Gary Newbon: I was quids in from my friendship with Willie Carson!

Last weekend’s Epsom Derby classic horse race brought back my memories of Willie Carson, who won it four times as a jockey.

I was his ghost writer in the early Seventies for a national newspaper. He was always great fun with an infectious laughter, but serious when he had to be.

He was also a royal jockey, riding for the late Queen Elizabeth II, who had a great passion for the sport and for racehorse breeding in particular.

Carson, now 81, was born in Stirling, Scotland, but was an established flat race jockey living in Newmarket and married to his first wife Carol when I visited him to offer him a paid column in The Sun newspaper for which I would interview him and then write the column under his name.

It is called in the business ‘ghost writing’.

I was then a partner in a race-writing business called Ayres and Newbon. Michael Ayres had been the national newspaper racing tipster in the early 70s and we wrote two books on the sport.

Over The Sticks was the first definitive book about National Hunt racing with Devon publisher David and Charles and sold really well.

The second book on flat racing, Under Starter’s Orders, did not! They are still available on both Amazon and eBay, and are worth more than apparently my signature on eBay!

I had joined ATV in 1971, so I continued to work with Ayres for a while but I was based in Birmingham so I either drove to Newmarket or joined Willie at a race meeting.

I did some columns by gaining his thoughts on the phone but it was never as good as being with him.

At one stage, Willie’s marriage was breaking up and he asked me to handle the press calls.

It was not easy, but I have always liked Willie and I did my best. Yet another new experience.

I remember Willie imitating two of his trainers – Bernard van Cutsem and then Major Dick Hern.

He got them off to a tee and then we would share a chuckle. But Willie was always respectful.

Two memories in particular stand out. In 1972 on a cold day, I was waiting for him to change after riding at Warwick Races. It was a cold autumn day and Willie was taking a long time so I stood in front of the coal and log fire in the bar.

I was approached by two greyhound people – top trainer Geoffrey de Mulder and journalist Norton Jones.

They questioned me about why I did not cover their sport. I explained that ITV only had the one channel (much different now!) and that greyhound racing was an evening gambling event that obviously needed to be screened live.

It was never going to replace Crossroads or Coronation Street which attracted millions of viewers.

However, they persuaded me to attend Hall Green races for dinner and before the end of that night I had leased two greyhound sisters – Alice Springs and Hopping Mad, which subsequently won many graded races. I thought ‘this is easy’... oops!!

The outcome was that when ITV were looking for a new greyhound presenter for World Of Sport when Brough Scott stepped down from the dogs, London Weekend Television knew I had these dogs and rang me.

I got the job. This proved an important step in my career with national TV exposure.

The other strong memory was when I was a passenger in Willie’s big Mercedes car driving to Ascot and writing the column with him. One, I asked him about Plummet, a big price outsider trained by John Sutcliffe senior and to be ridden by Willie.

It was a six furlongs handicap race, the Wokingham Stakes in June 1973.

Willie said he did not want to comment and moved on! Unknown to Willie, I decided after his reluctance to have a bet at Ascot on this Plummet which duly won.

Then I had to sit through a long stewards’ enquiry (caused, I suppose, because of the shock result of form) before it was announced that the result stood.

On the return journey, I asked Willie what had happened. He said the Ascot stewards accepted the explanation that they tried a rubber bit in Plummet’s mouth and it made a huge difference!

Carson’s first Derby win was on Troy in 1979 and then went on win this great race on Henbit (1980), Nashwan (1989) and Erhaab (1994).

He rated Nashwan as the best he ever rode.

Willie rode 17 British Classic winners and 11 Irish in a 34-year career which finished at the age of 54.

His best year was in 1990, riding 187 winners. He was champion jockey four times. He was awarded the OBE in 1983 for services to racing.

Carson was the Queen’s jockey. He rode Her Majesty’s filly Dunfermline to victory in the Oaks at Epsom in 1977 in the famous silks of purple, gold braid, scarlet sleeves and black cap.

It was the Queen’s Jubilee year. He rounded it off by winning the St Leger at Doncaster on the same filly at 10-1 beating 4-7 favourite Alleged.

Willie is the fourth of all-time champion flat jockeys behind Sir Gordon Richards, Lester Piggott and Pat Eddery.