Captain Moonlight's Notebook: Jockey Club drops reins

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT LARGELY went unnoticed in the wake of the Aintree cock-up that the Jockey Club voted away more than two centuries of oligarchic power last Monday, agreeing to hand over its authority for the management of racing to a new entity - the British Horseracing Board. You won't find jockeys in the Jockey Club but you may find retired gentleman riders, either aristocrats, squires or cavalry officers. It is rather confusing especially when no one seems sure how many members there are. The figure ranges from 104 to 116.

The Senior Steward is club chairman, chosen I was told by consensus; voting, you may wish to know, is unusual. 'Stoker' Hartington, heir to the dukedom of Devonshire, is the senior steward and is credited with leading the club towards what critics say is its first bold step into the 20th century. He proposed setting up the horseracing board as racing's governing body. It will take over next month when the Privy Council - yes indeed, the Privy Council - approves the change in the Jockey Club's royal charter.

I went to the club in search of 'Stoker' but he had left for Ireland. It was rather surprising to find against all expectations that there was not a leather sofa in sight, not a single buffer let alone one asleep in an armchair, nothing that would give the impression that this was an exclusive and self-perpetuating gentleman's club. The only hint of its royal charter were signed photographs of the Queen and the Queen Mother, who had her photograph taken with Jockey Club stewards on her 90th birthday. Among the line-up was young Silver Stick, otherwise known as Colonel Andrew Parker Bowles.

There were receptionists, young women with ordinary accents, men in offices with ordinary accents, ordinary people with their heads down behind desks. There was not a single bowler hat on the coat stands. For a while I wondered if I had got off at the wrong floor.

When I did find a retired Army officer in a corner office the language was filled with words such as 'bollocks' and 'pillocks', but the conversation was very serious stuff about the administration of racing. The wine was worthy of any club in St James and the sandwiches were first-class.

THEY really are sweeties. Who else has ever written a thank-you letter to all the reporters who told their story, the photographers who took their pictures and the police who 'kindly ushered' them to the barricades, and then signed off in Latin? Only the Campaign to Save Radio 4 Long Wave (UK). Furthermore, they sent a donation to the Metropolitan & City Police Orphans Fund, in appreciation.

My colleague, Cal McCrystal, met this genteel group of protesters from here and abroad speaking in standard English within statutory decibel levels, who walked in procession last Saturday from Hyde Park to Broadcasting House. They each waved a balloon and called on the BBC to cancel its plans to turn Radio 4 Long Wave into a continuous news network. They chanted: 'What do we want? Long Wave. What do we say? Please.' After that, I suppose saying thank you was inevitable.

Ubi longae perveniunt undae, ibi adsummus, was their message. For readers who have chucked away their primers I will tell you what it means next week when I have found mine. It doesn't look subversive, but might be.