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80 things you should know about John Oaksey at 80; TRIBUTE.

Byline: Sean Magee on the selfless, humorous, inspirational and unforgettable events in a colourful life

1 John Geoffrey Tristram Lawrence, the future 4th Baron Trevethin and 2nd Baron Oaksey, was born in Sussex Gardens, near Paddington station, on March 21, 1929.

2 His grandfather A.T. Lawrence had been appointed Lord Chief Justice in 1921 at the age of 78, and elevated to the peerage as Lord Trevethin.

3 His father Geoffrey Lawrence QC, distinguished barrister and High Court judge, was presiding judge at the Nuremberg trials in 1945-46.

4 When a peerage was created for Geoffrey Lawrence in 1947 in recognition of his work at Nuremberg, his title was taken from the village where his family had lived since the 1920s: Oaksey, near Malmesbury in Wiltshire.

5 Abernant, one of the greatest sprinters, was named after the house in Wales in which John's uncle Trevor Lawrence lived.

6 John Lawrence's early riding experience was on his rotund old pony Mince Pie, who "had a deeply embarrassing habit of farting the moment she saw a horse larger than her."

7 A photo of six-year-old John Lawrence being catapulted over Mince Pie's head at the Purton pony hunter trials in 1935 appeared on the front page of the Daily Express.

8 Mince Pie achieved permanent recognition in the title of John Oaksey's 2003 autobiography: Mince Pie for Starters.

9 First bet: at the age of six, on point-to-pointer Nettlebed, who "looked destined for runner-up spot until the leader conveniently fell at the last, leaving me five bob richer - and hooked on horseracing."

10 At Eton, John Lawrence was captain of the boxing team.

11 After Eton he enrolled for National Service. Served at Catterick, "where for the first time in my life I discovered what hard work really was."

12 Then commissioned as second lieutenant with the 9th Queen's Royal Lancers.

13 To New College, Oxford, in 1949 to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, with the intention that he should go into the law.

14 Started learning to fly while at Oxford, his first experience coming in the biplane Tiger Moth.

15 Awarded a scholarship to Yale Law School in 1952: "My year in America taught me a great deal more about skiing than about law."

16 First point-to-point ride: Paula, owned by one of his three sisters, at Siddington, April 1950. Pulled up after six fences.

17 First point-to-point winner: the mare Next Of Kin in 1951 at the Pegasus Club meeting at Kimble, confined to senior lawyers and their families: "Next Of Kin confirmed my inclination to go for a racing rather than a legal career by giving me the experience of my life to date. By the time she sailed over the last fence, the judges and barristers who had dreamed up the Pegasus Club had, however unwittingly, deprived their learned profession of my services."

18 In 1955 started riding out for Bob Turnell, "who heads the list of the kind souls who have put up with my incompetence."

19 First winner under rules: Pyrene in a hunter chase at Sandown Park, March 16, 1956.

20 Fulke Walwyn, for whom John Oaksey rode many winners, described his riding style as "a fine example of the Old English Lavatory Seat".

21 Married Victoria ('Tory'), daughter of trainer Ginger Dennistoun, in 1959.

22 Two children: Patrick, now a leading barrister, and Sara, married to trainer Mark Bradstock.

23 Divorced from Tory in 1987, in 1988 he married Chicky, now chief almoner of the Injured Jockeys' Fund.

24 First big-race win: 1958 Imperial Cup at Sandown Park on Flaming East. Reported in the Daily Telegraph how Flaming East had won, "carrying on his back a flabbergasted amateur rider who is hardly able to believe that the race was real and not a dream."

25 Won 1958 Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown on Taxidermist, beating Mandarin four lengths - "the nearest thing to pure joy I ever experienced on a racecourse."

26 Winner and runner-up were both trained by Fulke Walwyn.

Lawrence suggested to Walwyn what a thrill the Whitbread finish must have been for him, only for the trainer to blast back: "Thrill? I wasn't ****ing thrilled at all. I'd done my boots on Mandarin!"

27 Champion amateur for first time in 1957-58.

28 Won 1958 Hennessy Gold Cup on Taxidermist, by "the width of a cigarette paper" after jumping the last a remote fifth.

29 His father, watching the race from the last fence, wrote a note to his son that "today was one of the most exciting if not the most exciting I've had." Oaksey later reflected: "The most exciting day of his life? Well, of course it cannot have been. Nevertheless, true or false, they were nice words for his son to read."

30 Joined Daily Telegraph - where he was given the pen name 'Marlborough' - in 1957, and started writing as 'Audax' for Horse and Hound in 1959.

