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February is normally a quiet month. On the diet and off the drink. But I had to make a few alterations to the regime with a couple of long-standing diary dates that simply could not happen without a bit of liquid refreshment.
I managed to get to February 20th without a drop touching my lips, but that night there was a 60th Birthday to be celebrated, for Middleham ‘Gentleman’ trainer James Bethell. His wonderful mother Lady Westbury had laid on a fantastic spread in her Chelsea Flat where we were royally entertained with copious amounts of delicious champagne and magnums of fine red wine. An eclectic collection of racing folk had been gathered to celebrate this milestone - among them Willie and Elaine Carson, Jamie Douglas Home and Guy Hart whose portrait with his terrier ‘Spec’ is currently hanging in The National Portrait Gallery as part of The Lucien Freud exhibition. I was very pleased to see Guy again as I was off to the exhibition 3 days later – what a fantastic exhibition it was as well, a must for all. It runs until the end of May. Best to get an early evening slot, as then you can cross the road as I did to the excellent restaurant ‘Les Deux Salons’. Delicious dinner, most generously bought by one of James Toller’s leading owners, Patrick Dalby. We were getting into practice with a French Menu, as Patrick has two very nice horses Saigon and Rewarded to campaign this Flat season and we are all hoping to make a trip to Longchamp on May 13th for The Poule d’Essai des Poulains!! – Table is booked at “La Grande Cascade”.
The second stay of execution from the drink involved a three-day trip to Ireland for the fantastic coursing meeting in Limerick, the Irish Cup, sponsored by JP McManus. It would have been criminal to have been in Ireland and not have had a drop of Guinness!
The cup is run over three days and is now staged at Limerick Racecourse having been for many years held on The Dunraven estate outside Adare. We were fortunate to have been invited into the private box of JP and Noreen McManus where we were wonderfully entertained to lunch each day. By the time we left on Sunday afternoon, The Homme d’Affaire of the box, Tony, had begun to understand our liking for ‘The Black Stuff’ and consequently was always one step ahead of our requirements.
The coursing meeting was of a very high standard. It was the first time I had been to a meeting since the last running of The Waterloo Cup in 2005 after which the ban in England came into effect. Although there were no English dogs participating, there was a sprinkling of English coursing fans led, naturally, by Sir Mark Prescott.