Edward Goldsworthy was a lifelong lover of Taunton and its history. He died in the early part of the twentieth century but left behind many accounts of his life in the town including these reflections of the races in his book “Reflections of Old Taunton”.
“The races, when I first recollect them, were held on the Shoreditch road, on the site of the present King’s College and what is now called Mountlands. The racedays were general holidays for all classes, except a few who thought racing was sinful. The town on the days when the races were going on looked as quiet as a village, but as soon as they were over it appeared full of life. The racecourse itself presented a very animated appearance. There was the Grand Stand with a row of carriages, phaetons, gigs and carts on each side of it. On the other side of the course stood booths, shows, timble-riggers, tumblers, sword-swallowers, gypsies and “Punch”.
Men ran up and down the course, crying out “Bradshaw’s correct list of the horses, names, weights and colours of the riders – gentlemen sportsmen”, and Harry Hatchwell (the clerk of the course) rode up and down smacking his whip as if the race depended entirely on the amount of noise he made. Whilst the horses were running the thieves were busy in easing the spectators of their purses and the carriage people of their silver tankards. I saw a fellow steal a silver tankard from a carriage belonging to the Misses Patton; he must have past it to an accomplice, as it was not found upon him. The thief was captured and taken to the “Crown and Mitre”, where he frightened me out of my senses by telling me I was about to swear to what might hang him, make his wife a widow and his children fatherless. I thought it all so dreadful that I said I was not quite sure that he was the thief”.
Bradshaw’s sheet of the runners and riders has been replaced by an informative racecard; thankfully pickpockets are no longer problematic; and Harry Hatchwell’s modern incarnation, Jason Loosemore, no longer cracks his whip, and not many in the owners and trainers car park arrive with silver tankards. But the sense of excitement that the races bring us was the same then as now.
Despite the best efforts of storm Barra, Kevin Counsell and his team have produced good jumping ground for an interesting card.
It may have been only a humble seller but the first, a hurdle over two miles, had all five runners in with a chance three flights out. The locally trained Petoric, wearing a hood, went off favourite for the Jeremy Scott yard but ran nowhere near his rating of 102 and had to give best to the second favourite Olly’s Folly, taking to hurdles after 45 fruitless runs on the flat, and the good winner Dolly McQueen trained by Barry Brennan in Upper Lambourn. The fourth placed horse, Colonel Lesley, was claimed by Richard Hawker, illustrating why racecourses continue to stage sellers and claimers.
The second race, a two mile novice hurdle, saw Paso Doble, the first of five runners for Paul Nicholls this afternoon, land the odds. Having run well at Kempton recently, Harry Cobden, riding this Godolphin cast off, had as his main danger interference from the erratic course taken by a loose horse.
As rain began to fall, a handicap hurdle over an extended two miles followed. A competitive looking field of twelve went to post. The favourite, Lime Drop, seeking a treble, was thought to be a hold up horse needing a fast run pace, which is what she got, as the outsiders went helter-skelter. Lime Drop obviously enjoys beautiful surroundings, Henry Daly’s charge exchanging the joys of Downton Hall near the foodie heaven of Ludlow for the delights of Taunton had only one serious rival, Midnight Callisto. Dropped back in trip by Anthony Honeyball, the mare ran very promisingly and should be followed.
The fourth, catchily-titled the Dave Criddle Travel with Swifta Novices Handicap Chase over two mile seven furlongs, had only four runners, but it was a quality field. A winning case could be made for all of them but it was the Neil Mullholland – trained Royal Accord that prevailed giving a double to jockey Richard Patrick within the hour.
The winner, up 3lbs for his Newcastle win, had tracked Jeremy Pass throughout the race, but despite Harry Cobden’s urgings, the favourite having taken a wide course and having jumped splendidly throughout, had to cede to the finishing speed of the winner who had won a Grade 2 race as a hurdler.
Another large field lined up for the two mile three furlong handicap hurdle which saw the best ride of the day by Jamie Moore on Highway One 0 Two. Before racing Chris Gordon had reported that his horse needed a good pace. Having drifted in the market, the six year old, having run well at Ascot, was nonetheless asked to lead, whence he jumped impeccably. Having been dropped back in trip and having been the winner of a Point-to-Point in Ireland, the form of which is outstanding, he was unlikely to be caught near home on Taunton’s tight track.
The penultimate race was a handicap chase over 2m 2 furlongs. On the day that the Prime Minister’s wife gave birth, there was money for the Colin Tizzard trained Born in Borris. Soon under severe pressure from Brendon Powell, Borris was pulled up four from the finish. Tory supporters will be hoping that this is not an omen. Nickolson went off favourite, and having found the stiff fences at Warwick last time out hard to handle, did not start too well having clouted one early on. He found his stride later in the race and finished a well beaten second. Notwithstanding, one should not dismiss him for the future. The winner, Quoi de Neuf, ridden by Adam Wedge for Evan Williams, breezed up and scored with great ease. Previously he had not shone at Fakenham; this was a great step up.
The last featured the maximum of seventeen runners compete in a three mile handicap hurdle in which Paul Nicholl’s £180,000 purchase Carry on the Magic took the eye. My Keepsake dived at the tapes as they went up and in the process knocked out the favourite Kendelu, who, quite amazingly, was nursed back in to the race by a patient Kieran Buckley to win the battle with the much fancied and well backed Dan Skelton runner Colonel Mandleson to win by 3/4l.
Despite the iffy weather, a very fine day’s racing, on a day when events in London will sadly crab the headlines.