31 His famous description of the 1962 Grand Steeplechase de Paris won by Fred Winter on the bitless Mandarin - voted the greatest ride ever by Racing Post readers - was filed to the Telegraph from the British Embassy in Paris.

32 Closing sentences of his Horse and Hound account of the 1962 Grand Steeplechase: "On Sunday, Fred Winter and Mandarin earned themselves a place among the immortal names of sport. I have never seen a comparable feat, never expect to - and can only thank God I was there."

33 His reports in the Telegraph and Horse and Hound provided the definitive chronicle of the achievements of Arkle. On Hennessy Gold Cup day 1964 he wrote of his favourite racehorse: "Until some flaw is revealed in Arkle's armoury, I for one will continue to believe that, in him, we are lucky enough to have seen the perfect, complete chaser."

34 Rode 11 times in the Grand National between 1961 and 1975, completing four times.

35 On Carrickbeg, owned jointly with Gay Kindersley, he led over the last in the 1963 National but was caught close home by Ayala.

36 Immediately after weighing in, he ran across the Ormskirk Road to the house from which he dictated to the Telegraph what Brough Scott has called "the greatest 'live' participatory report filed from a major event."

37 This report relived how he "felt Carrickbeg sprawl and change his legs. Hard as I strove to pull him together, the last dreg of his stamina - and mine - had drained away. It still seemed possible, but then Ayala's head appeared at my knee."

38 Years later he was emerging from the gents' toilet at Piccadilly Circus tube station in the early hours when he was accosted by a tramp with the words, "I know you - you're the bugger who got tired before yer 'orse!"

39 In 1983, at the age of fifty-four, ran the London Marathon in aid of the Grand National appeal, finishing in under four hours.

40 Co-founder of Farrell-Brookshaw Fund, precursor of Injured Jockeys' Fund, in 1964, following career-ending injuries to jockeys Paddy Farrell and Tim Brookshaw.

41 Founding trustee of Injured Jockeys' Fund, then chairman and more recently president.

42 Minute from early meeting of Fund trustees: "Mr Lawrence suggested that the Fund might make some money by selling a Christmas card. He had been told that we might expect to make one - or even two - thousand pounds."

Sales of the IJF Christmas card total in excess of pounds 5 million.

43 The recently opened IJF housing project in Lambourn has been named Oaksey House.

44 Centrepiece of Oaksey House is a life-size bronze of John Oaksey by Willie Newton. "Reading John Oaksey's race reports was what first sold me on racing," says the sculptor. "They were written from the heart, and I wanted to express that passion, seriousness and intelligence in the bronze."

45 The Injured Jockeys' Fund, according to John Oaksey, "has given me more pride than any of my other activities within horseracing."

46 Rode first three winners of the 'Amateurs' Derby' at Epsom in 1963-65, adding a fourth in 1973.

47 In December 1964 he rode Pioneer Spirit in an amateur riders' chase at Cheltenham. Clear of his rivals coming down the hill, he mistakenly thought he had taken the wrong course and pulled up, returning through a gauntlet of disgruntled punters. Back home, he ran a hot bath but, while he was taking a phone call, the bath overflowed and sent the floor crashing down.

48 Rode four winners at the Cheltenham Festival: National Hunt Chase on Sabaria (1959); Foxhunter on Bullock's Horn (1973); and Kim Muir twice, on Jimmy Scot (1966) and Black Baize (1971).

49 Won Fox Hunters' Chase at Aintree on Subaltern in 1966 and Bullocks Horn in 1973.

50 Champion amateur for second time in 1970-71 season.

51 Memorable encounter with the great Flyingbolt, who long after his glory days as Arkle's contemporary with Tom Dreaper had moved to Roddy Armytage, for whom Oaksey regularly rode out: "There was a gallop which ran for five or six furlongs uphill to a small circular wood. I held him, more or less, up the hill, but then 'oh dear'. Maybe he was looking for Arkle. Round and round and round that wood we went - four times, I think - with Flyingbolt not exactly running away but me not exactly in control either! It was only after I got him to pull up that I learned the identity of my steed."

52 Whitbread Gold Cup, 1974. On Proud Tarquin, Oaksey beat Ron Barry on The Dikler by a head, only to be demoted on the grounds of interference. "The passing of time," wrote Oaksey in his autobiography, "has done nothing to diminish my feeling that a great injustice was done, and that the stewards who adjudicated ought to have been tapping their way down Piccadilly with white sticks."

