Chelsea's oligarch sizes up a flutter on the horses

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Roman Abramovich turned English football on its head when he bought Chelsea; now there's evidence that the next outlet for his billions will be the cash-soaked sport of horse racing.

Roman Abramovich turned English football on its head when he bought Chelsea; now there's evidence that the next outlet for his billions will be the cash-soaked sport of horse racing.

Later this month, the Russian oligarch intends to get a taste of the sport when he visits the tiny Cumbrian track of Cartmel.

According to local sources, he has booked every room at a Michelin-starred Lake District hotel called L'Enclume for two nights, having taken his Chelsea team there last year.

The trip co-incides with Cartmel's spring festival, which takes place in a week towards the end of May. The racecourse said yesterday that a "mystery visitor" was due to arrive by helicopter, on the dates in question.

News of the trip follows months of speculation that Abramovich intends to take an interest in the Sport of Kings. In March, he sent racing's rumour-mill into overdrive after accepting an invitation to attend National Hunt racing's blue riband event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He subsequently cancelled because of "business commitments" in Russia.

A spokesman for L'Enclume reports that they are "full" on the weekend in question, and that a single guest had booked every room for two nights. He refused to discuss his identity.

Meanwhile, a spokesman at Abramovich's office will neither either confirm or deny details of his master's diary arrangements. "I don't comment on where he's going or what he is doing for obvious reasons."

¿ As he enters his tea-time years, Michael Palin is taking steps to secure his legacy as a munificent patron of the arts.

In a coup for his alma mater, Oxford University - where he met his Monty Python collaborator Terry Jones - he has donated a sizeable sum to the Pitt Rivers museum.

His donation, believed to be in the region of £30,000, will fund a year's employment for a new full-time member of staff.

"We're undergoing huge renovation and building a new annex," says the museum. "Sorting out the exhibits requires an enormous number of man hours and Michael has been very generous. He'll be paying for a technician to do that work."

Ever modest, Palin - who hinted earlier this year at an imminent retirement from travel journalism - has refrained from asking that the employee is named after him.

"I've always loved the Pitt Rivers," he says. "Wonderful, eclectic displays [that] stimulate the curious and encourage a genuine spirit of discovery."

¿ Brooke Shields hasn't exactly been the most dedicated of celebrities to star in the West End musical Chicago.

First, as this column noted, the Hollywood star arrived in London with just nine days to rehearse her part, a time scale she admitted was "borderline criminal."

Then she was forced to postpone the first night, after being stranded in America plugging her autobiography. Now Shields is once again absent, having flown back across the pond for a fortnight of what are opaquely described as "filming commitments".

A spokesman says the trip was always planned, and adds that there's talk of Shields extending her nine-week run in the show. But you've got to wonder if the project might be jinxed: last month, co-star Michael French resigned after making unguarded comments about her performance.

¿ Jack Straw enjoyed a pleasant weekend, having - against expectations - managed to hang on to his position in the Cabinet, but it wasn't all fun and games for colleagues of the accident-prone Foreign Secretary.

On Saturday, Straw was on the receiving end of satirist Craig Brown's poison pen, when he was the subject of an "election clerihew" in The Daily Telegraph. It asked: "What has Jack Straw/ Got in store?/ How about a fling/ With Oona King?"

Civil service sources report that - after a lengthy discussion - staff in Straw's private office decided to omit the innocuous poem from his daily bundle of newspaper cuttings. Don't they rate his sense of humour?

¿ Flat caps off to David Davies, the incoming Tory MP for Monmouth, who makes an early bid to be Pandora's favourite Parliamentarian of the new intake.

Affable, handsome Davies - spelt differently from the leadership contender - has built a towering reputation fighting political correctness in the Welsh Assembly. In this spirit, he'll celebrate promotion to Westminster by purchasing a shotgun.

"David's been invited game shooting once or twice, and enjoyed it no end," reports one local. "So he's promised supporters that if he won Monmouth, he'll buy a 12 bore and take it up properly."

It'll be a steep learning curve: a witness to Davies' first attempt at pheasant-bashing, two seasons ago, saw him (quite innocently) have a crack at a passing buzzard. "Fortunately, he missed," I'm told.