There is barely a racing book these days which is not launched either to catch the Christmas market or racegoers in a light mood at the Cheltenham Festival, so it was rather nice to receive Remarkable Racecourses, by this paper’s erstwhile racing reporter Tom Peacock, through the letter box last week.
Beautifully written and laid out, Remarkable Racecourses (Pavilion £25) is part of a series of coffee-table books which includes Remarkable Cricket Grounds and Remarkable Golf Courses.
Covering nearly 80 courses around the world, it includes the big, the small, the historic, the down-right quirky, and places where even the ardent race fan might not have reckoned on racing taking place.
Therefore, upsides Aintree and Ascot are Obihiro Racetrack in Japan; Siena in Italy, home of the Palio; Kiplingcotes in Yorkshire, where a four-mile race has been run annually since 1519; and Beirut Hippodrome where, during the civil war, militia fighters who used to shoot at each other all week would meet to place their bets.
Obihiro stages racing, but racing not as we know it, Jim. Ban’ei racing is where draught horses pull a half-tonne sled over a 200-metre course with two ramps on it. Horses are often walking or stopping for a breather by the time they get to the second ramp.
The well-travelled author has been to over half the courses he has written about, including Rio de Janeiro, Kenilworth (Cape Town) and Tokyo.
Peacock was sent to Pardubice in the Czech Republic to write a piece for the Press Association as an invitee of Cheltenham, whose Edward Gillespie used to lead trips there. The first stop was the gala banquet the night before with some of the jockeys and trainers.
“The Captain” (a nickname given to him after the store manager Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served?) got the sort of food poisoning more usually associated with steak tartare ordered in India. Having never felt worse at the races, he was confined indoors all day because outside the grandstand the smell of each stall grilling meat made him feel sicker.
On the way back from Melbourne once, he dropped in on Kranji Racecourse in Singapore. As very important visiting journalists, he and racing presenter Martin Kelly managed to get an invitation to a box in the panoramic restaurant.
They ended up spending all afternoon with a charming elderly man and his wife. Oxbridge educated, he had been a steward for years and was a real old-school aristocrat who also gave them some winners. The pair were looking for somewhere to go for a drink and asked him for a recommendation, thinking he would tip them off with some great bar only locals would know about.
He gave the pair an address and, when they got out of the taxi, it was basically red-light district central and they were swamped by semi-naked prostitutes looking for business. They could only assume he had not been out for a drink for many years.
Toast of Hollywood?
When Jamie Osborne has sent out Toast of New York to win the world’s richest race, the $16 million Pegasus Cup, after effectively three years off, at Gulfstream Park in Florida on Saturday and followed up in the Dubai World Cup in March, the rights of Toast, the film will no doubt be circulating Hollywood.
Much of the filming has already been done – on Osborne’s mobile phone and stable CCTV camera – and some parts have already been cast: Osborne will, of course, be played by Mike Myers, while his wife, Katie, has requested, well demanded actually, that she be played by Kate Winslet.
Harry Herbert, a closet actor, will play himself as Al Shaqab’s racing manager, the late Mickey Rooney will be cast as the aging Frankie Dettori, while, according to Osborne, they are still looking for an Irish actor “miserable enough” to play devoted lad/work rider/best mate, Jimmy McCarthy.