Ralph Beckett: an impressive Epsom and missing an old friend [H&H VIP]

  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
  • Not everybody is a fan of Epsom, due to its unique switchback nature, but I am and not only because the place has been so good to us.

    On Friday we walked the track with a new owner, who hadn’t been before, and the impression it left on him will last forever.

    Despite Taghrooda’s impressive victory in the Oaks, and Cirrus Des Aigles’ emphatic Coronation Cup win, last week’s Festival was all about Australia’s imperious performance in the Derby. The race is still the ultimate test, and that will always be the case.

    Australia looked hard-trained beforehand — but not overtrained — and I thought that he had developed physically since the 2000 Guineas. He isn’t overbig, but he looked stronger and he had matured.

    Despite his walk in the betting market during the week — one bookmaker claimed that Nick Clegg had more friends — the word coming out of Ballydoyle was that defeat was out of the question.

    I have no doubt that it will prove to have been a very good Derby; the 2nd Kingston Hill will progress, particularly when there is ease in the ground.

    The 3rd home, Romsdal, is likely to turn into a St Leger contender, and Arod boxed on well for 4th on only his 4th start.

    Farewell to a great friend

    Friday’s (6 June) Oaks was a wonderful day for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, who owned the first 2 home, and gave John Gosden his first Oaks winner. It was poignant, too, because of John Hills’ passing earlier in the week at the age of 53.

    The Hills family is synonymous with Sheikh Hamdan’s operation, so understandably the win was greeted with much warmth. John was a tremendous character, great fun to be with and without any side to him.

    When I trained in Lambourn, we used to pass his yard and string with every lot of every day, and in those days I was rather more fiery than now.

    I didn’t like having to fit in and wait while John walked his string up and down the narrow lane outside his yard and issued instructions.

    Needless to say, there were one or 2 incidents and, given that I was training 15 horses to his 70 at the time, if I were John I would have made my feelings perfectly clear. He didn’t, I saw the light, and we became good friends.

    My favourite story about him comes from the time he worked for crack Irish jump trainer Edward O’Grady. It was during the Clonmel Coursing Championships and he was in the town’s biggest hotel drinking with some of those staying over for it.

    Edward had 6 runners the following weekend — all of them fancied — so John tipped one each to 6 different men, and asked each of them to put £500 on for him.

    Only 1 of the 6 won, John got his money, while the other 5 punters returned home poorer and disappointed. As the 6 didn’t catch up again with each other until the following year, they found out what had gone on all too late, and by that time John had returned to England. We will miss him.

    Finally, at Epsom on Saturday, trainer Michael Bell (former H&H racing columnist) was introduced to an actor. Mike told him that his wife was an actress, had been in Casualty, and that he hoped he wasn’t appearing in anything rubbish like Holby City. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the actor was in... History doesn’t relate the rest of the chat.