John Hislop bred Brigadier Gerard, to my mind the only horse to run on the flat in modern times that can be compared favourably with Frankel. Indeed, alongside the Hislop family, I suspect, I believe the Brigadier, in respect of his victory in the King George & Queen Elisabeth, to be a smidge superior to Frankel.
John Hislop rode as an amateur on the flat, where he excelled, and over jumps. He was champion amateur on the flat year after year. He was also a racing journalist; a contemporary of Peter O’Sullivan and Clive Graham.
In his memoir ‘Hardly A Jockey’ – there is no explanation in the book for the title – he makes note of the changes in racing since the ending of the 2nd World War, in which, incidentally, he was awarded the Military Cross after an operation with the S.A.S.. He refers to this period as the ending of the phase of Turf history that started with the introduction of the American seat and before the fashion of the ultra-short stirrup leather as introduced by Lester Piggott.
Starting stalls have replaced the barrier start; jockeys now wear crash helmets and goggles (and since the publication of ‘Hardly A Jockey’ body protectors are now compulsory) there was no overnight declaration of runners; motorways make for shorter, straighter journeys, whereas in the period in question a road map was an essential accessory to any day out at the races; racegoers, and jockeys, regularly travelled to race meetings by train and stayed in hotels if the meeting was a 2 or 3 day affair; hundred horse stables were unknown (now, of course 150 – 200 horse stables are not uncommon) discipline was stricter and the standard of stable husbandry was higher; stable-girls were rare, whereas now racing could not function without them; in the immediate post-war years entry to members enclosures and the Royal Enclosure was restricted and socially biased, with even trainers barred unless they had joined prior to taking out a trainer’s licence; divorced people were disallowed entry to the Royal Enclosure; commoners had little chance of becoming members of the Jockey Club. Yearlings were not bought at U.S. sales for racing in Europe; the Grand National remained a fierce test of man and horse; all-weather racing was a distant dream; as was the propping up of the flat by mega-wealthy Arab owners; horses racing abroad was an adventure on a par with Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic; sponsorship was in its infancy; we have lost many good and important racecourses, with Kempton’s future presently hanging in the balance; there was no night racing at the time of publication of ‘Hardly A Jockey’; the photo-finish, patrol camera and technology in general was akin to science fiction as far as racing was concerned; and racing was not so wonderfully served by television.
And of course in our time jockeys and trainers are under much closer scrutiny, with whip offences and drug violations punished with bans and fines. Indeed horse racing in this country may be the most closely scrutinised sport in the world.
And who would have thought thirty years ago that you could walk up your high street at eight-o-clock at night and go into a betting shop to place a bet on the eight-fifteen at Chelmsford or Newcastle? Our sport, though, has not changed out of all recognition to the sport that started up again after the cessation during the 2nd World War. Fundamentally the sport remains a love-affair with the thoroughbred and an eternal temptation to ‘break the hearts of bookmakers’. The aesthetic appeal of the challenge of the horse race and the desire to always back winners are strange bedfellows yet they remain undivorced from one another after the passing of hundreds of years and hundreds of cases where good men have been tempted to circumvent the rules of racing and where bad men have committed foul deeds.
In the years ahead there be other changes, I have no doubt. Through the need to survive perhaps, the sport will have to introduce what used to be referred to as a ‘Tote Monopoly’, prize money being the number 1 bug-bear of all and sundry. Personally I hope the revolution in treating the broken bones of small animals and birds, a revolution inspired by the greatest vet the science has known, Noel Fitzpatrick, will lead to a method of healing the broken bones of racehorses, the treatment of which is made challenging by the way horses naturally get up from laying at rest. I also hope that one day the rule of ‘one crack and no more’ is introduced, a rule of the whip that cannot be misinterpreted. As Brigadier Gerard’s rider, Joe Mercer, used to say: if a horse doesn’t run faster for one smack, it certainly won’t go faster for two.
My hope for the future is that despite change brought about by necessity and invention racing survives and flourishes and that the generations to come can enjoy the beauty and magic of horse-racing and man’s love of the horse. After all, to the discerning man or woman, without horse-racing what is life?
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.