It was a real pleasure to spend a day in the company of a famous son of our region recently.
In spring-like weather for November, I was out and about with the legendary horse racing commentator Derek Thompson.
As you may know Derek, or Tommo to his many friends, was born in Stockton on Tees and his dad was born in Hartlepool.
I’m the original amateur when it comes to the world of horses, but this guy’s knowledge is quite something.
What’s equally impressive is his ability as a TV presenter and, above all, his gift of making it look as if anyone could do it – believe me, they can’t!
I was behind the camera as the producer of the film and he was doing his “looks easy” trick of getting sequences right in one take.
We spent some time at the headquarters of Pinnacle Racing near Wolviston and saw some fine horses being exercised.
I can just about tell the difference between a racehorse and a beast headed for a milk round, but the real experts can spot talent in very young animals.
The training facilities they have look on a par with those for top class human sportspeople and I saw some gadgets I’d never heard of before.
These included the “horse walker”, a kind of roundabout for six horses where they can take steady exercise.
After seeing the preparation work, we headed to the nearby Sedgefield Racecourse where the Remembrance Day meeting was taking place.
Star man Tommo was taking about ten minutes to move a hundred yards or so as just about everyone wanted to stop and have a cheery word. I would guess that some of the racecourse atmosphere hasn’t changed much in generations although the addition of big replay screens and digital bookmakers’ displays would amaze our forefathers.
I’m no gambler and was soon bewildered by the high speed calculations and advanced mathematics which goes in to working out odds on the horses.
One of my granddads was a fan of the turf, and his favourite story was of a book which was advertised for sale in a magazine of his time.
For a sizeable fee, you could order this publication with the attractive title of “How to guarantee being a winner on the racecourse.”
When the book arrived it turned out to have only one page with the sentence “Become a bookmaker.”
You can’t argue with that.
What always tickles me about betting at racecourses is the way in which the experts are often outplayed by the lucky amateurs.
On the odd times when we are guests at the racing, my other half has an infallible technique of choosing her favourite by, quote, “whether the horse smiled at her, or the jockey had a nice shirt.”
It’s always funny to watch the experts laugh at her method and then a bit less when she wins and they don’t!
One final thought about horse racing is how much more physical and challenging it looks in real life compared to the polished version on television.
The Sedgefield meeting was over jumps, and you have to admire both the horses and jockeys for their speed and stamina. At the end of the day, I’d learned that bit more about the “sport of kings” and Tommo was heading back home to Newmarket, asking me to give his regards to our patch, which I’m delighted to do.