Journalist who led the field in horse racing

Valentine Lamb: January 21st, 1939 - April 24th, 2015

Val Lamb receiving a presentation from Irish Times caseroom staff on the occasion of his retirement. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Val Lamb receiving a presentation from Irish Times caseroom staff on the occasion of his retirement. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

Valentine Lamb, always known as Val, was an outspoken editor of the weekly Irish Field for 33 years who articulated a clear vision of a better future for the horse racing and breeding industry, promoting necessary changes in a vital sector of the Irish economy.

At the track, he was equally at home with the stewards in bowler hats and the stable lads, and the same was true as regards the newspaper and the printers’ caseroom.

His stint at the helm of the industry bible followed a period of great change. A pivotal moment was when trainer Vincent O’Brien turned to flat racing from steeplechasing and hurdling after winning the Grand National for the third time in 1955.

Two hundred years of administration of racing needed updating. O’Brien, his single-minded son-in-law John Magnier and horse owner Robert Sangster at Coolmore Stud changed the racing game nationally and internationally.

The Irish Field – under Val Lamb from 1970 – was there to call the shots and debate the issues fearlessly. When the 1981 Irish 2000 Guineas finished in controversy, Lamb’s support for the racecourse stewards who had awarded the race to Tou Agori – and against the Turf Club stewards who found in favour of King’s Lake on appeal – cost a year’s advertising by a leading stallion farm.

But Lamb held his nerve and the advertising returned. He wrote clearly and incisively about horse industry business and politics and added a show-jumping section under Avril Douglas, which proved a great success. Latterly the establishment of Horse Racing Ireland as the governing body generated much heat in the columns of the paper.

Val Lamb had considerable personal charm. People liked him and enjoyed the way he “bounced” into a room and stood beaming at all present. That charm was laced with a streak of mischief. If he was ever challenged, he had an engaging “little boy lost” smile to melt even the hardest heart.

Bloodlines

Lord Longford

Pansy Pakenham was an accomplished writer, whose social circle included novelist Evelyn Waugh and photographer Cecil Beaton. John Betjeman was so enthralled by her that he wrote: “There beauty to me came a-pushing a pram / In the shape of the sweet Pansy Felicia Lamb.”

Val’s father was no less well known. Henry Lamb was a renowned portrait painter in the first half of the 20th century, a founder member of the Camden Town group of artists and close to the literary Bloomsbury set.

Born in Australia, he qualified as a doctor in London and served as a medical officer with the medical corps and the Inniskilling Fusiliers, winning a military cross in Palestine for his “magnificent bravery in tending to the wounded”, the citation said.

He also served as a war artist. His painting of his regiment in action late in 1918, Irish Troops in the Judaean Hills Surprised by a Turkish Bombardment, is regarded as one of the first World War’s most remarkable images, with resonances for his only son’s adopted country.

Born in Wiltshire in southwest England just before the second World War, Val Lamb was sent to King’s School, Bruton, Somerset.

After national service, he began a career in journalism in 1961 in the Financial Times, which he left four years later, wanting to live in Ireland. He joined The Irish Times, becoming its business editor, and in 1970 he married Anne Greacen. They lived in Celbridge, Co Kildare and had three daughters.

Ebullience

Irish FieldThe Irish TimesIrish Farmers’ Journal

Around that time he married his second wife, colleague Marie Widger.

His natural ebullience was constrained in the last four years of his life by thrice-weekly dialysis.

Val Lamb is survived by his widow, Marie (Widger), his daughters, Celia Lamb, Stephanie Nightingale and Fiona Lamb, his sisters Henrietta and Felicia, and his first wife, Anne (Greacen).