The other day, for no particular reason, the name Hotroy came into my head, to be followed by Blueroy, two horses that raced during the formative years of my racing education. There were quite a few ‘roys’ over the years and I am pretty sure that somewhere deep within my memory is buried the name of the man who owned these horses. It was, and remains, annoying that I couldn’t draw this name from the deep well of forgetfulness and as I have no form books in my library I researched the internet, knowing that the ‘roys’ were trained by Walter Nightingale. For reference there is an interesting and nostalgic film held by the East Anglian Film Archive (?) about the top trainers from the 1950’s which featured Nightingale. What is particularly notable about the footage is the large strings of horses ridden by lads with nothing on their heads more substantial than a flat cap! Those were the day, perhaps.
As some people had favourite football teams that were not resident in their home towns – those annoying people who proclaim undying love for Manchester United, Liverpool or Tottenham Hotspurs etc but who have never even visited the cities let alone the grounds of those teams – I used to follow the fortunes of W.Nightingale without ever knowing anything about him. Now, long after his death, I am receipt of a whole lot of facts about him. Though not who owned the ‘roys’ or the names of any of the other ‘roys’; I sort of remember there were quite a few.
Walter Nightingale trained at South Hatch, Epsom, at a time when Epsom rivalled Newmarket and Lambourn. He took over the training licence from his father around 1927 and though (rather like Ander Fabre who was the Vincent O’Brien of France before switching to the flat) he is known primarily as a flat trainer Nightingale was a force in National Hunt during the 1930’s, winning the Imperial Cup, twice winning the Liverpool Hurdle and the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival in 1948 with Clare Man.
In 1930 he won the Irish Derby with the maiden Rock Star and for a good while he had the interesting distinction of being Dorothy Paget’s main flat trainer, winning a wartime Derby for her in 43 with Straight Deal. It is said that Nightingale, wearied by the eccentricities of Paget – midnight phone calls were the norm – invited her to remove her horses or else he would let them all loose on Epsom Downs.
Dorothy Paget was not his most famous patron, though, as Nightingale trained with great success for Sir Winston Churchill. Colonist won eight races in one season for Sir Winston and went on to win The Jockey Club Cup. When Nightingale suggested they make a stallion out of Colonist Sir Winston wrote to him saying ‘he never thought he would end up living on the immoral earnings of a horse’.
Nightingale also won a Portland H’cap for the great man with Welsh Abbot and a Stewards Cup with Tudor Monarch, as well as training High Hat to twice beat the great mare Petite Etoile, the second time in a race appropriately named in honour of Sir Winston. (Given his prominence as a racing owner it is surprising, if not regrettable, given the good publicity it might bring, that such a race does not exist today). Vienna was another good horse Nightingale trained for Sir Winston.
Nightingale also trained for Her Majesty the Queen, with Gay Time being the best.
Away from monarchy and Britain’s greatest Prime Minister, Nightingale also trained Niksar to win the 1965 2,000 Guineas – it was around this period that Duncan Keith rode for him, his surname no doubt drawing me to the horses he rode. Thinking Niksar his last great chance to win a Derby on his home ground Nightingale put 24-hour security on his stables fearing the rumour that a gang were out to nobble the horse. Indeed the night before the Derby intruders found their way into South Hatch, their dastardly deeds only thwarted by staff who were sleeping in the next stable to Niksar.
Not that Niksar would have won at Epsom, his night’s sleep disturbed or not, as the 1965 Derby was won by Sea Bird, one the best Derby winners of all time, certainly one to come from France. Indeed I Say, also trained by Nightingale finished one place in front of Niksar in third, winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom the following season.
He produced jockeys and trainers as well as classic winners, with jump jockey Bill Rees apprenticed to him and the successful lightweight (remember the days when horses carried 7st 7lb) Ray Reader. The trainers Alan Jarvis and Dave Hanley also learnt their trade under Walter Nightingale, one of those successful, if old-fashioned, trainers, who achieved enough during his career to be remembered once in a while.
If only I could add to the list that begins with Hotroy and Blueroy
Undoubtedly the news that stable employees are to receive a 3% rise in salary is worthy of a round of applause. The media and trainers cannot keep repeating the mantra that stable staff are the wheel that bears the load without remunerating them equal to the skill and dedication they give so willingly to the sport. That said, and this is a subject I have first-hand knowledge of, so can speak with some degree of authority, I believe that the aspiration for a 40-hour week reflects a misunderstanding of the people who choose to live their lives caring for racehorses.
Don’t get me wrong; willingness to work should not be taken advantage of, and fair remuneration for a fair day’s pay should be a given. It is that the racing stable cannot be unionised, at least not in the way of the factory floor.
