Stoneham, ‘Mr. French Racing’, dies at 79

Desmond Stoneham, the eyes and ears of French racing for British and Irish fans for over 40 years, has died at the age of 79.

Stoneham began writing from Paris for The Sporting Life in 1977 and subsequently covered all aspects of the French scene for Racing Post and Irish Field, earning the trust of trainers, jockeys and administrators as well as, more importantly, that of your 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 the destination of choice for foreign racegoers through Horseracing Abroad.

In 2013, Stoneham was made a Knight of the Order of Merit by the French Ministry of Agriculture for his services to the promotion of racing.

Stoneham was also willing to pass on his knowledge to those who came after him. Affectionately known to all involved in the sport in France as ‘the Desmond Girls’, a host of talented attendees went on to work for major racing entities such as Godolphin, Aga Khan Studs and Niarchos Family, as well as Irish Thoroughbred. Marketing and French racing channel Equidia. They all carried the invaluable seal of approval that their guidance and training carried.

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Stoneham and his wife Evelyne were counted on by many French racing personalities not only as confidants but also as friends. Winning Dual Arc trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre recalled: “I have a lot of good memories and he was there when I first came to the Paris region.

“He was always very easy to deal with and his questions were always short and professional, which is a plus. And he was a great help when I started traveling on horseback.”

Notably, Stoneham sustained an injury slipping on the curb outside Longchamp on the Saturday Arc weekend, although he did return to cover the big race on Sunday.

Royer-Dupre added: “I remember going to see him at American Hospital after the races and he was already sitting in his chair.”

Niarchos racing manager Alan Cooper was one of Stoneham’s closest friends. “Desmond had been a great friend since I first raced for Mr. Niarchos in 1984,” said Cooper. “Over the years we celebrated many good winners together, but he was always there when things weren’t going so well.

“He was a pioneer in promoting international racing with the IRB and was always on the phone with Ballydoyle with the latest reports, going far beyond what was asked of him.”

Cooper added: “We had many happy times at a restaurant table or in a bar, and his knowledge of food and wine was exceptional.

“His deep love for his family was inspiring and my thoughts and prayers go out to Evelyne and her daughters Sophie, Lorna and Alexandra and their husbands. He was also very proud of his six grandchildren.”

Newmarket agent Shippy Ellis said: “He and the girls were extremely helpful with the dual operation of British riders going to France and French riders traveling to England.

“More than that, he was a wonderful and great host during the Arc weekend for everyone, he used to organize everything.”

Alex Summefield, Desmond Stoneham, and Eric Hoyeau.  Weatherbys & Racing Post Annual Cocktail Party at the Royal.  Deauville.  Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post 08.16.2019
Photo: Patrick McCann/Racing Post

(L-R) Alex Summefield, Desmond Stoneham and Eric Hoyeau at the annual Weatherbys & Racing Post cocktail party at the Royal

Racing Post Editor-in-Chief Alan Byrne paid tribute to one of the paper’s longest-serving journalists.

“For generations of racers, Desmond was simply the ‘French Lord of Racing.’ He knew everyone and often it seemed as if he knew everything there was to know.

“His passion for the sport and for all things French knew no bounds. He was a magnificent ambassador for Racing Post and a wonderful friend to all of us.”

“He also knew a thing or two about food and wine. He loved producing his unique guides to the best restaurants and bars in Deauville and Paris for visitors to the Arch. It was one of life’s great pleasures to get lost with him in somewhere”. of those enclosures.

“Desmond made an immense contribution to the Racing Post and we will always be grateful for that. We extend our condolences to Evelyne, her daughters and grandchildren – he and Evelyne made a great team.”