From the moment the gates swung open there was a special feeling around Cheltenham Racecourse for The Showcase (Friday 22nd & Saturday 23rd October), with the return of crowds.
For several of those in attendance it will have been their first ever visit to a racecourse, but for Cheltenham member Lionel Jordan it was a trip which brought back many different memories.
On the eve of his 100th birthday, Lionel was a guest of honour of both the Jockey Club and sponsor 888Sport on the Saturday and he was invited into the parade ring before the feature race to choose the best turned out horse alongside former jockey Barry Geraghty.
And Lionel, who is in remarkable nick but by his own admission is rather hard of hearing due to taking up tank duties during the Second World War, explained that he felt it was fitting to be spending his special day on the racecourse – having been stationed here exactly 82 years ago.
He said: “I was a member of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, which was a cavalry regiment. We’ve got a long history of horses and fought many wars with horses, but of course now they’re rather mechanised! The interest is still very much there though and horses are very much in my blood.
“My father brought me here when I was quite a young lad and I’ve been keen on racing ever since. My regiment was stationed here during the war and 82 years ago on Sunday (24th October) I was actually training people here on this very spot on my 18th birthday! At that time the war was on and I was an instructor and it’s fitting that I should be here today on another birthday.
“My ears were damaged during the war, as you can imagine we were using very heavy tanks and when the guns are firing it damaged a lot of people’s ears. Apart from my knees though I’m relatively fit - certainly mentally!
“I’ve had many happy days at this place and many tough days as well. It was very tough during the war; when we were first stationed here, they had to move the horses out of the stables and we had to use them ourselves as sleeping accommodation! They were essentially sheds and it was very draughty to be honest.”
It’s hard to believe Lionel’s vivid descriptions of the racecourse when looking at the modern grandstand that now stands on Prestbury Park and he explained that he had seen many racing greats as he watched the town change immeasurably over the years.
He said: “The town and the racecourse have changed beyond recognition since then. I have so many memories of great horses and people, I can certainly remember Dorothy Paget and I can remember Arkle – he was such a lovely horse and I’ve seen so many nice horses and talented jockeys.
“I’m having a wonderful day and it’s unbelievable really. It’s a wonderful experience to come back under these circumstances and I’ve been made very welcome.”
It was the Ian Williams-trained Solar Impulse who was given the nod as best turned out on the day by Lionel, who is expecting his birthday card from Her Majesty The Queen any day now.
And 888Sport representative Barry Geraghty, who rode 43 winners at the Cheltenham Festival as a jockey and was having his first raceday visit to Cheltenham since retiring from the sport in March 2020, expressed his pleasure at meeting Lionel before the feature race.
He said: “It’s amazing to have people like Lionel still following racing. I heard him earlier talking about the war and there’s not many who can say that in this time.
“The fact he still has the interest is brilliant and he’s still so fresh in body and in mind – it was a pleasure to choose the best turned out horse with him.”