People come to racing through a love of the horse. Indeed you could not motivate yourself to get out of bed before dawn most mornings of the year, or ride out in atrocious conditions, or risk injury from those you love in stable, on gallops or simply leading a horse from point A to point B, without that deep-seated love of the animal. So the premise that the job can be squeezed into a box measuring 40-hours per week is really neither practical nor desired by those employed in the industry.
Caring for horses, any horse used for equestrian activity, is a leisurely exercise. Horses do not care to be rushed. Rush and important small details will be missed, overlooked. The small nick that allows tetanus to take hold or the bacteria that causes a leg or joint to swell. The first signs that a horse is just a bit off-colour. That a horse’s dropping are a mite smellier than usual or even simply less droppings. Stockmanship is the study of such small things. You cannot rush from one horse to the next and keep on top on the 101 things that can suggest something might be about to go amiss.
Once upon a time, and I am not referring to the 1900’s but the 1970’s, a groom, or lad as he or she was referred to then, would not expect to look after more than two horses. Indeed I own a Stable Management & Exercise book written by M.Horace Hayes F.R.C.V.S. ( I repeat the initials to prove as a veterinary surgeon he had the authority to instruct others in the care of horses) first published in 1900, where it is stated that a groom could not be fairly expected to look after more than 1 horse to any degree of competence. Yet today a groom will be expected to look after 5 or 6. A groom is also expected to ride 4 or 5 horses at exercise, as well as all the other duties that must be observed in a well-run racing stable.
If this 40-hour rule is implement there will exist the real danger that the majority of present owners will find the cost of keeping horses in training unaffordable due to the cost to trainers of having to employ more staff just to get the job done even half decently. Already in Ireland an ignorant judiciary said to Aidan O’Brien that to implement the European Time Directive he should employ 2 people for every horse. We all realise the stupidity of such a statement yet the E.U. is not incapable of putting such stupidity into law.
When an owner puts a horse into the care of a trainer he is giving, on a temporary basis, his horse to a groom. To that groom, that horse is her or his horse and will care for it as their own, not really wanting anyone else to muck it out, groom or exercise it, or even stuff its hay net. I have worked in the industry; some people, and yes I was of their number, would willingly work excessive hours because it is not simply a job but a life, and you cannot live a life and have it limited to 40-hours a week.
Trainers work to margins, as do all other businessmen. Racing as a whole must work within margins. Racing and all its subsections are businesses. You cannot expect a trainer to employ twice the number of staff, even if he or she could recruit the numbers, they do today to comply with either the problem the E.U. are chucking at Aidan O’Brien or the problem that the stringent 40-hour week will cause.
Stable staff are the wheel that bears the load. They should be paid well; they must be looked after and respected. There should be progression through the ranks as in other industries for those who want to progress. But commonsense must be applied to their employment. Stable staff must be protected by Employment Law but the sport must insist that working in a racing stable is a unique environment and cannot be bundled up with employment in other sectors of the workforce. The man at the lathe does not love his lathe; the groom at the stable door loves the animal in which his or her life revolves around. The lathe does not need to fed and watered at regular intervals. The horse does. That is the simple difference.
Oh what it must be like to spend $10.2 million and end up not very long afterwards putting the whole embarrassing business down to experience, and not only that, to continue spending ridiculous sums of money in search of establishing a dynasty.
In 1983 $10.2 million dollars was the highest price ever paid for a thoroughbred horse. It was proof the world had gone bonkers. As it remains today. In today’s money, I am led to believe, 10.2 becomes 24.5. Leave out the dollar sign and the word ‘millions’ and it all seems rather matter-of-fact.
Which is what Snaafi Dancer turned out to be. In fact matter-of-fact over praises the horse. The best that was ever said of him was by his trainer John Dunlop. “Rather a sweet little horse, actually.” Though he captioned the attribution with. “But unfortunately no bloody good.”
He was no good from the very beginning, not even when he was only at the cantering stage of his inglorious career. Jeremy Noseda, who was John Dunlop’s assistant at the time, described him as ‘a horrible-looking brute’. And the older he became the less he inspired. Everyone thought that once he strengthened and started galloping he would develop into a swan. But no, he stayed a goose. He had bad feet and when that was corrected he became club-footed and cow-hocked. It was also said of him that he didn’t really like galloping, which is never good when your owner is H.H. Sheikh Mohammed and he has forked out mega millions on you to become the foundation stallion for a proposed world breeding operation.
As a last resort – well they just couldn’t afford to race him and allow every Tom, Dick and Harry to know just how useless a racehorse he actually was– Snaafi Dancer was sent to stud. But he didn’t take to that job either, siring only four foals, of which the three to race were none too successful.
Snaafi Dancer was last reported to be living on a farm in Florida, no doubt ruminating on a life of luxury that doubtless he believed was his right by equine royal birth.
