A Token Ride. (Barry Brogan looks back at 1968 Grand National).

June 19, 2017 2 comments


Moidores Token with his lad Ronnie McWilliams.

If there was one jockey who gave me the inspiration to want to further my career in horse racing when I left school, it was without doubt Barry Brogan.  One of the most talented riders of his era.

Barry had a checkered career and was associated with some of the best horses of his time including The Dikler, Billy Bow, Even Keel and last but not least Tom Dreapers’ Flying Bolt, reputed to have been the one horse capable of toppling his then stable mate, the great Arkle, from his crown. Barry partnered the ill-fated horse in his final race at Haydock. Barry was at the time Dreapers’ assistant trainer and stable amateur. Barry explained to me that in his opinion Flying Bolt was the best horse he had ever sat on and he had ridden work on both Arkle and Flying Bolt. Telling me also that he could have even beaten Arkle in the 1966 Gold Cup if their trainer had run both horses.

The 1970-71 season concluded with him finishing as runner-up to Graham Thorner in the National Hunt Jockeys Championship.

Barry has been most generous to describe his inaugural ride in what is without any doubt the greatest steeplechase race in the world, The Aintree Grand National. One could not have asked for a more sublime baptism.

He knew that he had much to live up to. In 1948 Barry’s father Jimmy had finished a most creditable second in the race to the Neville Crump trained Sheila’s Cottage, ridden by Arthur Thompson, on First of the Dandies.


Jimmy Brogan aboard second place First of the Dandies (1948 Grand National).

On February 24th, 1965, Barry was granted his trainers licence. Sadly though, the new trainer’s celebrations were so tragically marred. The previous day Jim, not only his father but also his best friend and mate, collapsed on the gallops with Barry in attendance and died instantly from a massive heart attack. Sadly two months away from being able to witness his son’s Grand National debut as a trainer.

Two months on and Barry Brogan was experiencing his first airplane ride from Ireland to the UK with three runners at the Grand National meeting, including Ballygowan, who was entered to run in the Grand National.


Ballygowan was to be  ridden by Irish Jockey, Tony Redmond. Barry recalls walking the Aintree course and when he got to the thirteenth obstacle, The Chair, he stood back in sheer amazement, thinking “Oh my God, how in his name do they ever get over that fence”, he had clearly never come across such a daunting fence before. Little did he know at that moment that three years down the line he would himself be having negotiate the same fence. Ballygowan refused at the twenty-first race.

Three years on and it is the morning of the 1968 Grand National excitement was getting the better of him as he woke in Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel. As a jockey now he was walking the course alongside the trainer of his mount, Moidores Token, in the race, Ken Oliver, who was one of the most likeable and admired trainers of his time. Moidores Token was one of the fancied runners and Barry had ridden him in five previous races. The combination were unbeaten and that was an undeniable confidence boost which allowed Barry to have a much more positive approach than his initial experience of walking the course, pre-race.


Barry and Moidores Token, on their way to victory at Newcastle.

The days racing started perfectly, winning the opening race, the Liverpool Hurdle on Drumikill. Also trained by Ken Oliver, beating David Mould on the Dennis Rayson trained Rackham.

The following season Drumikill went on to finish second to the great Persian War, in the 1969 Champion Hurdle.

As the minutes ticked by Barry took the initiative, seeking advice from such seasoned National jockeys as Pat Taaffe, Tim Brookshaw, Tim Moloney and Gerry Scott.

Moidores Token was renowned for his jumping and could “stay all day”, a perfect National contender. An average plodder is how Barry describes him, something that sums up many National horses. The type of horse that would have always be in with a good chance if completing the course if getting a clear round. The biggest problem for any jockey even on the best of jumpers in the National is avoiding trouble, because of the volume of runners. The 1968 Grand National was no exception to the rule, with a total of forty-three runners going to post.

It was to become one of the greatest highlights during the jockeys illustrious career, to his absolute delight, not only completing the gruelling course but also finishing second to Red Alligator, trained by another superb trainer in Denys Smith and ridden by that most famous of recent Grand National Jockeys, Brian Fletcher, who was later to partner three times winner of the Red Rum and beating race favourite Different Class, ridden by David Mould, by a neck. Different Class was trained by Peter Cazalet and owned by Hollywood movie legend Gregory Peck. Moidores ran a superb race, always being handy and jumped beautifully up until the final fence, where he made one horrific blunder and could quite easily have ended up crumpled on the ground. However, he managed to find that extra leg and run on gamely to hold off the favourite.


