Still it is written about in critical terms, this immovable force that is in conflict with all that is gone before. I refer to, of course, the slow creep of female emancipation from the bonds of being considered weak and ineffectual in a finish.
There is one very particular reason why it is important to flat racing that female jockeys in general and possibly Josephine Gordon in particular, in the near future, (like now) start to challenge the top established male jockeys for rides in the big races. The particular reason is divided into two interlinking divisions: fifty per cent of the world is comprised of women and fifty per cent of men are becoming fatties. We may have for now a surfeit of young men with both the ambition and body size to become jockeys but as time passes this will inevitably become less so.
Look at George Baker, James Doyle, the jump jockeys who have turned to the flat, the number of established male jockeys who cannot ride below 8-st 7, and, though a percentage of jockeys through history have had battles with the scales, you can see that in time not only will the minimum weight in handicaps have to rise again but so will the weights carried in conditions and Group races.
The short term answer is positive discrimination, as advanced successfully by political parties to get more women into Parliament.
An interesting aspect of Edgar Britt’s autobiography was his assertion – it must be remembered he rode in the days before the 2nd World War and into the late fifties – that the Australian system allowed for a better grounding for apprentices to become professionals than the tried and tested British way. Once a young rider in an Australian stable was considered proficient he, and in Britt’s time I suspect it would always be a ‘he’, would take part in what Britt described as ‘Barrier Trials Races’ alongside stable jockeys and work riders. One of the guiding principles of these ‘Barrier Trials’, as well as educating horses to be smart away at the start, was to bring on young riding talent. What Britt was suggesting was that in Australia apprentices were considered an asset and were helped to become fully-fledged jockeys whereas in this country, and I suspect this criticism still applies, an apprentice has to fight tooth and nail just to be given a chance to advance his or her career.
Females, it must be accepted, are our future. And our future should be kick-started now.
Without the Irish we would not have enough home-bred jockeys for the amount of racing we have in this country, added to which, and this is neither criticism nor xenophobia, we are topped up with jockeys from Brazil, Italy, South Africa etc. What if this supply of foreign ‘imports’ dried up? What if bigger pay packets took our top Irish and foreign jockeys to ply their trade in the emerging horse racing countries, China for instance?
British racing should be making it easier for apprentices of both genders to make their mark on our sport. But it is the female, at this moment in time, who should be recompensed for the centuries of discrimination they have suffered by the administrators of our sport. Women not allowed trainers licences until the 1960’s; women not allowed to ride in races, then only in women only races. The shame of discrimination goes on.
If Ana O’Brien can ride winners for Coolmore, thanks of course to her dad, and Godolphin can supply Josie Gordon with winners, why can’t one of the top trainers, someone of the calibre of John Gosden or Richard Hannon, employ a female as say second jockey, if only to demonstrate to owners, wherein I suspect lies the nub of the problem, that given chances on good horses females can deliver as well as the male.
Of course time might prove females cannot deliver to the same effect as males. But until a good many of them are given the opportunity to fail or succeed we shall never know.
In the short term we need a big money signature race in this country for professional female riders at a top meeting like the Goodwood Festival or Newmarket’s July meeting. There also needs to be at least one race per week, ordinary handicaps and sellers would do, confined to professional female riders. This is all that is needed to be done to steer the sport along the path to righting the wrongs of many centuries.
This year, circumstance allowing it, I watched every race on all five days of Royal Ascot and was royally entertained. I have gone on about the fashion in another piece so will gloss over the annoyance of it. The racing, though, was good and that is what Royal Ascot is truly about.
It was pleasing to see a few more female riders getting rides this year, even if Josie Gordon had the majority. I will write again on this subject but for now will simply say that we should applaud the improvement in numbers from last year and reiterate the generally held believe that it is only a matter of time before Gaye Kelleway’s historic achievement is first equalled by Gordon and then bettered.
Big Orange, of course, was the star of the show, gameness personified. As was Order of St.George. Why the Gold Cup is not the most valuable race of the meeting beggars belief. It should be. It deserves to be. The incentive should be offered to owners to campaign their top horses over the longer distances and massive prize money is the answer. Every top staying horse around the world – I suspect this only encompasses Europe – should have the Ascot Gold Cup as its main target.
Lady Aurelia was spectacular and with the advantage of the sex allowance should put the likes of The Tin Man and Caravaggio in their places should they clash in either the July Cup or Nunthorpe, though it must be remembered that Coolmore have a lot invested in Caravaggio and will do their utmost to get him to stud next year unbeaten.
