Thursday, 25 August 2011




“Part four of a week-long series in which Tom Kerr speaks to young racing fans and hears what it is that they find most appealing  - and  unappealing – about the sport.

“ THE likelihood of BLUE BUNTING bidding for a historic victory in next month’s  Ladbrokes St Leger increased yesterday when connections revealed their intention to fork out £45,000 to supplement the star filly’s familiar pacemaker RUMH into the Doncaster Classic. Trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni says the duel Classic-winning filly is very well after winning last week’s Yorkshire Oaks.”


“The outstanding racing writer of his generation talks frankly about living with prostate cancer as racing personalities prepare to embark on a 60-mile charity walk. Has previously detailed in this newspaper his ongoing battle with prostate cancer. In that fight he is not alone. Every hour in the UK , one man dies of the disease.

“Here, Ashforth talks frankly about living with prostrate cancer in a piece that was penned for the blog of Joe McNally, who, along with others, including former champion jump jockey Peter Scudamore, will embark on September 15 on a 60- mile charity race from Windermere to Carlisle racecourse, to sponsor the walkers, who are being led by racing broadcaster John Hanley, please go to :

THE DICKLER  THE talk of racing
“CARDINAL NEWMAN Catholic School in Hove is starting to get an enviable reputation as an academy for the racing world.

“The school’s newsletter often mention’s former pupil RYAN MOORE’S achievements, as hopefully it will soon be praising IAN MONGAN, who was in the year above Moore, for his win on TWICE OVER in the Juddmonte International. The Dickler is not sure whether another Newman alumnus, the Guardian’s racing correspondent Greg Wood, got a mention when he became racing journalist of the year at the Derby Awards.

DONCASTER St Leger meeting Wednesday 7th September through to Saturday 10th September 2011.
TODAY’S RACECARD’S Ffos Las, Carlisle, Lingfield, Cartmel, Wolverhampton and Killarney.
“HATS OFF FOR HOOD the tireless but modest Rachel Hood talks to Peter Thomas about her twin passions of helping to save Newmarket and British racing. The Newmarket 
campaigner and owners’ president on her tireless work to help secure a better future for the sport she loves.

“HARD work fascinates me, I could watch people do it all day, although sometimes, if they work too hard it wears me out a bit. Running through Rachel Hood’s list of jobs is positively exhausting, even if she doesn’t seem to think it amounts to a lot.

“To start with, she’s a Forest Heath district councillor for the Severals  ward in Newmarket. Then she’s a Newmarket town councillor, president of the Racehorse Owners’ Association, a director of the Horsemen’s Group and Racing Enterprises Ltd, a trustee of both the National Horseracing Museum and Cambridge Woman’s Aid, founder and chair of the Save Historic Newmarket Action Group,  Classic –winning racehorse owner and breeder, partner in John Gosden Racing Lip, senior administrator at Clarehaven  Stables and, by way of a day job, an international and American lawyer.

“There I’ve done it –I’ve completely worn myself out and we’re only in the third paragraph. “I don’t suppose I do very much, really, “ says Hood in an unconvincing attempt to play down her role as the Tory superhero-lets call her the Blue Hood-whose mission is to thwart the efforts of those who would destroy Newmarket, in particular to out whit her arch enemy, the dark developer, who is scheming to bring down a plague of new houses on the town – lets call him Lord Derby, as that’s his name. Actually, Hood’s missions are two fold: to save Newmarket and to save horseracing . But while she’s passionate about both causes, she’s faintly embarrassed to be portrayed as the woman who is single-handedly  leading both fights.

“Like all good campaigners she seems to have accumulated her multifarious roles along the way on the basis that she has the aptitude and energy to do them and others are happy to let her. All of which means she’s gone, in the space of a few years from being a committed  Green Party voter and concerned trainer’s wife to being a doorstepping Conservative activist and thorn in the side of all planners and politicians who vere off the straight and narrow.

“It’s all been slightly accidental,” she says. “Some people are rocket scientists and doctors saving lives, I’m just trying to do a few things to help, and it’s unfortunate that the whole Newmarket issue has happened at a time when I became president of the ROA.

“We’ve needed to get people on the town and district councils in order to redress the bad things that seem to have been allowed to happen to the town in the last 30 years. And then we’ve had the Hatchfield Farm inquiry (into Lord Derby’s hotly opposed inquiry for 1,200 houses on part of his own estate in the town) and by now I should think that people have had quite enough of me.