Snaafi Dancer was as much equine royalty as his owner is royalty. His sire - Snaafi Dancer’s sire - was Northern Dancer, who before Galileo came along was the greatest thoroughbred stallion of all-time, with nine out of the top ten yearlings sold at auction his offspring. Mind you, without Northern Dancer, who was Galileo’s grand-daddy, we would not be glorying in the stud achievements of the grandson. So perhaps Northern Dancer remains the greatest sire of all-time.
Robert Sangster dodged a bullet when he walked away from Saratoga disappointed to be under bidder for Snaafi Dancer.
It says volume for the character of Sheikh Mohammed that he did not allow the disappointment, as well as the humiliation, of the Snaafi Dancer episode to deter him from his quest to establish a racing empire to last long into history. It would be a very callous man, I suggest, to wish him nothing less than long-term success. I personally hope that one day soon under the Godolphin banner he will breed a horse superior to any horse that Coolmore has thus far raced. How satisfying would that be to him?
Coolmore are, of course, the top-dogs in the breeding of racehorses and are, I suppose, Godolphin’s nemesis, and you would think them incapable of making a similar Snaafi Dancer sort of mistake. But they made Sheikh Mohammad’s faux pas look like a supermarket overspend when they coughed up $16 million for a Storm Cat yearling they eventually called The Green Monkey – named after a golfing complex in Barbados that they own or have an interest in – and deserving of the ridiculous name they gave the unlucky creature The Green Monkey turned out to be useless as a green monkey would be at snooker, failing to win in three moderate races as a 2-year-old. Which goes to prove that being born in the Chinese year of the monkey does not necessarily bring luck. Though he did end up at stud, covering mares at $5,000 dollars a throw. So the horse had fortune come his way, even if, on this occasion, Mr.Magnier had to wipe egg off his face and eat a little humble pie.
As someone once said: the two qualities you need to be stay in the top-end breeding game is patience and stupidity. He left out limitless amounts of money but I supposed that is taken for granted by those whose livelihood depend on those with no end of patience and a limitless supply of stupidity. Alas, I have bucket loads of first two ‘qualities’ but a complete lack of the third. Lucky old me!
In today’s Racing Post Lee Mottershead suggested that the St.Leger meeting was in need of a tweak; 3 days instead of 4; better prize money all round, especially for the group races and the poorly funded Portland H’Cap.
For this piece I will take for granted that my idea for a classic Triple Crown more in-keeping with the present tilt of today’s breeding industry - substituting the St.Leger in favour of a 3-year-old only Eclipse – making the Triple Crown the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and Eclipse – will never bear fruit. I also suggested making the St.Leger the most valuable race in Britain and the third part of an older horses Triple Crown – Prince of Wales Stakes (or Coronation Cup if preferred), King George & Queen Elisabeth Stakes and St.Leger.
I think Lee’s first suggestion is sensible, though only if each of the three days has a seven or eight race card. But I would scrap the traditional Thursday, Friday, Saturday format for the more radical Saturday, Sunday, Monday. My reasoning is thus. Firstly, though you cannot gainsay the weather in this country, having the St.Leger on the Saturday would allow the runners, in what is the titular race of the meeting, the best of the ground. Though this argument holds more water during the National Hunt season, it bothers me that the best race of the meeting must always be run on poached ground, the last day of a three or four day meeting. Surely the best horses should be permitted the best racing surface.
Also, and again this argument holds better for National Hunt than the flat, if it rains biblical fashion on the Saturday, or frost or snow causes abandonment, there are two further days on which to run the main race or indeed the entire card. If last week’s monsoon had carried on through Thursday, Friday and into Saturday we could have had the wholly unsatisfactory situation of having the St.Leger postponed, resulting in the race being run on a less satisfactory course and at a time less convenient to trainers and owners alike.
My suggestion will also allow for a better class of racing on the Sunday and Monday, two days of the week when the racing fare and betting turnover are at their weakest, thus killing two birds with one perfectly aimed stone.
What Doncaster did not take advantage of last week was to advance the cause of female flat jockeys by staging the final race in the Silk series before the I.T.V. cameras were rolling, thus denying Megan Nicholls the publicity her overall victory in the series deserved. In fact I would go further by suggesting that the Leger meeting would be a perfect venue for the signature race for professional female jockeys I believe the sport is in need of. Lee Mottershead’s other point was the lack of International horses and jockeys and if the top female riders from around the world could be assembled for this signature race the issue of where were the foreign trained horses and jockeys would be addressed, not that this solution is exactly what Lee was wishing for.
