Nicholas Penny

Sometimes, walking in the woods on a Saturday afternoon, my mother and I came across the local racecourse. She would put the dog on its lead and I would approach the white rails where the horses – with their mad eyes, soft telescopic nostrils, bulging veins and bony legs – were being restrained in front of the nooses stretched across the track by tense, hunched dwarfs in brilliant silks who abused each other with words I had never heard before. It was a close-up view from below and in colour of what was surveyed on black and white television with an Olympian commentary by Clive Graham and Peter O’Sullevan. ‘Under starter’s orders,’ the public address system boomed. A hush fell over the distant stands. ‘They’re off.’ As the thunder of the hoofs receded, the roar of the punters rose. The Red Cross van lumbered slowly in pursuit.

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[*] Cambridge, 275 pp., £40 and £14.95, August 2002, 0 521 80877 4.

[†] Glorious Goodwood by Richard Onslow, George Ennor and Camilla Cecil (Kenneth Mason, 224 pp., £35, August 2002, 0 85937 402 5).