I must admit it got my ire rising, as it always does, when I see horses veer across the track, only to be checked by their riders when a collision looks imminent. Firstly, it looks bad. Secondly, isn’t there a responsibility on a jockey to keep a straight course? Occasionally the jockey is not in control of the situation but there are times when jockeys deliberately allow their mounts to drift across the course. Although Ryan Moore made light of the bumping Limato endured in the Diamond Jubilee, saying it did not cost him the race, he was the one who kept a straight course, whereas Queally and Crowley intentionally or otherwise closed in on him. I thought punishments were deserved, though not disqualifications.
I am mystified why beating the like of the well-exposed Lightning Spear should warrant Ribchester getting a rating that makes him the third-best horse in the world. A good, reliable horse no doubt but it is stretching credulity to think him ‘superstar’ status.
Barney Roy might turn out the best of an ordinary bunch of milers this season as I saw no visual excuse for Churchill. And just on that topic. The numpties who think Clemmie is a clever name for a sister of Churchill should consider taking one less sharp drink before airing their views. Winston was married to Clementine; she was not his sister.
I wouldn’t rate any of the two-year-olds overly highly judged by their exploits at Ascot, though that is not to say they will not prove their class later in the season.
I criticise Coolmore a great deal for one thing or another but Highland Reel is a credit to them, as they are to him. Campaigned like a proper racehorse he gets better and better and it was only by a short head that he was the second-gamest horse of the five days.
Personally it was pleasing to have Benbatl win the Hampton Court as I thought this year’s Derby was an above average race and said on this website that Benbatl was one of the horses to follow for the rest of the season.
Now I know Ed Chamberlain and others went overboard before and after the Commonwealth Cup but to be bestowed with the honour of ‘monster’ and ‘superstar’ to my mind a horse has to achieve more than what Caravaggio has thus far achieved, and his fine win has been belittled lightly by the news that Blue point finished slightly lame. And the otherwise astute Matt Chapman is wrong in saying the three-year-olds should be taking on the older horses and the Commonwealth Cup has no place at Royal Ascot. It is a worthy addition, leaving the clash of the generations for Newmarket and York.
Racing is about the horse and jockeyship, so I do not understand the gripe about the start of the Queen’s Vase. Reducing the distance is a good idea and if a horse runs wide on the first bend then that is simply fate. The same thing could happen if the race remained over 2-miles. A little bit of jeopardy has never done racing any harm.
Finally I want to repeat what I wrote quite recently. In the Chesham 2-year-olds were asked to carry 9-st 3lbs, 3-lbs more than 3-year-olds are asked to carry in the Derby. This is plainly absurd. In my opinion 2-year-olds should never be asked to carry more than 8-st 10lbs. They are babies. Immature when compared to a 3-year-old. This is a matter in need of discussion and debate, and then change should come about.
But from beginning to end Royal Ascot was a roaring success. Role on next year.
I derive great pleasure from reading books on racing’s past. These days there are as many books on great racehorses as jockeys and trainers. It was not so in the distant past, though R.C.Lyle’s excellent book on Brown Jack proves the exception to the rule. I have recently read ‘Post Haste’ the autobiography of the Australian jockey Edgar Britt, a book that dovetails conveniently with Charlie Smirke’s autobiography ‘Finishing Post’, a book I have had in my possession for quite some time.
Britt and Smirke were contemporaries who fell out with one another many times during the course of their careers. Before becoming a jockey Charlie Smirke nearly took up boxing for a profession and as he made this known to all and sundry very few of his colleagues had the nerve to remonstrate with him if they thought he had cut them up during a race. Indeed if you read either autobiography it is made pretty clear by both that cutting across, discrete bumping and boring and keeping opponents hemmed in on the rail were considered perfectly legitimate riding tactics.
Sadly, in Britt’s and Smirke’s day there is little doubt that corruption was rife in racing, with jockeys, who were not so well paid when compared with today’s jockeys, not adverse to bending or ignoring the rules entirely for financial gain. Britt tells of a race at Nottingham when Charlie Smirke beat him narrowly and on pulling said to Britt. “That’s lovely. I had a thousand quid on this one.” Britt, too, admitted having small bets now and again on horses he thought certainties, so it must be assumed it was widespread and not just confined to the few.
An interesting corruption case I had not heard about until reading Britt’s book is what would now be termed ‘the Peaceful William case’. Britt rode ‘Peaceful William’ to win races at Lanark and Alexandra Park – the horse won a further race at Carlisle – though Peaceful William turned out to be the more talented Stellar City. Britt did not name the owner or trainer, though both served eighteen-months imprisonment for conspiracy.
Doping, too, was rife, and Britt gives an instance of a French horse doped to lose who died from the drugs used on him.
Britt did not have as high an opinion of Smirke as Smirke had of himself, though he thought him a top rider, though not as good as Gordon Richards. As he wrote, ‘everybody knew Smirke was good – and so did Charlie’!
