Sunday, December 19, 2010


There were two people I was particularly pleased to see on my two visits to Wolverhampton last week. On Monday I bumped into Robbie Fitzpatrick, and on Friday Seamus Durack. The former has just returned from his period of disqualification and is trying to get going again as a jockey by riding for Peter Grayson. That job should at least guarantee him plenty of rides, if not plenty of miles ridden, as the stable seems to consist entirely of sprinters who run frequently. Robbie's lengthy spell out of the game was, of course, earned by misdemeanours, for which there was no excuse; however, he's done his time and so now is entitled to re-enter racing's society with the slate wiped clean. What particularly counts in his favour, I feel, is that when he was disqualified I don't remember reading of him coming up with any of the usual whinges about what a stressful time it had been for him, how tough life was going to be as he knew no other trade, and how harshly he'd been treated, etc. It might, of course, be that because he only rides low-grade horses the journalists weren't interested in his views, and that he would have been more than happy to complain about the unfairness of it all if anyone had asked him -but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he took his punishment on the chin as we were all taught to do. Consequently, I was very happy to salute him on his return and wish him well with sincerity. I was 100% happy with every ride which Robbie had for me in the past, both in victory and in defeat, and if I'm looking for a jockey at any time in the future I would have no hesitation in using him again.

While Robbie Fitzpatrick was at Wolverhampton on Monday as a jockey, Seamus Durack was there on Friday as a trainer, saddling his first runner. It seems that Seamus (pictured here schooling She Is A Cracker on the Links last spring) has kicked off his training career with just a handful of, I expect, ordinary horses, so it's going to be tough for him: but he's a tough man, and a true horseman to boot, so I believe and hope that his new career will be a success. His professionalism when he was riding could not be faulted, so transferring his dedication and work-ethic to training he will surely do well. He only ever rode one winner for this stable (Anis Etoile at Uttoxeter) but he's ridden many of our best jumpers, including Jack Dawson and Ex Con, at different times over the years. Fingers crossed it won't be too long before he's enjoying the same success as a trainer which he achieved as a jockey.
Seamus' toughness and courage in the saddle matched that of AP McCoy, which is high praise indeed, a fact of which we are all very aware at present with the fanfare which is accompanying AP's assault on SPOTY, the acronym by which it appears that we now know the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year Award. Let's hope that he wins it because it will an honour richly deserved by a true hero, and it will be good for "racing" too. My view is that he's a certainty: the much-maligned Racing For Change has seized upon his nomination as something which it can 'get behind' and, anxious to save itself from extinction, will be pulling out all the stops to secure his success, and thereby claim success for itself and justification for its own existence in the process. RFC appears to have a limitless budget so, while ringing to register a vote costs money, I am sure that it will have as many troops pressing redial on as many telephones as possible.

The whole jockey thing, though, is rather odd, isn't it? As a sportsman and as a human being, AP is second to none, and as a jockey he is as good as there has ever been. However, I'm starting to feel slightly uneasy about the whole thing. The problem is that we have many more good jockeys than people realise. This was really brought home to me recently following the reaction to Noel Fehily riding a few winners for Paul Nicholls in Ruby Walsh's absence. I've been aware that for years all too many pundits have been working on the assumption that AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh are in a class of their own, an assumption which does a gross disservice to at least a dozen jockeys, but even so I was stunned to hear on ATR recently that Noel Fehily has been "a revelation" since stepping into the breach. Did that pundit really believe that only Walsh (or McCoy) would have won on all those good horses which have scored for the Nicholls/Walsh combination over the past few years? Was it really surprising that Nicholls' best horses could show their best form with Fehily, rather than Walsh, on their back? Is it not obvious that the horses would still be equally as dominant if ridden by, say, Graham Lee, Timmy Murphy, William Kennedy, Richard Johnston, Paddy Brennan, Tom Scudamore, Robert Thornton, Paul Carberry or Davy Russell? I'm not decrying the brilliance of our best jockeys (far from it: as someone who tried and failed miserably to be a jumps jockey, I am full of admiration for the skill and courage of those who have proved far, far better at it than I ever could have been). All I'm saying is that their superiority, while it is overwhelming compared to a poor rider such as myself, isn't that great compared to our other current great jockeys, nor indeed to the greats of a previous era. Certain though I am that I've never seen a better jockey than AP McCoy, I'd make exactly the same observation about Jonjo O'Neill, John Francome and Richard Dunwoody - and I'm sure that if I'd seen Fred Winter ride I'd make the same observation about him.

But that's fun isn't it? We all know that it is the horse who wins the race, but we can, and often do, enjoy going on all day about the jockeys' contributions. There is plenty of such rumination in Peter Corbett's excellent book on Bayardo, and this contemplation brings forth one of Peter's many wry asides which do so much to make this book so entertaining. Bayardo (grandsire, of course, of Hyperion, who is shown below in his full mid-winter yuletide coldness outside the Jockey Club in the High Street at dusk this afternoon) won the 1909 Eclipse despite getting boxed in in a four-horse field, leaving most observers to feel that the horse's brilliance had got his jockey, Danny Maher, 'out of jail'. Only Mornington Cannon, one of Britain's best hoops of the 19th century, spoke up with the opposite view, saying that Maher "rode an excellent race". Peter naturally tries to summarize the debate and give a definitive verdict on whether the horse had won because of or despite the ride - and then ends up with the self-effacing disclaimer, "It is hard for individuals who have never ridden in a flat race to be entirely sure when criticizing a jockey's ride, particularly when they have not even seen the race!" If, like me, you find that very well put, then I suggest that you read the book, because you'll find many more similar bons mots contained therein.

I should add, by the way, that when saying, as I did in the previous paragraph, that "we all know that it is the horse who wins the race", I was overlooking the fact that those responsible for today's Racing Post appear to be the exception which proves the rule. I was rather taken aback to read on the front page that "In over 13,000 races McCoy has never before needed anybody's help passing the winning post". This statement, which does a gross disservice to his mounts and their owners, trainers and lads, is of course arguably the stupidest thing ever published in the paper - but that's what SPOTY does to us, it appears. So I'll leave the last word to James Willoughby, who naturally proved yet again that he can be relied upon to inject some sanity and perspective when it is needed most: "The trivial has become sincere, the irrelevant somehow profound: welcome to BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2010, everyone."


Nathan said...

There will be much talent on show tonight at the BBC John. But one thing is for sure; AP is as good a representative of our sport as you could wish for. A true gent, with a kind heart, he has time for all despite the dedication required to stay at the top. Another candidate, Mark Cavendish, reminds me of a younger AP and is perhaps misunderstood as the champ was back in the day from time to time. It would be nice for AP to receive recognition outside of racing, not just for his riding ability but for the way he has conducted himself both on/off the racetrack and the work he has done within racing during his own precious time.

p.s. that last photo in the previous chapter would make a cracking stable Christmas card next year.

Nathan said...

Congratulations AP :-)

racingfan said...

Met robbie quite a few years ago on one of his rides on diamond orchid seemed a decent person, obviously cant condone what he did but nice to see him back and he rode a 66-1 winner,

Good luck for asterisk tomorrow and all the best to you and your team for christmas.



Nathan said...

John, i've been trying to find news of Sophie Silvester. I know she rode Anis Etoile for your stable in the summer, do you have any news of her recovery? Will she ride again this turf season?

Merry Christmas to all the team.

John Berry said...

She had a bad fall at Wolverhampton a month or more ago and I think had a bad bang on the head. She isn't back at work yet in Jeff Pearce's stable, but I assume that she'll be back some time in the New Year and would be ready to resume race-riding some time after that.