Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Changing Place


The Changing Place

By Stephen Dwyer

As October dawns, the mists of autumn will soon pass to the white of winter. Schooling grounds get softer as the nights close in and the countdown to the new National Hunt season has certainly and assuredly started.

But behind every silver lining sits a cloud, and what a shadow was cast last week with the passing of two irreplaceable custodians of horse racing, Donald “Ginger” McCain and Michael Jarvis. The communities of National Hunt and Flat racing have lost two remarkable men and we are all the poorer for it.

Ginger McCain will be forever known for training four-time Grand National winner Red Rum, a horse bought for a song with a bone disease who defied all odds to epitomize the greatest race in the world.

What living tribute could be more fitting than when his son Donald repeated the Grand National win last April with Ballabriggs. As well as his fame in the winner’s enclosure, McCain Snr. was renowned for his anecdotes; one I retell often is when Ginger learned that Desert Orchid was better known than the Chancellor of the Exchequer- “Desert Orchid and I have a lot in common. We are both greys; vast sums of money are riding on our performance; the Opposition hopes we will fall at the first fence, and we are both carrying too much weight.”

Ginger will be often thought about as will Michael Jarvis who enjoyed success with winners in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe the Oaks, 1,000 Guineas and was a specialist in the Haydock Sprint Cup. He was an international trainer of note and one of the first English trainers to regularly send runners from his Newmarket yard to Italy and Germany, conquering both from the late 1980’s until his retirement earlier this year. What these two men have achieved reminds us all that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Changes afoot too for jockeys who will now be permitted to only use the whip very sparingly during racing. The whip can only be used a maximum of seven times in a Flat race, and eight times in a jumps race (and only five times in the last furlong/after the last obstacle). Indeed serious consultation was endeavored by all sides in the review of the whip and no less than nineteen recommendations in relation to the whip were agreed by the BHA. The first of which corroborates that the whip is deemed necessary for safety and encouragement, a sensible point given that racehorses can weigh over 500kg, ten times more than their jockey.

Tony McCoy and Frankie Dettori were quick to welcome the new changes to the whip, as have Paul Nicholls and Sir. Henry Cecil. The former noting "I am pleased that the BHA has made sensible and reasonable changes, and I am supportive of them." The changes that have been brought about will take effect from October 10th and their take-up is sure to be quick.

Even though a blow has yet to be struck in anger, I stole a quick look at the Cheltenham 2012 ante-post betting. 167 days away and they are all there, the big guns. Peddler’s Cross for the Arkle, Hurricane Fly to retain the Champion Hurdle, Quevega for the Mares Hurdle, Big Bucks for the World Hurdle, Long Run.

It was Lincoln who said The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time. From October to March, those days are marked out by race names. The Old Roan Chase, The Rising Stars Novice Chase, The Long Walk, The Christmas Hurdle, The Tingle Creek, The King George.

It’s a thing of beauty following a horse on the flat or over jumps; you often form a bond with them. You relish their wins and think what can be gained next time out from their losses. The changing times are times to remember; times to live in, here’s to a great season ahead.

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man."
W- Churchill.

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