Thursday, August 06, 2015

Lucky to have known them

Our runners this week have not been successful, so far.  There have been two of them, and neither has cut any ice. So it's down to the third, Roy at Brighton tomorrow, to right the balance.  Hymn For The Dudes (pictured in this paragraph before the race) didn't run as well on the much faster ground at Nottingham on Monday as he had done on a wet track at Newmarket 10 days previously; and Senator Matt (pictured before the race withg Saleem Golam in the second and third paragraphs) struggled at Salisbury the next day.  With Hymn For The Dudes that was, I hope, only a temporary setback, but with Senator Matt we've now tried him at a variety of distances in his five races and he's struggled every time, so I think that we possibly have to conclude that, while there are several equestrian disciples at which he has the potential to excel, racing might not be one of them.  It's in nobody's interests to try to force a square peg into a round hole.

So that leaves us with Roy at Brighton tomorrow.  He's drawn an odd number, which is a worry as that means that he won't be loaded late, and he has a different jockey, John Egan being obliged to be elsewhere.  But we have a talented replacement (Martin Harley) and I hope that all will run smoothly.  It's no stronger a race than the ones he won there earlier in the year, but the difference is that previously he was down towards the bottom of the weights, while tomorrow he carries top weight, which clearly makes things harder.  But I'm sure that he'll try his best, so we'll just have to see where that leaves us.

On a sadder subject, Newmarket has lost two of its best people in the last week.  More obviously, Lord John Fitzgerald's death has been reported in the Racing Post.  Lord John started training when his mentor Bruce Hobbs retired in the mid '80s; and he did very well, training out of Bruce Hobbs' overflow yard Albert House just up from the Clock Tower, with Charlie McBride, who had been working for Bruce Hobbs and who is now both my neighbour and my friend, his head lad.

Lord John had the Flying Childers winner Sizzling Melody early in his career, and I remember him doing well with some German horses (called Amerigo ..., eg Vespucci) too.  There was no doubt that he was a good trainer and an honest one too; but he was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and I guess that he possibly lacked the ruthlessness to make it to the top in a cut-throat profession, because elbowing others of the way so that the Great God Me could get to the front of the queue just wasn't his style at all.  But he remained one of the nicest and most respected men in the game, and the racing world is truly the poorer for his loss.

Similar comments apply to Bryan Stevens, who worked for many years for Geoff Wragg, most recently as his travelling head lad.  I think that Bryan retired when Geoff retired, but he's still been around the town: I only saw him a week or two before he died, walking into town alongside the Rowley Drive horsewalk one morning. I don't know the circumstances behind Bryan's death, but he certainly did not look like a man close to death; and that day it was, as always, a pleasure to exchange a greeting with one of life's nicest people.  If Bryan had been a horse, he would have earned the Timeform comment "tough, genuine and consistent", and he'd have gone through life with his ears forward.

I recall bumping into Geoff Wragg in the bank one afternoon around the time that he was retiring.  As we waited to be called to the counter, Geoff, negotiations with the bank clearly on his mind, wryly observed that, "the worst part of retiring is the redundancy: most of my lads have been with me for years and years, so the redundancy bill his huge"; but then he added, "Joking aside, though, they are worth every penny - I've been lucky to have them".  And I, too, have been lucky to have known Bryan, and to have called him a friend; and he leaves us the better for having known him, but the worse for having had to say 'Adieu'.

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