Finally, though this year’s renewal of the oldest classic was a magnificent sight, won by an above average horse, it does not dilute my point that the St.Leger is the poor relation of the classic series. If you were planning the flat season afresh, if you were inventing flat racing as a new sport, and thought a classic triple crown would be the height of racing’s achievements, you would not run four out of the five classics by the first week in June and have the final leg four months later. St.Leger winners almost exclusively become National Hunt stallions, so to say the race, despite of all its long history and place in racing’s heritage, sits alongside the Derby and Guineas as a provider of top stallions, is plain wishful thinking
If you read a racing book, especially a book about steeplechasing, written and published before 1964, the name given to the greatest steeplechaser invokes the reaction ‘no, that can’t be right’. From our perspective it is not right, of course. Though, and this is a kind of heresy, the name Golden Miller might be the true answer to the question of who is the greatest steeplechaser of all time, as Ribot might be the answer to an equivalent question about the greatest flat racehorse. Our sport moves on day by day, with new chapters composed race by race and we are liable to forget the history that has brought us to where we are today.
The Racing Post asks of the interviewed on a Sunday ‘Arkle or Kauto Star’, with younger interviewees always giving the wrong answer. Perhaps if we were to give the question more study before submitting an answer Golden Miller will at least be mentioned. He certainly should never be omitted, as he is so often these days.
Golden Miller lived, surprisingly, into the age of Arkle, dying aged 30 and for those who like a pilgrimage he is buried at Elsenham Stud, Elsenham, Essex, a working farm. I just hope there is a memorial at the head of a perfectly preserved grave. If not, shame on whoever now owns the stud. He won more Gold Cups than Arkle yet it is the Irish star that is remembered at the Cheltenham Festival, with the Miller’s race nothing more than an ordinary 3-mile handicap in April.
Golden Miller also won more races than Arkle, 29, and though his stack of Gold Cups numbered 5 if snow had not forced the abandonment of the 1937 race no one is in any doubt he would have won 6. If his Gold Cup accomplishments were not enough for his memory to be preserved with the respect that is his due he also remains the only horse to win the Grand National in the same year as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and in what was a record time and carrying the welter burden of 12st 2lbs.
Of course his efforts in the Gold Cup are decried because in his day the race was thought of as a trial for the Grand National and even for Golden Miller it was only a stepping stone to Aintree. Arkle, though, is not belittled because in his Gold Cup he beat only 3 or 4 runners, with Mill House his only true opposition in his three victories.
The fine judge of a horse John Hislop thought Golden Miller a better stayer than Easter Hero, a more reliable jumper than Prince Regent and a stronger horse than Cottage Rake, 3 more great horses quickly fading into the mists of time. I hope one day to find out if he thought him superior to Arkle.
He was by all accounts a horse blessed with a placid temperament, which is perhaps why he very quickly took an aversion to the noise and argy-bargy of Aintree. That and his tendency to jump off his forehand, ideal for park courses but completely the wrong technique for the drops of Aintree. Even so, his effort in winning the Grand National is perhaps of greater merit than any of Arkle’s great weight-carrying performances.
A man by the name of Fred Varney used his winnings from a punt on Golden Miller to start his own coach business – Golden Miller Travel, now Tellings- Golden Miller and has as their logo to this day Golden Miller looking through a horseshoe, and the weather vane on top of Hucknall Library is a silhouette of Golden Miller. And as with Arkle he has a statue at Cheltenham racecourse. But is this enough? Is racing doing enough to treasure his memory?
How about moving the Golden Miller chase from the April meeting to the November meeting and boosting the prize money to go some way to matching his status in the pantheon of great steeplechasers? Arkle, Kauto Star, Golden Miller. Their brilliance should never be demeaned by the mists of memory.
How best to promote and market horse racing to a wider sporting public is a hot topic at the moment. The columnists of the Racing Post are particularly eager to exercise their mental dexterity on the subject, and fair play to them as every strategy and innovation they have proposed is sensible and worth pursuing, as you would expect from such learned and respected journalists. But their words of wisdom only reach fellow racing fans; they do not reach the wider sporting public who are the sport’s supposed saviours.
As we all can agree, I.T.V. are doing a fantastic job in presenting our sport, even if they can only embrace the same audience that either loved or hated Channel 4’s coverage. Slowly but surely they will grow interest in the sport, though it may take longer than the length of their present contract.
The overlaying problem in attracting a new and lasting audience is that the broad diversity that is the sport’s perpetuating appeal to us, the racing enthusiast, is, to the newbie, also its greatest obstacle. Tennis may have men’s and ladies singles and three forms of doubles tournaments but in essence the courts remain the same and the same rules apply. Take away the offside rule and football and rugby are easily explained. Cricket has become more complex but essentially it remains a bat and ball game. In racing, though, every racecourse has its unique configuration. We have flat racing over every distance from 5-furlongs to 2-mile six-furlongs, run at racecourses that can be tight and round like Chester to long and straight like Newmarket, plus all-weather tracks. We have hurdle racing, steeplechases, hunter chases and point-to-points. There are races for apprentices, amateurs, lady jockeys, with even charity and celebrity races thrown in for good measure. There is the betting element, the breeding element and the training element. There is the different surface types, everything from standard all-weather to firm to heavy on turf. Horse racing is the sporting equivalent of the entrance exam to a Cambridge university.
