Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Timmy Murphy was one of the weighing room's most naturally gifted members. He was a great jockey who had a fantastic career but I completely understand why this week he decided to retire.
Towards the end of my own career I rode a bit against Timmy and never felt the job looked particularly difficult for him. His frame actually made him look more like a modern-day Flat jockey than a jump jockey, and whether taking part in a staying chase or a sprint handicap he always maintained a very tidy position on a horse.
Timmy was one of many who have followed the trend in recent years for jockeys to move from jumping to Flat racing. The most obvious example has been Jim Crowley, given he became Flat champion and now holds one of the sport's biggest jobs as retained rider to Sheikh Hamdan. However, there are clear differences between the cases of Jim and Timmy.
For a start, Jim was a younger man when he switched codes. Timmy himself said when speaking to the Racing Post he probably left it a bit late.
Perhaps even more significantly, although Jim was an established jump jockey he was not a household name, in the same way PJ McDonald wasn't. You could argue Graham Lee, like Timmy, was also a Grand National-winning rider, but he was younger when changing direction.
Timmy started off okay on the Flat but the simple truth is things become harder as you get older, no matter who you are. When you are struggling with your weight, as Timmy made clear this week he was, it becomes very hard indeed.
Managing your weight is not difficult when you're flying. When you're not flying it turns into a nightmare.
If someone had told me I would have to lose 5lb and then drive to Thirsk for one ride, my answer would have been I would rather stay in the yard and muck out 25 horses.
There is nothing worse than spending four hours in the car after wasting when you know all you have to look forward to is one ordinary ride in one ordinary race. If, on the other hand, you knew at the end of the journey you had four good rides, the trip north would feel like a short ten-minute hop.
Wasting is all about the mindset, nothing else. When you have to lose a few pounds the hardest part is not the physical but the mental. I didn't mind wasting, and I did it, but now I know I can think about food without any consequences. That never used to be the case. There were always consequences.
It may sound bizarre but I had been wasting for such a big chunk of my life that it took me a long time to get over it and move on.
In the first year after I stopped riding I would find myself smelling one of those hot pies they sometimes sell in garages. I would think to myself I'd love to have one but something inside me would say, no you can't. I would then drive away berating myself for not buying a pie. It took about a year before I would treat myself to anything other than ice cream.
Timmy can now throw away the sweatsuit and allow himself a pie or ice cream. His problem was he wanted to ride forever. He yearned to be like Peter Pan but his body would not allow it. This cannot have been easy for him but by listening to his body he has done the right thing.
His riding career is now over but he can look back on what he achieved with pride.
A BHA rule change that came into effect on April 2 has left me bewildered.
We were told in the National Trainers Federation newsletter that "the application of ice has a short-term analgesic (pain-killing) effect in the horse so rule C(33) has been changed to prevent the icing of horses pre-race in the racecourse stables on raceday".
This means on racecourse property prior to a race it is no longer permissible to stand a horse in ice or iced water or to apply a cooling device to any part of the horse unless a veterinary officer has granted special permission. The world is going mad.
All we're talking about is a bit of ice. We have had cases where a farrier has pinched a horse's foot. In those instances the horse is perfectly able to race but ice offers a bit of help by keeping the foot more comfortable. Paco's Angel once got an insect bite on her neck, right where the jockey's reins are, so we iced the neck before the race to make sure she was as comfortable as possible.
Ice was a vital ingredient in Don't Forget Me winning the 1987 2,000 Guineas for Richard (Hannon) snr.
On the day of the race Richard's team were going back and forth to the racecourse bars to get more ice. Without it Don't Forget Me would not have run in the Guineas, let alone won it, and Richard's career might have panned out very differently. Two weeks later the horse followed up in the Irish 2,000 Guineas, so the icing had clearly done him no harm.
This is a case of the BHA needlessly wrapping itself up in knots. Ice keeps horses' legs cool and prevents inflammation. All athletes ice themselves before and after a race. Footballers do the same before and after a game.
Without wanting to sound too clinical, if a horse's leg is going to break, it's going to break, regardless of whether it has been iced. That's because ice is not the same as bute. We're not talking about an artificial substance that masks pain. Ice is the most natural thing in the world.
When you're using ice you're not trying to disguise but to soothe. If one of my children bangs their head we put ice on the bump and then they are off out playing again. My horses are the nearest thing to my children, so if ice is good enough for my kids it's good enough for my horses.
There is also the question of fairness. If you are a Newmarket trainer with a runner at Newmarket you could ice your horse all morning, knowing you only have to set off for the racecourse at the last minute. My horse running at the same meeting might have to leave at about 9am and would therefore be at a disadvantage compared to the Newmarket horse who could be iced.
To me this is a scandalous rule change, partly because it's totally unnecessary and partly because it puts some runners and trainers at an advantage.
Where once there were lots of maidens there are now lots of novice races. I'm not a fan of the change.
The expansion of novice contests from the two-year-old programme has been extended to encompass three-year-old races. Unless you are a certain trainer with a horse of a certain level of ability, my view is this has been a case of too much too soon.
I have nothing at all against novice races. In fact, I completely agree the racing programme needs them.
However, it seems almost all two-year-old maidens have turned into novice races – and because of that the nature of those races has changed.
In a field of green maidens the horses jump off together and race as a diamond up the track, in some ways helping each other out. In the early stages the race will not be run too quickly and the horses will finish it off nicely, laying the foundations for their future careers.
Put in a winner or two and the whole complexion of the contest changes. They jump out fast and race more quickly. It is not the same sort of race at all, just as a novice hurdle rides differently to a maiden hurdle.
Royal Ascot is just around the corner. If you have to go there with a two-year-old off one run, which many horses will have to given the harsh spring we've had, it's hard to justify doing that if your horse finished third behind two winners in a novice.
As for the three-year-old novice races, I thought this year there were too many of them on the all-weather in which a red-hot favourite scared off the opposition.
If I run a horse who I know is going to be no more than 75-rated, do I really want to be taking on animals who have 95-plus ability, especially on the all-weather, where you can be beaten only four lengths but actually be still well beaten?
As things stand the penalties carried by winners are not big enough. In a wider sense we need to change the system so there are fewer novice races, more maiden races and, in particular, more auction races.
By doing that, owners with a normal, relatively inexpensive horse – into which bracket sits the vast majority of the thoroughbred population – would feel they have a genuine chance of being competitive and maybe winning.
Whenever I go racing I hear trainers moaning about it. I hope at some point soon something is done to rebalance the programme.
Queen Shaahd ran a lovely race to finish third on her debut at Bath last week and as mine usually come on for their first run we're looking forward to her having her second start at Newmarket (3.50) on Saturday.
However, she is a £40,000 filly who is now taking on some rivals who cost more like £400,000. That's the concern. This could be a competitive race but Queen Shaahd is a lovely filly and she brings with her the advantage of experience over her main rivals.
Beat The Bank showed tremendous potential last year and I hope he can build on it in Newbury's Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes (3.40).