It is always worth keeping a sense of perspective, or trying to at least. Last night I watched part of the service of remembrance from Ypres to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele. Despite the fact that my husband thinks I have a heart of flint, I had tears rolling silently down my cheeks listening to stories passed on to the relatives of survivors. Stories of complete and utter horror, that many of us, in our cosy, easy lives these days, couldn’t even begin to imagine.
|The wonderful Hope Is High, as honest as her trainer|
And I was thinking about those sacrifices made mostly by men young enough to be my sons as I drove home from the races today, telling myself to get a grip for feeling so miserable after what was essentially the best run of Hope Is High’s career. She was second, beaten a head, after stumbling coming out of the stalls, losing at least six lengths and causing Silvestre de Sousa to lose an iron temporarily. Silvestre’s a brilliant jockey – as is evident from yet another four-timer on the day from him even without our red-hot favourite – and he did his best to rebalance the filly and work their way into the race until they had a fighting chance. And fight they did, all the way down the straight, a head to the deficit at the post, and ahead of the winner The Detainee two strides later. Ah well, that’s racing. It’s a small disappointment on an otherwise nice, sunny day, and both horse and jockey have walked away none the worse, which is the only thing that matters.
This wasn’t what put me in a bad mood. That started when a foul-mouthed racegoer leaned over the rail, clearly disgruntled at backing a losing favourite, telling Silvestre he should have “f***ing hit it”. I felt like hitting him but managed to keep my cool until John’s phone rang as the ‘horses away’ announcement was made. It was from a withheld number and it was quickly easy to ascertain that John was on the receiving end of an earbashing from someone, who it transpired called him a number of names and implied that he had cheated.
The mood darkened further still when the lady serving the tea in the owners and trainers’ area adopted a ‘computer says no’ attitude and refused to give John a cup of tea as he didn’t have a voucher (he didn't have one as he drove the horse to the races and so came in through the stable entrance instead of the main gate as I had). We both had metal badges but this wasn’t good enough for the rude person who clearly needs not to be doing a job which means interacting with members of the public.
As a quick aside, this is now the third incident within a month or so at racecourses owned by ARC where we or owners connected to this stable have encountered rudeness from staff in areas specifically designated for owners. Racecourse staff shouldn't be rude on any part of any course because everyone who is there is either with a horse and thus is helping to provide the entertainment, or is a paying customer and is entitled to be treated courteously on what is often an expensive day out. The first two incidents came at Windsor, and I wasn’t surprised by Richard Hughes’ column in the Post on Saturday, which criticised Windsor for its treatment of owners. I used to love going racing at Windsor because I grew up there so it was the first racecourse I ever attended and it still feels like going home. I’ll try to avoid going home now if I possibly can. I don't really want to add Yarmouth to the blacklist as I always love going there, even though it’s one of the shabbiest tracks in the country. But it’s convenient for us, the track is fair, there’s fish and chips or cockles and whelks with a whiff of sea air, plus the biggest pick ‘n’ mix stall I’ve ever seen. Who could ask for more? Well, a cup of tea would be nice, I suppose.
I can get over all that but I can’t allow anyone ever to call John a cheat. I’d like the cretin who phoned him to call back so we could arrange for him to spend a day shadowing John. That day would involve being up just before 5am to ride out one lot with Lucinda before Jana, Ivona and Abbie arrive. The dedicated Lucinda then goes off to work for Juddmonte while John rides usually another four lots, along with feeding and dealing with the never-ending amount of admin before either going racing (always driving the box), or spending the afternoon writing one of his various columns for TDN, Winning Post or Al Adiyat, or perhaps doing a shift on ATR. If he’s not at the races, he’ll always be at evening stables, feeding again, perhaps fixing fences, etc. During all of this he rarely loses the smile and friendly manner that so many people in this town and in the wider world of racing love about him.
His smile might slip if he realises I’ve cooked him something suspiciously spicy for supper, but if it’s good old meat and potatoes, he’s happy until he falls asleep, usually in his armchair around 9pm.
Underneath the smile, though, just like any other trainer, John has an unrelenting desire to win. It’s not a win-at-all-costs attitude that would ever see him overlook the welfare of a horse just to keep the strike-rate up, but he needs winners for his own sense of pride in the job that he’s doing, for his owners, their horses, and the people who work with him in this yard.
Anyone who thinks that John would stop today’s 5/4 favourite winning by cheating has no idea what it means to him every time another number 1 goes up on the board next to his name. Nobody remembers all the places you chalk up – and Hope has never been out of the places for John – it’s the winners that matter. Losing out on one today mattered to John, but being called a cheat hurt him even more than that.
Even winning would only have brought an extra £1,700 to this year’s tally – Yarmouth's meeting being embarrassingly impoverished next to the riches on offer this week at Glorious Goodwood – but it would also have brought an enormous amount of satisfaction and joy. For being beaten that head, we ‘brought home’ £547 instead, though once we take into account entry fees, jockey fees, box hire, diesel for the lorry and my car, and Jana’s expenses for the day, more than £400 of that is already accounted for. And if we hadn’t run Hope, whose form figures at Yarmouth are 2-4-1-2, thus guaranteeing she’s always a good betting proposition there, only seven runners would have lined up for the race, a figure that the bookmakers demanding yet more and more fixtures hate to see.
So we played our part, brought our horse along, were rewarded with abuse and rudeness, and left with a feeling that if ARC doesn't start to pull its finger out and commit to honouring the minimum £6,000 prize-money levels as called for by the BHA through the extra funding being made available next year, then it’s really not worth supporting their tracks. Well, maybe our beloved Brighton, but the staff are never rude there, and it’s Roy Rocket’s favourite so we have no choice.
Of course, in the wider world, none of this really matters at all. The sun is sliding down, it will rise tomorrow and I will feel less grumpy. The boys lost at Passchendaele enjoyed far too few sunrises in their short lives, and that’s something which brings true sorrow, even to this flint heart.