It is why horse racing is a life experience much more than a sport. The diversity may be off-putting to the casual observer but it is its many layers that make it so different from other sports and we should try and sell this notion while expending less time going down the ‘jargon-busting’ route.
A decade or so ago this sport sold itself out to the ‘devil-may-care’ division of the sport, the betting industry, and it was widely advised that it should be compulsory for jockeys to ride every horse out to the finishing post to make life easier for punters, bookmakers and handicappers alike. Thankfully this wrong-headed approach was not sustained and it is now realised the heart and selling point of the sport is the horse and its welfare.
Of course the sort of brouhaha that Davy Russell and Dennis Egan contrived will always knock the sport’s image. As will use of the whip and defence of the whip. Image and perception is everything and if we want to broaden racing’s appeal this hot potato must be grasped. At the end of the day, whether the whip is applied or not, every race will always have a 1.2.3. And that is what really matters for the punter, the bookmaker and the handicapper. What doesn’t matter is a losing jockey claiming he would have won if he had been allowed to hit his horse with a whip! The sooner ‘hands and heels’ races are introduced for senior jockeys the better life will be for those whose job it is to market and promote our sport.
The truth is this: to the majority horse racing is a sport for the very rich. Yet here I am, as poor as a church mouse, whose life has revolved around the sport since childhood. We must make people aware that this sport is all-embracing. The Aga Khan, Arab princes and ruling monarchs could not have their sport if it were not for the contribution of the horse-carers, the punters, the racecourse staff, those on a day out at the races; the working class.
Adam Kirby throwing his arms around Harry Angel at Haydock is just the right sort of image we should be portraying because affection and love is at the heart of the sport. The last line in Michael Tanner’s introduction to his book ‘My Friend Spanish Steps’ also typifies what this sport is about: ‘For this is Spanish Steps and at long last I can tell him how much I love him’. This sport is about Man’s centuries old love affair with the racehorse. If you could bottle the reception Sprinter Sacre received on winning the Champion 2-mile Chase at Cheltenham and distribute the essence to every other sport, people would better understand horse racing. This is the message we should be delivering to the wider sporting public.
Not that we should forget the craftsman and sages that are the Racing Post columnists. If the sport funded a scheme whereby the Racing Post could produce a special edition of their Sunday supplement to go into, for example, the Sunday Telegraph, the reach of sport would extend beyond the limitations of the industry. If the supplement had articles on how to contact a trainer about buying a horse, with a ball park figure on costs; articles on great horses, both in training and retired; interviews with celebrities with an interest in horse racing and those who work in the sport, we would be reaching the wider sporting public who are, supposedly, our holy grail. If Alastair Down, Lee Mottershead, Tom Kerr, Steve Dennis and others (why no female columnist?) can’t sell this sport to the sporting public then horse racing is truly going to end up travelling to hell on a handcart.
Anyone who has taken the trouble to browse through my ‘outpourings’ since the creation of this website might credit me with coming up with some interesting if not downright brilliant ideas. Doubtless I have also committed to public viewing as many ideas that are less well-thought-out. I have ‘solved’ the problem of whip abuse, for instance, and my idea for returning the Lincoln Handicap to fame and glory I thought to be particularly brilliant – a 40 runner race started from a barrier, as it used to be in its heyday. I have also proposed a better fixture list for summer jumping that involve festivals and the promotion of local commerce as they do so successfully in Ireland.
But no matter your poor opinion of my ideas nothing I have come up with is as stupid as ‘street racing’; the prospect chills my marrow and curdles my spleen.
My main objection is that horses are neither bicycles nor are they are motor cars. And the other thing that flat horses are not is point-to-pointers. They are not as placid; they have little notion of the world beyond the racing environment. Pointers you could take to a park in central London without boiling their brains. Three-year-old flat horses you cannot. The concept has a greater potential for disaster and P.R. humiliation than a free bar at a school disco.
I realise the necessity for taking horse racing to a whole new audience as cycling has memorably achieved, has had both athletics and motor racing. But street racing is most definitely not the way to boost racing’s appeal. There are too many ways for the P.R. exercise to misfire – loose horses running amok, either loose or careering into spectators. Horses being injured during a race, perhaps fatally so. The problem of adhering to the rules of racing, especially when it comes to patrol cameras etc. It’s madness to even consider taking the racecourse experience to the streets of London or elsewhere. So I point you in the direction of Europe:
La Laredo, Spain. Duhner-Wattrennen, Germany. Loredo, Spain. Plestin-Les-Greves, Brittany, France. Ploucat, Brittany. Sanluca de Barrameda, Spain.
