Desmond Stoneham, the eyes and ears of French racing for British and Irish fans for more than 40 years, has died at the age of 79.
Stoneham began writing from Paris for The Sporting Life in 1977 and subsequently covered every aspect of the French scene for the Racing Post and the Irish Field, earning the trust of trainers, jockeys, and administrators, as well—most importantly—as that of his readers.
In addition to his journalistic career, he worked tirelessly for the International Racing Bureau, while helping to promote the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) as a destination of choice for foreign racegoers through Horseracing Abroad.
In 2013 Stoneham was made a Chevalier of the Order of Merit by France’s Ministry of Agriculture for his services to the promotion of racing.
Stoneham was also keen to pass on his knowledge to those coming through behind him. Known affectionately by everyone connected to the sport in France as ‘the Desmond girls’, a large number of talented assistants went on to work for important racing entities such as Godolphin, the Aga Khan Studs, and the Niarchos Family, as well as Irish Thoroughbred Marketing and French racing channel Equidia. All bore the priceless seal of approval that his guidance and training carried.
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Many personalities in French racing counted Stoneham and his wife Evelyne not only as confidants but as friends. Dual Arc-winning trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre recalled: “I have a lot of fond memories and he was there when I first arrived in the Paris region.
“He was always very easy to get on with and his questions were always brief and professional, which is an advantage. And he was an enormous help when I began traveling horses.”
Memorably Stoneham suffered an injury when slipping on the curb outside Longchamp on the Saturday of Arc weekend, although he returned to cover the great race on Sunday.
Royer-Dupre added: “I remember going to see him in the American Hospital after racing and he was already sitting up in his armchair.”
Niarchos racing manager Alan Cooper was one of Stoneham’s closest friends. “Desmond had been a great friend since I first went racing for Mr. Niarchos back in 1984,” said Cooper. “Over the years we celebrated many good winners together but he was always there when things didn’t go so well.
“He was a pioneer in the promotion of international racing with the IRB and he would always be on the phone to Ballydoyle with the latest going reports, going well beyond what he was required to do.”
Cooper added: “We had many happy moments across a restaurant table or at a bar, and his knowledge of gastronomy and vino was exceptional.
“His deep love of his family was inspirational and my thoughts and prayers are with Evelyne and his daughters Sophie, Lorna, and Alexandra and their husbands. He was also very proud of his six grandchildren.”
Newmarket-based agent Shippy Ellis said: “He and the girls were a huge help with the double operation of British jockeys going to France and French jockeys riding in England.
“More than that he was a wonderful, genial host over Arc weekend for everybody, he used to just about put the whole thing on.”
(L-R) Alex Summefield, Desmond Stoneham and Eric Hoyeau at the Weatherbys & Racing Post annual cocktail party at the Royal
Racing Post editor-in-chief Alan Byrne paid tribute to one of the newspaper’s longest-serving journalists.
“For generations of racing people, Desmond simply was ‘Mr. French racing.’ He knew everyone and it often seemed as if he knew everything there was to know.
“His passion for the sport and for all things French was boundless. He was a magnificent ambassador for the Racing Post and a wonderful friend to us all.
“He also knew a thing or two about food and wine. He relished producing his unique guides to the best restaurants and bars in Deauville and in Paris for visitors to the Arc. It was one of life’s great pleasures to go missing with him in some of those venues.
“Desmond made an immense contribution to the Racing Post and we will always be grateful for that. We extend our sympathy to Evelyne, their daughters, and their grandchildren—he and Evelyne were a great team.”