53 Succeeded to titles Baron Oaksey and Baron Trevethin when his father died in 1971.

54 Family arms in heraldic terminology: "Per chevron arg. and gu. two crosses raguly in chief of the last and a lamb in base holding with the dexter forefoot a banner and staff all of the first, the banner charged with a cross couped az."

55 Caused a stir when voting in the House of Lords before he had been sworn in, and had to apologise in the chamber to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham.

56 Rode the great eventer Cornishman V in 1974 film of Dick Francis novel Dead Cert, directed by Tony Richardson.

57 Made cameo appearance in Dead Cert movie as vet, with the single line, "Sorry, guv'nor, the urine sample's no good."

58 His 200th winner under rules: Miller Boy, owned by Camilla Parker Bowles (now Duchess of Cornwall), at Leicester, December 1974.

59 In pride of place on Oaksey's bathroom wall is a photograph of Miller Boy clearing the last hurdle, with an inscription by the gelding's grateful owner: "Thrilled to mount you!"

60 After a fall from Clover Prince when leading at Folkestone in April 1975 - "one of our pursuers trod on my face and fractured my jaw" - doctors advise that the next fall might prove one too many, and his retirement from the saddle is announced in November that year.

61 Joined ITV as paddock commentator and interviewer in 1969.

62 Remained core member of team when coverage switched to Channel 4 Racing.

63 Letter from a Channel 4 viewer: "Dear Bastard: I am writing to tell you that you could not tip more rubbish if Channel 4 bought you a forklift truck. And what makes it worse is that your awful toffee-nosed voice makes it sound as if all the losers went to Eton."

64 'HIS LORDSHIP TURNS THE AIR BLUE': 1971 newspaper headline after his microphone had been left on to record his "Bugger!"

and "Dammit!" after his tip in a Warwick race had been beaten a short head.

65 Last race ride in public: September 1992, Shadwell Estates-sponsored charity race at Ascot. "By the final turn I was pushing along like mad, and as we straightened for home I looked up: the winning post seemed to be about four miles away. There and then I decided that at the age of sixty-three the time had come to hang up my geriatric race-riding boots. It was a decision that I have never (much) regretted."

66 Awarded OBE, 1985.

67 Justice of the Peace at Malmesbury Magistrates' Court, 1978 to 1999.

68 Rode in team chases - "the best fun I ever had in the saddle" - for 'The Tory Party', named not on account of political affiliation but for his first wife Tory.

69 Retired from daily journalism in 1988, though wrote weekly column for Racing Post for another two years.

70 President of Elite Racing Club since its inception in 1992.

71 On Desert Island Discs in 1993, his musical choices included Bing Crosby singing These Foolish Things, Jerusalem (to make him feel "sloppily patriotic") and Slattery's Mounted Foot.

72 His old friend John Julius Norwich recorded, specifically for the programme, a rendition of his song The Borgias Are Having an Orgy, beginning: "The Borgias are having an orgy/There's a Borgia orgy tonight/But isn't it sick'nin', we've run out of strychnine/The gravy will have to have ground glass for thick'nin"

73 His chosen book was a volume of P.G.

Wodehouse's Mr Mulliner stories, and his luxury an endless supply of champagne.

74 In addition to Mince Pie for Starters, his books include The Story of Mill Reef (1974), a hymn of praise to his favourite Flat horse, and Oaksey on Racing (1991), a collection of his Horse and Hound pieces. He is also co-author of The History of Steeplechasing (1967). John Lawrence's World of Racing (1970) features a youthful Oaksey as frontispiece but has only the most tenuous connection with him.

75 Bred and co-owns talented novice chaser Carruthers, fourth in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

76 Carruthers' dam Plaid Maid (who died a few days ago when foaling his full-brother) won five races in the Oaksey colours.

77 Carruthers takes his name from one of Oaksey's favourite after-dinner stories. Two retired cavalry officers are reminiscing.

"Whatever became of old Carruthers?" "Don't you know? He's out in Malaya, living with a chimpanzee." "Not a male chimpanzee?" "Oh Lord, no - there's nothing queer about Carruthers."

78 Among John Oaksey's awards are Racing Journalist of the Year in 1968, the Cartier-Daily Telegraph Award of Merit in 2003 and the annual award of the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Charitable Trust in 2008.

79 Elected honorary member of the Jockey Club, 2001.

80 From Stoker Hartington's review of Mince Pie for Starters in the Spectator: "John Oaksey is the archetypal English gentleman. He is a sweetheart, a star, the bravest of the brave, funny and kind - how lucky the sport of racing has been to have him as its leading writer and advocate for so many years."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 19, 2009
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