Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Grocer of Despair

I don't often say this (win, lose or draw) but I did not enjoy my day at the races today.  For that I blame the niggardly attitude of Yarmouth Racecourse and various other irritants.  Hope's race was frustrating but I can live with that: I like to believe that I take defeat well (and victory too, for that matter).  She was in perfect condition; course distance and ground was spot-on for her; Silvestre was booked; she had drawn one; and the opposition looked no more than averagely fearsome, notwithstanding that the Neil Mulholland-trained The Detainee (who was the paper favourite, although we started favourite in the end) was clearly going to be a hard horse to beat.

However, she stumbled coming out of the stalls.  Silvestre did well not to fall off, but he lost a stirrup, and by the time the field had settled into its order, she was a clear last, rather than in the box seat.  Her chance appeared to have gone.  Amazingly, thanks to her ability, fitness and determination, and thanks to Silvestre's judiciously paced ride, she gradually made up the lost ground.  She drew level with The Detainee a furlong from home, but she couldn't get by him.  She finished second, beaten a head.  It was a magnificent run, the best run of her life (so far!).  She was a certainty beaten.  But that's racing.

One might say that things started go downhill a second after the stalls opened, but I wouldn't.  As I say, that's racing.  But things did start to go badly downhill once she returned to the unsaddling enclosure.  One race-goer was leaning over the rail shouting abuse at Silvestre, although I didn't listen closely enough to work out whether the man was stupid enough to think that Silv had deliberately stopped her or stupid enough to think that he had just got her beaten through incompetence.  But that's fine: it's a fact of sport, and a fact that you just live with, that one of the perks of being a spectator is that, having paid your admission fee, you're in a position to barrack the competitors.

So that was OK.  What happened next wasn't.  My phone rang with a 'No Caller ID' on the screen.  I answered.  There was silence, and then a man's voice which I couldn't decipher, standing as I was by the Tannoy.  I asked who was speaking and asked him to repeat himself, explaining that I couldn't hear him.  We were going nowhere, and he rang off.  He called again half a minute later.  This time I could hear him.  I won't tell you what he said, but punctuated by silences, a very sinister male voice directed some really nasty abuse at me.  His final words were, "Watch your back"; and then he rang off before I could have the partial satisfaction of telling him to f**k off.

I'm generally thick-skinned.  Not much gets under my skin.  But this vile, threatening man did.  I had been pleased with how well I had taken the crushing disappointment of Hope's unfortunate defeat, but this wasn't the time to brush off abuse effortlessly.  I must have looked a bit shaken because Emma asked me if I felt ill.  I replied that I was OK, but she then began asking me who had called, and eventually she got a watered-down version of the 'conversation'.  I hadn't really wanted to tell her anything because I knew that it would vex her.  Anyway, she suggested that we repair to the owners' and trainers' room to collect our wits, and to have the complimentary meal/sandwich plus tea/coffee which the racecourse claims to offer to connections.  I didn't really want anything, but it would have been rude to refuse and to say (truthfully) that I would actually rather just go and be with the horse (whom I wasn't attending as Jana, who rides her every day, had come too and was leading her up).

Anyway, Yarmouth's way of handing out the food is to give each owner and trainer a meal voucher.  Emma had picked one up on her way in.  I hadn't done so because, while the owners' and trainers' gate is perfectly placed for those who arrive by car, it is very badly placed for those who bring their own horses, as it is at the opposite end of the enclosures to the horsebox entrance and stableyard.  I have had a series of unavoidable late nights (starting with getting to bed at 2.15 am on Saturday after being in the 8.50 at Chepstow and culminating with Newmarket Town Council's meeting massively over-running yesterday and not finishing until 9.45 pm, courtesy of a few of my colleagues who love the sound of their own voices) and I start work at 5.30 every morning.

I had been flat out this morning to ride three lots, drive out towards Burrough Green to collect the box, and feed the horses before leaving for the races (a bit later than I'd planned) at 10.30.  Once Jana and I had put Hope away in the stables, I did think of walking down to the other side of the course to collect a voucher, but really I just wanted to sit down for three quarters of an hour and try to feel less tired by the time we needed to begin getting the horse ready.  So I didn't have a voucher - but I wasn't bothered because I wasn't fussed about getting my free sandwich.  But I went in with Emma, telling her that I wouldn't have any food, that I'd just have a cup of tea.  It transpires that you don't get a cup of tea: you get an absurdly small cup of hot water with a tea bag in it.  And you get one.  One per voucher.  No voucher, no small cup of hot water.  We couldn't even have two cups of hot water and share the tea bag.  I showed the waitress my trainer's badge, explained that I wasn't asking for any food, and that the racecourse claims to provide complimentary tea or coffee to trainers.  No good: no voucher, no cup.

So I walked off down to the other end of the enclosures to collect a voucher (where the man on the gate couldn't have been more helpful, unprompted asking me how many vouchers I would like.  I said that one would be enough, thank you).  Ten minutes later I got back to the lunch-room.  Ten minutes after that I reached the front of the tea-queue again.  On the basis that if they can be bloody-minded, then so can I, I decided that if they were going to be so bloody-minded they might as well pay for it, so I also ordered a sandwich which I hadn't planned to have.  Ten minutes after being given my absurdly small cup of hot water with a tea-bag in it, my sandwich arrived.  I had had the option of either drinking the tea while it was still hot and then having nothing to drink with the sandwich; or watching the tea grow cold for 10 minutes and then drinking it cold with my sandwich.  Anyway, I had finished my tea before the sandwich arrived, so I have taken the sandwich (plus garnish) home and will have it for lunch tomorrow.

