Saturday, April 05, 2014

Too many tears

Our big day on Thursday turned out to be less big than I'd hoped.  Neither of our two runners reached the unsaddling enclosure (Douchkirk / Frankie finished fourth, but Taunton is one of the few courses - possibly the only course nowadays - which only brings three horses into the unsaddling enclosure) which was a bit disappointing.  Still, as disappointments go, this wasn't a huge disappointment.  Frankie is very frustrating as he's capable of winning races, but he generally manages to avoid doing so.  He'd beaten the winner of Thursday's race last time out (when they were third and fourth at Stratford two weeks ago) and he would have won on Thursday had he jumped as well as he had done in his each of his previous few races.

However - whether because the race was run at a very fast pace or because he wasn't making the running - Frankie jumped very awkwardly all the way round, and gave away considerably more ground and/or momentum than he was beaten by.  But that's horses for you, isn't it?  They're only human.  Roy (who is more human even than most other horses) ran disappointingly, finishing a well-beaten sixth at Lingfield.  Through no fault of his good young jockey, he was short of room on the home turn ("... not clear run and shuffled back entering final 2f ..." - Racing Post) and arguably could have finished a couple of lengths closer - but a well-beaten fourth would have been the best he could have done however things had panned out.  Still, it's still only early days with him, and he'll be right.

Still, Gus enjoyed his (very sociable) trip to Taunton, as you can see; and, as I say, any disappointment which the day brought was only minor.  It's always important to remember how minor most setbacks are; and Thursday was a particularly easy day to bear this in mind, that day being the day on which Nathan Berry died.  Compared to a tragedy like that, any of the little splinters which we receive in the bum as we slide down life's bannister are of no significance.  Bear with me if I'm telling you what you already know, but this awful saga is worth running through.

Two of the best apprentices in Sydney in recent years were the Berry twin brothers, Nathan and Tommy, two men about whom I have never heard a bad word, and two riders who seamlessly moved on from being successful apprentices to successful jockeys.  This year started very well for Nathan, aged 23.  In January he won the Magic Millions Classic at the Gold Coast on Unencumbered (who ran in the Golden Slipper today) and in the first week of February he married Glyn Schofield's daughter Whitney.  Another very happy day for him was 16th March, when he watched Tommy (whose big wins include last season's Group One Metropolitan at Randwick for Gai Waterhouse on the former Henry Cecil-trained Glencadam Gold) ride Designs On Rome to win the Hong Kong Derby.

Three days later, March 19th, riding trackwork in Singapore (where he had accepted a contract to ride) Nathan had a seizure.  He went into a coma from which he never emerged.  On Thursday, 3rd April, having been brought home to die, he died.  He was honoured today at Rosehill when the Tulloch Stakes (in which Tommy Berry rode the Gai Waterhouse-trained Order Of The Sun) was run as the Nathan Berry Tulloch Stakes in his honour; and his funeral will be at the same racecourse on Tuesday morning.  Before then, we will have the Crabbie's Grand National run this afternoon; and on Grand National Day, when the risks to horses and riders are very much in the public eye, this tragedy is worth considering.

At Cheltenham last month, Ruby Walsh ruffled a few feathers among the more unthinking elements of the chattering classes by observing, after the sickening fatal fall of Our Conor in the Champion Hurdle, that, very, very sad though this was, at least only the horse had been killed in a sickening-looking fall, and the jockey had survived.  He observed that a horse is replaceable, but a human isn't.  Ruby was hounded in some quarters for saying this, but what his critics managed to overlook was that what he said is true - as Nathan Berry's death has so starkly reminded us.

I'm an animal lover and I take the deaths of the animals whom I love very badly.  At times I think that the deaths of animals hit me harder than the deaths of humans - and that's despite the fact that I've been around animals all my life and know that, if you live with animals, you're going to live with death as one's neighbour, because (unless one is unlucky enough to die prematurely) one is going outlive nearly all the animals whom one loves, irrespective of whether those animals die of old age, misadventure or illness.

However, the fact is that, if you love animals, you are always going to have them around, notwithstanding the sorrow which they will inevitably bring.  When you lose a pet whom you love, whether that is a dog, cat or horse, at the time you feel that the world has stopped turning.  However, if you love animals, you will get another in time, even if it takes a few weeks, months or even years before you are ready for the replacement.  When my last dog Alice was run over a few years ago, I thought that I could never replace her.  However, a couple of years later I got Gus and, while Alice was Alice and Gus is Gus, in his own curious and different way he is as special as she was, and he has filled the hole left in my heart by her passing.  And if I live to be, say, 60, at some point I'll bury him, and the bottom of my world will fall out once again - and then, a few months or years later, I'll replace him, and the whole roller-coaster of joy and sorrow will begin once again.

However, humans can't be replaced.  If a 23-year-old jockey dies, his parents can't go out and get another son to replace him.  Nathan Berry's parents can't replace him, and Tommy Berry can't get another brother.  The young children of Simone Montgomery (who was killed in a fall in Darwin earlier this season) can't get another mother.  That's the way it is - and if anyone can't grasp that, then they are either astonishingly insensitive or just plain stupid.  And that's the way it is in every context: if a landmine goes off in Afghanistan and kills three soldiers, the BBC reports that tragedy, but doesn't mention the five goats grazing beside the road who were also killed, notwithstanding that they were lovely goats whom someone loved and are now dead.

Let's hope that there are no deaths at Aintree today, human or equine.  We've had enough tragedy for one week.  Enough tears have already been shed in the past few days, and are still being shed as I type this, without anyone else having to suffer the heartbreak of bidding farewell to a relative, friend or animal whom they love.


glenn.pennington said...

A truly insightful and touching essay John.
Thank you for these words of wisdom.

RP McArdle said...

A lovely piece, well written. I wonder how many animal activists were disappointed that there were no fatalities in the Grand National again this year? How many of them would be aware that in Co. Kildare on the very same day a beautiful horse perished in his own stable? Azamour, a gorgeous stallion and a brilliant racehorse was fatally injured in the comfort and safety of his own state of the art box having been lovingly cared for, day in day out, by his adoring lads. Are they aware (or prepared to admit) that horses die every day in their own stables and paddocks? I guess such an admission would not advance their cause.

neil kearns said...

Had to read this twice beautifully written agree totally that for whatever reason the death of an animal can be personally more heart rending than the death of a person
RP's words are also very true one feels that the national is a focal point for those who would do away with racing and any issues which happen there are more grist to their collective mills