Alan's love for the racing game is crystal clear

Robin Hoods Bay (left) ridden by Luke Morris beats Windhoek (blue colours) ridden by Silvestre De Sousa to win the coral.co.uk Winter Derby during Winter Derby day at Lingfield Park Racecourse

Robin Hoods Bay (left) ridden by Luke Morris beats Windhoek (blue colours) ridden by Silvestre De Sousa to win the coral.co.uk Winter Derby during Winter Derby day at Lingfield Park Racecourse

First published in Sport
Last updated
York Press: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

IT is the sound of the commentator's voice, a remembrance of red and the raucous atmosphere that helps Alan Pickering paint a picture of a day at the races.

In this most visual of sports, where colours flash by at frightening speeds and where the wave of a whip and the urging of hands on reins can tell you whether you are clutching a winning ticket, Pickering must use alternative means to set the scene.

The 65-year-old has been blind since his mid-30s.

But to gaze on a picture of him in the winner's enclosure, hands apart in joy and a huge smile creased across his face, shows the enormous enjoyment he gets every time he steps through the turnstiles.

And now, the former York schoolboy has a horse to match his infectious enthusiasm for the game.

Robin Hoods Bay - he names all of his horses after landmarks in his native county - will go to Lingfield on Good Friday bidding to claim the £200,000 Coral Easter Classic.

The six-year-old booked his place after landing Pickering his biggest ever success as an owner, the £100,000 Group 3 Winter Derby, and, for a man who lives barely a stone's throw from the Kent track, it has been a "dream come true".

"It's very usual to typecast a horse and say he's like this or like that but he has been very consistent on the all-weather," he said of his eight-time winner. "He came second in the race last year and you wonder if he has had his day but this was worth waiting for.

"For me to come first at Lingfield with Godolphin second was like York City beating Chelsea."

Bromley may be home for Pickering - "I came to London in 1972 aiming to stay for two years" he remembers - but York plays a central role in his life story.

It was here where he first became interested in racing, as a regular at Knavesmire meetings, and where the Fulford youngster gained a job at the track as a gardener labourer.

"I was working there in 1970 when Mill Reef won the Gimcrack, when the race was even more important than it is now," he remembers. "I swept up the parade ring after Mill Reef and swept the ring after he left his calling card. I've gone from dung to riches."

Pickering was born with weak eyesight. Doctors didn't realise anything was wrong, but his mother did. "I was bumping into things and I didn't grow out of it."

He was diagnosed with a degenerative condition - retinitis pigmentosa - but, even at that stage, he didn't realise his worsening vision would eventually result in blindness.

"My parents made a conscious decision not to tell me," Pickering explained. "When it began to deteriorate I thought it was because I wasn't trying hard enough.

"It was a bit of a relief when I learned it wasn't my fault. It was nature.

"Having been able to see means I have concepts that other people don't have. I know what a racecourse looks like, I know what the colour red is and losing my sight gradually meant I could come to terms with it.

"I enjoy the whole racing experience. When I go I go round the pre-parade ring, the paddock, round the enclosures - I soak up all the atmosphere. In terms of understanding the position within a race, I rely heavily on the commentators and paint a picture.

"One of my good friends is Simon Holt and, after I met him, it's almost like he now has me in mind when he is painting a picture during commentaries.

"Another thing he does, which is very unprofessional, is gives my horses more of a mention than they deserve. He will be there on Good Friday and I have asked him to say that Robin Hoods Bay has won whether he does or doesn't."

Pickering discovered racehorse ownership with the Martin Pipe Racing Club and then in a syndicate with the late Alec Stewart before carrying on with the latter's former assistant Ed Vaughan.

"Robin Hoods Bay changed hands as an unraced two-year-old," he said of how he came to own his ten furlong star. "Ed had him and his previous owners didn't want to keep him.

"Ed encouraged them and told them that if they were patient he would improve. They didn't take the risk. He's by Motivator and they aren't the most robust of types.

"I've got seven horses and all of them are named after East coast resorts where I spend many happy days as a youngster."

Lingfield may be his second home but there is only place that is in his heart. Pickering craves a winner at York.

"Robin Hoods Bay ran in the Strensall Stakes last year but he didn't take to the ground," he said. "I would love to come for a race at the Ebor Festival having been there and having swept up the dung.

"To win at York - even my friends would understand what that would mean to me."

‘The first All-Weather Championships Finals Day takes place at Lingfield Park on Good Friday, 18 April 2014. To book tickets visit www.lingfieldpark.co.uk or phone 01342 834800.

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