Britt also writes about the use of a ‘battery’ being used by jockeys to cajole extra effort from a horse. This device seemed to be two terminals situated in the handle end of a rider’s whip. Britt does not fully describe how the terminals connected to the battery but he does describe a race he rode in in Australia where all the jockeys were summoned back to the weighing room from the start so they all could be checked to see if any of them were carrying ‘a battery’. It was virtually a strip-search and was only brought to an end when one of the senior jockeys – Jim Pike, a jockey Britt reckoned to be one of the best he ever rode against – offered his backside for examination. Britt wrote matter-of-factly, as if at the time the book was published, 1969, the use of batteries was well-known, and he even described an event when a trainer had one used during a gallop. Britt, to his credit, thought the device cruel and unnecessary and claims never to have used one himself.
Though his book had need of a good editor (I can talk) he comes across as a genuine and honourable man who made the most of his opportunities. Smirke comes across as quite full of himself. There is no justification in defending Smirke by saying that he came from the slums of London and to achieve what he achieved – 4 Derby wins, for example - through hard work and dedication allows him to blow his own trumpet as Britt too came from humble origins and yet comes across as more sporting and appreciative of others.
Britt displayed no bitterness toward Smirke, for instance, when he wrote about the events that led him to losing the retainer for the Maharaja of Baroda’s large string to Smirke and cost him his cherished ambition to ride a Derby winner when Smirke triumphed on My Babu for the Maharaja. In his book Smirke claims the Maharaja decided on the change when he saw him out-ride Britt one day at Ascot. To read ‘Post Haste’, though, it is clear that Britt was of the opinion that Smirke had done all he could to get Britt sacked.
Remarkably, given the on-off animosity throughout their careers, Britt and Smirke retired at the same time, with their fellow jockeys, perhaps thinking it a good joke to play on them, organising a joint retirement party for them.
If, as science fiction determines, it is possible to either go forward or back in time, who would be most affected a groom from today plonked down in the workplace of 1900 or a groom from that time manifesting in the racing stable of today? For the time traveller first impressions would not be unpleasant. A horse is a horse. A stable-yard is a stable-yard, even if barns may have replaced quadrangles and vice-versa. And a rider is a rider, even if the accents, gender and riding clothes would be radically different.
Very quickly, I believe, the time traveller would think it a mad world he has landed in. Every instinct would scream at him that the job has gone to pot as to his eyes no aspect of the groom’s job would be in replica of his own training. The time-traveller from 1900 would be both astonished and, I believe, appalled at the change confronting him. For instance, in our time-traveller’s era the basic procedure of mucking-out was given as equal a priority as the exercising of the horses and was conceived to ensure the stable was as clean and free from moisture as could be readily expected. Today it is a chore to be carried out as quickly as possible, with the horse free to wander the stable as the groom works away with fork and broom, the muck-barrow in the doorway preventing escape, our time-travelling groom recognising every conceivable accident waiting to happen, at least to his eye and training, with this lackadaisical approach. Of course his ‘master’ – in 1900 the groom was still very much a servant – would have lectured him on the bad effects of carbonic acid and marsh gas that emanates from dung and dung heaps and how soiled litter was a source of disease.
In the time-travelling groom’s day such conveniences as horse-walkers, equine swimming pools, treadmills and all-weather gallops were unheard-of, with in-door schools also a rarity, and though doubtless fascinated by these modern amenities he would remain critical of the lack of time a horse is exercised under saddle as in his day 2-hours would perhaps be the minimum a horse would be out of his stable.
But the greatest divergence from ‘yesterday’ to ‘today’ that would disappoint and surprise our time-traveller is the lack of priority given to actual grooming of the horse, the very activity that gives the groom his job definition. Indeed no aspect of stable life has changed more dramatically than in the grooming of a horse.
In ‘his’ time grooming was considered as important as exercise to the well-being of the horse and was considered so beneficial that a horse doing little exercise would be groomed more or at least to the same effect as a horse in full work.
Our time-traveller would watch the regular practice of washing horses after exercise and lament the loss of natural oils from the skin that encourage and aid perspiration. He would view the cursory ‘lick and a spit’ nature of the ‘doing up’ a horse receives at evening stables as at best inefficient and at worst as lazy and would think the stable was owned by a careless master. He would ask himself why no horse was ‘strapped’, the equivalent of a good massage, a tonic for the skin and blood-flow, and something a wash-down can never replicate and could think of no suitable answer except ignorance.
