Thursday, 7 August 2014

Roger Bannister, My Dad and Me

My father once ran in a race against Roger Bannister and Roger Bannister finished second. 
There were other people in the race too and history doesn’t record the exact finishing position of my father. I know it wasn't first, but that never mattered much to me as a child. The class of the race was obviously so high that even the legendary Roger Bannister, breaker of the 4 minute mile, didn’t prevail. But, the source of my pride - my dad – he was there. 
My father died this week, unlocking a hoard of childhood memories and a dawning recognition of the debt that I owe – who I am, what I do, the person that I aspire to be.
He taught me to gamble whilst at Charing point-to-point and he read me the novels of Dick Francis, igniting a passion for horseracing that seems destined never to fade. His own passion for breeding and showing cattle taught me to dream. And if gambling and dreaming are considered faults, they are faults that I am glad to live with. 
In 1988, when I fancied Cavvies Clown, he impressed me by tipping Charter Party for the Gold Cup two weeks before the event. Charter Party won at 10/1. Although he didn’t gamble much himself, he liked to back the outsider of three when visiting the racecourse. In the racing industry we tend not to like three runner fields, believing that they are bad for betting turnover. Privately, I have always enjoyed three runner events; riding tactics take on added importance and there is a sharpened definition between the underdog and the favourite. I can’t watch one without thinking of my father. 
An unwaveringly fair man, he never failed to examine both sides of a coin. If Kipling had dedicated a poem to my father, it would be “If” – once voted the nation’s favourite poem by BBC listeners. If ever there was a man who knew how to treat the twin imposters of triumph and disaster, that was my dad. Yes, he could keep his head; yes, he could dream; yes, he would risk his winnings (although more usually by buying cattle - not horses) and yes, he could talk with crowds. 
He filled the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run – his was the earth and everything that’s in it – he was my father – and I am very proud to be his son.

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