Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bolt from the blue

Well, Magic Ice's performance at Chelmsford last night certainly clarified her future.  I was very happy going into the race (well, if one can be very happy with the prospects of a six-year-old maiden who had finished tailed off and bled on her only run in the past eighteen months) because she was so relaxed and content.  It was a lovely hot day but she wasn't sweating, or showing any other signs of stress.  She strolled around the parade ring, lobbed down to the start, settled in the race - and then dropped right out again.

There was no blood evident in her nostrils when she first walked off the track, but by the time that Adam Beschizza dismounted it was flowing fairly freely.  She was still perfectly content and it wasn't bothering her - but it was bothering me, or at least confirming to me that her future henceforth should no longer include racing.  She'll make someone a lovely horse for a different discipline as she's a darling who is very friendly and gentle, extremely easy to handle and ride.  But a racehorse she shall no longer be.  I've spent more than enough time trying in vain to knock a square peg into a round hole.

All in all, notwithstanding Magic Ice's lamentable run, it was a very pleasant evening down there in the sunshine, in conditions so perfect and so pleasant that one was almost able to forget all the other visits there when it has been cold / wet / windy / dark / miserable.  (Delete as applicable).  So that was all good - and then came the bombshell.  Tom O'Ryan was recently diagnosed with cancer, and to the utter sadness of all he died yesterday.  Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, for this really is an occasion when it tolls for all of us and for our sport, the sport which he loved and to which he gave so very much, which was so much richer for his presence and will be so much poorer for his absence.

One of the many great things about this wonderful sport is that it is true that all men are equal on or under the turf.  The only problem, of course, is that all too many people forget that.  One person who never forgot that, though, was Tom O'Ryan, who was friendly and kind towards and respectful of everyone within the game, irrespective of their station: owners, trainers, jockeys, apprentices, lads, stalls handlers, farriers, racegoers, Uncle Tom Cobley and all.  Similarly with horses: he paid as much attention and gave as much respect to Class Six horses as the top-liners.

I didn't know Tom particularly well, but I felt as if I knew him very well indeed.  I remember him as a battling heavyweight jockey, and I remember him setting out to make his way as a pressman, a journey which received boosts when he was hired in turn by his local paper, then by the Sporting Chronicle (I seem to recall), then by the Racing Post and finally by Racing UK.  Each was a great break for him, but an even better break for his new employers because he was simply excellent both on paper and on TV.  If there was an outstanding feature in the Racing Post, the likelihood was that he wrote it; and if the Racing UK coverage was really good, he was probably holding the microphone.

It is a failing of all too many journalists and TV presenters that they are hugely interested in the most successful players, equine and human, but much less so in the less prominent majority.  And an even greater failing is that they fail to conceal their lack of interest in the battlers.  Tom, though, loved racing at all levels, was interested in and respectful of all horses irrespective of their talent, and treated the battlers exactly the same as the elite.  Which is what one would expect as Tom was a battler himself and knew how bloody hard the game is, and that there is no difference between the horses at the top and those on the lower rungs bar the fact that the top horses can gallop 2mph faster; and that there is no difference between the successful and the less successful, bar that they find themselves working with horses capable of going 2mph faster.

Tom's love of all parts of the racing ship and the empathy which he clearly felt with all who sail in her, equine and human, were so clearly visible that you just felt that Tom was a friend, even if you hardly knew him.  It was always a pleasure to see him at the races and pass the time of day.  The last time I saw him was at Pontefract last autumn when Blue Sea Of Ibrox, a seven-year-old maiden under all rules after 25+ starts who boasted a 58-rating over fences and a 68-rating over hurdles, won a maiden race.

To the majority of the racing press this would just have been an ordinary race with a substandard winner; to Tom it was what it was, a special scene in the wonderful pageant in which we are blessed to take part.  Because to Tom they were all special scenes in the greatest show on earth; and his love of the sport, his invariable kindness and friendliness to all involved irrespective of their role and his respect and affection for all the horses meant that the hole which he leaves in the sport is massive.  We have all lost a dear friend, while his loved ones have lost a very, very special man.  To them we can only offer our condolences.  Carpe diem.


AlanM said...

Lovely piece John. You are right, his passion and care for horses and the people involved with them was always evident. He so obviously took pleasure and pride in any success, supportive and encouraging. His mentoring of young jockeys was legendary, I shall always remember the pain and heartfelt tribute he gave for Jamie Kyne for example. Now we feel that sympathy for his family and friends, including ourselves, as you say it felt like he was someone we knew. I wish I had met him and talked with him, but I always appreciated his work which enriched racing and life.

neil kearns said...

you are in sparkling form - nice piece following on from some excellent comments on you ATR shift yesterday . Particularly thought your words after the seller should be listened to by those on high - it seems to me that once a horse reaches 4 years old unless it is going to progress to jumping or is high class it has limited value so the current prize money system should reflect this the younger horses can enhance their value off the track yet having had a brief look at race values those for the 2 and 3 year old they seem to be better than for the older animals perhaps if this prize money was balanced more to the older horses then the owning of a racehorse may become a little more viable