2013

One of my heroes in Leading Sire is a young Chinese boy called Bao, which means ‘leopard’, who joins Rupert’s yard to learn about racing, which is barely allowed in China because the Government so passionately disapprove of betting.

On the other hand seeing how much money Hong Kong makes in a day from racing, the Chinese government is stepping round the subject and talking to different countries. Once they give the okay, the opportunities for selling bloodstock to China will be immeasurable and change the whole face of racing.

My bloodstock agent friend, Ed Sackville, who is always ahead of the game, is already learning Chinese in anticipation and hilariously told me that the word “Ma” can mean ‘dope’, ‘horse’, ‘mother’ and ‘eff-off’ depending on the way you pronounce it, which makes selling horses rather complicated.

To learn more about China I had a lovely lunch at the House of Lords with Michael Howard the former Chairman of the Conservative Party. Now Chairman of Northern Racing, and Baron Howard of Lympne: he had just visited China to explore possible ways in which British racing and China can work together.

If anyone could have charmed the Chinese it would have been the delightful, diplomatic Michael who manages to not say a bad word about anybody without being boring and of course has the street-cred of a most beautiful wife, Sandra Howard, who writes excellent novels.

No one in racing seems to have any ideas what the unpredictable Chinese will do next or how soon they intend to conquer the world. I was, however, reassured, after lunch when, on the tube back to Paddington, a sweet young Chinese girl, was the only person in a very full carriage to leap up and offer her seat to a much older woman.


Ed Sackville & Sophie Ackroyd

To return to Ed Sackville, one of my great treats in April was to be invited to his wedding in Herefordshire to a lovely girl called Sophie Ackroyd. Sophie is a vague connection because my glamorous nephew, Henry, who was the model for Lysander on the hardback of The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, is married to Sophie’s Aunt Lucy.

The wedding was heaven from start to finish – frightfully cool too, that being in the flat racing camp, the marriage service was held at exactly the same time as jump racing’s mecca, the Grand National. Beforehand, the parson ordered us to turn off our mobiles and not to clap.

The bride and groom love books so the readings and the quotes in the service sheets ranged from The Little White Horse, to Winnie the Pooh, Nancy Mitford and Shakespeare. The congregation consisted of so many beautiful people it was like Yeats’ Land of Hearts Desire, where even the old are fair. As we emerged into the sunshine, everyone was hissing “who won, who won?” I was delighted the winning National trainer was the great show jumper, Harvey Smith, who was a big help when I was writing Riders.

Ed and Sophie’s reception was held at a ravishing roan coloured house on the top of a hill with wonderful views for miles around. I was a particularly delighted to see my old friend A.A. Gill looking so handsome and really well and to be introduced to his gorgeous twins, Isaac and Edith.

A cool touch was a wheelbarrow provided for any presents, but the coolest touch was the two Shetland ponies presented by the groom’s mother Lady De La Warr to the bride’s mother.

At dinner, which was much increased by people who’d driven down from Aintree, I had the great luck to be seated next to Charlie Gordon-Watson, the legendary bloodstock consultant.

Bloodstock agents, like estate agents, buy and sell horses for often infinitely more than house prices. They are employed by owners to find them winning horses. They also guide breeders as to which stallions to send their mares and buy foals and yearlings to sell later on for large profits. They need huge charm and diplomacy because, if you have several interested owners, which one gets the amazing foal? Like picking a Usain Bolt out of the class room, Charlie is reputed to recognise a star foal in seconds just by seeing it walk.

Ed and Sophie’s wedding must have been a particular interest to him, as he was poised a few weeks later to marry my lovely friend Kate Reardon, the ravishingly beautiful editor of the Tatler. Their reception was being held on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s polo field near Newbury.

Charlie, known as Charlie Gorgeous, is glamorous, chilled and focused like a fox, with definitely a touch of Rupert Campbell-Black about him. My friend Kate is equally divine and has really perked up the Tatler.


Charlie “Gorgeous” Gordon-Watson & Kate Reardon

I was enchanted, therefore, to be asked to the marvellous party after their wedding, which was attended by the flower of racing and media. The speeches were particularly touching. Charlie had no need to convince anyone this was the happiest day of his life, Kate’s father spoke lyrically, almost tearfully, about the wonders of his daughter, who looked utterly breath-taking, then the best man Dick Daventry paid a glorious tribute to Charlie and how crucial he was to racing.

“The best thing,” he concluded “is that Charlie’s just as nice to his rich clients, as he is, ‘long, long pause’, to his very , very, very rich clients,” which caused howls of laughter.

During dinner, I was lucky enough to sit between a very handsome polo player and Andrew, Clare Balding’s delightful brother who seems far too young to be running a massive yard with horses who keep on winning races.


Luke Lillingston & Sam Hoskins

I was so pleased to see Andrew because this year I was honoured to be made president of the lovely Hot to Trot Racing Club. Ideal for anyone who enjoys the social side of racing as well as the horses, this club has seven horses in training with seven leading trainers who include Andrew Balding, Mark Johnston and William Haggas. Run by two gorgeous young men, Luke Lillingston and Sam Hoskins who know all about horses. Hot to Trot already has 130 keen members who go on wonderful jaunts visiting the yards, meeting the horses and watching them run.

I’ve only managed to get along to one yard to visit William Haggas at Newmarket and a day’s racing at Newbury, which was a riot, particularly meeting the stylish woman who told me she’d just had to put up an electric fence to keep out the wild boar. Hot to Trot’s email is sam@hottotrotracingclub.com

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