Finishing second in the Grand National is a day that is forever etched in Barry’s mind, the greatest of thrills and a gratefulness and joyous occasion to be enjoyed for a lifetime.

Of course in true Barry Brogan fashion the connections partied through the night and into the early hours of the morning, at the Adelphi Hotel. One thing jockeys knew how to do in those amazing days, was how to party. Old school, such courageous and fun loving jockeys. For many of us much missed.


With grateful thanks to Barry Brogan for his time and the featured photographs.

Copyright Reserved. Chris Luke, June 2017.


Golden Miller (1927 – 1957)

Horse Racing - Golden Miller - 1934

Golden Miller with Gerry Wilson in the saddle.

It would be difficult to argue with the fact that Golden Miller is one of the, if not the, greatest Gold Cup horses in the history of what is the Blue-Riband of British National Hunt Racing, if not steeplechase racing the world over. He is without doubt the most successful, winning the race five consecutive years (from 1932 to 1936). In addition this most enigmatic of horses also won the 1934 Aintree Grand National, making him the first horse to win both the Gold cup and the Grand National in the same year.

Bred in Ireland by Laurence Geraghty in Pelletstown, Co. Meath. Laurence also being grandfather to jockey Barry Geraghty, who has himself ridden two Gold Cup winners to date, Kicking King in 2005 and again eight years later on Bob’s worth in 2013. However, some records show the horse to be bred by a dubious Dublin moneylender, by the name of Julius Solomon. Albeit by default as Solomon had claimed the horse’s dam, most likely as settlement from her owner James Nugent, and moved the mare to be taken care of by Laurence Geraghty. The mare was left at the Pelletstown stud for quite a number of years without any stabling fees or payment of keep being made by Solomon. Therefore, with law on his side, having kept the mare for no payment Geraghty stated himself in official records as the breeder of all the mares’ offspring whilst in his care. However, when Golden Miller’s older brother began winning, Mr Solomon quite suddenly from nowhere appeared back on the scene and instructed Messrs Weatherby to record him as the breeder in the next stud book, and thereafter was able to collect credit for the breeding Golden Miller also, whose mother he had forgotten about financially and whose visits to stallions had all been planned by Mr Geraghty.

Golden Millers’ sire was an unraced stallion, Goldcourt and was out of a Wavelet’s Pride mare, Miller’s Pride. He was foaled on April 30th, 1927.

The Miller was initially purchased by Mr Phillip Carr for £100 from trainer Basil Briscoe.

The horse’ new owner was also the father of England cricketer A W (Arthur) Carr, who captained the England side during the 1926 Ashes series in England, and was instrumental in the development of the notorious “bodyline” tactic, instructing his Nottinghamshire team mates, fast bowlers Harold Larwood and Bill Voce to bowl at the bodies of their opposing batsmen. This later resulted in him being sacked from the County side and he was never to play first-class cricket again.


Briscoe who had a mixed yard of both Flat horses and Jumpers trained from his family home at Longstowe, Cambridgeshire before later moving his headquarters to Newmarket. The bay youngster did not show much interest in either hunting or hurdling and was for a while deemed as a most mediocre type. But Briscoe despite all of this kept faith in the horse and it was with great relief that his patience and faith in him paid dividends winning four races for him.

In 1931 Mr Carr was taken seriously ill and he instructed Briscoe to sell his horses on. With some heavy persuasion he was able to talk The Hon. Dorothy Paget into buying the horse.

Golden Miller made his chasing debut at Newbury, winning quite comfortably, only to lose the race through disqualification after being judged to have been carrying the incorrect weight.

Millers’ first Gold Cup victory came in 1932, just the eighth running of the race, when beating Inverse and Aruntius, into second and third places respectively. Miller was ridden by Ted Leader, who had also won the race in 1925 on Ballinode, only the second running, for trainer Frank Morgan. Leader had started his racing career as apprentice to his uncle Harvey Leader.

