Twice this week I’ve listened to John Gosden speak: each time from the heart but in notably different circumstances.
The second time was after yesterday’s King George, in which Gosden played a much bigger part than just that of winning trainer. Of course being the successful trainer would have been noteworthy enough, for in a glittering career this was the first time he had won the race, 51 years after his father Towser won it with Aggressor, when John was a nine-year-old boy. But in tragic circumstances, Gosden was hailed not just for a superb training performance in preparing the three-year-old Nathaniel for such a prestigious win, but for stepping in to assist the seriously injured Rewilding, staying with the horse and even ensuring he had a last mouthful of grass before the vet performed the sorriest task on the racecourse.
It would have been easy to assume that someone else would catch Rewilding and comfort him in his last moments, and understandable to want to enjoy a sweet victory with a colt supplemented for £75,000 who took the scalps of Workforce and St Nicholas Abbey and can now command pretty much any price as a stallion prospect.
But someone who cares as deeply about the sport that has made him famous as Gosden does understood instinctively the impact a sight as desperate as Frankie Dettori on the turf and a loose horse with a broken leg cantering before the packed stands could have on racing. Our sport, in the headlines again, for all the wrong reasons.
In saying that, his actions, and sensible description of events in post-race interviews, were not just about being seen to do the right thing. He did the right thing simply because nobody who is as successful a trainer as Gosden can have reached that place without an intuitive sympathy and sensitivity for the horses who helped get him there, even – and especially – in the darkest of hours.
For British horseracing, the afternoon of Saturday, 23 July was just about as dark as can be. The exquisite Rewilding, last seen in triumph overturning the hot favourite So You Think in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, laying down his life on the same stretch of turf, just 38 days later. Hard to bear for even the hardest of hearts.
Sad reversal though it was, it is pulled sharply into perspective by the senseless loss of so many lives in Norway 24 hours earlier (and it is certainly not my intention to be disrespectful to any of the families of the Norwegian victims in comparing their loss to something so relatively insignificant as horseracing).
Nathaniel’s jockey William Buick (left), born and raised in Norway, had already paid tribute to those killed in his homeland and, typically, his first thoughts when interviewed after the King George were for Rewilding and Frankie Dettori. His is a cool, wise head on young shoulders. Compare his understated reaction to his first King George victory to the theatrical antics of Mickael Barzalona after winning the Derby on Pour Moi. In the 23-year-old Buick, British racing has a nascent star of whom we can all be proud.
Earlier in the week, I spent an afternoon listening in to the Hatchfield Farm appeal hearing. John Gosden gave up the whole of his day to give evidence on behalf of the Newmarket training fraternity. What he probably hadn’t bargained for was the vitriolic cross-questioning by Lord Derby’s QC and his colleague. Their claims, that the mass opposition from the entire local racing and breeding industry – and from many further afield – to Lord Derby’s plans to undermine the famous and historic training centre with a huge ‘urban extension’, was somehow a personal vendetta by John Gosden and his wife Rachel Hood would have been laughable had they not been so deeply offensive.
Neither John (pictured here on a Save Historic Newmarket protest with fellow trainers Geoff Wragg and Clive Brittain) nor Rachel need anyone to fight their corner for them, least of all me, but during the last three years of involvement with Save Historic Newmarket, they have both shown that this is far from personal. To them both, and to the many people involved in the campaign, this is about the preservation of a special place. We’ve all been accused of 'NIMBYism', and to an extent that’s understandable. If the town and its magnificent heath constitute our ‘back yard’ then yes, none of us want to see them ruined but, in reality, with Gosden being among the more senior members of his profession, it is really the next generation of trainers in Newmarket who will suffer the most by any increased urbanisation of this unique market town.
Throughout this now boringly long battle over Hatchfield Farm, Lord Derby has maintained his line that he would do nothing to harm Newmarket’s status as a training centre without equal. Anyone who believes this disingenuous statement should sit in the inquiry for an hour or so and listen to the way his legal representatives describe the town (“a sustainable settlement for development”) and so readily dismiss the experience and heartfelt concerns of those people who live in Newmarket and deal with its traffic issues on a daily basis.
It remains a source of bitter disappointment to me and to many other people who care about racing and Newmarket, that a man whose family name has been so intrinsically linked with the sport in this town for generations could care so little for its future. Thank goodness there are so many people prepared to stand up in opposition to these plans.
And in other news…
Away from the big stage, but important nevertheless to this small stable, we had a successful schooling session on Saturday morning thanks to William Kennedy. William and his nephew Jamie Insole arrived at 6.30am and, along with Sara, took Kadouchski, Asterisk and Alcalde over to the Links.
William has won several races on Kadouchski (right), and won a bumper recently with his half-brother Douchkirk, so it’s no surprise that he’s fond of the family. ‘Kadou’ is such a bold, willing and accurate jumper that he must be a gift to school and William had a big smile on his face after pulling up, declaring that he’d like to ride him in the Topham after he’s won a few novice chases. Here’s hoping.
Another young jumper in whom we can have plenty of hope after her schooling session is Asterisk (right), a four-year-old filly by Fantastic Light. She’s a very natural, neat hurdler and we look forward to starting her off in some novice hurdles fairly soon. Fans of Alcalde will be pleased to hear that he’s come back from his summer break in good heart and seems very relaxed and happy at present, perhaps because of his new-found devotion to a little dark brown filly by the name of Maroon.
The two-year-olds are also coming along nicely. Zarosa, a lovely daughter of Barathea, is improving all the time, and Wasabi, Grand Liaison and Gift Of Silence (the last two named pictured alongside with Hugh and Hannah) also give much cause for optimism.
This could be a big week for John’s apprentice, Hannah Nunn, who won ATR’s Ride of the Week last week for her first win on Kadouchski. She has an outside ride for Peter Salmon at Redcar on Wednesday, and will then partner Hotfoot on Thursday and Ethics Girl on Saturday. Before that we can look forward to Batgirl’s return to her favourite track Yarmouth on Monday, and Silken Thoughts will round off our racing week at Newbury on Sunday. Fingers crossed for them all.