The Secret Racegoer in lockdown
The Secret Racegoer is all-over the place (well, obviously not) in lockdown, but has enjoyed watching David Yates’ story of Fred Archer
How’s lockdown been for you? Like everyone else in these parts, the Secret Racegoer is missing the action at the racecourse and is trying to make the best of it by spending more time with the form book.
On the upside, a face mask and hair that now resembles a Beatles mop (one for the teenagers there) does help to protect his anonymity, although the mask is a hindrance when drinking Guinness.
There was a return of racing in a way when the French got the sport back on the road at Longchamp and, to the Secret Racegoer’s delight, Shinning Ocean obliged at seize à un.
But and it may be sacrilegious to say, the Secret Racegoer did find the coverage on Sky Sports Racing somewhat dull. That may have had something to do with his sleep patterns which have gone haywire these past few weeks.
A first race at 9.55 BST didn’t help the body clock and, by the sixth race, the Secret Racegoer was finding it difficult to stay awake and eventually nodded off.
Sometime later he awoke with a start, thinking it was time to get up (ok, it has to be admitted that Longchamp was watched from under the duvet). And, in that respect at 2.30 in the afternoon, it was indeed time to get up.
In common with many, the Secret Racegoer has been hitting the streaming services and one of the programmes he’d earmarked to watch was the three-part ITV drama Quiz, telling the story of the how Major Charles Ingram attempted to cheat on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and (spoiler alert) was found guilty at Salisbury crown court.
It did not disappoint, but as it went on the Secret Racegoer couldn’t work out why Aisling Bea (pictured) featured in the programme’s titles but only appeared to sit in the court’s public gallery and didn’t have any dialogue.
The episode also seemed to progress as fast as the Beverley Bullet, but without much back-story, so the Secret Racegoer presumed that at some point there was going to be liberal use made of flash-backs.
But, before he knew it, the jury’s guilty verdict was reached and the credits rolled. It was at this point the Secret Racegoer realised that he’d started watching Quiz with the third and final episode.
Something which was enjoyed in its entirety was the Daily Mirror’s Racing Correspondent David Yates telling the short and tragic life story of British sport’s first real celebrity, Fred Archer.
Such portrayals are not always easy, especially when there is no moving footage to show. You can dress up like Lucy Worsley does but that wasn’t for Yates, although he did look immaculate with his ubiquitous cravat (and a carnation when visiting the church where Archer was married).
Nevertheless, with quick-paced editing, and visits to locations key to Archer’s story, such as Prestbury, Newmarket and Epsom, the Racing TV programme Fred Archer – A Tragic Hero never flagged. Nor did the Secret Racegoer.
And it was aided splendidly by conversations with, among others, trainers Sir Mark Prescott, the first port of call for anyone needing an authority on the history of Newmarket and its people, and James Fanshawe, whose posture resembled depictions of Archer in contemporary prints and whose Pegasus House stables date back to when Archer built his home on the site.
Archer had a life-long, and ultimately life-ending, battle with weight loss and Yates went to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s museum to discuss the recipe for “Archer’s Mixture”, the purpose of which doesn’t leave much to the imagination, with curator John Betts.
Yate’s put the concoction to his lips, but then demurred, saying “another time.”
The story of the Tragic Hero is affectionately and compulsively told by Yates and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, if ultimately sad, insight into Archer, his brutal upbringing, his fame, the vast amounts of money earned and lost, and Victorian racing’s fickle establishment.
Testament to Archer’s worldwide fame was the publication of special editions of the London papers after he took his own life in 1886, aged 29.
Like the Secret Racegoer, and once past the ads, you can watch Fred Archer – A Tragic Hero at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alD9THzyyq0