Monday, December 30, 2013

In terms of much-needed brahmas

I've really enjoyed the last four afternoons, which I've spent watching some excellent racing on the television. On Saturday I hopped between the three channels showing the sport (ATR, RUK, C4) and during the course of these travels I was lucky enough to hear two real brahmas. Firstly I had the real pleasure of hearing the phrase 'in terms of' used twice in the same sentence. You might wonder why this was such a treat for me. Well, it's just that it's arguably the blackest of my umpteen linguistic betes noirs: hearing a broadcaster use it has the same effect on me as hearing, say, a record by Coldplay or Mumford & Sons on the radio.

One of the many drawbacks of Christmas, of course, is that the radio becomes unbearable during Advent, as one dire record follows another, records which would never have been recorded, let alone granted airtime, but for containing the word 'Christmas'. And my worst nightmare of all would be to stumble upon whatever Coldplay or Mumford & Sons had released to 'celebrate' (ie cash in on) Christmas. There are, of course, far worse phrases to hear than 'in terms of'. "You're sacked" comes straight to mind, as would whatever words a doctor uses to let you know that you have a life-threatening or terminal illness, although thankfully I have yet to receive such tidings.

Really, if all one seeks from the language is to exchange information, 'in terms of' isn't so bad after all, as one can usually work out what its user is trying to say. It's just that in my mind it has become symptomatic of the belief that language is merely for conveying information, and isn't a thing of beauty which can give pleasure just by existing in its well -constructed form. It's just that it's a phrase which one could never imagine being used by, say, Evelyn Waugh, Clive James, John le Carre or Colin Dexter, by people whose use of the language is such that their prose is a source of joy, irrespective of the information which it conveys.

The second phrase to strike a particular chord in my brain on Saturday was the description of Nicky Henderson's big-race victories as "much needed". You think? It could, of course, be the case that the broadcaster was using the phrase ironically - but, if so, he was doing so so discreetly that his irony was evident to nobody but himself. If he wasn't being ironic, maybe he doesn't know that Nicky Henderson is the reigning champion trainer, has a stable full of a couple of hundred good horses owned by some excellent patrons, and probably has one of the financially soundest training businesses in the world. Admittedly he had seen Sprinter Sacre pulled up there the previous day, and his two runners in the King George had both unseated their riders, but even those setbacks had already been offset by one Grade One victory (courtesy of My Tent Or Yours) on Boxing Day.

The Sprinter Sacre thing is odd, because from the media coverage one would think that the horse had died at Kempton, or at least broken down very badly. I can understand that a disappointing run from the best horse in training becomes news, but really all yesterday reminded us was that he is, after all, just a normal horse, that there is no such thing as a certainty, and that, as George Hanlon so memorably pointed out, "they're only human". Anyone who races horses has to put up with such setbacks regularly, and at least this is one which is very unlikely to affect his prospects of success long-term. And, at least, as far as Nicky Henderson is concerned, he can face such a setback knowing that he won't have to wait too long before having more bites at the cherry (as his Grade One wins the following day showed) which certainly wouldn't be the case with most trainers in such a situation.

So I suppose it's fine to describe his big-race wins as much needed - just as long as we remember that probably ever other trainer in the British Isles needs big-race success even more. Richard Callendar isn't necessarily my favourite journalist, but something he wrote in the Winning Post just before Christmas is probably worth quoting at this point. You'll have seen a good illustration of the point that 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence' with Peter Snowden quitting his job as private trainer for Darley to become (hopefully) a successful public trainer like, say, John O'Shea - and John O'Shea throwing in his hands to take Snowden's place (after, apparently, Chris Waller had turned down the job). Anyway, Callendar wrote thus:-

"The big tip is that Peter Snowden and his son Paul will be offered the current boxes at Randwick occupied by John O'Shea in what looks to be an easy swap.

"Many have suggested making it even easier, saying Snowden should take over O'Shea's current horses and owners' list.

"I'm sure a few may see that as an option but I imagine the majority of owners will want to go to trainers they may have associations with. Others might like to sit back and see how the new Snowden set-up works first.

"I think it's fair to say the large majority in racing believe the Snowdens will be a success but I can assure you it is going to be a reality check for them as they will now see first hand the other responsibilities that go along with training horses.

"Managing owners, convincing owners to give them a horse, hiring and managing staff, waiting in line for a vet or farrier, paying bills, wages, superannuation, insurances, dealing with feed companies, getting time to place horses in the right races, getting the form done, booking jockeys and then explaining to owners and syndicates when the horse runs poorly ... it is certainly going to be a huge change from just concentrating on training impeccably-bred horses."

Those are problems faced by nearly all trainers, and a big winner or two certainly helps in pretty much every respect. For sure, a brace of big-race winners on Saturday would have been a big help to Nicky Henderson - but it's not hard to come up with a few hundred other names (this one included) to whom a big result or two would be an even more appreciated lifeline.

To move to less theoretical matters, there have been plenty of nice results over Christmas, as you'd hope at a time when there's plenty of racing. Two of the best young riders living in Newmarket rode winners over jumps (Trevor Whelan at Fontwell and Jack Quinlan at Kempton) while George Gorman, who has ridden out here when he's been in Newmarket, rode his first winner under Rules in dramatic circumstances at Fontwell. Those races were good to watch, but arguably the results which gave me most pleasure were those from Morphettville in Adelaide, where our friend Clare Lindop rode a treble for her boss Leon Macdonald on Boxing Day and then another two winners, for Kerrie Vantjin and Peter Moody, two days later on the Saturday. That should mean that she's back in front in the premiership, which is always a good place to end the year.

Illustrations: Trevor Whelan on Ethics Girl on the Links in 2013 and Jack Quinlan on Douchkirk on the Severals in 2011; Peter and Lyn Snowden on the July Course on July Cup Day in 2011; Clare Lindop on her most recent visit to the UK a couple of years ago, on the late, great Kadouchski at Kempton, on the Heath in John Gosden's string, and then winning on the Jeremy Gask-trained Ivory Silk on the July Course; and Leon Macdonald outside the Jockey Club this past summer.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

Written word current best exponent
Joseph O Connor
Performance of the period The Tullow Tank at Leopardstown in the novice grade one over two miles and looking as though more distance stiffer track would only benefit him
Happy New Year hope you have many winners in 2014