It was Hong Kong. 1997 or 1998 or 1999 or maybe 2000. I can’t really remember which. One of my first international trips, when doors seemed to spring open. The International races. Val’s Prince. Amarettitorun. Dettori. Cash Asmussen. Sunline. Jim and Tonic. Peslier. Luso. Sha Tin. Happy Valley. An after-party drink in the hotel bar came together, you know the ones, when an organic mixing comes to life, the drinks flow but as sidebars to the conversation, the camaraderie. John Gosden, Keith O’Brien and I were joined by a retired jockey. I barely caught his name. I knew it from somewhere, sometime. It was really the horses’ names that caught one’s attention and the jockey's grace that kept it.
He didn’t fall into the retired jockey routine, regaling us with experiences and exploits, the day he slipped inside on the turn, the time he split horses to win, the glory days, no, we just chatted about horses, about races, about our horses, our races more than his horses, his races. As humble as a worn pair of jeans. Later, I realized how humble.
This was Joe Mercer. Brigadier Gerard Joe Mercer. Grundy and Bustino Joe Mercer. Eight British Classics Joe Mercer. OBE Joe Mercer. Champion jockey Joe Mercer.
You would never have known. Gosden pried stories from him. We listened like schoolboys.
Mercer died May 17 at 86. The Joe Mercer Brigadier Gerard Stakes runs at 2:25 today at Sandown. Good to see the horse and the jockey together again.