Sports book review: Racing Crazy: The Best of David Ashforth

I’ve been reading David Ashforth’s words on and off for 20-odd years. More off than on, to be honest, because racing newspapers are expensive and I’ve never been one to buy them every day! But this sports book is brilliant because it allowed me (and any others unlucky enough to have missed out on David’s idiosyncratic wordsmithery) to catch up on what I’d missed.

It’s also great because it’s not really like a proper book where you have to start at the beginning and read it chronologically. Readers can do that, of course, but you can pick any chapter you fancy and start there.

Racing Crazy is a collection of David’s articles published in the Sporting Life and the Racing Post over a 23-year period. It focuses on his more witty and wry observations – and there’s plenty of them.

I began at chapter 4 because I was drawn to David’s hilarious “interview” with John Manners in April 2000, the eccentric trainer of Killeshin and Cavelero. I can only imagine David having to don a tin hat to listen patiently to the rantings and ramblings of a complete one-off. Manners tells David at the outset: “Suppose you’re a bloody socialist. Let’s face it, we’re a wonderful country. Tony Blair’s only a f***ing Tory really, isn’t he?”

I also loved the Sir Mark Prescott snippet from 1989. The trainer, eulogising about his stable jockey George Duffield, tells David:  “I can’t say that I’ve never looked at another woman, but I’ve never looked at another jockey.”

David has that rare ability to make you laugh out loud. His writing is wonderful observational comedy and he has the uncanny knack of articulating situations and scenarios in a vivid but funny way.

The book’s opening chapter, Court 13, contains beautifully written anecdotes from the Top Cees case in 1998, when Kieren Fallon and Jack and Lynda Ramsden brought a libel action against the publishers of the Sporting Life. It followed an article that suggested their horse Top Cees had been a “non-trier” in the Swaffham Handicap at Newmarket. The following made me chuckle…

“Patrick Milmo, QC, for the plaintiffs, bespectacled, doubly grey hair and wig, begins. ‘Keeayeron FalON,’ he says, as if introducing someone exotic from Brazil, ‘who rides racehorses. He rides racehorses rather well.’

David recalls his first Sporting Life piece, when they got his name wrong, calling him Ashworth. “Ashworth. Ashford. Ashcroft. It’s always been like that.”

His Royal Ascot observations are particularly wonderful and strike a chord. Here are a few:

2009: “My fondest memory of Royal Ascot is backing Gildoran to win the 1984 Gold Cup at 10-1. I wasn’t there, of course. I rarely went to Royal Ascot for fear of killing someone. I preferred Brighton, which had more selling races and fewer rules.”

2009: “My favourite races are the Ascot Stakes and Queen Alexandra Stakes, which offer good opportunities to go to the toilet without queuing.”

2004: “Look at the Chesham, decide it’s too difficult. Wander round to see if the rugby’s on any of the televisions. It isn’t.”

Twice named journalist of the year, most racing fans will have their own memories of David’s work, whether it be his pithy comment pieces, his columns or his observations from Court 13 or indeed Court 12, 11, 14 or 73.

He has recently been fighting prostate cancer but has been lauded for writing so honestly and humorously about his illness in the Racing Post.

Anyone who hasn’t delved into the weird and wonderful equine world of David Ashforth should rush out and buy this superb sports book.

10/10

Racing Crazy is published by Racing Post Books (RRP £18.99).
You can order it here for a bit less.

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