Mark Kershaw, former clerk of the course or managing director at Sandown, Epsom, Newbury, Ayr, Musselburgh and Ffos Las and a non-executive director at Down Royal, did not sit on his hands during lockdown.
The veteran racecourse executive not only organised, but took part in a competition to grow giant marrow in the village of Linkenholt, and, though he remains a maiden in this discipline, he finished in the frame and has, to a certain extent, made it; a photograph in the Andover Advertiser.
Just to give you context, I believe the record for a giant marrow is about 118lb, which was grown in South Wales in 2013. It was about 3ft long and was, by all accounts, “heavier than a hippo” (a slight exaggeration and I dare say it did not taste too good either but that is not the point).
Kershaw (right) “fed” his with manure provided by local cattle baron Colin Pontin, a friend of both Richard Hannon and Mick Channon, who has threatened to own a racehorse but has never quite gone through with it.
However, if John Gosden was describing Kershaw’s marrow in terms of a race, he might have used one of his great Americanisms and said it “ran out of real estate” in that it only started to grow exponentially in the past fortnight and the winning post came too soon for it.
At the weigh-in, it tipped the bathroom scales at 28lb. If, as it seems, it is the done thing to compare one’s marrow to an aquatic animal, then Kershaw’s was about the same weight as a newborn seal pup.
The competition, though, was won by Linkenholt’s former post mistress Tina Abbott, whose specimen weighed in at an impressive 44lb, the equivalent in weight to a wet, large-sized dog but still some way off a hippo.
She knew she had a winner on her hands a long way out and, to prevent any skulduggery, employed her husband, Rob, to act as nightwatchman and keep an eye on the shadowy Kershaw’s movements in early autumn. Bringing up the rear was Katie Kershaw, the main man’s daughter and a director at Epsom, who seems to have confused marrow with courgette; her stunted effort was a right minnow and only weighed a few ounces.
Kershaw, who was 67 on Monday, has the bit between his teeth now. He has cannibalised his marrow for its seed, has taken out a subscription to Gardeners World and is planning an entry for Harrogate, the giant vegetable world’s Chelsea, next year.
The spooky myth behind one of the great equine artworks
On Thursday week at Cheffins Autumn Sale in Cambridge, a collection of important works, from the mid 18th century to the end of the 19th century, by some of the most eminent equine artists of the time come under the hammer.
They include paintings by John Wootton, James Seymour and Peter Tillemans (who, together, formed the English School of Sporting Painting), Francis Sartorius, his son JN Sartorius and Emil Adam.
The collection was put together by John Dunn Gardner and, in due course, his son Algernon for their home, Denston Hall, in Suffolk. They were left to his daughter Miriam who was married to the popular Newmarket trainer Harvey Leader, who saddled the 1926 Grand National victor Jack Horner as well as numerous big Flat winners.
They include a painting by Tillemans of King George I’s only visit to Newmarket in 1717. If the number of visits a monarch makes to Newmarket is a measure of how much they like racing, then it is fair to say he was not keen.
Apart from several of Eclipse, one of the most interesting is Wootton’s Bloody Shouldered Arabian, an important sire imported from Aleppo in 1717 when putting Arabians to British hunter mares to produce the thoroughbred was all the rage.
The myth behind the bloody-shouldered Arabian is that his dam carried a sheikh into battle in the desert.
The sheikh was cut to ribbons in the fight and, as the mare carried him home, he bled all over her shoulder before carking it. The next day, so the story goes, the mare gave birth to a grey foal (the bloody-shouldered Arabian) which had a red pigment down his shoulder. Spooky.