An expertly performed ‘strapping’, a procedure carried out with a straw or hay wisp, a leather pad, a stable rubber or even the flat of the hands, is good for the circulation of both the horse and groom and was once the main purpose of evening stables. It should not be confused with grooming with a body brush for the removal of dry sweat and dirt. It is a massage for the musculature of the horse, from the top of the neck to the hind-quarters and is carried out in rhythmic strokes with an open hand after a good clean-down with a body-brush. Grooming, when carried out well, lubricates the skin, opening the glands that excrete the naturally occurring oils, softening the skin-scarf remaining on the surface and as our 1900’s groom will know from his master also aids lung function.
As I wrote in a previous piece on the staffing crisis in racing there is merit in looking at the way stables are staffed in America. The image of the stable employee is that he or she should be no larger than five-foot nothing and weigh less than eight-stone. For the gallops and the racecourse this may be true but for all other work in the racing stable size and weight have no bearing.
If a man in this thirties with no experience of horses sought work in a racing yard the first question he would be asked would be ‘can you ride’, not how can I utilise your enthusiasm. In my previous piece I suggested work-riders should only ride out and that a third of the staff could be dedicated to what is considered to be yard-work. To my mind it would be beneficial if some people were employed solely to ‘strap’ or groom, as some people would muck out. If all these jobs were given the same priority great benefit would be achieved for the whole yard, including the health and well-being of the horses.
I am old enough to remember the days when every evening, accompanied by his head lad, the trainer would inspect each of the horses in his charge. The trainer would expect to see the straw bedding neatly heaped into a square in one corner of the stable, with the grooming kit arranged on a linen rubber on top the straw. This ritual, a truly fraught experience for all the staff, has now largely died out. Some may say, thank God!
Of course when this ritual was sacrosanct a lad would only be expected to ‘do’ three horses, and the further back in time you go that expectation would recede to a maximum of two horses. Unlike today when seemingly there is no maximum number. Back in the days of tugged forelocks very few trainers would have had a stable comprising more than fifty horses. I know of one well respected horseman/trainer, long since deceased, who believed no one man could train more than thirty horses with any degree of competence, though in his time all-weather gallops, horse-walkers and equine swimming pools were unheard-of and labour was cheap and plentiful.
Little changed in racing stables until comparatively recently. A high proportion of trainers used to be ex-military, many of them highly-skilled horseman, and their stables were run on tight lines, with little contribution except strict obedience expected from employees.
Life, too, was different for the horses, with young horses given longer to mature as speed was not of the essence. Indeed there was even debate as to whether the racing of two-year-olds was detrimental to the health and well-being of the individual horse and to the breed as a whole. I have read of a study conducted on the famous skeletons housed at the Natural History Museum – the skeletons in question being Eclipse, Persimmon, Ayrshire, St.Frusquin and St.Simon – with the conclusion that only Eclipse, who did not see a racecourse until he was a 4-years-old, having no indication of back problems throughout the length of the spine.
These bony adhesions are usually the result of a 2-year-old asked to bear weight before it is strong enough to do so. There is an argument that many 2-year-olds do not ‘train on’ because these adhesions cause it pain when asked to stretch and lengthen at speed. The old-time trainers would perhaps say that a horse that naps or refuses to race is telling its connections that it is suffering pain.
Once upon a time ‘stable husbandry’ was as exacting and as statutory as the Highway Code, whereas now the term is reduced to the convenience of getting the day’s work done as quickly as possible. Of course in the days when horses were as much transport as they were racers they were trained with longevity in mind. Now, sadly, the production of yearlings for precocity, and of course greater profit, is the driving force of the industry.
This era of trainers, as seemingly good at their trade as they are, do not, largely, have a background in horsemanship and learn about the training and welfare of the racehorse from ground level. The revolutionaries are those trainers, and Martin Pipe is the obvious example, who realise that learning from ground level is the acquiring only of perceived wisdom. Though trainers must be pragmatic in the administration of their business, it is those with a thirst for knowledge and the curiosity to invent and experiment who bring about change.
I have always believed that it is in the interest of both the sport and the breed if there were no 2-year-old races until August. I appreciate such an idea will cause uproar amongst breeders and trainers but such a policy would allow immature horses time to strengthen both mentally and physically. This is not as revolutionary as it might first appear. Once upon a time there were no 2-year-old races in France until June and even in this country 2-year-old races were of little importance until after the 2nd World War. The legendary trainer John Porter wrote in his autobiography ‘My experience convinces me that a vast number of horses are ruined by being unduly forced as 2-year-olds.’ And in Porter’s day yearlings were traditionally long-reined for many months to gradually build confidence and strength so that it could carry a rider without undue strain put upon its bone, cartilage, muscle and of course its mind.
It must be remembered that most 2-year-olds are barely eighteen months old when they start to be trained for the racecourse. Indeed many are not twenty-four months old when they make their racecourse debuts. This should be debated as the people who must ride and educate these young horses are becoming heavier and heavier as each generation passes.
