I had many racing scoops during my 23 years as a racing correspondent on the Racing Post and the Daily Mail. The most notable was probably the December 2007 conclusion of the Old Bailey trial involving champion jockey Kieren Fallon who was, together with five other defendants, found innocent of corruption. I had learned during the course of the trial that Fallon had failed a second drugs test in France that summer, his second such offence. While colleagues on other papers had Fallon back riding the following week I revealed that he faced an 18 month ban which would involved losing his lucrative job as retained rider for the powerful Irish Coolmore team. That Saturday morning John McCririck held up the back page of the Daily Mail in disbelief during the Morning Line television programme.
There have been great jockeys down the years but none will eclipse the legendary Lester Piggott who is now 85. He won 30 Classic races in his career including nine Derbies. He was a man of few words and let his riding do the talking. In sharp contrast racing’s positive image now relies on the talkative and charismatic Frankie Dettori who I forgive for being an Arsenal fan. No wonder he is sometimes depressed! Frankie’s greatest day came in 1997 when he rode all seven winners at Ascot one day, almost bankrupting the nation’s bookmakers.
The greatest steeplechaser I ever saw was Arkle who won three Cheltenham Gold Cups from1964-6. I have stood next to his skeleton in the Irish National Horse museum near the Curragh. He was exceptional but so was the almost white Desert Orchid who won only one Gold Cup but was near invincible at Kempton Park winning four King George VI chases on Boxing Day. The present day light of my life is the Champion stayer Trueshan as I own a few hairs of his elegant tail. We are all hoping he can win the Ascot Gold Cup in 2021.
I have maintained cordial relations with bookmakers down the years. Some 15 years ago I wrote that allowing fruit machines into betting shops would be tantamount to permitting High Street casinos. It took the Government a decade and a half to realise I was right and to reduce maximum stakes from £100 to £2. Of course much casino betting is now done on line – and that’s where Government focus should be.