Making the Running by Ian Balding

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Making the Running by Ian Balding

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An honest book about Balding's life and the racing industry in the second half of the twentieth century, it's a good read for the enthusiast and novice alike.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: March 2005
Publisher: Headline
ISBN: 0755312783

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I've had a moderate interest in racing for over thirty years and I quickly realised that there were some people in the sport who were worthy of respect and some who were not. Ian Balding definitely comes in the first category and the opportunity to read his biography was not one to be missed.

He retired in 2003 as a trainer of horses for the flat, but in his time has taken part in just about every sport he could and played them all at a high level. Always competitive, he became one of the country's foremost amateur sportsmen. He was never academically minded and only accidentally became a trainer on his own account in the early sixties. In his time he's trained some famous and very successful horses, including the legendary Mill Reef and Lochsong, whose photo appears on the front cover of the book.

Although he appears to be the quintessential Englishman, Balding was in fact born in the USA. His father, Gerald, was one of the best polo players in the world and whilst he might have left his children very little in the way of worldly goods on his early death, he did leave them with valuable connections. This enabled Ian to receive a public school education and then to gain valuable experience in the horse racing world. Achieving what he did would have been impossible otherwise, proving once again that it isn't what you know, but who you know that matters.

His father had been a trainer "over the jumps" and it was to this side of the sport that he was initially attracted. He was asked to help a nearby trainer of horses for the flat who was ill and needed help over the summer months. Unfortunately Peter Hastings-Bass was to die from his illness three months later and Balding found himself installed as the trainer despite his relative inexperience. He was persuaded to take on the challenge by no lesser person than the Duke of Edinburgh.

The joy of this book is that it isn't purely about Balding. There are some delightful stories about his owners, the most famous of them being the Royal Family. The Queen Mother was at Kingsclere (Balding's home and training establishment) just days before her hundredth birthday and the Queen was a regular visitor. Both Princess Anne and Prince Charles rode horses from Kingsclere in competitive races. The stories are kindly, funny and self-deprecating but never malicious. Even owners whom he found "difficult", such as Lady Beaverbrook, are treated with respect. This is not a book which dishes the dirt or indulges in sensationalism.

The book seems honest. Balding is quite prepared to admit when he was wrong. He's even happy to honestly admit to his dishonesty in trying to defraud the Inland Revenue. I wasn't entirely happy that he should find the matter quite so funny in retrospect but that's a minor quibble (from someone who is biased) in an otherwise good book.

The book isn't about the drudgery of the trainer's life. Very little is said about the actual workings of the stables. It's simply a telling of Balding's life. It's not entirely chronological. In telling a story it will be taken to its logical conclusion, as in the case of the tremendous help given by Paul Mellon which is taken through to Mellon's death. This does mean that there are occasions when it's slightly difficult to understand why an owner has removed his horses from the yard but in the next chapter Balding is still training them.

Balding is very quick to give credit to other people. He acknowledges that he couldn't have achieved what he did without having a very loyal and skilled staff. On the other hand he does seem to have done his best to provide them with good accommodation and living conditions. This isn't always the case in racing stables.

He's not a professional writer and book hasn't been ghost-written. Just occasionally the writing is a little stilted, but it didn't stop me reading every word within the space of twenty-four hours. He manages to convey the essence of his life and particularly his love of the animals he trained.

It would be difficult to find a book which gives a better snapshot of the racing industry, from point-to-pointing though to classic races, in the second half of the twentieth century. You'll find assessments of all the great horses in there, including Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard and Lochsong. The greatest of the jockeys - Lester Piggott, Willie Carson, Frankie Dettori, Steve Cauthen and Pat Eddery - all rode for him. If you're interested in the sport you'll love the book. Even if you're not you'll find it a good read.

The photographs in the book are in black and white, but they've been carefully selected and are relevant to the text. Reproduction is also good.

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