Tom Symonds’ blog: why racing’s like Masterchef

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  • I will admit to having an obsession with Masterchef. If you will work with my very leftfield brain, you will see the parallels it has with horseracing.

    You see so much passion within each contestant and only practical experience can help you to achieve your goals. Working in respected kitchens and for great chefs is the best possible grounding, but it is up to the individual to understand and create their own way of achieving the best results.

    One of the main ingredients of greater success is a well-established team. If you liken a yard to a kitchen and imagine the pressure that each member of that kitchen is under during the hours of service, there is no sudden pressure like that in our sport. This is immense and first, second and third impressions are everything. In that great juggling act, drop one ball and the rest may as well join their fallen brother. It really fascinates me how much one person’s actions can have a detrimental bearing on the whole team’s achievements and in such a short space of time in an industry when timing is paramount!

    Michel Roux jnr has that omniscient aura about him. But he is not one to force his idealistic measures on a young chef; he lets them evolve and develop in their own manner. What’s more, he shows admiration and respect to the “method chef” and ones who draw from their own experience. He has earned his respect by working tirelessly to achieve a higher level of dining and his position as a teacher is seen in the results of those who have worked with and for him.

    Perhaps I should leave the parables to the Bible, but there is definitely a correlation between a chef’s kitchen and a racehorse training establishment!

    Two awards ceremonies

    Last week I attended two events in London. On 1 December the annual Racehorse Owners Association Awards were held at the Hilton hotel. Despite someone deciding to relieve me of my iPhone, I had a very good evening. The winners included Long Run, Frankel and Sir Henry Cecil. The event was sponsored by Starlight Children’s Foundation, which is immensely important. If you think life is hard for you then Starlight will make you aware that there are some struggling to survive – and only in the spring of his or her life.

    Starlight – much like the Make-A-Wish Foundation – helps grant the wishes of children who have been struck by illness. These wishes can sometimes be trivial things that you or I take for granted everyday or indeed something more fantastical. If it helps them in some way then it is certainly doing the right job.

    On Monday 5 December Andy Clifton invited me to join his table at the 45th Horserace Writers and Photographers Derby Awards lunch. A very fun and alcohol fuelled event! My former boss gave me my only experience of this event so far, although I was always the one at home on the end of the phone coherently speaking of the days events.

    Racing personalities were aplenty and the winners were most appropriate. Again Sir Henry Cecil was honoured, as was Nick Luck (best broadcaster); Lee Mottershead (writer); Mel Fordham (owner and photographer) and Donald McCain jnr (National Hunt trainer).

    Tribute was paid to Michael Jarvis and Ginger McCain, whose son Donald announced that it was only his fourth time in the capital!

    Frank McMahon won the Stable Staff of the Year award, which was appropriately presented to him by Sir Henry Cecil. This is where appreciation is never misplaced as without grafters like Frank, who works for trainer Reg Hollinshead, racing simply would not happen. His dedication has helped and taught so many over the years that it was fantastic to acknowledge him in this way.

    Making the right call

    The Tingle Creek meeting at Sandown last weekend is one of my favourites, and featured top-class action with Al Ferof fending off the fast-improving For Non Stop in the now Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase. I was impressed with both horses at this most demanding of tracks.

    While the Tingle Creek itself had a slightly depleted field, it produced an outstanding winner in Sizing Europe. He is a horse who has experienced the ups and downs associated with the sport but has always bounced back through trainer Henry de Bromhead’s astute handling. I do feel sorry for the horse in second, Kauto Stone, as although he put up an excellent display he does have gargantuan boots to fill, being Kauto Star’s half-brother.

    Referring back to two former blog luminaries, the Winter Novices’ Hurdle saw Fingal Bay and Simonsig fight out the finish, with the former holding sway. I would not be at all surprised to see these two at the head of affairs at Prestbury Park in March. There is no doubting the imense potential they both have, but the question is which race they will run in.

    I remember the discourse and debate that Nicky Henderson went through at last year’s Cheltenham Festival when trying to decide which race Bobs Worth should run in. A great problem to have indeed, but difficult in that you want the best for the horse and if you are not sure of that, then it is a judgement call.

    You also want to do right by your owners. Bobs Worth won, but at the expense of Michael Buckley’s horse Mossley – Michael’s third second placing of the week! What if Bobs Worth had run in the 2m4f race rather than the three-mile novices’ hurdle?

    In all walks of life one can either ponder on the “if” of the past or indeed the “if” of the future, but throw in a racehorse and so many more ifs, loads of buts and thousands of cannots arise. So much is based on intuition and trial and error. On my relatively blank canvas I am getting used to “getting on with it” and understand that too much time spent wondering is time better spent doing.

    The children that Starlight support are a testament to the fact that pontificating on life isn’t always best. They would give anything to be well enough to move forward with their lives but understand that if you can’t do anything you can only do nothing… Charities like Starlight can help turn that nothing into something. Sadly, the “if” in their lives is far greater than the “if” in mine.

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