Breeders, of course, are to blame for this state of affairs as it is the fashion to have mares give birth in January and February when commonsense suggests late March or April would be more beneficial as the spring grass would be a natural supplement for the mare and her foal.
The cart is now truly leading the way and I doubt if the well-tested opinions of those who have gone before will ever be listened to. The problem is that horse racing is unfairly tarnished in some quarters by accusations of inhumanity. Yet the most common acts of ill-treatment are not premeditated but carried out in ignorance and for the sake of fashion. A yearling backed and ridden away before it is acquired the strength to bear weight will be a horse who throughout its life will suffer back pain. Horses should not be considered as ‘disposable’, yet that is what the modern race programme reduces so many of them to be. At least in many instances. Is the modern 2-year-old so different, so much stronger, than the horse of John Porter’s era that in the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot the colts carried 9st 3lbs, 3lbs more Derby runners are asked to carry?
It has endured since 1711, I suspect, the unfairness of it all. Queen Anne may have instigated it as a way for women to get one over on men for ever more. She was, it seems, as prodigious an eater at the dinner table as any king before her and was so fat by the time she ordered the construction of the royal racecourse she could barely walk. Her husband, Prince George of Denmark, possessed the sparkle and wisdom of a side of bacon and was a constant source of embarrassment to her. Queen Anne also suffered from gout, a condition assured only to bring accusation of wantonness and little in the way of charity and she also suffered the heartbreak of any number of miscarriages, with no child surviving to its teenage years.
So it can be safely assumed she was not the happiest monarch our fair country has had upon the thrown and no doubt placed most of the blame for her discontent on the male sex in general and poor old George in particular. This is the only explanation I can find for the virulent discrimination imposed on the male of the species when it comes to the rules regarding what a man must wear at Royal Ascot.
Women can wear nice summer dress and wide-brimmed hats. They have the entire spectrum of colour to choose from when creating their outfits. As long as it confers with the dress code the woman can throw caution and fashion to the wind. Yet no matter what excess of weather a man will be thrown out of the royal enclosures if he is not wearing a suite of clothes more appropriate to an assembly at a cathedral than a race meeting. It is fancy dress used as punishment for crimes unknown. Only in Great Britain! And we can’t even blame Brussells!
I don’t like it and I won’t ever attend Royal Ascot because of it. I am sure the Queen, who I would follow onto the battle field, will be mortified by the uncouthness of my revolutionary outburst.
The racing, though, is nothing short of exceptional, with the quality and diversity becoming more pronounced every year. This year I want to see the Queen have a winner, Godolphin to do better than Coolmore, Josie Gordon to ride a winner (or 2), Big Orange to win the Gold Cup, and the journeyman jockey and small trainer and owner win more than the odd race. I want an uncontroversial Royal Ascot, with no reference to it as the main item of news at six o’clock.
If I could change one race at the meeting I would move the Queen Alexandria Stakes to the big July meeting at Ascot and replace it with a ‘silver cup’ Royal Hunt Cup. The Queen Alexandria I would turn into a 2-mile 6 handicap with a six-figure prize fund. The King George meeting needs a second stand-out race as in some years the big race is a bit of a yawn, especially when there are no runners from abroad.
Are modern day trainers too soft on their horses or were their predecessors too hard?
In his time, which was the mid eighteen-hundreds through to just before the outbreak of the 1st World War, Arthur Yates, who trained in Hampshire, was the Martin Pipe or Paul Nicholls of his era, training nearly 3,000 winners, including Roquefort and Cloister winners of the Grand National in 1885 and 1893 respectively. And it is the latter horse who I wish to first focus upon.
When trained by Richard Marsh, Cloister finished 2nd to Come Away in the 1891 National, and when in Yates’ care he finished 2nd again in 1892 to Father O’Flynn, giving the winner the best part of 2-stone.
Horses were, perhaps, more thought of as stock than athletes in Yates’ day. Certainly horses were asked questions that would cause today’s trainers to be regarded as ‘cruel taskmasters’. For instance, four days after his exertions in the Grand National where he carried 12-st 3lbs Cloister ran in the Lingfield Grand National Steeplechase Handicap. Not surprisingly the burden of carrying 12-st 7lbs told on him and he finished only fourth. His work for the season was not over, though. 3-weeks later, carrying 13-stone he won the Great Staffordshire Steeplechase by a distance and on the following day he carried 13-stone 3lbs to victory in the Tarporley Open Steeplechase. He finished his campaign by returning to Liverpool to win the Grand Sefton under the slightly less onerous burden of 12-st 7lbs.
