I have taken horses to the breeding establishments of all the major owner/breeders in the Newmarket area. Most are very professional and you’d have to go a long way to find a better organised and managed stud, than say the Nunnery, Banstead Manor, Cheveley Park, Lanwades or the Royal Studs.
One stud, I went to a couple of times, that was not of the same standard was Sheikh Mohammed’s Dalham Hall. You couldn’t pin what was wrong, and I never had a problem, but the quality of staff, wasn’t of the same order as at other top class studs. And they were always changing! By comparison, when I went to Sheikh Hamdam’s Nunnery, you were always recognised like an old friend and they usually asked how I was getting on without C.
So when I read on the BBC’s web site, that Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation is involve in a doping scandal, I am not surprised.
As ever the weather didn’t cool the ardour of the Liverpudlian ladies at Ladies’ Day at Aintree yesterday. There are pictures here.
There is no truth in the rumour, that the Royal Liverpool Hospital, had to deal with ten thousand drunken young ladies with hypothermia.
Many believe that the Grand national and all steeplechasing should be banned.
But what would happen if we did ban it?
All our major races would probably move to Ireland or if the Scottish government decided not to ban it, to Scotland.
They would be overjoyed and some places in the UK, like Liverpool and Cheltenham, would lose quite a few jobs and lots of income.
But life in this country would lose one of its great spectacles. Soon horse racing would be reduced to a shadow of its former self, with probably only all-weather racing on the flat surviving.
I do think sometimes, that the various antis in all sorts of areas, have one aim in their mind; to take all the fun out of our lives.
If a man has never made love to a woman, who’s wearing nothing but a fur coat, he’s never lived! Incidentally, it wasn’t C’s coat either and it was at a two hour break in proceedings in a Catholic wedding.
April the 6th, sees the Grand National run at Liverpool this year.
In some ways, I’m surprised, as in the 1960s, it was quietly fading away! But then out of the Book of Unlikely Sporting Heroes came that amazing horse; Red Rum. By winning the race three times in five years, he effectively recreated all of the interest in the race. He must be the only animal, who has single-handedly saved a sporting or other event, that was failing and put it on a sound footing.
Now the Grand National meeting at Liverpool, is one of the biggest events in the city. C and I went once with the kids and some day I’ll go again.
I was once told a tale, that in the 1970s, when it looked like Aintree racecourse might fold, that the Jockey Club had plans in place to recreate the Grand National course on Newmarket Heath.
Luckily Red Rum came along and the rest as they say, is history!
In some ways though, Red Rum had the last laugh, in that he spent several years enjoying himself as a celebrity. He then died at thirty, which is a very good age for a horse.
A few days ago, I saw a lady reading The Morning Star on a bus. I hadn’t seen a copy for many years.
The lady was reading the television programs and I wondered whether they carry the information for channels not very well disposed to the left.
Perhaps the funniest story about the paper, was that many years ago, their racing tipster was doing very well in the naps table carried in The Sporting Life, that gave a prize for the best tipster after the season. Their sales went up a couple of notches.
I’m not bothered one way or another if he appears on Channel 4 Racing, as he can be almost as irritating as the adverts that appear on the channel.
I’ve spoken to him a couple of times and although his views can be outspoken, I’ve never found him anything but charming and courteous. In fact a friend was interviewed by him, for their screen test for television and found he put them totally at ease.
I have a feeling that McCririck will appear elsewhere on television and/or radio, as his knowledge of horse racing is undoubtedly at the highest level.
Judging horses across the generations is a lot easier than judging footballers or even athletes, as everything is timed and analysed meticulously and available to everybody through Timeform.
I have not seen Frankel in the flesh and I only saw a recording of his win yesterday, as I was at the football. But he’s on the front page of many news websites today and I suspect his image will dominate the printed press.
BBC Radio 5 devoted a whole evening to the horse, which says something for his prowess, but is he the greatest racehorse ever?
I used to feel Brigadier Gerard was the greatest horse I’d ever seen, but he was a racehorse, who although great on the track didn’t really produce the progeny expected. He was also in a generation, where he raced against another great horse in Mill Reef.
Joe Mercer who rode Brigadier Gerard in all his races and has told the story, when after being in a plane crash, he wasn’t feeling the best, but still lined up on the horse. Normally, the horse pulled hard going to the start, but this day he didn’t. He came back gingerly looking after Joe and just pulled clear to win the race. He was one of those horses that liked to win. Some do!
In an article in The Times yesterday, this ability to run his own race and win was attributed to Frankel and not for the first time.
Will I see another horse better than Frankel? I doubt it!
My father might have disagreed, as he saw racing before the Second World War. He remembered Hyperion and felt he was the best he’d seen. The horse’s presence is still seen in equine pedigrees, fifty years after he died. His statue also has pride of place on Newmarket High Street.
But whatever you say about Frankel, spare a thought for Sir Henry Cecil, his trainer. Almost down and completely out a few years ago and battling cancer, he’s turned things around to give racing fans three years of pleasure. I’ll leave him the last word on Frankel.
