Alan Bolt

The amusingly-named Dodgybingo and his part-owner Alan Bolt were both born in March. They have that in common but little else when it comes to age. For the horse was born in 2013, the owner in 1919.

Bolt will receive a letter from the Queen next spring, when his landmark birthday might be spent, as many happy days have been in recent years, at his local racecourse Cartmel.

They do not race that early in theyear, but it is an all-year round venue as far as hospitality is concerned so Bolt, his wife and friends might well be there,and they have seen and benefited from the significant improvements at the track in recent years, especially under ex-Managing Director Jonathan Garratt.

Like Garratt, who is now at Kelso, Dodgybingo is experiencing pastures new, for having been with Noel Meade he is now with Jimmy Moffatt – who else, seeing that Cartmel is extremely likely to feature on his itinerary.

It is, however, an itinerary that took a while to get off the ground following a wind operation and unseasonal soft ground. When one of your owners is 99 such a combination of factors is not ideal, so when Dodgybingo made his debut for his new yard it was a big day for his syndicate of owners, especially their most senior member.

Bolt doesn’t have a racing background, but he does have an equine one, as he explains when saying: “The only horses I owned before were Irish hunters, my favourite being a grey mare called Granite. I hunted with the Surrey Union for 40 years after getting back from a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

“I was taken prisoner in North Africa and was originally sent to a POW camp in Italy, but was moved fairly soon to a camp on the river Elbe in Germany called Mühlberg, where I remained for the rest of the war.

“My contact with racehorses came through being clerk of the course for many years at the Surrey Union point-to-point, held at Peper Harow near Godalming, when I got to know the rules of racing.”

Bolt also got to know Cartmel very well after moving with wife Alison to Cumbria some 37 years ago, hunting on foot for much of it.

Bolt says: “We enjoyed the racing at Cartmel, the horses, the people we met there, and our parking space was 50 yards from the finishing line. We got to know the people parked up alongside us very well.

“We got to see close up the enjoyment of having a racehorse, and when we were asked if we would be interested in being part of a syndicate,we said yes.

“Jimmy Moffatt found a horse at the Goffs UK September horses in training sale, a four-year-old who had won three times over hurdles in Ireland.

“There are eight of us in the syndicate, and I am also a member of Elite Racing, a birthday present from my wife a couple of years ago. I was looking forward to seeing an Elite horse run at Nottingham this afternoon, but unfortunately the meeting was abandoned.”

While Elite has been a real success story, it caters for the masses, and so when you own your first racehorse aged 99 within a much smaller syndicate, it is perhaps understandable that you would be keen to see him race.

Bolt was not able to see Dodgybingo at Ayr last month, but with Cartmel beginning its nine-race season this month hopefully he will not have to wait much longer to see him race in the flesh.

“It’s very exciting,” he says, “and we were looking forward to the ground changing. He likes decent ground.“

He had to have a minor operation for a breathing problem, which meant some time off. He had been due to run on New Year’s Day at Musselburgh. He’s fully recovered but the ground has been against him.

“We’re intending to go to Cartmel on May 26, and there are three meetings dotted around the Bank Holiday Monday, plus meetings in June. July and August. The plan is that Dodgybingo runs at least once at Cartmel.

“That will be a magical moment and I’m looking forward to that very much.It was also great to see him exercise at Jimmy’s yard, he’s a nice-looking horse.”

Bolt continues: “Good trainers send their horses to Cartmel these days. The quality of horse running has improved,and you get top jockeys riding there.

“They built a brand new stand, the facilities for trainers and owners have improved a great deal, the new restaurant is excellent, as is the balcony and viewing.

“They let it out for weddings and parties and I’m contemplating having my 100th birthday party at the racecourse. The party for my 99th had to be postponed this year so I was sung ‘happy birthday’ a week late!”

Bolt has, of course, been retired for many years. He became a teacher in Surrey after the First World War, also writing four school textbooks, the first two of which sold more than 100,000 copies.

He was a talented musician too – “I was playing percussion by the time I was three!” – and a member of a very good choir. Rather typically of a spirit of an age unfortunately long behind us, Bolt also relayed that he started up a symphony orchestra while at Mühlberg POW camp.

“Some of the POWs had instruments already and others were obtained locally, often using cigarettes as payment,” he says. “There were Canadians, French, Americans and Poles in the camp as well as British, so it was very international.

“I didn’t have access to full orchestral scores, so orchestrated the music myself using piano reductions and memory, and if we didn’t have all the right instruments I substituted what we did have, such as saxophones.”

Whether there was any bingo was not something that cropped up in a conversation that was a privilege to have – the ROA’s oldest member is fantastically lucid – facilitated by his wife and greatest support, Alison.

As for Dodybingo, Bolt will behoping a little of his mum’s racing luck rubs off on him, his mum having drawn Foinavon in the sweepstake in that infamous 1967 Grand National. Bolt himself drew Gas Line Boy in this year’s National. He slightly ran out of gas on the run-in. The same cannot be siad of his ticket holder.

(May 2018)