The combination of Dorothy Paget, Basil Briscoe and Ted leader also won the Champion Hurdle with Insurance, which was contested by just three runners.

Inverse made much of the running and was still leading when they passed the stands for the second and final time, with Golden Miller sitting quietly in second place. It was not until they jumped the second last fence that Leader made his move and took up the lead and gradually drew away from Inverse to win by four lengths with Aruntius a distant third. Leader was commended for his riding especially following a superb piece of riding to recover from Millers blunder in the back straight.

Millers’ second Gold cup victory came at the expense of Thomond II and Delaniege. This time he was ridden by Yorkshire born Billy Stott, who also rode Insurance to emulate the previous season’s accomplishments by winning the Champion Hurdle. Stott was to lose the ride the following month on Miller in the Aintree Grand National, with Ted Leader being reunited with his previous years Gold Cup winning mount. Stott did though secure a ride in the race on Pelorus Jack who suffered a heavy fall at the last whilst leading from the eventual winner Kellsboro’ Jack. Just a week after Billy was involved in a most horrendous motor accident where he was severely injured. However he returned to the saddle for another year before retiring. Sadly he succumbed to a massive heart attack in 1936.

With Leader back in the saddle for the 1933 National there were high hopes that he would become the first horse to win both races. However, the well fancied 9/1 shot fell at the 24th. The race as mentioned was won by Kellsboro’ Jack ridden by Dudley Williams for legendary Welsh trainer Ivor Anthony.

The 1934 Gold Cup Miller was to be ridden by Gerry Wilson. This was to become the jockeys most momentous year in what was an outstanding career. Winning not only the Gold Cup and Grand National on Miller. But also, the Champion Hurdle on lion Courage.

Millers’ third consecutive Gold Cup victory was to put him undoubtedly into the history books as one of racings greatest ever. However, as we are all now well aware this was still far from over. Miller and Wilson won the race by six lengths from Avenger and a further six lengths to Kellsboro Jack.

At Aintree Gerry Wilson retained the partnership and by some strange coincidence to the previous the previous seasons Gold Cup victory, the second and third horses in the race were Delaniege and Thomond II, although in reverse order this time with Delaniege getting the better of Thomond.

The horse had become a National Hero. A Nottinghamshire bricklayer, Fred Varney purchased a ticket in Irish Sweepstake which he shared with a bookie who had bought a half share in the ticket for £3000. With his £18000 share of the money he along with his son-in-law founded the Golden Miller Coach Company. Years later the company was bought out by Tellings, who renamed it Tellings-Golden Miller Coach Company. To this day you can see the company’s coaches up and down the country with a picture of a horseshoe and Golden Miller portrayed on the side of them.

With the 1935 Cheltenham Festival closing in again all the talk was about if Miller could win a fourth Gold Cup.

Gerry Wilson was again given the ride and the combination duly obliged starting the race as one to two odds on favourites, understandably so. A race that saw Golden Miller pushed to the absolute limits to hold off Thomond II by three quarters of a length, with Kellsboro’ Jack again in third place by a further five lengths.

Again he was to contest the Grand National, there was much talk of a record consecutive double victory. Gerry Wilson was again in the saddle. However, victory was not to be, horse and rider parting company at the tenth fence.

This was to prove disastrous for both jockey and trainer Basil Briscoe. Dorothy Paget was in a rage following the race and removed the horse from the yard where they had enjoyed such an illustrious career. This also became the beginning of the end for Briscoe as a trainer, he never recovered from Paget’s actions and not long after retired from horse racing altogether.

The horse was moved to the stables of Owen Anthony, who trained in Letcombe Bassett, Berkshire. A very straight talking fellow who was one of the very few who could cope with the tantrums of Ms Paget.

1935 found The Miller yet again contesting the great race, but there was much doubting that he would be able to continue his unbeaten record for a fifth consecutive time, especially also with another change of jockey. His designated jockey this time being Evan Williams.

Betting suggested that Miller was again well fancied and he duly won beating Royal Mail by a most emphatic twelve lengths, with Kellsboro’ Jack finishing two lengths behind, his third consecutive year at finishing third in the race.

Yet again Miller’s owner set her sights on winning the Grand National for a second time. There were some who were beginning to question her decision, although only nine years old, thoughts were that he had done enough. On this occasion the great horse fell at the eighth with Williams again his jockey.