And especially Laytown. Laytown may be unique in Britain and Ireland, though Tramore started as a beach racecourse and of course many trainers already exercise their horses at the beach, so that suggests there must be somewhere in Britain that has suitable sand and tides to make a British version of Laytown a viable prospect. And the above list of European resorts comprises next year’s beach racing fixture list. What’s missing, of course, is a British contribution to this where surf meets turf development.
Here is a tourist attraction for any beachside resort to develop. Whereas with street racing there is the expense of laying down a track, Southport or Blackpool or whatever venue is the first to give it a try already has a surface in situ, with only harrowing required to produce a strip suitable for horses to race on. The P.R. potential would be as favourable at the seaside as it would in central London, with much greater space for horse and spectator. Disaster may occur, this is still horse racing after all but at least the idea is tried and tested, with the good people of Laytown to go to for advice.
So kick street racing into touch and commit to beach racing. Fun for all the family, as it seems to be at Laytown.
On an unrelated matter, and nothing whatsoever to do with racing. I have relaunched a novel I wrote many years ago – Linda Versus God. It is to be found on the shelves of all good e-book retailers, priced £1.99
It is not brilliant, ‘unputdownable’. Nor will it change your life. But it is worth a read. Honest.
What Davy Russell has proved is that it is not only the untalented and unsuccessful who commit acts of stupidity but also those who the gods doused with great ability and a smidgen of genius. What is more, it is also a lesson in how not to respond to something out of the ordinary and in doing so easily make a sorry saga out of an unfortunate incident. Indeed every stage of the whole ‘King’s Dolly’ affair was mismanaged, with Dennis Egan spreading dollop after dollop of bad publicity on to the sport as if trained in nothing else.
Firstly, and no seems mention this aspect of the messy business, King’s Dolly should have behaved herself. She had on her back one of the great jockeys of our time; the honour was seemingly missed by her. The mare’s behaviour also caused shame to be brought to the stable of her trainer.
Secondly, Russell behaved like a 1950’s public school headmaster. Great horseman do not resort to gratuitous violence. Next time use the flat of the hand, Davy, when all of your equestrian skills have failed to get your mount’s attention.
Thirdly, when writing about the incident in the newspaper Russell should not have brushed the incident off as ‘nothing out of the ordinary’. Asking for tears and twelve hail Marys would have been too much, though a simple apology might have curbed the criticism that washed up at his door.
Fourthly, the caution he received was wholly inappropriate for the offence and Dennis Egan needs to be sanctioned for his failure to uphold sensible governance of the sport. Russell acted wrongly, yes, but his actions were instinctive and in the heat of the moment; Egan had time to consider his response. To my mind if the wrongness of their actions were to be marked out of 10, Russell would receive 6 out of 10 and Egan 8.
Fifthly, the 4-day ban is also inappropriate considering both the offence and the bad publicity incurred by the sport for both the punch and the lack of integrity displayed by the Irish Turf Club. 10-days to a month for this offence should be mandatory to ensure the public are made aware how seriously the sport takes such malpractice. As much as Dennis Egan deserves to be sanctioned, it must be remembered that Davy Russell instigated the saga.
Sixthly, if there was such a thing as a scale of cruelty that can be metered out to a horse Russell’s lacklustre punch would come pretty low down the scale. Certainly it would cause less of an effect on a horse’s welfare than say over-exuberance of the whip. In fact there is footage on YouTube of Sean Levey landing a punch on a horse after being unseated after the finish of a race at Kempton that might have greater impact on the horse’s welfare as Levey’s fist seems to land on the horse’s teeth or jaw. But as there was no outrage from a disgruntled public the powers-that-be have allowed the offence to go unpunished and the racing press have also chosen to ignore the incident.
The sad component of this sad affair is that the incident should have taken place at pretty Tramore, where the surf meets the turf. Tramore, I believe, is the innocent party in the affair and should receive damages for any damage done to its reputation as one of the more individual and pretty racecourses in Ireland and perhaps the world.
Waterford and Tramore racecourse, to give it its full name, began life as a beach racecourse and raced in harmony with the waves from 1785 till 1911 when nature decided sand was not an appropriate surface for horses to race on. After really rough storms in 1911 the locals took the hint and built a course a mile inland. In 1997 a consortium bought the racecourse for 5-million euros and invested in its facilities.
