Keith makes amateur debut in England’s oldest Flat race

Date: Monday 24th July 2017
Keith Oakes and Bell Weir finish the famous Newmarket race.
Keith Oakes and Bell Weir finish the famous Newmarket race.

THERE was delight, but no sausages, for former Appleby man Keith Oakes after Hilton-based racehorse trainer Ken Slack provided him with a mount in the historic Town Plate at Newmarket — first run in 1666.

Keith Oakes, aged 52, who formerly ran Corrie’s tearoom in Appleby with his partner, Lynn Seath, was thrilled to get a ride in the prestigious race for amateur riders which included Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, the chairman of Qatar Racing and Qatar Bloodstock and former international show-jumper Tim Gredley, son of Big Orange’s owner Bill Gredley.

Each of first four riders home are traditionally given a box of locally produced sausages for their efforts, but Keith, who was riding nine-year-old grey Bell Weir, finished fifth.

The race, instigated by King Charles II, who also won the first running, stated that it should be run “forever” and this year’s renewal took place ahead of racing on the first day of the Moët and Chandon July Festival.

It was the 348th running of the race, which begins on land owned by the National Stud, and is a marathon 33⁄4-mile test which finishes on the July Course.

There was drama in the home straight as Sheikh Fahad unseated and crashed into the running rail when challenging for the lead, but the race was won by favourite Bivouac, ridden by Gredley — a horse which had been bought especially for the event at a price of £70,000.

Keith, who is a volunteer driver for the North West Ambulance Service and a bookmaker at Manchester’s Belle Vue greyhound stadium, said the experience was “absolutely superb” but over the last five furlongs his legs were really wobbling. “They were totally gone,” he said.

Keith had not really sat on a horse until two years ago, and it was his first time taking part in any sort of race, so to be in a weighing room alongside the likes of Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori was a “surreal” experience, he said.

Last year, while still living in Appleby, he had been hoping to fulfil a lifelong dream by riding in a charity race at York, but he unfortunately failed to make the cut at the last minute.

He admitted that while it would have been nice to have taken home one of the traditional boxes of sausages, it was a “massive achievement” to be able to take part and to finish fifth was creditable.

In order to take part in the race, he had to prove his fitness despite not having ridden a horse for about four to five months, having moved back down to Manchester, where he is originally from.

While living in Appleby he had ridden out regularly for Ken, having turned up on the farm gate asking if he could help him learn how to ride.

At the farm, at first he was nicknamed Evel Knievel because he was absolutely fearless, but also fell off a lot. Now he is known as “Keith Dettori”.

Ken said it was a wonderful day out at Newmarket, but a long trip down from his Eden base. They set off at 3-15am, got to Newmarket at 8-30am, left at 3pm and were back at home for 8pm.

Asked if he would consider saddling another runner at Newmarket, Ken said definitely, if he “had one good enough”.