February 06 2011
“My wife, Chica, and I live with our children – Chloe, 17, Francesca, 15, and Will, 11 – in a pretty Queen Anne house, not far from the village of Tangley in Hampshire. It’s hard to plan a weekend in advance because we don’t always know if Highclere is going to have a runner or not. But Saturday is a big racing day, so it’s often a big day for me, too.
The Racing Post arrives at 6am, and shortly after that I may be on my way to the stable of the champion trainer Richard Hannon, at East Everleigh, to meet some of our owners and watch their horses work on the gallops. It isn’t just about pitching up on raceday – there’s the whole pit-lane experience too.
Going to Richard’s is never a chore. The drive takes me across some of the most beautiful countryside imaginable and soon after I arrive, Richard, who’s a wonderful character, opens the first bottle of champagne. The day starts getting better from then on. He and his wife serve legendary breakfasts, including proper Newmarket sausages with a delicious honey and mustard dip, and homemade soda bread with sour cream, smoked salmon and chives.
If we do have a runner, I have to dash back to the house and get ready – I’ve become a master of the quick change. Sometimes there’s a long drive up to places like York, but other weekends the racing’s at Newbury, which is very much my local course and where I’ve been on the board now for 10 years. Highclere has a box there and we often entertain owners – if we manage to have a winner as well, it really is a perfect weekend.
After a long day’s racing, I’m happy to settle down with the family and open a good bottle of wine. I’m very lucky that I married a former professional chef – of all the spaghetti carbonaras I’ve had on my travels around the world, none comes even close to Chica’s. But if we are going out, The Fox at Tangley, which is only five minutes from our front door, is my ideal pub. It’s small, serves very good Thai food and other owners and trainers, such as Richard Hannon and Emma Lavelle, regularly pass through.
If the horses have done well and we’re eating out in London, my favourite restaurant is Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley. But if I’m dreaming of steak and ribs, I’d somehow be transported to Wyoming’s Rib and Chop House in Sheridan, Wyoming. That’s where my mother is from and the restaurant, which has paper tablecloths and sawdust on the floor, is as enjoyable as anywhere.
Sometimes Sunday is another raceday, but ideally I like a lie-in with the papers and then maybe a game of tennis with the children. Occasionally, I get in a round of golf at Sunningdale with friends. But my favourite thing of all is a big Sunday lunch with other family members, such as my sister Carolyn and her husband John Warren. He’s a brilliant bloodstock agent, who advises me on which yearlings we should bid for. We had three winners at Royal Ascot last season, and a lot of that success is due to John.
My greatest love, other than racing, is the theatre. I used to do a bit of amateur acting and now Francesca is mad keen about it. I love going to plays with her at weekends. The best theatrical experience we had last year was seeing Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse, which was superb.
I’m so lucky that I haven’t had a Sunday-night-Monday-morning moment since I left the City more than 25 years ago. Each Monday I get up thinking it’s another day and another chance to dream the dream of having a champion such as Harbinger [Highclere’s winner of the 2010 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot], and another opportunity to sell the thrill of being part of a beautiful thoroughbred.”