In the year 2,000 Tramore had the honour of staging the first race meeting of the new millennium with The Mean Fiddler H’cap chase being won by No Problem. It took 17 years for the ironic nature of the name of the winner to emerge. Tramore has two other claims to fame: one it was the first racecourse to use euros as a medium of change and if galloped left-handed (the course is a sharp right-handed course with a steep descent around the home-turn and an incline to the winning post) it closely resembles Epsom and Tattenham Corner. A gem of information Irish trainers might want to consider if they can’t decide whether to take their Derby hopeful to Epsom.
For those who are thinking of a holiday in Ireland in early October the next meeting is October 9th and with its view of Tramore Bay from the grandstand it should be a visit to be remembered, and that’s without any promises of Davy Russell and Dennis Egan dragging the sport through the mud.
This is an emotive subject and very few racehorse trainers, breeders or even administrators will have any degree of acceptance of my point of view. I dare say few will agree with me. But then again how many people actually ever consider the subject of 2-year-olds and the weight we put on their backs.
In the 3.00 at Brighton on September 4th, a Nursery, the top-weight carried 9st 9lbs, with the bottom weight due to carry 9st 1lb. The 9 runners were all 2-year-olds. Does no one ask whether it is right for 2-year-olds to be saddled with more weight than the 3-year-old colts who run in the Derby and the other classics? To my mind it is utterly wrong to expect a 2-year-old to race with anything like 9st 9lbs on its back. I believe the weights allocated to horses these days is based more on the weight of jockeys than what is fair to the general welfare of the horse. 2-year-olds are babies, for pities sake. This time last year they were unbroken yearlings. If children are the future of the human race, can we not treat 2-year-old horses as the future of the sport of horse racing and not treat them as if they are readily disposable?
In case you should think I have highlighted a race in isolation simply as an example of my point let us move on to Ripon and the 2.10. Top weight is 9st 5lbs. The 2.40, top weight 9st 11lbs, for pities sake. At Windsor, the 1.50, top weight 9st 5lbs. The 2.20, top weight 9st 10lbs. Roscommon, the 4.45, top weight 9st 5lbs. Goodwood, 2.40, top weight 9st 5lbs. The 3.15, top weight 9st 7lbs. Kempton 5.50, top weight 9st 9lbs.
To my mind racing has allowed a form of passive abuse to become standard practice. To my mind no 2-year-old should ever carry more than 8st 11lbs. If this suggestion was to be implemented it would serve a second purpose – because in the main the top jockeys can allow themselves the luxury of a square meal every now and again, a maximum top weight in 2-year-old races of 8st 11lbs would allow the lesser lights of the weighing room to receive more opportunities per season to prove their worth. To return to my first example the weight range would become 8st 11lbs to 7st 13lbs. Win-win, I suggest, for the light weights.
I believe the whole issue of 2-year-old races should be reassessed. If I had my way there would be no 2-year-old races until May or June and the number of Group races for 2-year-olds be severely reduced. That, of course, will not happen as a large part of the industry is founded on the ill-conceived notion of producing precocious 2-year-olds and for owners of fillies the need for ‘black type’. Racehorses, as it is with the breeding of other types of horse, should be reared with longevity in mind. At the moment, as for many decades, foals and yearlings are cash crops, with very little emphasis put on longevity or even the well-being of the species as a whole.
2-year-old racing is not wrong, there is simply too much importance put on it. It is no coincidence, I suggest, that year after year the Derby winner hardly runs as a 2-year-old and when it is raced it is with the future in mind. Asking a 2-year-old to carry 9st 9lbs is in no way looking after the interests of any horse’s long-term future.
For not only the good of its image but for the good of the thoroughbred species, the sport as a whole should ask itself whether there is now too much emphasis on the breeding of early, precocious two-year-olds, with the resultant ‘collateral damage’ of so many young horses ending up surplus to requirements at the end of its first, and sometimes only, season? Two-year-olds are babies and though they may appear strong at an age when the rules allow them to be raced, it should be remembered that in every other walk of equestrian life a two-year-old would hardly have been weaned, never mind asked to go out to work. At such a young age they are naturally soft, with back muscles, joints and tendons easily strained. A thoroughbred is not so very different from a horse bred for show-jumping, dressage or any other equestrian sport. Asking a two-year-old to carry more weight than a Derby runner is plain illogical, if not bordering on the image of the over-burdened donkey that the excellent Brooke Hospital Charity advertisements depict.
I finish by quoting Lt-Col P.D.Stewart from his book ‘Training The Race-Horse’.
“Mr Pycroft compares the skeletons of Eclipse, Persimmon, Ayrshire, St.Frusquin and St.Simon. All the neural spines of Eclipse stand perfectly clear of one another; the slight adhesions between the sixteenth and seventeenth thoracic and the last two lumbar are due to old age. With Persimmon, however, no fewer than nine of the thoracic – from the eleventh to the nineteenth – have formed false articular surfaces, due to having been loaded with a greater weight than they should carry in the early days of training – consequently the free ends of the neural spine have been forced one against the other and the friction to set up has caused them to throw out ‘bony exostases’.
