The friendly sport: where to make and find friends for life

Even when many moons have passed, a deep friendship is immediately renewed upon reacquaintance. So it was when we walked through the gates of the racecourse at Orchard Portman for the first meeting of the season last week. Faces remembered from years gone by engender a familial warmth. Some have memories that stretch back seventy years.

One such is Captain John George, father of trainer Tom George. John was born in the Punjab whilst his father was serving in the British army in colonial India. On the family’s return to England, after independence, they bought a farm on Exmoor, only a few miles from the racecourse. At the age of eleven John used to ride his bicycle to watch the races, which he did standing by the third last. Thus began a lifetime fulfilled by a love of National Hunt racing.

John rode as an amateur, trained successfully, acted as a racecourse steward, and in the course of all this he bought Down Farm, arguably possessed of one of the most beautiful farm houses in Britain, situated in the Slad valley. It was there that John befriended Laurie Lee of Cider with Rosie fame, and where Tom now trains.

Down Farm, stronghold of trainer Tom George
Down Farm, stronghold of trainer Tom George

John has moved to three hundred fine acres in Cornwall which roll down towards the sea in Caerhays where he serves as church warden. His wife Caroline has a few brood mares and runs a successful stud. Caroline is related to a true giant of the turf, Cecil Boyd Rochford, Croix de Guerre,  (whose brother George, not to be outdone,  was awarded the V.C). What a family!

You’re unlikely to find T R George listed among the top trainers at Taunton; sadly it’s never been a course George Jnr fraternises a great deal. Nevertheless, he’s certainly worth following on a trip to Orchard Portman, as his runners rarely return empty-handed. He has a 40% win and place record here. And ironically, after years of being the only elite sportsman of that name, he now has competition. His rather younger namesake rowed at 3 in the British eight at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, and he’s no slouch either!

Another George making a name for himself is Tom’s son Noel, who master-minded his father’s highly successful training operation in France last winter. The team scooped over €180,000 from a small group of raiders. Expect something similar this time around too as our professional trainers adapt to an international Jump racing landscape.

Like every element of racing, there are little connections to be made which makes our small clique of followers so entertaining. You are never alone at the races even if you travel singly, and wherever you are in the world. You will always bump into some distant acquaintance!

It’s what makes our sport so special.