“That’s the thing I don’t like about the Hatchfield Farm issue . There has been too much about me, and it’s not about me, it’s not my campaign, it’s about the racing and breeding  industries.

“There are people who pen push and try to make things happen , but ultimately it’s about the community . You can’t sustain like this unless a lot of people believe something needs to be done.”

‘Hood describes Newmarket as her ‘big priority’ and amid the furore that has surrounded Lord Derby’s plans this self confessed “tremendous optimist ” identifies major positives to have already emerged from this controversy-even  in advance of the long -awaited decision of the viability of the project-and the other travesties she perceives to have been foisted on the town in recent years.
“The good thing that comes out of all the bad things that have happened – like the horrible Meridian Garden flats in the conservation area and the equally horrible Premier Inn,  that was turned down twice and then reimposed, and the whole disgraceful Hatchfield Farm situation – is that we have now in Newmarket a huge sense of community .

“The racing industry is as one, everybody’s much more friendly and almost without exception they’ve pulled together, attended dreary council meetings, protested and written letters. “There was a time when trainers weren’t particularly friendly to each other, when trainers’ spouses, perhaps weren’t particularly friendly to each other, but it’s not like that anymore.

“And there’s no ‘town and gown’ divide, between racing and everyone else. I had no ambition to be a councillor but I’ve been elected by the townspeople and we’ve got a retailers’ association that has been completely on side. It seems everyone is working towards righting the wrongs that have been done in Newmarket.”

“Hood approaches the rescue of her home town with the zeal of one who has been away, seen the world and returned with open eyes.
“Born in Oxfordshire, ‘in a household where the television was turned off when racing came on”,  she won a fencing scholarship to Millfield, where she ended up as head girl with a reputation as a livewire who favoured acting and hot pants.
“What can I say?” she shrugs. “It was very much the style in the 1970’s, although it’s become a recurring theme of amusement . I still believe, though, that life’s for the living. You don’t want to be a slacker in life, do you? I’ve been very lucky and if you are given a chance you want to take it with both hands.”
“Take it she did, by the scuff of the neck, leaving Cambridge University with a degree in economics and law and the acquaintance of a dashing young student, a ‘blond bombshell’ as she describes him, who would become her husband, soulmate, travelling companion and business partner.

“The pair set off on their separate careers, Hood in law, Gosden eventually as assistant to both Sir Noel Murless and Vincent O’Brien, but the ‘Chelsea girl’  and the trainers son quickly decided they needed a big challenge together and relocated to California, where they both operated with considerable success, working and playing among the Hollywood glitterati. We were there through the 1980’s and it was a vibrant time for American racing ,” recalls Hood.
“John worked incredibly hard but it was very good to him. I was in my twenties, working in Beverly Hills, and I can tell you it was a lot more fun than being at the bar in England. John trained for Burt Bacharach, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, Aaron Spelling, lots of famous owners. Burt’s fantastic, he loves his horses and was quite a serious player – we used to ski a bit with him and his wife Jane; John used to say Elizabeth Taylor  would rather pet her horses than run them.

“ And of course Santa Anita is the most beautiful track and we were there in one of it’s haydays, the time of BILL SHOEMAKER, LAFFIT PINCAY,  and BOBBY FRANKEL.
“Sometimes you have to go abroad to make something of yourself but having lived in a very modern city like Los Angeles, I look at Newmarket and see what a wonderful place it is.”

“The culture-loving couple, lovers of opera, ballet, music and all things ’big city’, returned to Headquarters to spend ten Group-1-laden seasons at Stanley House Stables, before leaving again to spend five more at Manton.

“In 2005, they had another road atlas to study, but the Newmarket page was the only one seriously thumbed, the Bury Road the favourite locale and Clarehaven the last port of call for our itinerant pair and their four children (Yes, she’s found time to fit that into her schedule as well).
“It was on Newmarket’s premier training boulevard that Hood began to find her calling as a guardian of the town’s history and character.
“It started when I was driving down Bury Road about four years ago, I saw a lot of mature trees being felled in a garden. The district council didn’t seem to be interested and it turned out that permission had been granted for three blocks of ultra modern flats to be built by a Cambridge developer,  with no contribution whatsoever to the town.

“You get a perspective when you’ve been somewhere, you leave it and come back. You come back. You come back for a reason. You realise what a wonderful place it is and you don’t take it for granted.

