‘Walford far from retiring’.
Thus read the headline in The Irish Field in June 1990, 33 years ago. The journalist certainly had a crystal ball that day!
The article marked the retirement of Simon as Senior Steward of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee after a three-year term.
Simon’s childhood was a world away from the pastoral plains of Co Meath. Aged three, he and his younger sister Sarah moved with their mother Mary out to India in 1935 to join his father at Meerut, then serving with his regiment the 17th/21st Lancer’s.
Like all army families at the time, they moved where the regiment was stationed, returning to England in 1939 before the outbreak of the war. Sadly, Simon’s father was killed early in the war. The next few years saw his mother, sister and he move home several times, stability of a kind came when his mother married Frizz Fowler, ‘The Brig’.
After school at Harrow, Simon too joined the 17th/21st Lancer’s, now a mechanised regiment, and was stationed for considerable amounts of time in peace-time Germany.
The regiment still had horses for officers’ entertainment. Polo became Simon’s passion and he won many inter-regimental tournaments and was on the combined army team. Despite all the years in Germany he never learnt the language, something he was quite proud of!
Simon bought Summerstown in 1960 and, for the next 20 years, developed the farm. With the help of his wife Angela he turned the house into the lovely happy family home it is now. His adored daughters Janie and Caroline soon followed and, in later years, his grandchildren whom he was very proud of.
He was a sound and conscientious neighbour. In later years he took in cattle for the summer grazing and herded them assiduously as if they were his own. In the jeep would be his terriers (never a more apt description for a breed of dog).
These morning manoeuvres were made all the more satisfying after a good sharp hunt on a rabbit or hare or fox or even, God forbid, a badger. They were responsible for digging up his tennis court, after all!
He was for many years district manager for the Meath Foxhounds. He was meticulous in his job, warning for the hunt and ensuring the day’s hunting ran as smoothly as possible.
An accomplished horseman, Simon finished ninth at Badminton in 1958 on his horse Absalom, a seven-year old finishing on his dressage score.
In Ireland in the 60s he rode in point-to-points and hunter chases, winning the Sweet Afton Cup for the Brig on Mr Romford in 1962.
Dick Warden had a huge influence on Simon’s next career with horses. It was Dick who encouraged Simon to take on the setting up and managing of Woodpark Stud near Dunboyne for Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum after Warden had encouraged him to concentrate his racing interests in Britain and Ireland.
Simon’s judgement of horseflesh was much admired. He was of the generation that knew every horse had a price and, in reality, every horse in Ireland was for sale!
But it was as the clerk of the course of the Meath/Tara point-to-point that I will most fondly remember him.
He had the amazing ability to pull into a field on a Tuesday and by Friday at noon have set up a complete point-to-point course ready for the Turf Club/HRI inspector. This was only made possible by the helpers from the two hunts who turned out every year.
There’s no getting away from the fact that it was an intense three days and rarely did the course pass 100% but, as he said himself, “they have to find something wrong”.
Then there was the Sunday morning. Simon invariably was the first at the course. He was a stickler for time. There was Greenwich meantime and Walford time, Walford time being a full 10 minutes ahead of Greenwich. Now most who knew Simon know he had a short fuse which, on the Sunday morning of a point-to-point, was easily lit.
Like cartoon figures, Michael McAteer and I were ready with extinguishers to dampen any sparks.
But alas we rarely succeeded in our firefighting duties and invariably someone got both barrels, be it a bookie, a jockey or a steward, even the poor Portaloo man wasn’t safe!
But once the first race started, everything fell into place. Simon raced in his jeep, following the horses and riders, always ahead of the damned ambulance. Picking up fallers or fixing wings but always noting a good’un and joting it in his racecard for future reference.
The Captain led by example, always encouraged and gave genuine thanks when it was due, never seeking any praise in return.
Simon was one of a kind and, in the words of Snaffles, “A rum one to follow”.