In 1937, he was again aimed at the Gold Cup and that was a reasonable ask. He seemed to thrive at Cheltenham. However racing was abandoned, a result of the course being flooded. Who knows maybe he would have won a sixth consecutive time if the race had gone ahead. Alas, we shall never know.

So, interest again turned to Aintree, Evan Williams had been booked to ride Ivor Anthony’s other runner Royal Mail for owner Hugh Lloyd Scott, therefore Danny Morgan was given the ride on Miller. It is obvious that the horse had by now taken a dislike to the Aintree obstacles and he refused at the tenth carrying what must have been an excruciating weight of twelve stone seven. As for Evan Williams he had obviously made the correct choice, winning the race on Royal Mail, beating Coolean by three lengths with Pucka Belle in third place.

Golden Miller went to post for the 1938 Cheltenham Gold Cup as the bookmakers seven to four against favourite. He ran a game race under Danny Morgan but his reign as the unbeaten Champion had come to an end, finishing second two lengths behind Morse Code, coincidentally ridden by his former partner Danny Morgan. With Macaulay another three lengths back in third. It is reported that tear of sadness were abundant following the race.  It was without doubt the end of an era in British National Hunt Racing.

Golden Miller was eventually retired in 1939 aged twelve years. He finally passed away in 1957 at the ripe old age of thirty. A fitting retirement for the most affable of racehorses.

A half sized bronze statue was erected of this memorable champion in 1989. A fitting tribute to a true Champion.


Judy Boyt’s magnificent bronze effigy of Golden Miller located at Cheltenham Racecourse.











Luton win chance to play League Champions Sunderland

December 2, 2016 Leave a comment

Introducing an excerpt from my latest book that is due for released early in the New Year. With the eightieth anniversary of Luton Town’s first ever Football League trophy, the Division Three (South), 1936-37 season, being celebrated on May 1st 2017.

Featured below: Luton Town’s scorer of their opening goal during their FA Cup Third Round tie, Frank Sloan.


January 20th, 1937

FA Cup third round replay.

Blackpool 1 Luton Town 2

Frank Sloan, Fred Roberts.


In the very cold of morning, at 5.18am as many as as one hundred supporters of Luton Town, including Councillor Chas Jeyes and Horace Hewson, club directors, traveled on an excursion train to Blackpool for their clubs FA Cup third round replay. The winners of the game looking forward to an illuminating tie against reigning First Division Champions Sunderland.

It was to be one of the greatest achievements so far in the clubs history, beating the Second Division leaders on their own ground.

After a couple of scares, defender Tom Smith was fit to play following a knock he received during the initial game at Kenilworth Road in addition Joe Payne had recovered well enough to play after suffering a cold to appear. The team had spent a couple of days at a Hydro centre and the change of air had especially fared Payne well.

It was claimed by many Blackpool followers that their club were going to be able field their best eleven for the first time during the season against Luton.

The game kicked off with a light wind blowing across the pitch.

Just eight minutes into the Blackpool took the lead. T W Jones found the Hatters defence wide open, allowing him a fine through ball to Finan, who was able to ram the ball sweetly past Bill Dolman in the Luton goal.

Luton to their credit reacted well enough. Roberts headed goal-ward from a Roberts cross, Wallace saved though with ease.

Sloan had to leave the field of play for a while for a cut on his head to be treated after colliding with a Blackpool defender. Even with a forward short the Town made some dangerous moves forward.

After receiving five minutes of treatment Sloan returned to the fray, sporting a plaster on his head.

By now the Hatters, despite being a goal adrift were, according to some, playing Second Division football, certainly showing the home side a thing about how to play class football.

Then, with twenty five minutes showing on the clock, a long clearance from Tom Smith in the Luton defence, Joe Payne intercepted, laying the ball on to George Stephenson who made a run through the middle, with defenders coming at him he passed the ball out to Frank Sloan, who, with the Blackpool defence baying for an offside decision, ran on to easily slip the ball past keeper’ Wallace. A much deserved equaliser on the run of play.

Luton were continuously putting the home side under pressure and Bill Fellowes went very close in giving the Town the lead when his powerful shot, with Wallace well beaten scuffed the bar and went over.

