Fifty years ago next Saturday, I jumped the second last in the Cathcart Chase upsides the eventual winner ridden by Michael Scudamore, hero of the 1959 Grand National and grandfather of today’s senior jockey Tom Scudamore.
Two races earlier, Arkle had beaten Mill House in the most famous Gold Cup of them all. But were they really the “good old days”? Well, they were certainly more fun.
To get to Plumpton, David Nicholson and I would catch the Paddington train at Moreton-in-Marsh. Michael Scudamore and Peter Jones would already be ensconced and in London we would cross over to catch the “race special” from Victoria. There would be cards and jokes and even the odd “refreshment”.
On the way back, we would taxi over to Wheeler’s restaurant where further amusement would finally be sweated and slept off in the Jermyn Street Turkish Baths.
Last week, we drank to the best of such times as Cheltenham Panoramic Restaurant celebrated the much-lived life of champion jockey and chief roisterer Terry Biddlecombe. We all looked a lot older and frailer.
Terry’s two great friends, David Nicholson and Josh Gifford, have gone to the great racetrack in the sky, and his other buddy David Mould gave one of the lovely, laughing tributes that lit up the afternoon.
David was almost a monk in comparison with Terry, which was just as well seeing as he was accompanied by his wife Marion. They have been married for 45 golden years, even if it was only silver that the then 21-year-old Marion Coakes won on Stroller at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1968.
Mind you, that was not bad, since he had been given to her as a pony eight years earlier and they had already won just about everything, including the 1967 Derby at Hickstead. He measured 14.1hh.
As the commentator David Coleman would have said at the time, “quite unbelievable”.
But then so too, in a much less glorious way, were some of the things jockeys had to endure.
“Remember those concrete posts,” said David last week. “They were every-where and if you hit one they would break you in half. And the helmets? When we started we had those little cork skullcaps that could actually come off if you turned a somersault.
“But we just didn’t know any better. Look at all the equipment now, and the fitness. AP McCoy is just astonishing, but they are all so much fitter than in the old days.”
On the screens, black and white pictures were showing of Terry in his heyday. In his best ever season 50 years ago, he rode 114 winners. Richard Johnson and Jason Maguire have passed that figure this season and McCoy is over 190.
What’s more, Johnson is 37 in July, Maguire 34 in April, and on 4 May AP McCoy will reach his 40s. When Terry retired at the 1974 Festival, he was a gallant but ageing figure — all of 33.
Ignorance is not always bliss and poor Terry’s kidneys and shoulders paid a terrible price. So did the footballing knees of his great friend and nearby trainer Mick Channon, who was part of the throng at Cheltenham last week.
If you were game enough — which Terry and Mick most certainly were — doctors would strap you tight and give you an injection to deaden the pain, and then you just got on with it.
That is what happened to Terry before he went out to ride Woodland Venture to win the 1967 Cheltenham Gold Cup and to Mick countless times at Southampton.
It may have been gallant but as a duty of care by the authorities, it was there with the World War I ambulance at Leicester, which gave such a bumpy ride that you would rather crawl back than be subjected to it.
Some things were simpler in the old days. For reasons of concussion, I have to rely on Bob Champion’s auto-biography for details of a journey back from Plumpton during that period.
Apparently, I was so battered from a fall that Bob and his mates laid me out under the table while they played cards on the train home.
At Victoria, they gave a tenner to a taxi driver to deliver me to Dr Tucker’s famous clinic just off Park Lane. Maybe that explains a lot.