(Incidentally, I am glad that I did go down the course to collect a voucher.  On the way, I stopped to chat to a very friendly regular Yarmouth racegoer.  He, very nicely and kindly, remarked that we had run very well and had almost got up; and that we had tried a change of tactics and that it had nearly worked out.  Eureka!  This was why I was the villain of the piece, this supposed change of tactics!  I explained that there had been no deliberate change of tactics, but that Plan B had been forced on us when she nearly fell leaving the stalls.  He hadn't seen this.  What probably hadn't helped was the fact that another runner had refused to come out of the stalls, which would have deflected attention to the favourite's near-capsize).

Anyway, the cup of tea thing was the opposite of the icing on the cake, coming as it did at a racecourse which claims to provide free tea and coffee for owners and trainers (and bearing in mind that there was no dispute that I was a trainer).  You might recall 'Sandwich-gate' a year or two ago that Bryce Stanaway, an NZer who trains out the south-eastern side of Melbourne, blew up when Pakenham wouldn't let him have a sandwich, and scratched his two remaining runners on the card.  That sounded ludicrous, and it was.  But, after today, I can understand it.  I am lucky enough to have a phlegmatic, stoic nature, and to be mentally very tough.  But, even so, there are times when things do get to you. and this just wasn't the time for me to be able to see the funny side of Yarmouth Racecourse's niggardly, unhelpful, unwelcoming attitude.  If we had had a second runner in a later race, I would have been very tempted to do a Bryce Stanaway, and to say, "F**k this.  We're off.  There is only so much sh*t a man can be expected to take in any one day".


David Winter said...

I really do despair, Really, when will very profitable racecourses drag their corporate backsides into the 21st century ??. Racing in many ways is in crisis. Staff problems are only going to get immeasurably worse in the immeadite future with the lack of foreign workers available and with the smaller and medium sized stables and owners being forced out of the sport by ever diminishing returns and increasing costs.So, you would think that a clever business [ the racecourses] would try to emilerate the discomfort by at least making the racecourse experience as pleasant as possible. A private cafeteria for trainers and owners with free reasonable food and made to feel welcome should be the absolute minimum in 2017. And, as for ******* vouchers. What is that all about ?? This isn't a kindergarten with children queuing for a free government lunch with tickets in their hands. These are hard working professionals and investors that provide racecourses and the betting industry with a product to capitalise on and to be treated the way they are is completely unacceptable. As an owner I visited Yarmouth a number of years back and when i asked to be directed to the owners bar was directed to a bog standard garden shed with dimensions of approx 12 X 8 with a small section of boarding across the back forming the "Bar". Laughable, but true. From that low setting of the bar, Yarmouth can claim to completely transformed their owners/ trainers hospitality. I wonder what Sir Michael Stoute or the late Sir Henry Cecil would make of traipsing to the other end of the course for a f*****g ticket !!! . A trainers badge should be enough for him/her and say two guests [ plus card carrying owners] to enjoy free refreshments.
Furthermore, while i am on the subject ; there should also be a reasonable meal supplied free to stablestaff.
Sometimes there is still a pervading air of them and us. I am sure that a budget can be found for this, even if it means a small increase in admission. In my experience the addition of a couple of pounds wouldn't deter the customer given the amount of money spent on betting and refreshments. I feel ashamed on John and Emma's behalf especially with the added aggravation of the cowardly phone call. Wake up racecourses before the business you earn your corporate executive pay from evaporates like John's cup of cold tea.

John Berry said...

Excellent, David, thank you. I really couldn't have put it better myself. I would like to think that your thoughts might be read and considered by various racecourse managers. There are some who already act as if they recognise the wisdom of your words, but too many who don't.

glenn.pennington said...

I used to work for the Tote (pre-BetFred) and visited every British racecourse during the course of each calendar year. On arrival at courses, if it was a raceday, I'd show my Tote Pass aqnd drive in. My outstanding recollection of Yarmouth, is that on queuing in a line of cars to park up, the attendant refused to let me through unless I paid the parking charge.
After a bit of debate, I drove in without paying and parked up, fully expecting security to follow me, but no - nothing came of it, but it demonstrated how a small incident could put a damper on your day.

Craig McKenna said...

Interesting blog John, and as the man behind the partnership of the winner I am in a unique position of appreciating how unlucky your horse was. Also, I feel our boy was helped a little as when SDS made his move on the outside it prevented the 3rd coming after us when he was still travelling. That is racing and our other horse Born To Finish hasn't had any fortune recently, so we will take everything we can!
That said, The Detainee wasn't stopping and is still improving. Neil has done an awesome job with him so I would like to think that all being equal we would have won anyhow. But I am biased!
I just hope the handicapper doesn't raise either horse by too much, and maybe a rematch will be on the cards.

Regarding the comments on the course, I wasn't there so can't comment on what the service/ procedure is like at Yarmouth but there is absolutely an issue with too many of the UK racecourses making life a tad uncomfortable who provide the stars who make their events viable.
Without stable staff, trainers and owners there would be no horses running at these tracks and they wouldn't exist. Simple.
Maybe, they need to remember that!

In other sports, the owners of the teams, the coaches/ trainers and the support staff are lauded and treated as VIP guests.

David Wilkinson said...

Had a share in a hurdler a few years ago and found the difference in hospitality at the courses where she ran baffling.Some like Ayr treated us like royalty but some of the other courses had a couldn't be bothered attitude.