... and Dick Francis an ex-wine-merchant, photographer, pilot, weather forecaster ...

Ah, but he is an ex-pilot! Trained as fighter pilot in WWII but ended up flying bombers instead. (In his autobiography, he likens Spitfires to wonderfully responsive horses. But of course! What other comparison would he choose?) After the war, he had some sort of commercial flying biz for a while, if I'm remembering correctly -- something to do with ferrying people and maybe horses to and from races, of course. Just like one of his characters.

But the rest was research, I suppose. His wife's, that is.