I'm Glad Racing Was Cancelled

I have just spent a week away from racing and have survived it reasonably well, although the week off was far from relaxing.

It was also bought home the nothing should be taken for granted.

My final days racing before my break was Shergar Cup day at Ascot, another successful renewal of the contest with the atmosphere not even spoiled by the showery weather.

The excitement lasted all afternoon with neither the team, nor jockeys title being decided until the final race.

Indeed, going into the final race, any one of the four teams could, mathematically, win the contest. Although, realistically, it was a two horse (or should that be two team) race with Ireland and Europe battling for the final honours.

Europe won the final contest but with Ireland finishing in three of the points winning positions they ensured sufficient points to claim the title and Fran Berry’s second gave him enough points to win the riders title, prompting him to say “I have never been so pleased to ride a second.”

There was, however, a dark cloud over the meeting and it wasn’t from the weather. Shortly before racing news began to filter through that this years wonder horse, Harbinger, had suffered a career, possibly life, threatening injury.

Here was a horse who had astounded the packed Ascot stands with an awesome performance in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes just two week earlier. Now his career was about to end.

In a moment his canon bone suffered a hairline fracture, ending a career in an instant. He left good memories but also left unanswered the question, how much better could he have been.

At least he did not pay the ultimate price and he can, hopefully, look forward to a future at stud.

The fragility of life and how everything can be changed in an instant was re-enforced less than 48 hours later.

On Monday afternoon I received a text from my nephew in Australia saying he and his wife, who is English, would be returning to the UK in the next couple of days as his father-in-law had passed away.

The news was completely unexpected and a shock to all, even worse for my nephews wife being the other side of the world and unable to get back to her family quickly.

He father was a lovely man, a gentleman in every sense of the word.

He had parked his car opposite his place of work and was about to cross the road when he collapsed and died. No inclinations of ill health, it just happened – he was only sixty.

In a split second his whole families life was turned upside down, never to be the same again.

The above also tie in, loosely, with my week off and that too has an indirect racing connection.

Each August my parents come and stay with us for a week. It gives them a complete change of scenery and it gives my Mum a complete break as she is not allowed to lift a finger or do anything when they are here.

Normally we spend the week going on day trips but these were to be limited this year as my Dad, sadly, is in failing health so long days out were out of the question.

I did have one very special treat in store for him though.

I know we have had glorious weather in the past few weeks and it is easy to forget just how bad the weather was back last January and early February, when racing was decimated.

All-weather racing did come to the rescue but I don’t know about you, there is only so much AW racing I can take so I had to find something else to fill in the time, so I decided to work on my family tree.

I don’t come from a huge family. My mother was an only child and neither her maternal Aunt or Uncle had any children. On Dad’s side he had a elder sister but had lost touch many years ago.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I managed to trace the family back six generations in the three weeks I worked on the research.

More importantly I actually managed to track down my cousins on my fathers side and, even better, discovered his sister was still alive.

I visited my cousins and met my aunt for the first time since I was a baby (and believe me that was an awful long time ago) – it was before man in space, indeed even before the first satellite had been launched. Before jet passenger aircraft.

My cousins and I then decided we needed to get Dad and his sister together again.

Plans were progressing well but then had to be put on hold when Dad became ill. The biggest problem my parents live on the South Coast and his sister and her family live up North.

Anyway we decided to tray and aim to arrange the meeting for when my parents were staying with us and we decided the best compromise would be to meet halfway between my house and theirs.

A look at the map showed Wolverhampton to be an almost half-way house.

We seriously considered Horizons Restaurant at Wolverhampton races but the only meeting last week was on Monday afternoon and it did not fit in with everyone’s schedule.

We decided to aim for Wednesday and a well known rose gardens just north of Wolverhampton.

The meeting was in doubt until the actual day but luckily Dad was having one of his good days on Wednesday and we set off.

Neither Dad or his sister, nor indeed my Mother, knew what was in store that day. All they knew is they were going to visit some rose gardens.

We arrived about ten minutes before the northern party, indeed they drove past us as we were walking in from the car park but Dad was oblivious to the discrete wave my wife and I gave them as they drove past.

The meet was contrived by us walking into the gardens then doubling back before “accidentally” bumping into one another in the gardens.

When they finally met it took a few seconds for the penny to drop but there were then soon tears all round and the plan had come to fruition.

All the worries and sleepless nights had been worth it.

We had a table for twelve booked in the restaurant and to see 85-year-old Dad and his 90-year-old sister sitting at the table holding hands, and with huge grins on their faces was absolutely priceless.      

I am so pleased we have managed to get Dad and his sister together again after all these years and we all hope we can get them together again soon.

I know I really moaned and complained when all the racing was cancelled back in January and February – now I am so, so glad it was – it has resulted is something very special – something money could not have bought.