If a modern day trainer attempted such a fete with a horse there is little doubt the R.S.P.C.A. would be called in. Yet far from going to rack and ruin by such a harsh regime Cloister seemingly thrived as the following year, without a run beforehand, Cloister achieved the triple crown of winning the Grand National in what was then a course record time, carrying the largest weight and winning by the longest distance, 40-lengths. Indeed Yates ran a second horse that year, The Midshipmite, who finished fifth and who the following day won the Champion Steeplechase by six lengths in a ‘canter’. The Midshipmite also thrived under Yates’ training methods as he won the best part of fifty races.
An insight into the training methods employed in those times, at least by Yates, can be ascertained in Yates’ own testimony in his excellent autobiography.
Cloister was the ante-post favourite for the 1894 Grand National. Again Yates was to prepare him for Liverpool without a preparatory run. On the 17th of March Yates enterprisingly sent him to Sandown for a school and a gallop. According to Yates the horse went splendidly well. Yet the following day Cloister’s price for the National drifted from 6/4 to 6/1, those in the know seemingly aware that all was not right even before Yates and his staff. Cloister’s lameness was only slight and he soon became sound again. It is now we can time-travel back to life at Bishops Sutton in March 1894. Cloister galloped 2-miles on the Wednesday, 3-miles on the Thursday and 4 and a half miles on the Saturday. I suspect that when Yates using the term ‘gallop’ he does not mean ‘canter’.
Cloister was the Kauto Star of his day. His injury was big news. An eminent veterinary surgeon was engaged by the horse’s owner to examine Cloister. It was Professor Pritchard’s opinion that the lameness was due to an injury in the hind-quarters, was serious, and occurred during his final gallop. Yates disagreed and he wrote a letter to ‘The Sportsman’ to express the view that he thought Cloister injured himself in winning the National, though he did not show it. In this letter Yates omits to mention that Cloister ran four times afterwards, including winning on consecutive days.
I think Yates wrote the letter to capsize any possible scandal. I suspect he believed Cloister was got at as in his autobiography he expresses the opinion that he thought the seat of Cloister’s lameness was in his kidneys, which would explain why his ante-post price for the National collapsed so dramatically from 6/4 to 6/1, a price that encouraged very few to back him.
To more fully appreciate the difference in attitude between then and now one should document the achievements of the one horse who can be talked about in the same sentence as Red Rum. Manifesto.
He first ran in the National in 1895 aged 7, finishing fourth. In 96 he inexplicably fell. In 97 he won, carrying 11st-3lbs. In 98 he was sold for £4,000 and after escaping his stable and jumping an iron fence he was too injured to run in the race. He was back in 99, though, winning under the burden of 12st-7. In fact the more weight put on his back the better his achievements as in 1900 with 12st-13 he finished 3rd, beaten only 4-lengths and a neck, conceding a stone and ten pounds to the winner and 2-stone to the 2nd. In 1901 Manifesto rested. But in 1902, aged 14 he was 3rd again beaten 3-lengths and 3, carrying 12st-8. In 1903 he was 3rd once more, giving the winner a stone and the second 2-stone. He bade farewell to Aintree aged 16 in 1904 finishing 8th carrying 12st-1lb. In Summary: Red Rum 3 wins, 2 seconds, never carrying more than 12-stone. Manifesto won twice, once with 12st-7, was third 3 times, including carrying 12st-13lbs on one occasion, and fourth once.
We can’t believe Red Rum’s achievements at Aintree will ever be equalled. Yet what about the achievements of Manifesto? And yet he is largely forgotten about.
Some horse; some change in attitude over the centuries.
In a previous ‘piece’, engagingly titled ‘Pinback Your Lugholes A Solution Is On Its Way’, I proposed the notion that instead of jockeys being banned for whip offences a period of prohibition should be imposed where a jockey is disqualified from using a whip in earnest during a race for a period of four days. Now I wish to discuss offences that I believe do warrant suspension from the sport.
My inherent sense of fair play leads me to believe, perhaps naively, that a jockey would never cause interference during a race with the intent of causing harm to one of his colleagues. In the early days of the sport this was not the case and there were races in which contestants had licence to impede their rivals. These races were called ‘cross and jostle’ and were much preferred by owners when big money bets were laid.
Before the advent of patrol and head-on cameras and t.v. coverage, and during a time when jockeys were considered no better than servants hired for the half-hour, it was expected by connections for jockeys to do all in their powers to impede their rivals. Tactics such as attempting to put a rival over the running rail and use of an elbow to unbalance a rival in a tight finish are, I hope, things of the past.
