Monday, May 30, 2016
THE sport's stable staff shortage has received plenty of coverage in the Racing Post this week. I have experienced it myself but now have a great team at Weathercock House. They work very hard, but I 'd like to think they enjoy their work.
Finding staff was difficult over the winter. I'm lucky in that we have a hostel at Weathercock House with 12 self-contained apartments. That's a big help. Rents in Lambourn are twice as high as they should be because demand for property is so great. To live in one of our apartments is much cheaper.
I was lucky to be sufficiently talented to ride horses for a living and now I'm training, which I enjoy every bit as much. I want people who work for me to enjoy their job as well. If people aren't happy I want them to be able to tell me why and I want to be able to do something about it.
The atmosphere here is not at all regimental and I know all the lads individually, which is important. We also try to create a sense of team morale and now and again Lizzie will put on a barbecue for the team.
I would love to give the staff more time off but I'm not sure how that can be done. Unfortunately those working for me only get one Saturday evening and Sunday off per fortnight. That's the traditional way in racing. The problem is weekends.
The available staff is cut in half but we still have to do the same job. We ride out only one lot but nonetheless have to muck out every horse. On a Sunday we all muck in and there is no job I'd ask someone to do I wouldn't do myself, or haven't done myself. If I'm willing to do it, they're willing to do it.
There is no obvious solution to the heavy weekend workload because I don't like using part-time lads - that creates poor yard morale.
Here we adopt the old system, as much as possible anyway, of lads mucking out, riding and looking after the same horses. That means lads are able to really get to know their horses and provide invaluable feedback to me. Horses are always trying to tell you something, but people need to really know them to pick up on what they're being told.
I pay more than necessary under the industry's minimum agreed terms. Some of our younger staff get a fair bit more than they're strictly entitled to get because I believe if they do the job just as well as a senior person they deserve the extra money.
It's not the best job in the world, but I also know I'd rather muck out horses until the day I die if the alternative was to commute every day and then work in an office. Maybe it's because I love horses.
However, it's also true that working as a groom is a job that gets you skills. You go racing, you meet lots of interesting people, you work with horses, one of which might become a champion, you don't get badly paid and you also share in pool money. Some owners are very generous, too.
The team at Weathercock House don't have it easy, and they don't get as many hours off as I would like to give them, but we do our best to make it as enjoyable a job as possible. When you look at the many positive aspects of working in a racing yard, I think it's a job well worth having.
IN WINNING a pretty ordinary handicap at Kempton on Wednesday, Silvestre de Sousa showed why he is champion jockey and why he will very likely be crowned champion again this season.
Silvestre made all to win on Exalted in a seven-furlong contest and did so on a front-runner who was drawn wide in stall 13 of 14. That would have been called a bad draw, but I've always maintained in most midweek races only a bad jockey has a bad draw.
In a Group 1 race, when you're riding against the likes of Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori, a bad draw really can be a bad draw. At Kempton or Windsor, when a race has a mixed bag of jockeys, I don't believe such things really exist for the top riders.
Silvestre very quickly had his mount in front and didn't cause any interference to get his position. He was sharper from the gate than anyone else and was then determined to control the race. He did everything a jockey riding at the top of his game should have done.
When a jockey is riding like that he nicks half a length here and there all the time. You get into the zone. When I was going for the championship I believed I could win on every horse. That meant I had the edge over some of my competitors and Silvestre is like that now.
He is also a much better jockey now than he used to be - and I'm sure Silvestre would be the first to admit that. He thinks a lot more. He once allowed horses to run down the field a bit, causing interference as a result. He did his time for that but when he was going for the title he realised he couldn't become champion sitting at home. When you're chasing the title it's all about damage limitation every time you're in a race.
Silvestre was also once too one-dimensional. He was renowned for giving every horse a ride but he wasn't as economical or strategic as he could have been. Horses he rode were not always in the right place at the right time. That couldn't be levelled at him now, in part because he is more experienced but also because he has gained so much more confidence.
Silvestre now realises he is better than most of the jockeys he is riding against. That's a massive thing for a jockey to know. He is winning on too many horses who aren't the best in a race for it to be anything other than a reflection on his ability.
After I became champion I found when we rung for a ride trainers would automatically say yes, whereas previously they would have said they'd let us know. Silvestre will also have noticed a similar change. That means he'll be getting on better horses.
Silvestre doesn't want to be called a one-time champion. Every time he leaves the weighing room he will expect to win - I can see it in him.
It has become an obsession and that's why he could remain Flat racing's champion jockey for some time.
Big mistake to miss out on 12,000gns Jet
IRISH 1,000 GUINEAS
WHEN I finished second in a Newmarket maiden on Jet Setting a year ago I would not have forecast she was a Classic winner waiting to happen.
Nor did Richard Hannon or her owner Julie Wood, who sold her for 12,000gns in October, at which point she had been beaten in all four starts, including in a Brighton maiden and off a mark of 85 in a nursery.
Her new connections obviously got one of the bargains of all time - but that doesn't mean Julie wasn't right to sell her. Given the evidence she had at the time, I believe she made the correct decision.
I was the one who made the wrong decision. I was buying horses at the time Jet Setting went through the ring. I saw her at Tattersalls and could easily have bought her had I wanted to - but I didn't. Like plenty of others, I didn't think she was worth 12,000gns. That was a big mistake on my part.
Why is she so much better this year? The honest answer is I don't know. That's why we all have a chance in this sport.
Julie buys and sells plenty of horses. A few years ago she sold Strong Suit for a six-figure sum, after which he won only a single Group 2. That would have to go down as a pretty shrewd sale. What cannot be doubted is when Julie spoke so generously and graciously in Monday's Racing Post, warmly congratulating Jet Setting's new owners and trainer, she was being absolutely genuine. She is a lovely lady who wears her heart on her sleeve. She was always great to ride for, win or lose. I never once heard her moan.
Irish 1,000 Guineas runner-up Minding didn't have a nice time at the Curragh, bursting her sinus in the stalls, so in the circumstances she did incredibly well to finish so far clear of the third.
If she is allowed to run in the Oaks I wouldn't have any worries about her stamina and with Ryan on her back I'd be pretty confident she'd win.
Remember, though, good things do get beat in the Oaks and quite a few outsiders have won the race recently - I know because I rode one of them!
IRISH 2,000 GUINEAS
I FORECAST last week that the Irish 2,000 Guineas could be an interesting race tactically, and that's what it proved to be. On faster ground Galileo Gold will be a better horse. He still has a very bright future, as does Awtaad.
He's a super physical specimen and if Kevin Prendergast describes him as one of the best horses he has trained, he must be pretty special.
Kevin was a close friend of my dad for years. He is a great horseman, a great trainer and probably also one of the fittest men in racing. He walks to and from the gallops with his horses and will then work all morning before going shooting with his dog for a couple of hours, then play nine holes of golf before drinking a few pints of Guinness and going home with not a bother on him.
Not surprisingly, his Classic winner received a wonderful reception at the Curragh, where Kevin has been based for many years, employing lots of people who would hold him in the highest regard - quite rightly so, as well.