Eddie Piper looks forward to retirement

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It was 1966 when Eddie Piper became one of a four-strong team of Groundsmen at Newton Abbot Racecourse - next week he will hang up his Wellington Boots for the last time, much to the relief of his wife Patricia.

After 36 incident-packed years at the course - 24 as head Groundsman - it is no surprise that the 56-year-old father of two has more than his fair share of interesting stories to tell.

A wry smile appears on his face as he recollects the Christmas of 1979.

"The whole course was under 5ft of water, not to mention the stands, which were also badly flooded, and we had a race meeting on January 17," said Eddie.

People said the track would never be ready in time, but we worked around the clock for two weeks, and it was. That was a proud moment."

It's been moments like these, however, which have often left Eddie compromising between the racecourse and his wife, of 34 years, Patricia.

"I've always had to put the racecourse first, it's the nature of the job, I've even been up there at 3am on Christmas Day before, I'm lucky to have such an understanding wife," he said.

And it is not only Piper senior who has donned the wellies and raincoat over the years. He is the second of three generations to have worked at the course over the years. Father Wilf and, currently, son Graham have all had a hand in maintaining one of the county's most-popular tracks. And it's not beyond the realms of possibility that four-year-old grandson, Lewis, could complete the set.

Eddie's love of his work runs further than just keeping the course in good condition - he's a self-confessed racing fanatic and once owned a successful mare called Broughton Manor.

She won seven times from nine starts, at venues including Wincanton, Taunton and Exeter during the 1980s, when she was partnered by an up-and-coming young jockey called Mick Fitzgerald, who is now one of the country's leading riders.

Eddie's only disappointment was that his beloved mare never managed to put her head in front at his beloved Newton Abbot, where he believes she was unsuited by the right-handed track.

Nowadays Eddie satisfies his love of the sport by travelling to race meetings across the globe. Over the years he has made to trips to Ireland, France, Dubai and even Barbados to watch races.

"In Dubai (at a track known solely for big-money flat racing) I was interviewed for local television by Derek Thompson who now works for Channel 4, I told him that the ground was so good they should put up some fences and hold National Hunt races here," joked Eddie.

As Eddie's thoughts turn to Tuesday and his final meeting before he stands down, he says that it is the friends he has made over the years that will provide him with the fondest memories during his retirement.

" I've met some wonderful people down the years and I'm still friendly with trainers such as Martin Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Philip Hobbs, and former jockeys, Richard Dunwoody and Peter Scudamore always stop for a chat if they are around on race day."

He admits that it is going to be very hard for him to turn his back on a job that has provided him and many others with so much enjoyment over the years, and he hopes to stay involved in some capacity, even if it is just to pass on his wealth of knowledge to others in the profession.

For now though, he is looking forward to a good farewell party before meeting up with family and friends in his home town of Chudleigh.

Retirement is clearly not a move which has come easily to Eddie Piper and it is evident that he will be sorely missed - one person who will not be complaining, though, is Patricia who will, for once, be glad to see him put his feet up!

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