We are, though, all human and plagued occasionally by human frailty. We all make mistakes in our everyday lives. When driving any one of us may cross the white line at a junction causing a fellow driver to swerve in order to prevent a possible collision. Or we may fail to indicate when pulling out of a parking space. We do not consciously set out to cause difficulty or to scare the bejabbers out of our fellow man and if drivers were dealt with in a similar manner to the way stewards’ deal with the misdemeanours of jockeys there would be a lot less cars on the road due to a plethora of temporary suspensions of driver’s licences. Perhaps an idea worth exploring, though not on these pages.
Jockeys, of course, should be held responsible for calamitous errors of judgements that have dire effects on others, and I don’t necessarily mean punters.
In 1988, in one of the worst decisions ever made by stewards’ on a British racecourse, Royal Gait was demoted to last place after proving a runaway winner of the Ascot Gold Cup. His owner and trainer were denied both the distinction of being presented with the Cup by Her Majesty and lost the large amount of prize money by a calamitous riding misjudgement by Cash Asmussen that led to Tony Clark being unseated from El Conquistador. The horse won by six lengths and fifteen and was clearly the winner on merit. Asmussen should have received a lengthy ban but instead the punishment was shared by the owner, trainer and stable staff, all of whom played no part in Asmussen’s decision to go for a gap he had no right to enter. Manoeuvres that cause such consequences deserve bans totalling weeks not days.
Asmussen did not consciously make the decision to deposit Clark on to the Ascot turf and the fact that neither jockey nor horse were injured in the spill should have had no bearing on the length of suspension the jockey receives. His manoeuvre was no different to when you or I pull out from a parking space into the line of traffic without either looking or indicating our intention. There is no defence, no arguing where the blame lies.
But there are worse offences. Jockeys who bring the sport into disrepute, for example, should receive suspensions from the sport that hurt both the reputation and the pocket, though every case should be treated on its individual merits. Jockeys who are paid to pull a horse should, of course, have the book thrown at them. A heavy book, thrown by someone with a particularly good aim. Jockeys who drop their hands prematurely, though, should be treated more kindly as such mistakes are due to human error and the ridicule they receive should be punishment enough. And, of course, in such cases there are no real losers as the horse promoted to first place by the ‘winning’ jockeys’ error will be winning punters money in the same way as the unlucky loser would have done.
I dare say if you ask any of the top jockeys they would all admit to making errors occasionally that meant the difference between victory and defeat. Dropping their hands to give their mounts as easy a time as possible is no worse an error of jockeyship as making their effort too early or too late or asking their mount to shorten going into the final fence rather than allowing the horse to come up in its stride and losing lengths.
Generally speaking jockeys are magnificent and industrious. Occasionally they err. At the moment penalties for erring are all over the place. Give a horse an ‘easy race’, even for the sole benefit of the horse, can incur a suspension of fourteen, twenty or thirty days. Yet over use of the whip, which people outside of the sport would deem an act of selfish cruelty, would only incur a suspension of four days.
But now I have brought my argument full circle. Bans do not work. Bans should be reserved for deliberate acts that bring the sport into disrepute.
By ‘ancient’ I mean of course ‘old’, though as far as racing is concerned the age between the wars can easily be looked upon as the time of the ancients. And in ‘ancient’ times occurrences occurred that would never, not in a million years happen today.
For instance the 1882 winner of the Grand National, Seaman, was ridden to victory by his owner Lord John Manners, a serving officer with the Grenadier Guards. Remarkably it was Lord Manners first ever ride in a steeplechase. Indeed his first ride on a racecourse. On his second ride in a steeplechase he won the Grand Military Gold Cup. No doubt thinking race-riding too easily conquered the good lord retired to the hunting field. Of course the Grand National continues to provide remarkable and romantic stories but Seaman’s victory was one of the best as not only was he ridden by a complete novice without any experience of race-riding but the horse was thought by his previous owners as too small and frail to compete in arduous races, a point perhaps substantiated by the horse breaking down after the last fence, or hurdle as it was back in 1882. It is also interesting to relate that the first three horses, the only three to finish from a field of twelve, were aged respectively six, five and five.
Nowadays, even in the main racing centres like Newmarket and Malton, it is no doubt speeding lorries that are cause for worry amongst trainers and their staff. In the mid 1880’s it was the bicycle that was the scourge of the horseman. Let me quote from Arthur Yates’ biography, and even he, writing in the 1920’s, thought what you are about to read to sound ‘prehistoric’: “There are places where the good taste of the cyclist should prevent him from using his vehicle, and one of those is emphatically Newmarket. Hard words break no bones, or the few youths who have lately introduced these affairs into the headquarters of the Turf would be seriously fractured. The effect of a bicycle coming along a road past a string of young horses on their way to exercise is remarkable. Stable-boys know how to sit tight; if they did not, on Monday morning there would have been half-a-score of loose horses careering over the heath, or very likely slipping about on the stones in the town. Where young race-horses are concerned it is easy to do a great deal of damage in a very short time, and I do not know a readier mode of proving this than driving a bicycle round about Newmarket.”
