York's finest recalled

Image: Roberto: Stuns Brigadier Gerard and the York crowd

With racing about to resume at York this week, Jonathan Doidge takes a look at a book documenting the track's greatest stars.

Yorkshire's finest

The traditional opener to York's season is once again upon us with the Dante Festival taking place this week. As always there is much to look forward to on the Knavesmire and, thanks to racing journalist Steve Carroll, there is also much to reflect on now in the form of a new book for the shelves, "York's Great Races". Recalling first the fabled 1851 meeting of The Flying Dutchman and Voltigeur, which at the time revived this week's corresponding meeting after an unthinkable eight-year absence, the author takes us through the racing year month-on-month until it is time for the curtain to fall in October. Essentially the book is about the horses that have made racing at York what it has become, a byword for quality and class, and the stories of all the greats to have raced here are documented within. Carroll's personal favourite would be the tale of Mill Reef, whose owner Paul Mellon had travelled over from the States to see his brilliant colt take his chance in the Gimcrack. On arrival it might have been fitting to rename the Knavesmire "the quagmire" as, such had been the rainfall on the day, that trainer Ian Balding and jockey Geoff Lewis both made pleas to withdraw the horse. Mellon told them "plough on" and his faith was duly rewarded with his great champion's remarkable 10-length success. While written in a style that will appeal to once-a-year York racegoers and, with its short story feel, those who like to pick at their reading in bitesize chunks, the author manages to maintain the interest of those of us who might consider ourselves to be racing anoraks. We read of the sheer shock to the racing world of the defeat of Brigadier Gerard by Derby winner Roberto in the inaugural running of the International, in 1972, and how 21st century wonder horse Sea The Stars avoided the same fate 37 years later to the acclaim of all who were present. There is also a reminder that even the flattest of Flat tracks can also hold its own dangers with the story, accompanied by a remarkable picture, of Willie Carson buried in the lush turf as Silken Knot came to grief in the 1981 Yorkshire Oaks. Royal Ascot's move en masse to the Knavesmire is given the full treatment and a personal favourite would have to be reliving that remarkable day in 1979, one that because of a TV-strike only those at the track will actually remember, when Sea Pigeon carried top weight to land the Ebor by the narrowest of margins. It is a welcome addition to racing's library and one where readers will certainly learn plenty that they won't already know and will probably also enjoying wallowing in the nostalgia of the greatest races to have been staged at this historic venue. Copies are available from all good bookshops and can also be ordered online directly from Scratching Shed Publishing Limited on www.scratchingshedpublishing.co.uk.

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