Racing lost one of its true greats this morning with the death of John Geoffrey Tristram Lawrence, 4th Baron Trevethin, 2nd Baron Oaksey at the age of 83. Rightly, racing’s journalists will be preparing fulsome tributes to a man whose contribution to racing spanned many decades, and included the fields of riding, journalism, broadcasting and a huge amount of charity work.
That’s not something for me to do, but at the moment of his passing, it’s appropriate to record a few of his many achievements.
There can’t be any other racing personality who spent a summer as a teenager attending and recording his thoughts about the Nuremberg trials, but that was the time that set off his interest in writing, and for many years he covered racing for the Daily Telegraph, writing under the name “Marlborough.”
His trilby hat marked him out on television, on both the old ITV Seven and in the fledgling Channel 4 coverage, where McCririck gave him the affectionate handle of “My Noble Lord.” In reality, what came across in all his television work were charm, affability and a simple love of the sport.
It was in his BBC days that Oaksey uttered one of his most well remembered lines. He was in the commentary team for the Bob Champion/Aldaniti Grand National in 1981, and said to Peter Bromley after the race, “If an imaginative novelist had dreamt up that result everybody would have called him a very silly imaginative novelist."
Oaksey didn’t manage to win the National as a jockey, but did finish second to Pat Buckley and Ayala in 1963, a race I just about remember. As a grand amateur jockey, Mr J Lawrence then had to file his report for the Sunday Telegraph. He recalled that many years later, saying, “Within minutes of returning to weigh in. I dismounted, rushed into the changing room to wipe the worst of the Aintree mud off my face, then, still in my riding colours, ran across the Ormskirk Road to the house from which I had made an arrangement to file the story."
His biggest legacy to racing though, is his charity work, particular in setting up the Farrell-Brookshaw Fund in 1964, to help jockeys Tim Brookshaw and Paddy Farrell, who each broke his back in a fall at Aintree. This was the forerunner for the Injured Jockeys’ Fund, which has helped well over 1,000 jockeys hit by injury, many of whom have lost their livelihood.
Lisa Hancock, chief executive of the IJF, summed up what the whole of the racing world will be feeling this morning. She said, "It is a sad day for us all here. The IJF is probably his greatest legacy and I know that's what Lady Oaksey always said. He was very proud of his involvement. He was only at Oaksey House with us for a Diamond Jubilee celebration in June and he was on good form that day. He was a fantastic man and we all feel very proud to be part of what he started and to be continuing his work in the future."
God bless you, My Noble Lord.