Monday, August 1, 2016
Having a weekly column in the Racing Post puts me in a privileged position. It allows me a platform to say what I think, whether you agree with me or not. Judged on your responses to what I wrote last week you very much agree with what I said about the rise in drunken bad behaviour on racecourses.
Two weeks ago my wife, Lizzie, and I were at Lingfield and witnessed two fights, one of which was particularly horrible. We weren't there seven days ago, and I'm pleased we were not, as there was apparently another fight, this one involving 20 people. I'm going back there later today as we have three runners. Lizzie is adamant she doesn't want to come along.
On Sunday the Racing Post published the views of racegoers. The vast majority of them agreed with my argument that there is a problem on Britain's racecourses and we have to tackle it. So many of you have been coming up to me and saying I had said what you've been thinking and saying for so long. In fact, at Windsor on Monday I must have been stopped at least ten times.
In yesterday's edition you might have read a response from Stephen Atkin, chief executive of the Racecourse Association.
Stephen pointed out what racecourses are doing to deal with the sort of behaviour that bothers me and clearly bothers you as well. He said "racecourses adopt a range of measures to minimise anti-social behaviour". Well, I can tell Stephen, those measures do not seem to be working.
If I kept running a horse over six furlongs who quite plainly did not have the pace to run over the distance I would be stupid. I couldn't just say, well, he's by a fast sire so he ought to be able to run over sprint distances. I would have to see sense, do something different and step him up in trip. Similarly, racecourses need to do something different, and they need to do more than they're doing now. Otherwise, things just aren't going to get better.
Stephen also implied events like the ones we witnessed at Lingfield are rare. I don't agree. For the last two Saturday nights there has been trouble at Lingfield. There was another fight reported at Uttoxeter as well. If that equates to rare it's not rare enough.
Stephen claimed racecourses actively promote soft drinks and water to their customers. If they do, I haven't seen them doing it. What I have seen is people walking around tracks carrying big containers of beer and selling pints. What I haven't seen is people walking around actively offering water, orange juice or cups of tea.
Stephen also said staff on racecourse receive "specific training". My experience at Lingfield tells me staff are not trained nearly well enough. That's not the fault of the staff. It's the fault of those who employ them.
The young lad who approached the fight victim at Lingfield had no first aid knowledge and had no idea what to do when confronted by a man lying on the ground with blood coming out of his ear. He was in a state of shock. I had to tell him to ring for an ambulance.
Racecourses need to wake up to the fact that this is a serious problem and needs to be tackled aggressively. Putting heads in the sand will not help. Those who go racing to watch racing need to be protected.
I wasn't a close friend of John Thomas McNamara but I knew he was an outstanding amateur rider. His death rocked the sport and understandably so.
It puts everything else into perspective. When I see a horse walking a little lame I worry. When one has performed below expectations I get a bit down. Then I come home, see the kids and feel better. Some things are really important and some things are not. JT's injury and then his death hammers home that fact.
My first experience of serious injury came in 2001 after David Harrison was hurt and I went to see him in hospital. As distressing as that was I left with the certainty something like that would never happen to me - a ridiculously naive thing to think, I know. However, if, as a jockey, you look at such a situation in any other way, or if you start thinking it might happen to you, your rider's licence needs to be handed in quickly.
I would be pretty certain there isn't one driver on the F1 circuit who thinks about crashing or the potential effects of a crash. Jockeys are just the same. We (and I know I'm now a former jockey but I still think like a jockey) completely blank it out of our minds. We see our close friends being seriously hurt but we never think about our own mortality. Falls and injuries are part and parcel of the sport but we never think it could happen to us. There is a part of our brain that refuses to confront the subject. It's better that way.
As a jockey you need to be quite selfish. When I rode we had two young children. That never stopped me trying to take a tiny gap.
The mindset of a jockey can seem very strange, and sometimes even cold, to outsiders. I have ridden in more than one race in which my mount has literally galloped over another jockey. Not for a second would I have meant it to happen. But it happened. On those occasions I have finished the race and felt absolutely no remorse. My stomach wasn't turned and I didn't want to apologise. Equally, when I was galloped on I didn't expect the jockey who was riding the horse who galloped on me to say sorry, either.
Kieran Kelly was killed in 2003 riding one of Dad's horses at Kilbeggan. I don't think Dad, who was an exceptionally kind man, ever felt he shouldn't have run the horse, certainly not to my recollection. He was obviously incredibly saddened that a young man had lost his life and he was extremely upset for the parents. However, he knew no one was to blame and that there was no point thinking about could haves or should haves.
Racing is a seriously dangerous sport. Ambulances follow the action for a reason. Sometimes we lose very good men. JT was one of the best.
I have seen some pretty ordinary rides at Goodwood this week. Ryan Moore's ride on The Gurkha was not one of them.
I know you have to go quick from the gate to get a good position but once you've got that position you need to fill your horse up and give him a chance of getting home. I didn't see that happening in a lot of the races.
Ryan, however, has been as sublime as ever. During the royal meeting someone came up to me and said he had been riding poorly this season. I could barely stop myself laughing.
The person pointed to the St James's Palace Stakes as evidence of Ryan's failing powers, yet the horse was beaten that day because he missed the kick.
Ryan's approach is to take the shortest course from start to finish. That seems to make sense to me. It was what he did in the Sussex Stakes. After they jumped in the early stages Ryan was sat on Frankie's boot. Nine jockeys out of ten would have stayed there. They would have remained in the safe spot, free of trouble but without any cover and covering more ground than necessary.
Not Ryan. He buried The Gurkha in behind horses and allowed Awtaad to come up on his outside. He didn't start poking for a gap two and a half furlongs out. There was never a moment of panic. He sat and he waited. Then he won. Both he and Frankie gave their mounts excellent rides.
Going back to the St James's Palace, in which The Gurkha's race was lost at the start - through no fault of Ryan - it's worth me restating that more happens in the first 50 yards of a race than people realise. The stewards seldom see it happening, either.
If I was drawn two and wanted to get the rail I would make sure the stick was in my left hand and I would lean to my right, trying to make the horse go in that direction when he jumped. If he then caused interference my excuse would have been: "Oh, sorry, he jumped to the right." He did but I helped him to do it. That happens all the time.
As a jockey you have to do everything you can to maximise your chances - especially if you're riding against Ryan Moore.