In my previous ‘blog’ – I doubt if I’ll ever concede to the easy use of this word or indeed the description ‘blogger’, if that is what I am? – I poured disdain, no doubt unfairly and unwisely, on Arrogate, the ‘best horse on the planet, apparently.
My criticism is not directed at the horse, who undoubtedly is top-drawer, or either his trainer or owner but at the racing media who to a man, woman and any other let rip with a bravura of air-headed reverence that come summer might yet ooze with the consistency of custard cream down their faces if Arrogate should flop next time he runs or if he should never run again. ‘One swallow doth not make a summer’, comes to mind.
There is an old Fleet Street expression that is attributed to many journalists; that they have to read what they write in order to know what they believe. I know this to be true as I also must re-read what I have written in the past to remember what I believe in or used to believe in.
I remember how ‘brilliant’ Air Force Blue’ was through the winter and how hacks couldn’t think of a colt likely to beat him in the 2,000 Guineas. I should think the Stallion Review books are filled with similar horses who could be described as all-pedigree and little performance. Horses bigged up by journalists with little else to write about at the time.
Great horses, truly great horses that earn the word legend after their name, are not here one day and gone the other. Arrogate will sparkle for eighteen months and be gone to the siring shed of big bucks. It is why very few flat horses can be attributed with the accolade ‘legend of the sport’. They are just not allowed the opportunity to be anything other than the best of their generation. My prejudice on this matter would include Dancing Brave, Sea The Stars Golden Horn and virtually every Coolmore Derby winner.
At Ascot during the summer there is a 2-mile handicap named after Brown Jack. Anyone new to the sport or under the age of sixty, or perhaps fifty, will say Brown Who? To which I reply ‘shame on you’. Brown Jack is a true legend of racing. During my lifetime the flat has only produced two such horses and neither of them can touch Brown Jack in either longevity or public affection. Indeed I honestly believe only Arkle, Red Rum and perhaps Golden Miller can top his achievements in the history of our sport. Golden Miler for his 5 Cheltenham Gold Cups and Grand National victory, an achievement unlucky to ever be matched. Red Rum for his 3 Grand Nationals and Arkle for being near invincible over a range of distances and being the steeplechaser all other steeplechasers are weighed against.
Brown Jack won 7 years in a row at Royal Ascot, the Ascot Stakes once and the Queen Alexandra Stakes six times when the race was not the novelty it has become. As a gelding he was not eligible for the Ascot Gold Cup, though no one at the time thought any of the winners of that race during his career to be his superior. Indeed in other Cup races he beat many of them. He also won the Goodwood Cup, the Doncaster Cup, the Chester Cup, the Ebor Handicap, the Rosebery and several important staying races that were lost with the closure of such courses as Manchester and Derby. He was also second 4 times in the Goodwood Cup, being thought unlucky in three of them. He was also placed in all the top handicaps regularly giving away the sort of weight only Arkle was used to and it was not unusual for him to be burdened with 10-stone or more and never once did connections think to put up a claimer. In the Ebor of 1930, for instance, he was third giving away 2-stone and 1-stone nine-pounds respectively to two dead-heaters.
Brown Jack’s memory needs to be preserved in a grander style than to have a lowly handicap named after him. The racing public should be educated about his achievements, then they would be able to truly judge the achievements of modern-day horses. Arkle is not honoured with a nondescript handicap but a championship race at the greatest race-meeting in the world. Brown Jack, belatedly, deserves a similar distinction.
It is 83 years since Jack won his seventh Royal Ascot race – he was retired in the winner’s circle – and no horse has come close during the intervening years to matching his achievements. This is the stuff of legend, not a solitary breeze in the desert. So let’s celebrate what will never again be achieved by elevating Brown Jack to the status of a true champion with his race equally elevated?
Mrs. Aubrey Hastings, wife of Brown Jack’s first trainer (Ivor Anthony took on the mantle of trainer at Wroughton upon Aubrey Hastings death) said after Brown Jack had gone to retirement at the home of his owner Sir Harold Wernher. “This place is not the same without him. He was part of our life – the centre of our life here.” He was irreplaceable and not been replaced.
Brown Jack can be seen in bronze at Ascot, the sculptor being none other than Sir Alfred Munnings. For R.C. Lyle’s book on Brown Jack there are pencil sketches of the great horse by Lionel Edwardes. There is a pub in Wroughton named after Brown Jack. The last LNER Class A1/A3 locomotive was named in 1935 ‘Brown Jack’.
Name another horse so honoured outside of horse racing?
Here we are talking not legend but LEGEND. Lest we not forget what the term legend truly means.
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.