“There has never been a better horse,” … “I love everything about him. He’s the best horse I have ever had. I’d be very surprised if there will be anything better.”
I just wish I’d been at Ascot yesterday, but tickets had been unavailable for months.
My last hairdresser always said that my hair grew very fast and in fact for a sixty-five-year-old man, I have a pretty good head of hair.
But what got me thinking was that yesterday The Times showed a list of the best dressed older people. What stood out was their compliments for Katherine, the Duchess of Kent. They said of her that potentially she has the best hair in the Royal Family (including Kate Middleton’s, yes).
And she is 79! It is well-known that she is a coeliac, so it can be assumed that like me she sticks to her gluten-free diet.
I posted this on a coeliac list on the Internet and others said that there could be a connection from personal experience.
Over the past forty years, I’ve had a lot to do with flat race jockeys.
Obviously, to keep their weight down, they eat frugally and the typical gluten-rich snacks, beloved of the general population, are probably never eaten. I remember one meal with Michael Roberts, where he ate baked salmon and peas, followed by some fruit.
But you’ll rarely find a flat race jockey, without a full head of hair! And many are riding well into their forties. The best hair on the current crop of top jockeys must be on Hayley Turner. But then she’s a woman. And a coeliac!
And then we could look at people like Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and others, whose diet is mainly rice-based. They generally seem to my untrained eye to have better hair as they get older, than the average Caucasian.
I do wonder if there is a serious link here. It probably isn’t to coeliac disease, but the diet may be the key. After all, Nottingham University have shown that coeliacs, who stick to the gluten-free diet, have a twenty-five percent less chance of getting cancer. Why this is, no-one knows, but it could just be that a healthy diet, which looks after your gut, gets the maximum amount of good vitamins and minerals into your body.
Lord Oaksey, who died today, was the sort of unique person, that occasionally, gets created in these isles. I won’t say the UK, as the Irish have produced some like him.
I did meet him and I also saw him give a very good speech, but two memories of him stand out.
In 1963, he wrote a dramatic report on the Grand National, describing how Carrickbeg was only beaten by three-quarters of a length. Only at the end of the report did you realise, that he had been riding the horse.
The other was much later, when he was broadcasting on Channel 4, at I think Uttoxeter racecourse. Someone had set up a crane to do bungy jumps and there was pressure for one of the Channel 4 team to do the jump. All the others like John Francome refused and it was the over-60-year-old Lord Oaksey who did it.
How many others have done a bungy jump on air at that age?
War correspondents these days, may have a tougher time, but has there been a racing journalist, who combined both careers with such skill at the same time?
I lost a friend yesterday.
I was once told in all seriousness by an old horse coper, that if you think you’ve got a good horse, could you have charged tanks with him, if the Nazis had invaded.
Vague Shot was such a horse! Although, his most notable success, in the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot in 1987 under top weight and in heavy going, was before C and I bought him, he brought us a lot of pleasure. He would have been thirty on the first of January next year, but sadly he had to be put down yesterday, because of that killer of many horses; colic.
I think it is true to say, I’ve never seen a racehorse, who was treated with so much affection by those who owned, rode and cared for him. And he always repaid their affection with kindness! I remember once, where the great Steve Cauthen, who’d incidentally ridden him to victory in the Royal Hunt Cup riding for us in the Newbury Spring Cup. Most jockeys have a short chat with the owners and trainers and then they get quickly mounted. But not Steve that day, as he had to have a chat with the horse as well. But then there are jockeys, great jockeys and Steve Cauthen!
I am not the greatest of riders and certainly aren’t now, but one of my strongest memories of riding, was exercising Vague Shot, or Cyril as everyone called him, around the lanes when we lived at Debach. Remember, he was an entire horse, but when I did this, I would have a pony mare called Sally, with an eight-year-old girl aboard, on a lead reign. She would make eyes at him, but he knew his manners and just made sure she was tucked in behind, where she couldn’t taunt him.
In one instance, we met a large grain lorry on a lane with no space to pass. It rather noisily screeched to a halt.
A horse’s standard defence mechanism is to side-step and run away. I just sat tight, making sure the pony was secure, anticipating being dragged sideways through a rather thick hedge.
But Cyril did something, I’ve never seen before or since on a horse. He turned deliberately left towards the hedge, putting himself between the truck and pony. When he was sure that the truck had stopped moving, he deliberately picked his way along the side, leaving just enough space for the pony to his left. He did point his head at the driver as we passed, but I think, he’d already got the message.
I said he was my friend and he was. In times of stress, I would often go out in the dark and find him to tell him my troubles. But I suspect, I wasn’t the only person who did that, as he always listened. This picture was taken a few years ago.
There are those that criticise thoroughbreds, but there can’t have been many horses, who could be judged on a human scale, as highly as Vague Shot. He will be sadly missed by all of his friends. And especially, by one person, who looked after him for over three-quarters of his life.