The first Monday in December is always looked forward to as it heralds the official start of the party season with the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association's annual lunch, better known as the Derby Awards (after our patron Lord Derby, whom we all wish well with the great Ouija Board on Sunday).
President Geoff Lester indulged in yet more gratuitous Lydia Hislop-baiting which was annoying, though Clare Balding more than got her own back for the female presenters with some brilliantly feisty comments, including her memorable quote about how her father and brother "travel well" having both won the International Trainer of the Year Award in the past. "But then again," added Clare "so does herpes".
Quote of the day, however, goes to a tearful Ginger McCain, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award and summed up how we were all feeing after moving clips of Red Rum winning his three Nationals and exercising on Southport Sands. "That old bastard always makes me cry," said Ginger. He gets me every year on Grand National day, too. And that film after a wonderful tribute to Desert Orchid was enough to have us all wiping our eyes.
While John was on the 'Jack Dawson' table, I was kindly invited by Darley and sat next to Mark Johnston, who, I think we can all agree, is a modern-day genius (ok, McStay, J Oxx is a genius, too). Not only is he a great trainer, he has a formidable mind and is not afraid to speak it. One of my jobs for Darley is to visit Kingsley House Stables every year to photograph their horses in training. Mark has insisted that I take John with me next year so that the two fine Scotsmen can debate racing politics and training methods "long into the night". Knowing what John's like once he's fired up about the subject closest to his heart, this promises to be an epic event. Perhaps At The Races should send a film crew.
The most important award of the day was presented to the gentleman of the press room, Tim Richards. A trip to Carlisle racecourse this summer was memorable for two reasons: firstly, it was one of the last times I saw Joe McCarthy. Though Jill Dawson ran disappointingly, Joe and Iris were in their usual high spirits as we all enjoyed a G&T together on that glorious sunny day before heading for home. Then, as John and I crossed the pennines, I had a call from Catherine Austen at Horse & Hound telling me that Tim was to retire. It was a huge shock as I think we all just assumed he'd go on forever.
Tim is greatly missed by the H&H crew even though Marcus Armytage is doing an admirable job as his successor. Needless to say, Tim's warm smile and schoolboyish disposition were a great highlight of yesterday's proceedings. It's lovely to know that his retirement is not absolute and that we'll still be able to enjoy the odd pearl of wisdom in Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder.
It was a privilege to have worked with you, Tim, and an even greater one to be able to call you a friend. I hope you and Liz enjoy your (semi) retirement.