Thursday, January 01, 2015

New Year's Day's news and views

Well, the year has ended with our final three runners not enabling us to increase our meagre tally for 2014, but happily they did only yield the one disappointment (Russian Link at Fakenham).  Doncaster's abandonment meant that she was denied the chance to let us down again, while, as we have already discussed, Senator Matt ran satisfactory on his belated debut at Kempton.  That left just my hack Fen Flyer (shown in the third picture coming in after the race, and in the sixth picture the next morning); and he ran well enough at Lingfield (shown in the second picture) on Tuesday, 30th December.  He's been a late-developer too, as much mentally as physically, but he confirmed that he ought to be getting there in the end.  His previous run at Southwell had been a setback, but it seems as if that was indeed just a Southwell thing, because he ran much better this week, despite being checked quite badly at the top of the straight.  And he was commendably adult in the stalls, which hosted a real melee after a lovely grey horse (pictured here under Tom Marquand, who Richard Perham tells me is an excellent apprentice) broke out of the stalls and headed off loose down the track.

That's that covered, so I'll now use this first chapter of 2015 to work through a topic which has been buzzing around in my brain for a while.  Here we go.

Racing UK is a very good TV channel, notwithstanding its principal fault (of working everything round to a preview of the next Cheltenham Festival, irrespective of whether the next Cheltenham Festival is tomorrow, 51 weeks away, or any length of time in between).  However, its website is less good.  We keep hearing about how one can watch Racing UK in however many different places, but I'd be happy merely supplementing the normal TV with seeing replays on the website.  I have a username and password which always used to work and would enable me to watch replays, but that is no longer the case, which is annoying.  However, just at the moment my main beef with the website is a different one.

My attention was drawn recently to an article on the website bemoaning what a miserable life stable-staff have.  As a trainer and thus employer of stable-staff, this obviously made me prick my ears, because such an article inevitably comes with implied criticism of trainers in general, if not in particular.  Anyway, I read the article - and was stunned by how bad it was.  It's one thing someone like me writing a load of nonsense on my own website as a hobby - but when a commercial operation (presumably) pays someone to write this drivel and the publishes it as a supposedly serious editorial, then this is worrying.  See what you think:-

"Stable staff work the confined space of a yard and stables.  Their job involves getting up early in the morning, constantly competing for rides with their peers, in some cases not eating very much, drinking a lot, substance abuse and gambling.  Opportunities are scarce, and a small proportion of trainers treat their stables like a personal fiefdom."

Well, where to start?  There are drawbacks to the job, but the author has managed not to mention any of them.  The principal drawbacks are the weather (which at other times is one of the job's biggest advantages); the fact that generally, other than when someone is on holiday or has a day off, it involves working 13 mornings per fortnight (although generally fewer afternoons); and the fact that it is more of a young person's job (but is not alone in that, because there are quite a few professions, eg soldiering, which are much better suited to younger people).  The thing with racing is that nearly all the jobs involve riding, and everyone eventually reaches the stage when they become less suited to riding, either physically or mentally.  That point can come any time from one's teens to one's 80s, but most commonly it happens in one's 30s or 40s - and when one reaches it, one is faced with more limited scope for employment in stables.

None of those drawbacks, though, were mentioned in this misleading overview (which, aside from the early starts, seemed more to describe the life of a racing journalist, one might semi-humorously observe).

To address the various points, I don't think that I need to say much about the confined spaces' point beyond drawing your attention to the photographs which adorn the chapters of this blog.  Clancy of the Overflow would have led a less confined working life, and the Wichita lineman, and the gamekeeper at Balmoral - but that's about it.  Getting up early?  Well, I suppose that it is true, but the job is far from unique in that respect (even during first lot you'd be surprised how many cars and lorries are on the roads) and I'm not sure that that's a bad thing anyway.  Competing for rides?  Everyone in a stable tends to ride the same amount of lots each day - and if there is keenness to have a different number, it is generally to have one fewer than the others, not one more.

Not eating very much?  I don't know which stable prompted this observation, but that's news to me.  The job involving drinking a lot, substance abuse and gambling?  That's the silliest point of all: I don't think that there is a stable in the world, never mind the UK, where the job involves any one of those three, never mind all three.  And the personal fiefdom bit?  I don't where to start on that.  We're told that a small proportion of trainers supposedly treat their stables as personal fiefdoms.  I'd need to have that re-phrased to understand exactly what it means, but is the small proportion bit meant to imply that we should be having more or less like that?  And is this proportion greater or less than with, say, publicans, shop-keepers, newspaper proprietors, garagiers, plumbers, builders, farmers, accountants, lawyers, estate agents, travel agents or restauranteurs?

To sum up, if one wants to concoct a story that trainers engineer a life of misery for their employees, I'd suggest that one should do a better job of it than that.  And one would want to make sure that one didn't ask the late Jason Wellings for his opinion - and I've worked this chapter round to this topic (just as RUK would have worked it around to this year's Cheltenham Festival) because I've been thinking about Jason a lot the past month, so he ought to feature further on this blog.  It transpired that Jason died even younger (42) than I'd initially guessed, but, gee, did he use his all-too-brief time well!  We were reminded of that at his very moving funeral, particularly in a lovely address given by his friend David Twigg, who had flown over from Dubai for the service.

David told a lovely story which summed up Jason perfectly.  During Jason's years in Dubai, he would spend his six weeks' annual leave in south-east Asia.  One year he was having such a good time that he extended this break by 10 further weeks.  When he eventually reappeared in Dubai and presented himself for work, he was naturally called in to see the boss.  David and his other colleagues were hoping and guessing that the pragmatic, but still very kind, solution would be that he would keep his job, but wouldn't be paid for the 10 weeks during which he had been AWOL.  Anyway, they gathered around the office to see what he would have to say when he emerged.  Jason duly appeared and confirmed that clemency had indeed been shown - and then he added, with his usual cheeky grin, "And he's lucky that I ran out of money, or else I'd still be there!".  That's lovely - and I can just imagine how Jason would have reacted had the RUK man sought to console him on what a miserable life he had led consequent to his decision to make racing his calling.


D Armour said...

John, just wanted to say another fantastic read, i have enjoyed reading your blogs more so because you have once again spoke so lovely of my brother Jason Wellings, sadley he can not comment himself but i can say that he had a wondeful life and packed so much in his short life, he took every opportunity that horse racing had to offer and rolled with it, a conversation between jason and myself shortly before he died said and I quote " I've loved my life and if I had to live it again i would'nt change a thing,my moto is life is not a rehearsal the cameras always rolling".
Once again I would like to link this to Jasons memory page hope thats ok.

Debby Armour

M Anderson said...

I'd say you had a pretty good year anyway John, and hoping you have more of the same in 2015.
Happy New Year!