Racing: Racing reinforces relief mission: Chris Corrigan on how a sport is setting the pace with aid convoys to starving refugees

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The Independent Online
HORSES moved over to make room for baby food and blankets yesterday as a convoy of 12 trucks, driven by stable staff, set off on a 1,250-mile journey to help Bosnian and Croatian refugees.

It is racing's latest and, so far, largest relief column to the area. All corners of the sport have contributed: a horse transporter from the top Flat stable of Michael Stoute was loaded yesterday alongside a smaller box from Lydia Clay's jump yard at Arundel.

Horseboxes are not a traditional means of moving aid, but the idea originated at the Medjugorje Appeal, based at a warehouse in South Godstone, Surrey.

Bernard Ellis, the appeal's founder, said yesterday: 'We had a lot of supplies but were getting away only one truck a day. One of the workers here, Lisa de Quay, suggested we put an advert in the Racing Calendar. It sounded silly to me, but we gave it a try.'

It led to the biggest response from any industry in Britain, by far. 'And this is an industry that many would say does not have a high reputation because of its association with gambling,' Ellis said. 'But they've been magnificent, giving finance, collecting food and clothing, offering transport and driving there themselves.'

Ellis added: 'It's a lead other industries could follow. We need more convoys because, thanks to racing, we've got even more supplies here than we started with.'

Lord Huntingdon, the Queen's trainer, who spent Christmas driving with a convoy to Bosnia, was among hard-working teams of stable staff from all round the country loading vehicles yesterday.

Partitions in the transporters, which can carry six horses, were taken out to maximise space for crammed cargoes of tinned food, clothing and bedding. The caravan is heading for Zagreb, near where 30-40,000 refugees are camped in appalling conditions.

Lord Huntingdon said: 'It's getting colder all the time out there, but food is the most vital thing. Although there are many children in need, I think the elderly are most at risk.'

Alex Smith, 24, a former stable girl with Luca Cumani, sat behind the wheel of a horsebox owned by Newmarket-based Derek Weeden. 'All the supplies we brought, shoes and boots, tins and hundreds of boxes of chocolates, were collected in Kirtling, a village outside Newmarket. The driving bit came at quite short notice - I found out only on Saturday I'd be doing this.'

Philip Mitchell, the Epsom trainer, is one of the drivers on yesterday's relief column, along with Lydia Clay, Geraldine Rees, the first woman rider to complete the Grand National, plus staff from the stables of Jack Berry, Bryan McMahon and Michael Stoute and from horse transport companies HRT, LRT, Weyhill, and Ratcliffe's. Another driver with truck was Harriet George, wife of Cheltenham steward John George.

The Medjugorje Appeal, Unit J, Lamb's Business Park, South Godstone, Surrey, RH9 8JZ. Telephone: 0342 893230.

(Photograph omitted)