Cornelius Lysaght's retirement marks the end of an era for racing coverage

Marcus Armytage
The Telegraph
BBC Radio 5 racing commentator Cornelius Lysaght photographed in the press box at Newbury racecourse - JOHN LAWRENCE
BBC Radio 5 racing commentator Cornelius Lysaght photographed in the press box at Newbury racecourse - JOHN LAWRENCE

Last Saturday’s end-of-jump season finale at Sandown would have also been the swan-song broadcast for the BBC by its nearly erstwhile racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght but, other than a couple of trips down memory lane, there has been no live racing for him since Al Boum Photo’s second Gold Cup.

After nearly 30 years Lysaght leaves the BBC on Thursday. There is some symmetry here because his predecessor, the great Peter Bromley who clocked up 41 years, missed his last Cheltenham Festival because of foot and mouth disease.

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A huge fan of northern racing Lysaght’s biggest regret is not being able to sign off for a last time from Aintree, from Ayr for the Scottish National, from Perth’s spring festival which would have been last week, or to salute Brian Hughes, the first northern-based Champion jump jockey for 40 years.

I go back a long way with Lysaght. We sat in the same English class – at the 0-60 handicap rather than the Group One end of the scale - at school. One of the essays we had to write was about what we wanted to do when we grew up. He wrote two sides of A4 and has, essentially, lived out almost down to the last detail what was written on either side of that piece of paper.

“Those who knew me knew I liked the sound of my own voice,” he recalled. “And it was about how I wanted to be a racing correspondent, going from York, to Fontwell to Perth, for the radio, reporting on the drama. Talk about a dream job. Those who said I never tipped a winner – well, I tipped that one!”

It was the late Bromley, one of the great commentators, who got him into the BBC when they needed someone to do the daily Wogan’s Winner for BBC Radio Two in 1990. Until then Lysaght had cut his teeth working for Severn Sound radio and Racecall, a then cutting edge service providing telephone race commentaries.

Bromley, who was easily combustible, was known by his catch-phrase ‘get me the Director-General’ although Lysaght had never heard him say it.

However he had one memorable trip to the Irish Derby with him in 1993, Commander-in-Chief’s year. In those days it was still a great race, often a play-off between the Derby and French Derby winner, one of the best attended sporting events in Ireland.

Bromley was annoyed that the BBC had booked the pair on a later flight than he wanted and by the time they reached The Curragh they could not park within three miles of the course.

The great man’s enormous binoculars, which had seen service on a German U-boat, weighed about a stone and, with Bromley lugging them, they walked the remainder of the journey.

The race went well and on their route march back to their hire car, an increasing agitated Bromley finally put his foot in a pot-hole and went down heavily. But his commando training meant he managed to save his binoculars, holding them aloft without breaking them. When he got to his feet he announced to his junior colleague that was suing the BBC.

Even Lysaght wondered how Bromley putting his foot in a hole in the middle of Ireland might be the corporation’s fault. “If they hadn’t booked a late plane we wouldn’t have had to park half way to Kilcullen,” said Bromley. “Get me the Director-General.”

One of his early heroes, Irish trainer Edward O’Grady, was in him pomp at the time. O’Grady always called him Eamon. As Lysaght was a bit star-struck he never questioned it until eventually he plucked up the courage to say ‘I’m Cornelius.’

“No you’re not, you're Eamon,” said O’Grady who then began a knock-knock joke.

“Who's there?” replied Lysacht.

“Eamon,” said O’Grady.

“Eamon who,” asked Lysaght.

“Eamon Old Etonian,” said O’Grady roaring with laughter and, to this day, he has remained Eamon to the O’Grady family.

The closest I came to falling out with him was when, for some reason probably to do with the fact that I did not give the word’s precise meaning too much thought, I describing him in this column about 20 years ago as the BBC’s ‘erstwhile’ racing correspondent.

I have been wrong for a long time but I take no pleasure that from Thursday I will finally be right. The last man standing from the launch of BBC Radio Five Live in 1994, it really is the end of an era.

Running the Lambourn gallops

Tom Dunlop, 14, son of trainer Harry, has already raised £1,850 ‘running the Lambourn gallops’ during lockdown for the Lambourn chapter of Riding For The Disabled.

So far he has covered all the Jockey Club’s public gallops in the valley of the racehorse which amounts to 26 miles and is not done with yet; he is about to embark on the Hills, Henderson, Candy private gallops.

Lambourn’s RDA has to look after six ponies and pay rent and wages to keep the show on the road until it is allowed to operate again. Across the country’s 500 RDA branches it amounts to 4,000 ponies. He can be sponsored at www. uk.virginmoneygiving.com

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