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Wensum Column: Jim Harding discusses Fakenham horse racing and Rio Ferdinand’s book

In his weekly column, Fakenham writer Jim Harding discusses horse racing and an ex-footballer’s emotional book...

I only had a marginal interest in horse racing prior to moving to Fakenham. Then I discovered its edge-of-town track and the joy of jump racing.

When the Lynn News became an important part of my life I was more than happy to take on the role of reporting on every meeting. This brought me into contact with others who occupied similar roles and helped fill the prime upstairs lookout point above the main stand.

Jim Harding discusses horse racing at Fakenham
Jim Harding discusses horse racing at Fakenham

I was amazed that many trainers, whose stables were often hundreds of miles away from our town, held the place in high regard and frequently transported their horses here.

When the late John Tuck, a teacher friend from the former Fakenham Grammar school, needed support on race days with stabling horses, I put myself forward as a helping hand.

For a number of years I became familiar with what needed to be done when trainers turned up and were required to ‘sign in’.

It was a great pleasure. If my sons became rather taken by racing and, let it be said, enjoyed a gamble or two, I take a lot of the responsibility.

They have come to many meetings down the years and it’s been a real uplift for me to share racing talk with them.

I particularly recall the presence of a very special horse called Cool Roxy. In fact, the first time he raced at Fakenham as an unknown, I tried to dissuade my middle son from backing him at odds of around 16-1.

Despite this, he went ahead and Cool Roxy romped home to begin a long and successful association with our track.

I must have watched the horse run on most of his subsequent visits here. He just seemed to love the place and always responded to the roars of the crowd when he turned up the final home straight.

According to a recently published book entitled ‘The Fakenham Favourite: The Story of Cool Roxy and the Blackmores’, he triumphed 11 times over hurdles and fences and holds the record for most wins at the track.

I hope to buy a copy of the book, written by Aaron Gransby, at the next meeting on February 16.

Roxy was trained by Alan Blackmore, whose wife Pat invariably accompanied him when their horse ran at Fakenham. Such was his renown that when a major renovation took place at Fakenham a few years back, a smart bar was named in honour of Cool Roxy. So his reputation lives on.

With apologies to any Manchester United supporters out there, I have to confess the team has never much appealed to me. I’m not quite sure why, but it may well have been its domination of English football for so long.

So I was a little surprised to start reading a book by former player Rio Ferdinand called ‘Thinking Out Loud’.

It is subtitled ‘Love, Grief and being Mum and Dad’. He was assisted in this enterprise by writer Decca Aitkenhead.

The first sentence in the preface really caught my attention and sort of challenged me about what was to follow. It read: “If you are anything like I used to be, this book might not look your idea of a good read.”

Certainly the initial chapters are painfully honest, and almost brought me to tears as Rio opens up about his obsession with football to the exclusion of much else until he finds the girl of his dreams, Rebecca.

I’ll leave you there in case you get round to spending a few hours in this company, which includes a raw display of emotion from someone who previously had always kept such stuff to himself.

The blurb includes the words that the book has been written in the hope of inspiring others struggling to cope with loss and grief. So many of us have gone through at least some of these emotions in our lives.

This book may not win any prizes and is not an easy read, but it definitely deserves the attention of anyone struggling in similar territory.

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