OBITUARY:Richard Baerlein

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The Independent Online
Richard Baerlein used to list two recreations - golf and drinking champagne. He excelled at both pastimes, as he did at flying, eating, betting, writing and being the life and soul of the party.

Because he knew horses and understood every branch of the racing and breeding industry he became indisputably one of the few all-time great racing journalists - after distinguished service in the Royal Air Force, which he joined on the outbreak of the Second World War. First, hunting U-boats with Coastal Command, the tall, blond, amiable extrovert, mentioned in dispatches in 1942, was promoted Squadron Leader, one of a select band of hand-picked pilots on stand-by to fly VIPs, including the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.

The Baerleins were originally of Bavarian extraction, and came to England in 1832. Richard Baerlein was born in 1910, and educated at Eton and Cambridge, following the steps of his famous father Edgar, the world Real Tennis champion. Powerful and fit, Richard shone at all sports and was expected to emulate his father. Sadly for his coaches, Cambridge was too close to Newmarket.

Having acquired the racing bug and a degree in agriculture, he considered a career in Turf journalism and was introduced by his father to Nathaniel Booth, general manager of the Sporting Chronicle. After a month's unpaid trial for the Manchester Daily Despatch in 1937 he was soon writing as "Traveller" for the Sporting Chronicle at the princely salary of £8 a week. "I had to write 5,000 words a day in long hand," he said. "There was no telephoning copy then." He also rode winners in point-to-points and under Pony Turf Club rules at Northolt Park and Portsmouth.

Recruited in 1947 by James Park ("Ajax") of the Evening Standard, Baerlein wrote a spirited column for that paper for 10 years until the Beaverbrook hierarchy objected to his plan to join television and he left to manage the racing and breeding interests of the Mavroleon family, as well as his own small stud.

During this period, with his friend Alex Bird, he became one of the last genuine professional backers - and a good one. Recalled to the press by the Observer in 1963, five years later he became racing correspondent to the Guardian: a job which had till then been likened to that of an admiral in the Swiss navy.

We conducted many campaigns together after I had given up training myself to join the racing press, frequently having to take on the racing authorities on such subjects as the introduction of starting stalls, the photo-finish camera and overnight declarations.

His Eton contemporary David McCall managed the racing and breeding interests of the platinum king Charles Engelhard and was responsible for the Triple Crown winner Nijinsky whose story was one of Baerlein's three books. He got most of his information for it from McCall. "One day we arranged to meet at Bentleys Oyster Bar," said McCall. "I found Richard upstairs already finishing a dozen oysters with a bottle of the best champagne on ice. `Sorry I've started,' said Richard. `I've ordered you two dozen of the best. I thought I'd get going because I never have less than three dozen at a sitting.' "

Baerlein told me later that he had on one occasion eaten no fewer than 12 dozen at a sitting. McCall added: "I think he was the biggest consumer of fish I have ever known. After those oysters he went on to several large sole and I have known him eat four lobsters at a time."

Baerlein called his house "Shergar" because, after promoting the Guardian Classic Trial for the first time, he tipped the winner Shergar, who belonged to his friend the Aga Khan, for the Derby and backed him himself at 12- 1. Shergar won the classic comfortably at 11-10 on.

Tim Fitzgeorge-Parker

Richard Edgar Baerlein, journalist: born 15 September 1910; racing writer, Evening Standard 1947-57, Observer 1963-95, Guardian 1968-95; author of Nijinsky 1972, Shergar 1983, Joe Mercer 1987; married 1948 Laurette de Tankerville Chamberlain; died 10 March 1995.