A PHOTOGRAPHER who has covered Worcester Racecourse meets for 36 years, as well as taking publicity snaps of the likes of treble Gold Cup winning horse Best Mate, has retired.

Les Hurley, 68, of Cradley Heath near Stourbridge, covered his final Worcester meet last Wednesday, where he was presented with a garden bench by executive director Jenny Cheshire and course announcer Charlie Parker, son of renowned tog Bernard Parker.

Mr Hurley said he “learnt a lot from Bernard” and called him a “gent in every sense of the word” but it was his wife Alison who had originally persuaded him to take up photography as a career.

“My wife persuaded me to take it up full time,” said Mr Hurley. “I was a painter and decorator then and there was a recession on but she told me to go for it and I did what she said.”

Mr Hurley said he used to watch horse racing on TV with his dad as a child, before he discovered his love for photography.

“I’m half Irish, so racing is in the blood a little bit. We’d push six pence across the table a number of times and say, ‘I think that horse’ll win today’. That sort of thing,” said Mr Hurley.

“Then someone showed me how to use a camera and I enjoyed it.

“I did point-to-point racing for about four years, capturing horse jumping and learning how a camera works.

“I’d take days off from work to go cover professional races out in the country,” he said.

Having covered races at a number of courses, including Stratford, Warwick and Ludlow, Mr Hurley said Worcester has always had a special place in his heart because it’s where he started professionally.

“They don’t get the big races at Worcester but it’s consistent stuff now that it’s turned to summer racing. When I started there was no summer racing and no all-weather.

“I tend to go do the smaller tracks and smaller meetings,” said Les. “I don’t like big crowds, particularly. I have done Cheltenham though over the years.”

Mr Hurley said one of the highlights of his career was taking racing photos of Jim Lewis-owned champion horse Best Mate for the Racing Post.

“Best Mate won three gold cups at Cheltenham in a row, and I’d known Jim a bit by then and we became good racing friends.”

Mr Hurley said covering the races has changed a lot over the years, particularly with the advent of digital photography.

“Digital has meant photography is different,” he said. “I’m glad I started in film though.

“You learn to look for the picture not just machine gun the photos. With film, you’d take three rolls but now you tend to take 300 shots because you can.

“But I still tend to wait for the perfect shot, because it’s the best technique. You see the horse coming, not just close your eyes and bang away,” he added.

Mr Hurley said the other major change is with the weather.

“The climate has changed a lot. Most of us would be hiding in what they called the fence man’s hut at Cheltenham, because the rain always absolutely belted down.

“But the last few times, it’s been shirt sleeves and clear skies.”

On his final race day at Worcester, Mr Hurley was also given a flower planter by the family of Richard Davis, a National Hunt jockey who died in a fall at Southwell in 1996, aged 26.

Mr Hurley said photography has “been a job and I’ve enjoyed it, and not many can say that”.

He plans to carry on with his camera now that he’s retired, particularly wildlife photography.

“I might be chasing butterflies around fields next,” he said.