Graham Fletcher: The sport has changed *H&H Plus*


  • If anybody had told me at any time during my riding career that in February 2020 our yard would be taking 19 horses to Vilamoura, Portugal, for a four-week tour, I’d have given them a strange look. But that’s how much the sport has changed.

    In the decades I rode, the major shows were all about top riders, good prize money, selling tickets, household-name sponsors and the TV companies helping to finance the fixtures. The tours of today are a different dynamic. With something for everybody, there are young horse competitions and classes from 1.10m to grand prix, with €50,000-plus (£44,230) prize funds.

    As you might expect, the various classes get tremendous entries, often more than 100 in the starting line-ups, and that makes for very competitive jumping. You really have to be fast and on-the-button to win them – in any category.

    With superb all-weather rings and a really nice climate, conditions are perfect if you take a bunch of horses to produce. We had five clients riding in Vilamoura, as well as both my sons, Will and Olli, who each won two classes.

    I was especially pleased with two eight-year-old horses we had competing there, Webbswood True Blue and Hello William. The latter was stepping up a level and I was delighted with his progress, especially as Lord and Lady Kirkham and Lord and Lady Harris have bought him for Olli to ride and to stay in our yard. It’s great to have such loyal supporters as owners; I hope Olli can do them proud.

    I think I can safely say that, without exception, all the parents of our younger riders enjoyed the atmosphere of Vilamoura and the friendliness of the Portuguese people. When I asked one of them, Jez Webb, at the end of the tour if he’d had a good time, he leaned back in his chair as he sat on the veranda of the restaurant with the sun beating down, raised his glass of rosé and declared: “What’s not to like?”

    I’ll drink to that, too…

    Keep calm, carry on

    As mass hysteria about the coronavirus grows, let’s all hope for the sake of this summer’s shows and events that the complete shutdown that’s happened in Italy doesn’t take place over here.

    Until the day official restrictions are announced, it’s best to go about your daily life as normal – but by that I don’t mean to trivialise the concern for those who are unfortunate enough to contract coronavirus. Several years ago I had a bad dose of pneumonia; when you’re in a hospital room on a ventilator, with all the various monitors bleeping around you and your life hangs in the balance, it’s a very scary time.

    However, one thing I can say with absolute authority is that there’s no need to stockpile toilet rolls. In fact, if you survive such a situation, you’re mightily relieved to need even one!

    A fall too far?

    For me, the quote of the year so far came during ITV’s Cheltenham coverage. They were doing a piece on the very talented Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore. Her modesty was being discussed by the pundits, when they asked Irish trainer Jessica Harrington if Rachael was, in fact, too modest.

    Jessica simply replied: “You don’t have as far to fall if you’re modest.” Brilliant!

    Ref Horse & Hound; 19 March 2020