“If you do take it for granted, you quickly find a planning inspector has allowed 50 mature trees to be chopped down in a conservation area, and these things don’t come back.

“From that small acorn has grown a mighty oak of environmental protest, but it exists alongside Hood’s other cause celebre: the future of British racing.

“In among the council meetings and any other business, she makes the time to chart what she hopes will be a fruitful course for the sport during her four-year tenure at the helm of the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA)
“She recently put forward a three-tier funding strategy that would call for increased bookmaker funding for the lowest grades of competition and, in spite of the recent sale of the Tote from under the nose of racing, she remains optimistic that the present political atmosphere bodes well for the prosperity of the Turf, with her new Tory colleagues expected to ensure the delivery of the good deal that has for so long proved elusive.
“For the first time I think we’ve got a serious opportunity on the political front. I believe our Newmarket MP Matthew Hancock and some of his young colleagues are committed to helping racing – they see that if you have bookmakers all offshore, nobody paying levy, no proper funding of the racing industry, it’s bad for the Treasury as well as for the industry.

“It’s a big industry, the government wants employment and people to be contributing to the Treasury, and that doesn’t happen if you have offshore bookmakers and such terrible prize-money that people don’t invest in horses.
“I think it’s shocking that the Tote has gone to Betfred, but I’m an optimist and I believe the government is going to deliver on it’s promise to put legislation in place to ensure that the funding of British racing is secure.

“I’ll be president of the ROA for four years, all being well and I hope at the end of those four years we’ll be able to say that’s done and dusted, the fixture list, race planning, all of that, now no more of this tedious sort of stuff .
“I’d like to help things get sorted out, so we can all get back to what we like to be doing, which is going to the races. That’s what we owners want to do, but we want to do it against a backdrop of a healthy horse population, healthy finances and a healthy industry.”
“Few owners enjoy going to the races more than Hood, who’s winners to date have included St Leger hero ARCTIC COSMOS and her current heroine, last month’s Lancashire Oaks  winner GERTRUDE BELL (Named after a formidable, multi-faceted, multi-talented pioneer in the fields of politics and travel.)

“Of course, all her horses are trained by JHM Gosden at Clarehaven Stables and, in this matter at least, she intends to remain firmly in the background.

“No, I don’t try to advise John on running plans for my horses, why would I ? He’s been training for 30 years and, compared to me, he knows everything .  I’ve been quite lucky of late and I put it down to my trainer, jockey and our superb staff, many of whom have been with John for years and years. You  can’t buy success at my level, but when you find a winner there is nothing like it and I get very animated, in a positive way, when I talk about ownership.

“I don’t believe the people who rubbish racing and say it is a dying sport. The races are always there, always alive, always infectious and fabulous and I’m fantastically enthusiastic about our sport.”

“When all racings problems are solved and the future of Newmarket is secure,  Hood say’s she would like to spend the rest of her life in a bookshop, just reading.

“Until that time, this most diverse of multi-taskers  seems to be destined to be a formidable custodian of all that the sport and it’s sacred places stand for. And, for that, the Turf should be deeply grateful.”

HOOD on …
Hubby John Gosden
“I went for looks, I’m afraid, but he’s also utterly, utterly wonderful and I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s the most wonderful human being – it sound’s soppy, I know – a person of total integrity, very kind and a lot of fun. I was 19 when I met him and you’re incredibly lucky if you meet a soulmate at that age.”

“Sebastian is 27, in finance and interested from an owner’s point of view;
Serina is 26, has a PhD in modern literature from Durham and likes going to the races; 
Thea is about to go to Durham and likes to ride out;
Thaddeus will be too big to be a jockey but he rides and he’s suggesting already that John and I should clear off and he should be allowed to take over. I think we’ll see how his GCE results go first, but he gets the Racing Post at school, which is a good sign.”

Good horses
“I believe to have a healthy sport we need to have aspirational fixture list, premier fixtures with a ‘narrative’ that will grab people’s attention year after year. There is a middle tier of horses that aren’t  good enough to be in that top tier, and quite obviously a mass of horses are third tier horses, some of which I have to say are mine.”

Bad horses
“Horses don’t have to be good for people to enjoy owning them and most horses are at that level but, as with football, you have to have a premier league to draw people into the sport. I happen to support Chelsea, but our elder son’s a big Ipswich Town fan, and John’s been supporting Stoke City for 55 years.”
John has just had a big birthday, but that’s okay, because 60 is the new 40, 50 is the new 25 and I’m 37!



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