Retired jockey returns to Bermuda
It had been 66 years since Cliff Taylor was in Bermuda.
On his return last month, what he found most fascinating was just how little had changed.
“There are so many cars on the road now,” said the 87-year-old, who made the trip from England with his wife Joy to celebrate their 60th anniversary.
“When I came here it was mainly pony and traps and bicycles and, along the coastline there weren’t nearly the same amount of houses there are today.
“That is the biggest change. Other than that it’s still the same old island. It still has friendly people.”
Understandably, it was a much anticipated visit. The former jockey was eager to reminisce about Shelly Bay Racetrack, where he worked from 1951 to 1953, and his favourite band, the Talbot Brothers.
The lyrics to their song, She’s Got Freckles On Her But She Is Nice, still roll off his tongue.
A letter his wife wrote to The Royal Gazette had the desired result. Calls flooded in to El-Ville Hideaway in Bailey’s Bay, where the couple stayed for two weeks.
They led to meetings with Allen Smith, whose late brother Sinclair “Sinny” Smith also raced and David Lopes, a horse lover and radio personality.
Mr Taylor grew up in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. He fell in love with horses when his father took him to the Epsom Derby in the county.
“As soon as I saw all the horses working, that was for me,” he said. “And I was told that we had a retired jockey that lived near us called Kenny Robinson.”
He was around the age of ten when he spotted a very short man riding by on a bike.
“I said, ‘Excuse me, are you Mr Kenny Robinson?’ He carried on and said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘I want to be a jockey.’”
Through Mr Robinson, Mr Taylor was introduced to Epsom Racetrack trainer Johnny Dines who arranged for him to have riding lessons.
Two years later he became Mr Dines’s apprentice.
“I wasn’t even 13 when I started,” Mr Taylor said. “He was supposed to have arranged for me to go to school, but he never did.
“I didn’t want to go to school either. Race was all I wanted to do.”
He stayed there for several years and then joined Dick Perryman, a trainer at a bigger stable, the Newmarket Race Track in Suffolk.
Mr Taylor was 19 when Mr Perryman asked if he’d like to go to Bermuda.
Initially, he thought he was joking.
But Mr Perryman had a friend, Stanhope Joell, who was looking for a couple of professional jockeys for Shelly Bay Racetrack.
“I came out here as a lightweight jockey,” Mr Taylor said. “I weighed just over 100lbs. I am just under 5ft tall.”
Shelly Bay was quite different to what he’d been used to at Newmarket. The racetrack was much smaller and had tighter turns, and it was surfaced with a sandy shale instead of turf.
He and Ben Goulden, the British jockey he’d been hired with, had to be at the racetrack by 4.30am to exercise the horses. Mr Goulden called the Bermuda jockeys “chickens” because they used safety goggles when they raced. His attitude soon changed.
“If you are in front, it was okay,” Mr Taylor said. “But if you weren’t in front, you had the horse ahead of you kicking all this sandy shale back in your face. It only took me one meeting to see why they wore goggles.”
Mr Taylor remembered one race on a horse called Fanny, where his saddle split almost as soon as he got out of the gate. Only in “the cuttings”, an area of the track out of sight of spectators, was he able to right himself and complete the race.
It was often in the cuttings that jockeys showed their true ruthlessness, mercilessly whacking at each other with their riding crops to put each other off.
Mr Taylor did pretty well, placing third in the Bermuda Derby one year and second in another.
When he returned to England in 1953, he continued in the sport for another two years, but being a jockey then didn’t pay very well.
For every ride, he earned £5.25; if he won, £7.35. It was up to the horse’s owner whether the jockey got a cut of the winning purse. Once Mr Taylor received £25 for placing third in a race at Newmarket.
“That was a lot of money in those days,” he said. “It was to me anyway.”
He left racing and became a milkman; for a time, he also ran a grocery store with his wife.
The couple, who have three children and five grandchildren, are now back at home but considering returning for Mrs Taylor’s 80th birthday in 2021.
•They’d love people with stories about Shelly Bay Race Track, or the Talbot Brothers to contact them: firstname.lastname@example.org or 6 French Gardens, Cobham, Surrey KT11, 2AJ
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