See you at Chester Racecourse this Saturday 24 September. We’ll be there with author David Ashforth who will be signing his new book, Ashforth’s Curiosities of Horseracing. He will be there to personalise your copy of this lovely £20 colour hardback outside the Paddock Rooms.
The book is getting off to a strong start: Racing Post’s Front Runner pundit Chris Cook has declared it to be: ‘immensely readable, entertaining and informative from beginning to end.’
‘For my money, no one has ever been better at expressing the punter's love of racing that survives repeated and brutal misfortune, nor at finding and describing some of its odder characters. He is clear-eyed about the game, seeing its faults alongside its qualities; he can do an in-depth investigation or a jocular piece that makes you laugh.
That's why Ashforth's Curiosities of Horseracing is a must-read for me and doubtless for many of you who share my enthusiasm for its author. He tells me it took him two years to put together and involved masses of research.
He reckons the publishers have made a fine job of presenting that work. The Tote has sponsored the cost of all the illustrations, "So it'll be nice to look at the pictures, if nothing else," he adds with that familiar self-deprecation.
"It's a collection of stories, most of which are freshly unearthed, which I find engaging and I hope other people might find them equally engaging. My notion was to find stories about racing and its characters who are interesting and readable.
"It's a bit of a rag-bag, I suppose ... The sort of book you dip into and hopefully, in amongst all these curiosities, you'll find something interesting."
He mentions one that gripped him, involving Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer from Kingston On Thames whose 1878 images of an ex-racehorse proved that all four of a horse's feet are off the ground at a certain point in its galloping stride. "We owe those photographs to a jury," Ashforth tells the Front Runner ... because Muybridge had been tried for murder in the US some years earlier and, when you read the story, you may well share my view that he should have spent 1878 and many other years in the hoosegow rather than snapping horses.
There's another good yarn about the early years of the famous Derby Day painting by William Powell Frith; you'll know it, the one with the famished child acrobat, distracted by the sight of a lobstery picnic being laid out for wealthy spectators.
Ashforth is justly proud of having turned up a photograph of Alike and her owner-jockey Frank Wise entering the winner's enclosure after landing the Irish Grand National of 1929. The heroism of this victory had hitherto escaped me but it transpires that Wise had lost a leg and three fingers during the First World War and rode with an artificial limb made of wood.
There's a cast of thousands in Ashforth's 247 pages, including Sid James, Charles Dickens and Joe 'Mincemeat' Griffin, who features on the cover. It'll keep you in bedside reading for a very long time, I reckon.’