Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Musings at the end of a grey, wet day

A week since I last posted a chapter.  Since then we have had two runners last week (Das Kapital at Nottingham on the Wednesday; Roy at Brighton on the Friday) and probably will have two this week, ie Loving Pearl at Yarmouth tomorrow and then Das Kapital at Bath on Saturday.  Das Kapital ran very nicely last week, a strong-finishing third of 15.  That was great, a big relief to see him finish in the first three for the first time. Let's hope that he can progress from that promising start to his year.  I'm hoping that Bath will have ground not too far from good, probably just on the soft side, but heavy ground would be a concern.  They had 26mm of rain yesterday which eased the previously-very-firm ground significantly to 'good to firm, good in places', and it's sure to rain further there.  We'll see.

Roy again didn't cut much ice last week, but Rob Hornby was at pains afterwards to tell us not to be too concerned as the horse felt really well.  That's how he's been feeling to me in everything he does at home, so I'm keeping the faith too.  I'm also keeping the faith with Loving Pearl, despite her failing to beat a horse on her resumption at Newmarket last month.  I hope that she'll run considerably more competitively tomorrow, not least because the race is over a couple of furlongs farther, although very soft ground (which it is certain to be) will be an unknown.  Of her two siblings whom I have trained, Rhythm Stick relished soft ground and Indira was hopeless on it.  Once again, we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

There are just a few current topics at which I might take a brief look.  Firstly, David Redvers' blog post this week was very interesting and made perfect sense.  It is something upon which I have touched at various times: that our sport is currently teetering on very flimsy foundations, much flimsier than probably many appreciate, as the extensive patronage of a handful of overseas billionaires, patronage which cannot be expected to last forever, is papering over the extensive cracks created by the fact that the domestic ownership base is contracting severely.

That's the problem, and I don't profess to know the answer.  However, one thing which can only have been exacerbating the problem (again a topic which I have visited several times previously) is the policy which has been generally adopted in recent years of widening the gap in prize money between the higher and the lower tiers.  Nick Rust has seemingly stood alone as someone in authority keen to rectify this flaw.  The other observation which I would make is that the two-tier market at the sales (ie that the prices for the more obvious lots are jaw-droppingly high while the prices for the less obvious ones are jaw-droppingly low) is a very bad thing (in every way, not just this one) in that the headline prices make the health of the game seem much rosier than it is, which is of no help at all in trying to persuade our overlords that action might be required.

Two pieces of sad news in the past few days have been the recent retirement of Mark Brisbourne and the impending retirement of Jeremy Noseda.  Mark's unplanned exit from the ranks is a consequence of the collapse of the domestic ownership base referred to above because that's what his ownership base has always been, ie domestic, local.  He and his brother Anthony are the archetypal hard-working, supremely skilled and totally honest horsemen on whom the sport is built, and it's a sad day for us all when they are found to be superfluous to game's requirements.  It's a sign of the times, I'm afraid.  The days when Mark was training more winners than Henry Cecil seem a lifetime ago.

Jeremy's days of glory also seem a long time ago.  His news was less of a shock, for me anyway as I see his string every day and have seen it dwindle from the better part of 20 horses per lot to five or six, and have seen him go from having several stakes-class horses every year to only the occasional one.  He's always been very open about his ambitions to operate in what one might term the premier league, so it's understandable that he is calling it a day - not, of course, that that has been the full extent of him: he is 100% immersed in the training of his horses, and ambition alone can't make you that single-minded over an extended period.  You have to love the job itself, and not just its rewards.

Jeremy has been around high-class horses all the way through, and I'm sure that he would describe Lammtarra as one of his favourite horses.  If I recall the events correctly, Lammtarra's King George victory was the occasion of our finding out that he was going to start training.  My recollection is that after racing at Ascot that day, Sheikh Mohammed called an impromptu press conference to say how much he appreciated all the good work which Jeremy (who was Saeed bin Suroor's assistant trainer at the time) had done to help with Lammtarra's training and how sad he would be to lose him at the end of the season as Jeremy was planning to branch out on his own then and start training in France.

I didn't know Jeremy well enough (well, at that time I didn't know him at all ) to know whether this news should be surprising, but I seem to recall that the story came as a surprise to some, most notably to Jeremy himself.  The French part of the plan apparently caught him particularly off-guard as he doesn't speak a word of French!  Anyway, he did indeed leave Godolphin later that year and did start training, albeit in America rather than France.  And then he came back to Britain a couple of years or so later.  I seem to remember that his first runner and first winner (in separate races - I think that the horse was placed first time and then won the next time) was a well-built dark brown horse called Nautical Warning, by Warning out of Night At Sea, owned by Benny Schmidt-Bodner, at Lingfield.

I'm pretty sure that I had a runner in at least one of those races, or possibly just at at least one of those meetings.  Nautical Warning was a nice horse but not a particularly good one, but Jeremy had some very smart horses right from the outset and has had more than his share of very decent ones since then.  Off the top of my head, winners that stand out have included Sixties Icon in the St Leger, Araafa in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and St. James's Palace Stakes, Sans Frontieres in the Irish St Leger, Wilko in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Proclamation in the Sussex Stakes and Fleeting Spirit in the July Cup.  And that's all without extensive patronage from the sport's biggest owners, without whose support it is very hard to make any impact at the highest level nowadays (see above).

As with Mark Brisbourne's winners, those seem a way ago now.  Jeremy will leave a big gap in the town's training ranks.  I'll miss his reassuringly professional presence on the Severals every morning, and I'll miss the reassuringly constant presence of his staff (who'll still be around as presumably they will be working for someone else, but they won't be happy about that as they'll struggle to find a better boss).  In an era in which staff move around a lot, Jeremy's staff don't.  The people who occupy the key positions are ones who have been there for donkey's years, including some who joined him from Godolphin at the outset; and the only way they would be moving on would be (reluctantly) on his retirement.  Very few trainers treat their staff well enough to inspire the loyalty which he has clearly inspired in his.  And I don't think that I could give a trainer any higher a compliment than that.

The saddest news of all, though, came today with the fatal injury which Lady Kaya sustained this morning.  She isn't the first top-class horse to suffer a fatal injury and she won't be the last.  However, it is hard to think of one whose death has made me feel sadder.  She was a cracker, all the more so for the fact that she was owned, trained, ridden and looked after by some of the sport's best people.  There's so much all around us to make one question whether there is any future at all for the sport's more workday participants (see above) but she and her connections gave us hope that one always has a chance.  Today's news was heart-breaking.  My most sincere condolences to all those around her, who will have been hit for six by today's disaster. 


David J Winter. said...

Great blog John, thank you.

I must be somewhat ignorant and maybe dense , as the demise of Mark Brisbourne and Jeremy Noseda is just another chapter in the downward spiral of our sport. Why o why can’t Racing’s Executive see the ‘Bleedin’ obvious’ and start to re-structure the business.????
Is it lethargy, or an ‘we are alright, Jack’ philosophy while the billionaires keep pumping their oil revenues into the coffers. If the next generation of Arab princes have little or no interest in the sport we will end up decimated. Someone, please. emerge from the ruck with the ball in hand and charge toward the line of survival.

Brian Jones said...

Super Impose was yours John, ran in the 2nd race, Jeremy won the first = Lingfield 20/1/1998

John Berry said...

Thank you, Brian. I remembered being there, but couldn't think with which horse (and was too lazy to look it up!).