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.
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.