We are delighted to introduce you to Author Simon Cooper, who is on the cusp of publishing his 3rd book Frankel….
Simon is a lifelong fan of horse racing and spent the first decade of his working life in the betting business, but now runs his own fishing business. After writing 2 books about Nature, Simon’s new publication, due for general release on August 6th... Frankel – The Greatest Racehorse of All Time and the Sport That Made Him.
In this Exclusive Interview, Simon tells us about his former career, how he got the idea for the book, the writing process, meeting Frankel & much, much more…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself please?
Born and bred in Hampshire (a county with no racecourses!) like many of my generation I left for college and then a decade in London.
However, I have returned to my roots now in the quaint village of Nether Wallop on the banks of a burbling chalkstream. I live in a converted water mill, which doubles as my office and writing space. The Wallop Brook runs under the house and feeds our trout lake where we teach fly fishing.
When I am not fishing or racing, I like to walk on the downs above us which takes in what used to be Stockbridge racecourse. The 5f uphill straight, complete with running rail despite a century of disuse, is quite the lung opener ….
What is your first racing memory?
My first racing memories are with my maternal grandmother, watching racing on TV, having shilling bets via the phone with her ‘turf accountant’. It was at the time when the Piggott/O’Brien (my grandmother, an O’Brien, had a distant family connection) partnership was in its pomp; Nijinsky was the first racing superstar to percolate into my child brain.
I understand you spent time working in the racing industry, when was this and what job did you do?
Today I make my living running a fly fishing holiday business but my first ever job was mucking out in a local racing stable and for the first ten years of my proper working life after university was spent first in betting shops, then I pioneered the installation of one of the early on course computerised betting systems before moving to Coral to work on the PR side, largely for their greyhound tracks.
I was a bit of a horse racing obsessive from a young age and that has always stayed with me. A summer day at the races followed by an evening on the river is pretty well heaven for me.
What is your current occupation & why did you change careers?
I am the founder and MD of a specialist fly fishing holiday company based in southern England called Fishing Breaks. I left racing because I always wanted to be my own boss.
Fly fishing offered me that opportunity when I couldn’t find a suitable niche in the gambling industry. It was also in the pre- internet era and before the 2005 relaxation of betting laws so gambling looked like a dying industry. How wrong I was!
At what point did you decide to write your first book & what was it called?
My first book was Life of a Chalkstream which was published in 2014; I have come to writing late in life. It was written with the encouragement of a friend and literary agent in my village who thought I had some talent and my publisher William Collins who also publish Frankel.
Both of your previous books have been about nature & wildlife, Why the change of direction?
In many ways it doesn’t feel like a change of direction to me. My interest in horse racing has never waned so when I alighted on the idea of the Frankel book it seemed the perfect way to reconnect in a professional way with the industry I left three decades ago.
Having read the latest publication, you have mentioned that this book was harder than writing the second, which like bands making records is notoriously the hardest, can you tell us why?
Two reasons really: firstly, all the action took place ten years ago. Media reports from the time were not always accurate and memories play strange tricks. I sometimes got four versions of the same event from three people. I’m exaggerating of course, but you get the idea. From a personal writing standpoint this was my first fully factual book, so no scope for creative writing or making things up!
There have been many great racehorses over the years, why Frankel?
I don’t ever recall a horse that broke out into the public consciousness in modern times quite like Frankel. Remember some of his storming performances were at the height of the 2012 London Olympics. News editors are a hard bunch, but they cleared the front pages to feature him. He won races where he utterly obliterated the opposition. Sometimes he had our hearts in our mouths.
He electrified. Excited. Was the best of a great generation. And retired unbeaten. 14 from 14. We can argue the merits of others: Sea Bird, Ribot …. it’s a long list but however good they were you end asking, were they better than Frankel? Probably not.
At what point did you think, I know i would write a book about Frankel and how did the idea come
It was a lightbulb moment when I was having breakfast with my publisher. William Collins had published the mega-selling Sea Biscuit book, so they were taken with the concept from the very outset.
From the first phone call, how difficult was it to get the access to Juddmonte, Coolmore and everything in-between?
I’m very lucky in that I still have many friends and family in the industry who kindly opened up their contact books; both Juddmonte and Coolmore were fantastically helpful. I owe them a great debt especially the amazing team at Banstead Manor.
All manners of people helped out, including those who were at Warren Place who, despite now being scattered to the four winds, keep in contact and passed me from one to another so I met just about everyone who ever touched Frankel’s life.
Did you have any Oh No moments during the process of putting the book together?
Only when I realised the manuscript was on track for 100,000 words when I’d only been contracted to write 80,000.
When you met Frankel, how did that feel as a single moment? And how did it compare to Galileo?
Sublime. Frankel is a gorgeous animal; everything you would expect of a perfect racehorse in the prime of life. You also get the impression he tires of people very quickly unless they have a particular purpose in his life. When he had eaten my gift of a carrot, I soon became surplus to requirements.
Galileo, on the other hand, seemed to be far more laid back and slightly slighter in frame but that is probably a symptom of age.
What was the most surprising thing you learnt during the writing of this book?
This is maybe not what racing people want to hear but I think it is relevant to how the industry will cope with a post Covid world. I last worked in the business thirty years ago and it seems to me horseracing was far more firmly embedded into the public consciousness back then.
Today, bar the few high profile events, such as the Grand National and Royal Ascot, racing exists largely below the radar for the man or woman on the Clapham omnibus. Even the recent double header of The Derby and Oaks on the same day barely raised a ripple on the sporting bulletins; a Premiership football match is accorded more attention. The challenge for racing is how to cope with this gradual eclipse over the next two decades.
What was the timeline for the book from idea conception to First draft?
This was pretty quick; from the first discussion with the publisher to the first draft of the manuscript almost exactly a year.
Can you take us through the process of sending the book to the publishers and who signs the book off?
Once the contact was agreed I was pretty well left to my own devices until I sent in the manuscript in January 2019. The book took 7 months to write between April and December 2018. At that point it was edited by Hazel Eriksson, Senior Editor at William Collins. It then went to an expert reader to pick up on all my gaffes. After that it went to Juddmonte for approval.
In the end I think we went through six drafts before the final proofread, indexing, photos and cover had it ready for the printers in June this year.
The book is due for release on August 6th, are there any plans in place for the release?
Obviously I am very much in the hands of the media for reviews and publicity, so the PR department at publisher William Collins have been sending out review copies to newspapers, magazines, well known racing personalities and the social media influencers. We have some TV and radio interviews lined up. We had talked about a launch party (guess the star guest….) but clearly that can’t go ahead.
How can people get hold of a copy of the book?
Frankel is available in hardback from all bookshops and online via Amazon in hardback, Kindle and audio editions. The paperback edition is published in May 2021.
Do you have any plans to write another horse racing book?
Maybe nothing immediately on horse racing but gambling has always fascinated me. So, we are talking about a history of betting from ancient civilisations using sheep knuckles as dice to the explosion of internet gambling with the consequent fortunes made and lost. Watch this space.
Would you like to thank anybody for their help with the book?
Frankel. Could not have done it without you, buddy.
We would like to wish Simon all the best with the book & thank him for his time, the pictures & the advance copy, which we enjoyed very much & should be high on any racing fans list….
Interview by Rich Williams
Photo’s – CC Simon Cooper.
Photos of Frankel at Banstead Manor Stud by Laura Green.