah who owned the legendary Frankel, probably the greatest racehorse any of us will ever see. Teddy and his gorgeous girlfriend, now his wife, Emma Benyon, looked after us so beautifully, introducing us to trainers, jockeys and horses. On the walls, where we had lunch, was a picture of a very famous horse called Voltigeur, who was evidently also painted by Landseer with a cat friend, who slept for hours on his back, so I decided to introduce a cat friend for Master Quickly into the story.

We also had a heavenly time at Goodwood where the Earl and Countess of March were equally wonderful hosts. At lunch I sat between the man who invented Betfair and a handsome Major General, who looked about thirty-five. He turned out to be an ex-boyfriend of my lovely niece Lulu, revealing that during a midnight row, she had once thrown several of my sister-in-law’s best plates at him. I resisted the temptation to say: ‘how rivetting’. Later, racing at the most beautiful course in England, was enhanced by three winners.

Weatherbys are obviously the fountain of all wisdom where racing is concerned. But did you know they have their own marvellous bank, which I’ve recently joined. They are so courteous, efficient and such fun to deal with – not least because they invited me to Ascot last year to see the mighty King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

In September, I went to utter Paradise in North Yorkshire to spend a couple of days at trainer Mark Johnston’s yard, Kingsley House, which is spread over the most beautiful valley. Sadly Mark was in America, but I was so well looked after by his ravishing wife Deirdre, and their huge cheerful stable staff. These are allotted to different group leaders, each responsible for a team of horses. Each group competes with each other in the most passionate yet friendly way, so the atmosphere is terrific.

Mark & Deirdre Johnston at Royal Ascot (left) & on their silver anniversary (right)
(Photographs by Mikaelle Lebreton)

A wonderful monthly magazine, the Kingsley Klarion, is produced from the yard, in which Mark airs his trenchant, but eminently sensible, views, and which includes news and photos of staff, owners and horses, and the three sweet Greyhounds, Mark is now training. As an even further boost to morale, the staff have been given their own racehorse.

I was so pleased to meet here one of my favourite horses Juke Box Jury, a wonderful grey who dead-heated in the Irish St Leger, won numerous races, and was about to go to stud. I also met Hurricane Higgins, who promptly became a role model for my Master Quickly, because he often refuses to race, and coolly lies down in the starting stalls picking at the grass.

I was so lucky to be driven everywhere by Jock Bennett, Mark’s adorable assistant, who bounces round like a Scotch Terrier, and by his marvellous stable jockey, Joe Fanning, who gave me a lift to Doncaster. Here I spent a lovely but heart breaking day where it was hoped the great Camelot, trained by Aidan O’Brien, having won the 2000 guineas, and the Derby, might achieve the legendary Triple Crown of the St Leger. I have never witnessed such shocked silence all over the course when he was beaten into second place.

Read more of Jilly's notes from: