Few tasks can be more laden with responsibility than that of sourcing a safe but competitive mount for a novice point-to-point rider embarking on his first season. It can also demand diplomacy, as some first-timers assume that race-riding is all a bit of a doddle, and need a gentle reality check.
Some contenders are happy to have a safe jumper, however slow, just to give them a flavour of the sport and get them home. Philippa Shirley-Beavan purchased The Broken Man for a dual-purpose role, partly to be her own hunter and partly as a safe conveyance for Kelly Bryson, who works in her yard at Bonchester Bridge.
“We didn’t really have great expectations of winning with him,” said Philippa. “But he was the schoolmaster of a lifetime. Kelly couldn’t have had a better ride first time out. He was the sort you had to work on because he wouldn’t just take you there, but I think that teaches you more.”
And Philippa should know, having given a first opportunity to many young riders, including Paul Robson, now a successful conditional jockey. The Broken Man’s schoolmastering duties are set to continue, as he has been sold on to fill that position with a 17-year-old girl in 2005.
Other beginners want a horse who, although safe, will get them into the race and give them a feel of real competition. It was exactly this kind of mount that provided young Cheshire rider David Greenway with his first success. David, now a seasoned veteran at 19, enjoyed his first triumph in 2002 and has a total of three winners to his name.
Prologue, who gave him that memorable initial victory, was bought by David’s father, Robin, to give his son the experience of the action. “He was an older, sensible horse, who had some prospect of being in contention,” said Robin. Apart from one hiccup — a first fence fall — Prologue fulfilled the task admirably, carrying his young rider into the frame on all six completions.
Finding the right horse, though, was not easy. “And it’s harder still if you’ve set yourself a limited budget,” Robin admitted. “I looked around for a couple of months, going to the sales twice, and then, typically, I found one on the doorstep. Someone mentioned Prologue to me, and I bought him privately from Rob Hankey.”
David’s brother, Tom, got started on another patent safety, Grange Prize, who was the last horse partnered in a race by Robin himself. As Tom was not old enough to race-ride, Robin lent the chestnut to another novice for a year, then had him back for his elder son.
“He was the sort who, if I’d tried a Frankie Dettori flying dismount in the paddock, would have moved over and caught me on the way down,” recalled Tom. “For someone of 16, as I was, to be in a race is a bit daunting, but he was bombproof. ”
Point-to-pointing can be an ideal way for ex-chasers to round off an honourable racing career, but the fact that they have proven ability over the larger obstacles does not automatically mean they will make an ideal schoolmaster. For John and Ann Docker and their two sons, though, Raise An Argument was the perfect tutor.
At the age of 12, Raise An Argument was given to the Dockers by his owner, John Poynton. John did not want to see the bay, winner of 11 races, toiling against horses to whom he would, in his heyday, have shown a clean pair of heels.
It was another two years before Joe Docker was old enough to race-ride, but the wait was well worth it, the partnership gelling superbly to give Joe his first success in their fourth race together. By the end of 1996, their winning tally reached nine.
The following year, Raise An Argument, by then 18 and in his final season, gave Nick Docker, two years his junior, his first taste of racing, the pair finishing second four times. “To all of us, he was a complete star,” said Ann. “He always wanted to please you and he just loved life. We were so lucky to have him.”
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