Tom Symonds’ diary: no horse is just a number

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I recently likened the horses in the yard to a vase of lilies that adorned our hallway. Some are in full bloom, some wilting and some yet to bloom. It has been a long season and a few of the inmates at Dason Court are due a break.

Horses will tell you in many ways, but while one must be realistic about the need to keep a horse going when the weather and ground are so capricious, sods law dictates that as soon as you turn out your soft-ground horse when the ground is firm, the horse will inevitably be standing out in showers of rain.

Titivating can be expensive and risky regarding running a horse when conditions do not suit – perhaps it’s best not to be tempted.

Don’t tell me we don’t care for our horses in racing

As Aintree action looms, the inevitable talk of last year’s mayhem arises. Public perception is very important and 2011′s events left a sour taste in the mouth of millions of viewers, who then expressed their displeasure by widely criticising the sport itself and those who support it.

When arguing with such critics, one must leave aside the fame and significance that a race like the Grand National holds. A horse race is a horse race and just because it holds more significance because of tradition makes it no different from any other race. In this way although criticism flows around Aintree time, it does indeed ebb during most of the year when horses also sadly lose their lives at other race meetings.

What people seem to forget is that no one likes fatalities, and the part that annoys the racing fraternity is that critics also imply that losing a horse doesn’t seem to matter to those around the fallen animal. Thoroughbreds are looked after like kings and, as any owner will confirm, it costs a lot to keep an equine athlete in the lifestyle that it needs to run to the best of his or her abilities.

The “Sport of Kings” is followed by many and criticised by plenty, but this is an industry where the ultimate price to pay is death – equine and human. It is a very high-risk sport and we cannot get away from that. I am not echoing Scott-Holland’s “death is nothing at all”, because it is everything, but the point is that covering up things that occur because people don’t like seeing them is like living in Plato’s cave – thus, a dream world.

I admit there are probably better ways of dealing with fatalities at the races, but saying that fatalities are unacceptable is misguided. Horseracing is a small part of an equine world where millions of pounds funds the thoroughbred to evolve and be cared for, while at the same time there are plenty of other situations where equines – or animals in general – are neglected. Because these are not in the public domain people don’t become suddenly enraged. The Donkey Sanctuary and World Horse Welfare are charities that constantly strive to conquer the ongoing issues with animal cruelty that people aren’t even aware of.

The young jockey Patrick Mullins’ article in the Racing Post on Tuesday, 10 April very eloquently described the loss felt by those close to a horse that loses its life. The death of Dooney’s Gate in last years National made nothing else matter, and he publicly displayed similar sentiments about the loss of Scotsirish at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

In the National every single one of those 40 horses is cared for and nurtured; they are not simply numbers or statistics. Although not everyone can see it, the camaraderie in horse racing – equine and human alike – is like a river, and at its source is a spring that centres on the love of the horse. As it meanders its way to the delta the strong currents mean the river overcomes obstacles and adjusts to changes – it widens, erodes and floods – but the basic spirit and camaraderie runs very deep and is there right to the very end.

Drama in the desert

Meanwhile, Elsa was dispatched to Dubai to witness the very international card at the Meydan oasis. It was spectacular in every way. A card that was marred by the deaths of some favorite stalwarts (Fox Hunt, Bronze Cannon and Grand Vent) otherwise lived up to its billing.

Notable results were Aidan O’Brien’s first Dubai winner in Daddy Long Legs, who is bred to be a Kentucky Derby horse and could yet turn out to be just that.

Cityscape ended his Group One hoodoo in devastating fashion and in so doing gave under-rated jockey James Doyle his first top-flight success.

The very admirable gelding Cirrus Des Aigles not only annexed the Sheema Classic but also alerted Europeans that he will not lie down without a fight against those most valuable stallion prospects – he gave us an appetiser of this in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last October. He is also the only Pattern performer that his sire Even Top has ever produced and the only Pattern performer in the first three dams of his pedigree – unique indeed.

The apparent under-dog Monterosso then won the World Cup. The victory was notable for the fact that Mickael Barzelona, the precocious Mozart-like entertainer, celebrated like no one can. The maestro Andre Fabre was dead right in his prediction that this “man” could be the next world-class jockey on the scene.

Furthermore, Monterosso’s sire Dubawi continues to thrive and memories of his sire Dubai Millennium’s devastating display in the desert were revived. Sheikh Mohammed has certainly found a great sire after tragically losing one so young.

Lastly, So You Think was the apparent disappointment of the meeting, but people forget what he has already achieved.

American trainer Greg Gilchrist once said that people spend far to much time saying what a horse can’t do rather than finding out what a horse can do, and to this end what more does So You Think have to do? He has been a superstar from Australia to Europe and whatever he does embellishes his already illustrious career.

The last thought of World Cup night must go to trainer Marco Botti, whose horses all performed creditably but did not win. He did, however, earn more in one night than most top trainers do in one season.

Meanwhile a week later in Rosehill, Australia, Gai Waterhouse purloined two Group One races with her ultra-consistent mare More Joyous and the very exciting two-year -old Pierro. Then, to sign the masterpiece, she also won the Group Three with Western Symbol – like So You Think by High Chaparral. Gai is certainly continuing the legacy of her father, the legendary T J Smith.

The BMW Stakes went to Manighar – a former in-mate of Luca Cumani’s – and just for good measure he beat Americain, formerly with Alain Du Royer Dupre in France, and in third was another Cumani ex-pat in Drunken Sailor. Talk about talented transferring…

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