Sir Mark Prescott does not realise how easy his life is if all he has to concern himself with is the ‘99% of his horses doing their best to injure themselves and the 95% of his staff doing what they can to aid and abet them.’
Arthur Yates’ biography is a gem of fact and Turf anecdote, made ever more fascinating as he writes about a world that seems so different to one we live in today that he might be writing about the Greeks or Romans in the pre-dawn of civilisation.
Yates trained Cloister, the winner of the Grand National in 1893 carrying 12st 7lbs in a then course record, and who finished second the previous two years and the greatest horse Yates ever trained. For instance in Yates’ book we learn that The Lamb, winner of the Grand National in1868 and again in 1871, had his last race at Baden-Baden in the Grand Steeplechase. There were only 3 runners and The Lamb was destined for victory when he broke a hind fetlock joint. As Yates’ poignantly put it, ‘thus ended the career of one of the finest horses that ever jumped a fence’.
He tells of buying a horse for £6 out of a mowing machine that went on to win him a multitude of races, another he bought for £10 out of a dog-cart. And there was little sentiment about in his time as it seems it was not unusual for Grand National winners to be sold days if not weeks after their great victories. He writes of the Metropolitan racecourses such as Croydon and ‘plungers’ as they were termed, people who threw their fortunes into owning racehorses in expectation of winning even greater amounts of money, with more than many of them ending up penniless. Yates seemed to have no sympathy for such people, thinking racing to be better off without such dreamers and schemers.
We may not learn much that would improve our sport if we revisited those times and such a study will only doubtless confirm how fortunate we are to have reached the point of excellence we have undoubtedly come to but there was a freedom in the sport, with the skill and horsemanship of the rider more to the fore than any other aspect. But we live in differing times, though it would be interesting if we could perhaps glimpse now and again at the sport as it was, though of course that is what we do every April at Liverpool, the race that dominates our sport as equally as it did back in Arthur Yates’s day.
I don’t know how many people will agree with me on this topic but I am increasingly puzzled by the large number of races, especially on the flat, confined to amateur riders. I am not against amateur races, they have their place, and amateur riders have always played more than a bit-part in the history of our sport. Yet surely they are now rather dated, if not an anachronism.
The owner-rider was at the forefront of the sport in the early days, with match races over extreme distances organised for the purposes of proving equestrian superiority, and, of course, the winning and losing of huge sums of money in private bets. Even through the twentieth century owner-riders remained in the sport, with people like Brod Munro-Wilson and Lord Oaksey becoming iconic participants. But now? Are there any of these Corinthians remaining outside of the point-to-point arena?
I am not suggesting there should be no amateur races, far from it, though on the flat they should lead to a grand climax and not be a cheap option for clerk of the courses seeking to save on prize money. I realise that rides in amateur races are a reward for non-professionals who regularly ride out for trainers, and they provide entertainment and experience for both assistant trainers and the sons and daughters of trainers. But it is the sheer randomness and multiplicity of these races that perplex.
For more years than I care to remember a bug-bear of mine has been the lack of opportunities for the journeyman jockey, described by the media when one of them retires, as ‘the backbone of the sport’ and on announcement of their retirement these men and women are invariably honoured with ‘never received the breaks his (or her) talents deserved’. Yet the amateur is well cater-for, as is the apprentice and the claimer, and there are even celebrity and charity races. To my mind many of these amateur races would serve racing’s needs to better effect if they were given over to professional journeyman jockeys who have only ridden a limited number of winners in the preceding 12-months.
Not that I am proposing excluding the amateur. I simply think that the programme of amateur races should be less but lead to a fixed celebratory point in the calendar. What if the amateur race run at Epsom at the end of the summer was firmly established as the world’s one and only Amateur Derby, with all the supporting races finals of a series run through the course of the season? A proper amateur’s day out at the home of the Derby rather akin to the final meeting of the year at Cheltenham. Through the season there could be qualifying races over all distances from 5-furlongs to a mile-and-a-half, with the Amateur Derby as the centrepiece not only of the meeting but the whole of the season for amateurs.
Although racing should always debate and embrace change when it is in the best interests of the sport, it should also remain faithful to that which has served it well down the centuries. The amateur should be celebrated for what they bring to the sport and a showpiece day at the home of the Derby would be an appropriate spotlight, especially if the meeting were to be on terrestrial television.
The amateur should never be derided, after all Ryan Moore, quite possibly the greatest British flat jockey of all time, came from its ranks.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.