Oakley's Cheltenham tour de force

Robin Oakley spent much of his working life as a political journalist, rising from provincial beginnings on the Liverpool Daily Post to be political editor of The Times and then the BBC, where he succeeded the legendary John Cole in 1992 and gave way to Andrew Marr in 2000.

But in his heart he clearly preferred the affairs of the turf to affairs of state.  Building on the Spectator column on horse racing he took up as a sideline in 1994, he has now severed his ties both with Westminster and Brussels -- he was until recently European political editor for CNN -- to concentrate on writing horse racing books.
The author of a fine biography of racehorse trainer Barry Hills and a portrait of the horse racing community in Lambourn, Berkshire, Oakley has delivered a tour de force to coincide with this week’s Cheltenham Festival.
Oakley’s Centenary History of what might be termed the national championships of jump racing is an enthralling history of the events which have made the Cheltenham Festival uniquely special in sport, from its modest beginnings to the lavish hospitality and packed stands of the present day, with the emphasis on the equine heroes that have become part of racing legend.
The Gold Cup takes pride of place, the book beginning with an account of Dawn Run's famous victory in 1986, when the Irish mare became the only horse to complete the double of Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. 
Oakley likened his 18-month task to being “like a child let loose in a sweet shop" although he has had to miss out on part of his annual treat this year due to an unfortunate clash of engagements.  Instead of staying at Prestbury Park for the Gold Cup following the launch of his Festival history on Tuesday, he has had to leave early to fulfil a speaking engagement on board the luxury liner Queen Mary 2 on a cruise from Hong Kong to Dubai. 
Oakley, 69, is already working on his next racing book, a biography of the trainer Clive Brittain.

Buy The Cheltenham Festival: A Centenary History (Aurum) direct from Amazon.