The Malta Independent 26 September 2021, Sunday

50 Shades of Greats: Isard du Pont was a naughty legend - Raymond Clifton

Simon Farrugia Sunday, 2 May 2021, 11:00 Last update: about 6 months ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday meets RAYMOND CLIFTON, who talks about life in the UK, Isard du Pont, the problems that the racing enthusiasts face and also future prospects.

Raymond Clifton was born on 12 August 1942. He is married to Pauline Darmanin and has five children, Sandra, Vicky, Lorraine, Romina and Daniela.

Though born in Malta, Raymond left the island at a very young age. “Since my father Charles John was a soldier with the British Army my parents left Malta when I was still two years old. But we eventually returned for good seven years later.”

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“Back in England we lived in Tunbridge. Over there it was full of barns. It was part of my upbringing since I used to mingle with all kinds of animals. From ducks to cows, pigs to turkeys and obviously horses. And from there it kind of started. My formation years were full of love towards animals.”

Raymond didn’t have much to recount about his educational background. “I practically attended Primary School only. We were a family of seven and I lost my father when I was only 10 years old. I had to help my mum in many aspects so unfortunately there was no time for education. When I grew up I was interested in attending evening classes in order to learn the basic academic things but owing to various factors this never materialized.”

So how did his passion for racing begin? “We live in Racecourse Street, Marsa which is just over the racecourse. In fact, from the roof I have a full view of the racecourse. But to be precise, when I was 11, I was hit by a partial paralysis. It lasted a whole year and I was given the advice to ride horses as a stretching therapy. In fact, though it was a long process, I was finally back to normal and alive and kicking once again.”

Apart from horseracing there was another sport that Raymond was interested in or moreover participated in? “My mind was always tracked on horses and apart from the races I also practised Polo. In fact, my brother-in-law is Salvu Darmanin who was one of the best all-time players on the island. Another sport that I follow a lot is Snooker. I watch every tournament on TV and try not to miss anything. Snooker is a joy to watch and it’s a means of great relaxation.”

Raymond had his moments of glory during his distinguished career. “I was the first Maltese driver winning a race in the European Championships held for professionals organised by the UET. This was way back in the beginning of the 1990s with Mr Otis. I was also chosen by the Malta Racing Club for multiple seasons as the best driver. Looking back at the beginning of my career I also was successful on flat horses. But I was born in a family fond of horseracing. My brother was another good driver, Charles John Clifton. Popular horses that I drove to success were Huggie Hanover, Uquito d’Orphee, Shatter Road and last but not least the legendary Isard du Pont.”

“I must also mention that I was finalist for a number of times in the Għażliet Sportivi Nazzjonali contest but though achieving success both locally and abroad I was never chosen as the Sportsman of the Year.”

Talking about how his schedule was during his hay days Clifton said. “I never wanted to work and I remember that way back in the early 1970s I was approached at Marsa to go and work with a Shell Oil Company, which was situated in Birzebbuga. At first I didn’t accept but on a friend’s insistence I had a go. And it lasted nearly 30 years.”

“Apart from this there was the sport side. In fact, I used to train to keep myself fit. I was always on a diet so that I would be in the best possible shape. I remember going out on a Saturday evening and on our way back I used to buy a stimulant laxative, which during those times was in the form of a chocolate, just in time to work during the night or Sunday morning.”

Back to the racecourse and particularly Isard du Pont. How does Ray describe this horse with whom he made great strides. “Isard du Pont was imported in the 1980s. A nervous horse who had a rather quiet career in France. But when in Malta I managed to transform this horse into a winner. It was difficult in the beginning since I recall he even bit me one time. We had the perfect combination and I won all major honours driving Isard du Pont to victory. Isard du Pont was the horse that made history and helped in making horseracing a more recognised sport.”

A normal day for Raymond today starts with a visit to San Anard, Marsascala as early as 5am. He goes to take care and prepare Sephiro Flam, the horse driven by his daughter, Romina Delceppo. But when at home he likes to watch television and is quite conversant with today’s technology especially mobiles.

During weekends it’s a different story. “When the horse is racing I don’t go to San Anard. The preparation and all that makes a good afternoon of races is just a stone’s throw-away. I normally go down to the racecourse but if I decide to stay at home, I go up on the roof and watch from there. My friends keep asking me to go down for a chat while watching our favourite sport.”

So what’s Ray’s opinion about today’s level of horseracing and what are the prospects for this sport in the future. “My objective criticism is that they scrapped the handicap system. There is so much that must change. We need people who really love the races. I was there for 20 years representing my fellow riders but whatever I used to say was always shot down.”

Our attention turned on Ray’s personal aspect and his family. “Fortunately we are a united family. My five children, their husbands and children respect me a lot. Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions, things aren’t the same as they were and I look forward to better days so that we can go back to normality and enjoy the simple things that make me so happy.”

Raymond is not fussy about food and thus doesn’t hold any particular problem for his spouse. “I eat everything. I love both meat and fish. Interestingly, I also eat horse meat. Some used to tell me, how can you eat horse meat when you are so fond of horses? What one needs to keep in mind is that some horses need to be passed for eating and others are made for racing. So you can’t really generalize.”

And as regards travel experiences and favourite holidays, Raymond is fond of the Scandinavian countries. “Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark are a cut above other countries. I also like Italy and France. I had a number of races over in Scandinavia where they have wonderful horses. They are so intelligent. Even when bringing horses from over there they start understanding our language instantly.”

Does Raymond find time for hobbies? “I love swimming and during my free time I normally like to go around, together with my wife, for a drive and stop at different places near the sea like Birzebbuga and Marsaxlokk. We stop and have a drink and something to eat. That’s our way of enjoyment.”

Concluding this interview with one of the veterans and greats that local sport has produced, Raymond passed on this message to the horseracing enthusiasts. “I hope that jockeys will start getting paid again. Back in the 1960s we went on a strike in order to get paid and we succeeded in getting our way. I used to get paid €2 for a race when the average pay was €1.50 a week.”

“There are a number of youngsters who are good drivers but unfortunately expenses are way too high. My estimate is that this costs over a thousand quid to buy the jacket, helmet, glasses and all related things for a driver to present himself in the best possible way. I think some financial help is needed so that we encourage the young to keep on moving fast in this wonderful sport, which draws great crowds.”

 

 

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