Tuesday, September 5, 2017
In Ireland pony racing matters. If It wasn't for pony racing there wouldn't now be a Richard Hughes column in the Racing Post. It was my springboard to success and has been for many other future jockeys.
Pony races are these days common in Britain but the sport takes place on another level in Ireland, where it is real, tough and hugely competitive. Betting can be fierce and there's prize-money to be won - even the jockeys get well looked after.
I remember riding a winner the first time I took part in a pony race as a nine-year-old wearing the famous Monksfield colours at Wexford. I even remember someone once grabbing me by my throat when I was 13 because he thought I had stopped his pony.
I recall another occasion when Dad told me to stick like glue to one particular boy down at the start. Wherever he went, I was supposed to go as well. When we got to race time the starter told us all to walk away from the flag and take a turn. I did that, and so did everyone else, except for the boy who I'd been told to watch.
I could see what was going to happen before it happened. The starter let the field go, even though only one member of the field was facing in the right direction. I got the biggest bollocking of my life from Dad. He had learned beforehand that the starter had 'previous' form. I always paid closer attention after that and was never again so naive.
I also learned while pony racing that as a jockey you shouldn't always tell the truth to your fellow riders, unless, that is, you knew telling the truth would be beneficial to you because the person you were talking with would tell you the truth back.
Charlie Swan went to Aintree one year and asked Peter Scudamore what he planned to do in the race. "You wouldn't be very good at poker," Peter told him. Then, at the second-last hurdle, Charlie cruised up alongside Peter and said to him: "I've got an ace up my sleeve!"
I was reminded of my time in pony racing when Race, Ireland's Racing Academy & Centre of Education, posted a tweet showing the finish of this year's Glenbeigh Invitational, a famous pony race staged on Rossbeigh Strand.
In the tweet Race added the hashtag, #nextgeneration. In my opinion, based on what I saw in the video, the next generation has plenty to learn.
The world has moved on and the world we live in now won't accept images such as those we saw in this year's Glenbeigh Invitational.
As I've written before - and as I made clear when I was riding - I am far from squeamish about the whip when it is used correctly. However, in this particular pony race the boys were not using the whip correctly, but were instead simply belting their mounts repeatedly. In this day and age it just looked ugly.
Pony racing is important, so important, in fact, that it needs to be policed properly. While all jockeys absolutely have to carry whips, those young jockeys did not need to use their whips. They would learn to ride much better if they didn't. That's something Race teaches them, but they should be taught it when they're pony racing.
When I was a kid public attitudes were very different, and the whip was not nearly such a controversial issue, but even back then Dad constantly stressed to me that the last person to use his stick is generally the one who wins. He was right.
I know these youngsters only weigh about 7st and are using air-cushioned whips. However, the fact remains that their reliance on the whip is doing them no good. These riders need to be taught proper and responsible use of the whip at an early age because, should they go on to make it and become professional jockeys, they will find their current methods land them in hot water, and justifiably so.
The lads who go out to ride in Dubai during the winter find it difficult to readjust to the much tighter whip regulations in this part of the world. Bad habits are had to break. My fear is the sport's next generation of jockeys are already picking up bad habits.
I was in the stalls one day on a horse who was continually rearing up. He was either going to hurt himself or hurt me. Every trick I could think of had failed. Nothing was working, so I hit him in between the ears on the top of the head. He was startled and stopped misbehaving. I got through the race and was then suspended.
Was what I did right or wrong?
In my opinion, I prevented what was a dangerous situation for both of us getting worse. What I did would no longer be deemed acceptable. Indeed, the fact I was suspended shows it was not considered acceptable even then.
I am not condoning what Davy Russell did at Tramore but, equally, I know it was not a true reflection of Davy. He would be one of Ireland's kindest, most sympathetic riders and is someone who rarely goes for his stick.
We've all done certain things we regret and I'm sure Davy regrets what he did at Tramore. My own view is this situation has been made worse by the PR employed by Davy. He has done himself no favours because the things he said about the incident have not painted a fair picture of the person we know him to be.
Once this story runs its course we can hopefully get back to concentrating on the many fine qualities of Davy Russell.
We once again had record figures at the big Goffs UK yearling sale at Doncaster held on Tuesday and Wednesday.
During a week of football transfers we read and heard about players being sold for what are basically scandalous sums of money. Anyone with a grip on reality would say none of those footballers are worth the money they fetched but the market dictates prices, whether that's in football or racing.
Most of the horses bought at Doncaster have little chance of winning back what they cost - although resale values have also gone up - but if you want to buy one of those horses you know you have to pay more than you did even 12 months ago. Fortunately, racing is a luxury sport and most owners view it as a hobby.
Over the two days at Doncaster I bought seven horses, including a couple for just £9,000. Horses at that price can give their owners a real chance.
Horses who cost £50,000 or £60,000 go into maidens and novice races taking on rivals sired by Galileo, Frankel or Dubawi who cost £200,000, £500,000 or £1 million upwards. They might finish second or third to them but efforts like that can take them to handicap marks from which they can never win.
This year we've won two races with Princess Lyla, a filly who went through the ring for only £3,000. Her victories have come in nurseries, but horses who cost so little relative to their contemporaries also have fantastic chances in auction races.
I have come to realise a winner is a winner and that it's easier to win auction races, without a doubt. By running in those contests you also have a better chance of picking up a workable handicap mark. You could pay more money for an admittedly superior horse but never win a race with that horse.
When I said to Richard Hannon last year that the Donny yearlings seemed expensive, he replied to me by saying that if I thought these were expensive, just wait until we got to Newmarket. He told me I would wish I had bought the Donny horses. He was correct.
Whether we like it or not, the prices are not about to come down any time soon.