A Time Long Gone

Did Santa bring you all you wanted for Christmas?

I must admit I did very well this year. In the undies and socks department I received nothing, whilst in the smellies department I only received one pressie. Someone was on my side after all.

The bulk of my presents came in two area.

Firstly, food and sweets, no less than 28 different bars of chocolate, boxes of sweets etc. – how am I going to stick to any diet? How am I going to explain it to my dentist?

Secondly, I received books, loads of them. Luckily I am a voracious reader, especially non-fiction. You can never have too many books, as my ever growing library will attest (I also have a problem in that I find it almost impossible to get rid of a book once it is mine).

This years quota of books contained only a handfull of racing books, in stark contrast to last Christmas when I received around 20.

My favourite was Chris Pitt’s excellent work, "A Time Long Gone", which takes a nostalgic look at Britain’s defunct racecourses. The book has short, three or four page articles on the courses that closed early in the 20th century. Whilst those which closed post Second World War have more detailed articles and a cracking good read they are too.

All the courses mentioned in the book closed down before I had a serious interest in racing, so I was reading the book without any real vested interest or strong feelings – apart from one.

For some inexplicable reason when I was reading about Hurst Park, especially the description of the course, I just had this strange feeling that it seemed familiar, yet I had never been there.

It closed in 1962, when I was only seven years old. In the end I put it down to the fact that I spent the first six years in my life living not far from where the course was situated.

I thought no more about it until yesterday, when I visited Fontwell Park. My favourite course and the first course I ever went racing.

It was my friend Tony who dragged me there. He, in turn, used to be taken to the course by his grandfather when he was a child.

We were much younger and poorer in those days, so we used to settle for the silver ring. I still remember the first race, a six runner 2¼ mile hurdle race. I couldn’t decide between the top two in the betting, Chemist Broker and Bartra (the latter ridden by one G Moore – father of Ryan and Jamie, who also trained a winner at yesterdays meeting). In the end I backed them both and did the dual forecast, as it was in those days. Obligingly they did come first and second.

The rest, as they say, is history - as that is the day I really caught the racing bug.

Yesterday was, as always when I go to Fontwell, a delight. All be it a freezing cold delight with a bitter wind.
My parents happen to live in Portsmouth so I decided to call in and say hello on the way back home.

Over dinner we were chatting about racing and about next weekends meeting at Kempton Park, which I am taking my father to, on what is a rare racing trip for him.

My Mother, never having a great knowledge of geography asked where Kempton Park was and I told her it was near Hampton Court.

She then revealed that my grandfather had taken me there when I was very small. At which point my father intervened and said there is no way my grandfather had taken me there. In reply my Mother was adamant it was a racecourse near Hampton Court.

Do you ever have those Eureka moments?

I said to here, “It was near Hampton Court?”

“Definitely,” was her reply.

“It wasn’t by any chance Hurst Park was it?”

“Yes,” she said, “that’s it. It was Hurst Park.”

So that explains it. Although I still have no conscious awareness of that day at Hurst Park, it must have remained in my sub-conscious somewhere, hence the familiarity when I read the chapter about the course.

It also means that Fontwell wasn’t my first course. It changes nothing though – it is still my favourite.

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