It should be noted that the point Lt.Col. Stewart is making is that Eclipse did not race until he was 4-years old; Persimmon and the others raced as 2-year-olds.
He goes on to say. “I would ask all who are interested in the welfare of the horse to do all they can to persuade the Stewards of the Jockey Club to act now, to reduce and finally abolish 2-year-old racing altogether.”
Rather like the New Year variety, resolutions at other times of the year can be equally half-hearted. I remember the revelation that I did not really like alcohol, or at least that alcohol didn’t really like me, and I made the resolution to become teetotal, a decision I have adhered to ever since, as strange as that may be to those of you who might think I only ever write under the influence of strong spirit.
As my library of mostly ‘pre-loved’ books was getting out of hand – just couldn’t find enough wall-space to fit any more book-cases – I made a similar resolution to stop allowing myself to be seduced by books. After a bit of soul-searching I triumphantly managed to give away 99% of the novels I had collected, even those I had not got round to reading, keeping only those I couldn’t go on living without.
For weeks my resolution was steadfast. But then I decided I just had to, couldn’t live without, to commemorate the retirement of the greatest 2-mile chaser of all-time, buy, as a one-off, the Racing Post’s book on Sprinter Sacre. I enjoyed the book so much I realised, just in time, I suspect, that I was inflicting great harm on my soul in avoiding book shops and since then I have acquired an impressive number of racing books, including the two I always thought of as the Holy Grail of racing books, Pat Taaffe’s ‘My Life and Arkle’s’ and Michael Tanner’s homage to his favourite horse ‘My Friend Spanish Steps’, of which the last line in the introduction is ‘For this is Spanish Steps and at long last I can tell him how much I love him’. Doesn’t that just sum up National Hunt racing?
Amongst the recent purchases to bolster my now quite respectable racing library is a self-titled diary type of memoir by Gee Armitage, the first lady jockey to ride two winners at the same Cheltenham Festival.
This book intrigued me as I had tried to write a similar book with the late and much missed Richard Davis and as with my effort Gee’s book reads like she kept the juicier aspects of her year to herself. Of course when writing her year-book Gee did not fully appreciate that what she was putting together was a racing history book, especially as she was in the midst of single-handedly breaking down the forest of discrimination for the likes of Nina Carberry, Katie Walsh and the other good female riders who over the years – 29 to be precise –have proved categorically as ridiculous the chauvinist held criticism that ‘girls are not as strong, tough or competent as men’.
Interestingly, the people she rode against and socialised with are now established figures in the sport. Jamie Osborne was a young conditional in 1988, Richard Phillips assistant trainer to Henry Candy, Henrietta Knight had not even thought of training. Also, Desert Orchid was still running over 2-miles, ‘Hello’ magazine was new, a mobile phone cost £1,800, Windsor was still a jumps course and Cheltenham was only a 3-day festival. Though what is abundantly clear is that Luke Harvey has been drinking hard and not taking life at all seriously for a very very long time.
Rather like the entries Richard Davis provided for me it was the frustration with the weather that dominated the months of January and February, and when the racecourses were not either waterlogged or frozen Gee was often injured, which lead to entries involving her private life and the publicity she was receiving for being a lone girl in what was very much a man’s world. ‘The publicity I am given is totally out of proportion to my ability as a rider’, she wrote, which might have been true, though what she was not appreciating was that she was ‘box office’ whereas Richard Dunwoody was not.
The book was marketable not only because at the time Gee was marketable but because she was riding Gee-A in the Grand National that year and if she had won the book would have achieved a second or third print-run. She didn’t win, of course, indeed her race ended when she put her back out at the 20th fence when there was a fair chance Gee-A might have been placed. But that is life. One of her coterie Brendan Powell won the race and her boyfriend at the time Carl Llewellyn suffered a bad fall.
What is interesting about the book, 29 years since its publication, and what affords it merit, is that it is not only an illuminating postscript to the career of Gee, as much a pioneer over jumps as Hayley Turner on the flat, but it sheds a reminiscing light on the sport all those years ago. I suspect N.H. jockeys still know how to party and indulge in silly pranks but I doubt if today’s jockeys, or at least the top professionals and those with the ambition to be a top professional, drink as much beer as Luke Harvey seemed to consume. Indeed given his high profile in the sport these days as part of I.T.V.’s racing team Luke might want to start praying that Matt Chapman or one his other colleagues does not have a copy of Gee’s book on their bookshelves. I say no more.
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.