Friday, May 23, 2014

Carpe diem

Another trip north tomorrow: Ethics Girl goes back to Catterick, where she made a nice resumption when third over course and distance (and in similar grade) three weeks ago.  She should go well again tomorrow, God willing.  Catterick on a busy summer Saturday obviously doesn't attract the leading jockeys, so we're very lucky to have a top-class rider in the plate, Royston Ffrench.  She always gives her best; and she's in great heart as this photograph, taken on Sunday, shows, so it should be a nice outing.

I'd like to see the ground close to good (she's never liked soft ground, but she's getting on a bit now, so I wouldn't want to see the track too firm) and earlier in the week it was firmer than I'd like; but the rain of the past two days (notwithstanding that we've still had plenty of nice sunshine here, as you can see) has eased it significantly.  At 10 am today it was changed to 'good to soft, good in places' which is fine.  I just hope that they don't get (or haven't already received) too much more, which might see it ending up softer than we'd like.  (On which subject, it was so galling to have had our runners run on fast ground on Tuesday, only for the heaven to open at both Newcastle and Yarmouth shortly after our races).

As you'll have gathered, my respect for Ethic Girl is immense - and, on which subject, I can't close today's chapter without paying tribute to the late Guy Walter, a man who commnded universal respect and who died suddenly yesterday, aged just 59.

A very nice young Australian showed up in Newmarket in the mid '90s.  Ollie Tait came from a family in New South Wales who bred horses, and he made a very good impression here on his placement with Tattersalls.  He was very likeable indeed, and I used to enjoy chatting about the racing back home with him - particularly as his family had a very good up-and-coming horse in training at the time.  The horse was Tie The Knot, and the trainer was Guy Walter. They both went on to greatness, with Tie The Knot's tally of Group One wins getting into double figures, and Guy Walter going on to establish himself as a master of his art.

I remember Tie The Knot's dam Whisked racing for the Tait family, trained by Graeme Begg, when I was first in Australia, when she was regularly racing against the Jack Denham-trained Triscay, Gavan Duffy on Whisked and Mick Dittman on Triscay.  I think that Neville Begg had previously been the Taits' trainer, but in time they sent their horses to Guy Walter, who had been a strapper with Neville Begg and with Bart Cummings, for whom I believe he strapped the Melbourne Cup winner Think Big.  Their patronage of Guy Walter proved to be inspired as he got great results for them with their lovely horses over an extended period; and when Ollie got a good job with Darley, Sheikh Mohammed started sending him horses with similarly happy results.

Guy Walter never had the numbers to challenge for the premiership, but he kept coming up with good horses.  He was a perfect owner/breeder's trainer, a master-horseman whose patience was legendary, and who was a genius with fillies and mares.  His interviews on TV were a joy to watch: modest, understated, calm.  He was clearly a man kind to horses and kind to humans, and I always think of him as being a friend of any jockey who needed a break.  I'm told he never took his percentage of his apprentices' earnings, and whenever a good, hard-working jockey was in danger suffering from the vagaries of fashion, he was there to show his support.  I particularly think of both Kathy O'Hara and Blake Shinn picking up good rides for the stable at a time when they really needed a bit of help.

Anyway, on Saturday Guy Walter trained another Group One winner, his lovely mare Streama winning the Doomben Cup.  He had runners at Randwick on Wednesday, supervised his horses' work on Thursday morning - then went home and died, seemingly from a heart attack.  His far-too-early death robs the world not just of a great trainer and a great horseman, but a great man.  The Tait family have lost much more than a trainer: they have lost a dear friend, and thousands will be feeling the same.  This tweet from 'Redbank North' (whose photograph I have taken the liberty of reproducing here) says it all: "Rest in peace: our finest dearest lifelong friend & mentor. We cannot put into words how much you will be missed".  While this comment below an on-line obituary puts this into context for a European readership: "Very sad news. Guy was the John Oxx of Australian racing - a true gentleman, lovely man and champion trainer.  Deepest sympathy to the family, staff and friends".

For anyone who respects the qualities of integrity, decency, modesty, honour and kindness, or just plain virtuoso horsemanship, the world has just become a slightly poorer place.

No comments: