Barnes was a man of many parts, as Titmus would testify
Last week was a bad one for racing folk going before their time, but Mick Barnes, one of the great characters to have attached themselves to the sport (it may well have been vice versa), will not have had too many complaints when he hopped the twig aged 84.
Born in Adlestrop, died, and buried last week, in Oddington (one mile away), briefly lived in Stow-on-the-Wold (three miles away, but he thought it “rough”), in his time Barnes was one of the finest stonemasons in Gloucestershire.
He had several claims to fame or, indeed, infamy; his work brought him into contact with the Gloucester builder Fred West, subsequently discovered to be a serial killer. He once spent an evening in a pub talking to Kate Winslet about gardening but, having never watched television or films, had no idea who she was, and he was a more regular drinking buddy of Nicholas Parsons.
Whenever the subject of cricket cropped up – he was an excellent village player – he maintained he saved the bowling career of Fred Titmus by getting him to move a finger further round the ball.
This last claim was largely dismissed as fantasy by his legion of friends until the jump jockey Warren Marston accompanied him on a trip to a Lord’s Test. They were making their way to their seats when they bumped into Titmus. “Hello there, Mick,” said the great England off-spinner before turning to Marston. “Do you know, this man here changed my career.” Marston spent the rest of the day in shock.
He had various shares in jump horses, including Pak Jack and Bertie Barnes, and in retirement he became an almost permanent attachment to trainer Richard Phillips who, because of his local knowledge, originally employed him as an “adviser” when he moved to Adlestrop.
It started by Barnes offering to drive him racing, but ended with Phillips driving Barnes everywhere. On one horse-buying trip to Ireland, they spent a night at a hotel overlooking the sea in Cork. As they left, Barnes said wistfully to the trainer: “One day, mate, we’ll come back here.”
The next day they drove two hours on to look at horses. All went well until they had seen the last horse and Barnes announced to Phillips that he had left his blazer at the hotel. “That’s fine,” said Phillips. “It’s a smart hotel, they’ll post it on.” “Yes,” said Barnes. “But my passport is in the pocket.”
On the two-hour journey back to the hotel, there was a stony silence in the hire car, the trainer in a furious state. When they had finally retrieved the offending blazer, an unrepentant Barnes spoke to break the silence. “I told you we’d be back here one day, mate,” he said.
When French racing was back, but before we had got going this side of the Channel, I spent some time on the website of France Galop, its ruling body.
My French not being up to much, I resorted to the autotranslate function, which, it seems, has trouble with racing.
Though it can cope with ParisLongchamp, Auteuil and Saint-Cloud, its translation of Chantilly is the racecourse known as “sweet whipped cream”.
Races on French Guineas day included the Soapware Price, the Russian Wood Price and the Great Disability of Milers. The Classics took the biscuit though; the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (2,000 Guineas) was the “Emirates Poultry Test” and the Pouliches (1,000) was the “Poultry Test Hen”.