Tucking In to Sedgefield – Football & Racing News – Star Sports

Sports betting PR legend GRAHAM SHARPE writes…

I SAW Tommie Beau win the Durham National at Sedgefield recently – and couldn’t help but think back to the days, not that long ago, when I sponsored this very race.

Okay, at this point I suppose I should admit that I didn’t exactly make this philanthropic gesture on my own. I was one of a small, but very select, group of racing fans who were brought together, initially to celebrate the completion of a full house of UK racecourse visits, by racing journalist Sean Magee.

Sedgefield was the last racecourse in the land to receive a visit from Sean, who had been collecting the rest of them on a regular basis during the past few years.

But to mark the ticking off of Sedgefield, Sean invited along a few pals, and for a few seasons afterwards the achievement was marked by an annual meeting of the clan at Sedgefield, as a result of which we took on the mantle of Durham National sponsors to add some glamour to Sean’s achievement – and allow him the opportunity to ring the bell to call the riders to mount up.

We had some great days – I remember one everyone else particularly enjoyed when, on the train journey up to the course I managed to completely lose my voice.

On another occasion, great writer Stan Hey, a man who has Auf Wiedersehen Pet scripts on his cv generously gifted me a copy of a single by cult sixties’ rock band, Love.

Our evenings at the hotel, just a short walk away from the course – well, I walked, although most of our mob would cadge a lift back – saw us gather round several large tables to discuss and dissect racing matters of all kinds, often virtually right through the night.

Sedgefield has had its share of unusual events taking place over the years – in 1991 jockey Jason Callaghan had a race won on Skolern, with the winning post, only to be suddenly confronted by two horses, both of which had earlier fallen at the first – only to set off around the track in the wrong direction. Skolern and Callaghan were unable to take evasive action and were brought down, leaving 10/1 Nishkina to become almost certainly the luckiest winner of that season.

Two years later, in December, at the course jockey Tim Reed’s explanation for the disappointing display of his mount Celtic Song, that she was ‘distracted because the sun was in her eyes’ did not convince many racegoers.

Former jockey Phil Tuck became clerk of the course during the time we Sedgefielders were sponsoring there, and it was an interesting experience to walk the course with him, listening to tales from his storied career, including those about his superstitions at the time. He would salute magpies on his way to the races – he even named his house ‘The Magpies’ and painted it black and white.

He had to wear the same, holey socks, use the same pin and wear the same, tattered t-shirt when riding.

Finally, he convinced himself that it was time to dump such efforts to persuade the racing gods to look kindly on him – ‘It was getting out of hand. Everyone was on about it all the time – I suddenly thought, it’s all daftness – I suppose I grew up, really.’

He wasn’t a bad jockey – clocking up 423 winners in all – amongst them, ten consecutively, during 11 days of October in 1986, making him a joint record holder with Johnnie Gilbert, who had done likewise back in 1959.

But perhaps Phil’s most memorable moment took place at Cartmel where he came out to ride, only for a course waitress, Chrissie Kent, to become a coarse waitress as she took a bite of the jockey’s rear end, prompting one of the finest comments to be made by a clerk of the course, as Major Tim Riley declared, ‘As a general rule we cannot have people going into the winners’ enclosure and biting the jockeys’ arses.’

That sort of thing definitely has not happened to him since he left Sedgefield, where he’d been for the best part of three years, to take up the offer of slighly warmer working conditions – by becoming Saudi Arabia’s only stewards’ advisor.

Racing at Sedgefield apparently dates back to the 17th century, and an eight inch high silver tankard bearing the inscription ‘Sedgefield, February 18, 1732’ was offered for sale at Christie’s auction house in 1926, although how much it went for seems to be lost in the mists of time.

For many years the run from the last fence to the winning post here was 525 yards, even longer than the Grand National run-in on the. This was because the obstacle nearest the finishing line was a water jump, which cannot be the first or last fence in a race.

In 1994 it was replaced by an ordinary plain fence, jumped on the final circuit, making a run-in of conventional length.

In the 1960s a journalist wrote what was regarded as the best description of Sedgefield racecourse – ‘all field and not much sedge’.


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Author: Eugene Morris