People can now change their default button, as the Flat turf season has officially come to an end. We must remember to congratulate those who have carried all before them this year. Paul Hanagan subtly chalked up plenty of winners to win his second jockeys’ championship. A very quiet man, but one with a will of iron, and an immensely talented rider.
Subtlety is also the manner in which Richard Hannon and Peter Doyle conduct their yearling purchases. Spending little money on yearlings that, year in year out, win stacks of races is the way in which Richard Hannon finds himself at the top of the trainers’ tree once again. They are not men to adhere to breeding fashions and buy horses as individual athletes – now that’s what I call value!
Dave Gilmour famously sung that “money, so they say, is the root of all evil today” and this Chauceresque admonition is perhaps regarded as a gross generalisation. But there is so much that occurs in an industry which is mainly driven by a love of horses, because of money. Racing is an entertainment industry and although people complain about prize money I do believe that most would run in a £25,000 Cheltenham Gold Cup – it’s the prestige, you see!
National Hunt horses are not exclusively known as money-makers like their Flat counterparts. Sadly, perhaps due to prize money levels, the time has now come when, if a two-year-old wins a maiden Flat race, some owners dream not of Royal Ascot but of a phone call from a bloodstock agent offering telephone numbers to buy the horse to race in Hong Kong.
Maybe “your first loss is your best loss” and it is all business, but it is sad to see young horses retire to stud so early, or potentially talented ones leave this country to make their fortune elsewhere.
One thing I do appreciate, however, is that we will be seeing the likes of So You Think and Strong Suit next season. They are not bound to earn their keep in the breeding shed but to demonstrate their incalculable abilities on the greatest of stages once again.
The Breeders’ Cup had some odd results this year but some great results for Europe and none more so than Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien. His immensely talented son Joseph will sadly have to be one of the aforementioned “shooting stars” for reasons other than money. His body is getting the better of him and, while he is a natural, he can’t fight nature…
The strange thing about racing in the US is that there are no whip rules and racing is fuelled by medication. This means Zenyatta can be considered the darling of American racing and much to my chagrin, beaten like Rhianna sung in “S&M”. Furthermore, due to substances like Lasix, other countries’ selling platers can become US superstars. Ironically, I learned this year that while some horses can dramatically improve for the use of drugs like Lasix, it can be detrimental to others. Not always performance enhancing then?!
There is currently, and rightly so, a great effort to get young people involved in the industry. Although there are some youngsters who share an equine passion, most of my friends at school only wanted to learn about racing through the medium of gambling, which brings us neatly back to money. This is not something that we should try and hide, as gambling is a big part of our sport.
While I think that a lot of racing fanatics would race good horses for little money, commercially horseracing and the betting industry are, and must be perceived to be, mutually dependent. This is why the issue of the bookmakers not supporting our sport is a major one and, much like the whip problem, something that the powers that be have allowed to occur. Of course, to alienate bookies altogether would be to bite the hand that commercially feeds us.
I am not a betting man. Although I had my first touch on a horse called Highway Five at Hereford a long time ago, I never really got hooked. It was always the judgement of when the horse could win that gave me a buzz rather than the money.
Winners are what it is all about and they can come via very different routes. We are still looking for that path to success but we are navigating our way through the early stages that will hopefully take us there one day. I can only continue to hope that our equine friends keep good health along the way!