National Hunt trainer Kim Bailey shares his thoughts on washed-off meetings, gratitude, and Frankie Dettori’s early jungle exit
What do a farmer and racehorse trainer have in common? It is not that many of us try to do both jobs, but that we all find a reason to moan about the weather.
Last Christmas we were complaining about the lack of water from the skies, hence virtually every racecourse was watering right into late January. This year, the sport is suffering from washed-off race meetings and small fields of horses who can cope with heavy ground. It has made planning and running horses a real nightmare.
Our Grade One-winning old boy First Flow is a prime example – his season’s target was Sunday’s Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, which was washed away by rising flood water. First Flow is about to turn 12 and still seems to love his racing, but it was frustrating to miss a race in which he had a golden chance.
The weather has been testing for all, not least the clerks of the course. I was at Chepstow on Saturday, where Libby O’Flaherty achieved miracles to call her meeting on. Libby is one of the new breed of clerks of the course who really know their racecourses and she is gaining huge respect from trainers for her honest approach, which is pretty hard to achieve as trainers are an unforgiving lot!
It is quite difficult to be positive about anything in either the agricultural or equine world at the moment, but to put things into perspective, we had an equine vet from Ukraine here last week. I believe he was one of a very few who, along with his young family, was allowed out of their home country.
Listening to the horror stories of what he left behind makes you realise how incredibly lucky we are that we live where we do. He could not believe how fortunate he was to be standing in the rain and cold at the Chaddesley Corbett point-to-point racecourse – to him it was a holiday and a luxury.
Perhaps we should be thankful for what we have and forget the woes racing faces, be it staff shortages, lack of prize money or financial problems due to the new gambling commission.
Racing also showed that it is not a universally popular or particularly well-known sport when Frankie Dettori was kicked out of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! He was probably surprised to be first past the post in a way he has never experienced before, as first out. The public apparently did not bond to him.
The busiest day of the sporting year
We are heading for the busy festive period and time off for our hard-working team is difficult to organise. Staff parties keep many happy for the night, but the following morning the head hurts and horses need mucking out and then of course horses buck and faff about making you feel all the worse for wear, but we know that is all part of the pleasure of the job.
Christmas is a time to be with your families, but horses have their own families and they are those who look after them. Horses don’t know what day it is, but they like routine, and need looking after 24/7. Then of course there is hunting or racing on Boxing Day – the busiest day of the sporting year.
So to finish, I would like to wish all who work with horses a very jolly and happy Christmas. Enjoy and treasure your animals as much as they treasure you. These dark, cold and wet days will soon be behind us and 2024 will bring spring in the air.
● How have you dealt with winter weather woes this year? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your thoughts published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 14 December, 2023
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