Luton were certainly giving their travelling supporters a great display of football, having much more of the play than Blackpool. However Bthe home side, when they did go forward looked extremely dangerous.

It was a most frenetic first half and all twenty two players must have been relieved for a break, with the scores level at half time it was any ones guess who would come out on top at the end of the ninety minutes.

With the second half under way Luton again pushed themselves up into the Blackpool half. They were unlucky not to go ahead when Blackpool defender Witham nearly put the ball into his own goal whist attempting to clear a shot from Joe Payne.

Then just as it looked as if the home side were beginning to take control of the game, with a couple of worthy efforts and putting the Town defence under some extreme pressure, Jack Nelson’s clearance controlled beautifully by Payne who passed the ball out to Jack Hodge, his cross was sent over Witham’s head to Fred Roberts who gathered the ball and ran towards goal before shooting past a helpless Wallace.

Luton definitely deserved their lead.

Late in the game Blackpool claimed that Nelson handled in the area, but their cries went unanswered and the Hatters brilliantly held on to win the match.

There was no doubt in most that attended the game that the better footballing side won and even the Blackpool press had to admit such. There was no kick and rush about the Town’s play, a wonderful show of football had been witnessed by the side from the lower division.

No one could now question the spirit of this Luton side, as had been the case in recent weeks prior the New Year.The Hatters looked a composed and confident side,something that had been seriously lacking in recent games. Luton it could be argued were at last on the ascendance.

Luton Town: Bill Dolman, Tom MacKey, Tom Smith, John Finlayson, Jack Nelson, Bill Fellowes, Jack Hodge, Frank Sloan, Joe Payne, Fred Roberts and George Stephenson.

Blackpool: Wallace, Blair, Witham, Farrow, Cardwell, F Jones, Watmough, Hampson, W Jones, Hill and Finan.

Copyright: Chris Luke, December 2016.

The Dragon Slayers


England 2 Wales 1
Thursday June 16th, 2016

From the moment the team sheet was released one was thinking a disaster waiting to happen in terms of England having any chance of gaining three much needed points. The reaction being that Roy Hodgson, by fielding an unchanged side from the previous drawn game against what was without any doubt a poor Russian side.
The question one had to ask straight away had to be why the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Carry and the young but talented Marcus Rashford were left on the bench, or at least one or two of them in the start in line up?
From the outset England pressured the Welsh defence, but not unlike the previous game that decisive last ball was painfully missing. In the past one has questioned Raheem Sterlings credentials when wearing an England shirt and yet again those questions were justified fully when handed a most glorious of chances to put England ahead in the opening minutes, a perfect cross from Lallana being completely misjudged from only five yards from the goalmouth, the effort having more chance of finding Tim Peake’s head up there in the international space station than hitting the back of the Welsh net.
From that moment on despite the majority of first half possession England never really looked like scoring.
Just minutes from the half time break Wayne Rooney was penalised for a foul some thirty yards from the England goal, more out of frustration than anything worst than that. The Mass of England hearts in the stadium as well as those of us watching from home were already experiencing palpitations as Gareth Bale, who had already scored from a similar position in Wales previous game against Slovakia prepared to take the kick. Yet again he placed the ball perfectly, Joe Hart, who was caught flat footed managed to get a stretched out hand to it, but never enough to prevent Wales taking a half time lead.
During the half time break one had to again question the England line up,, Sterling yet again was not doing I for me, Harry Kane not producing the type of form so readily used to for Tottenham, Delli Ali one had to question his temperament.
Relief hit one full on as the England side emerged, Sturridge and Vardy making their way onto the field of play. Kane an Sterling being replaced. A glimmer of hope maybe?
The game resumed and the Welsh captain, Ashley Williams, who played a blinder again, soon made sure Jamie Vardy realised he was in a real game of football, no allowing him an inch.
England looked as lively as the first half and at last there was something about them that gave hope to the millions watching at home and the thousands that ha travelled to France.
It was Vardy who put England back on level terms with one of his typical strikes pouncing on the ball five yards out and striking home.
A feeling of positiveness had been injected into the English play that had been missing for much of the first game and most of the first half of today’s game. Heads were now up and Wales were mostly on the back foot for the second half barring the occasional flurry.
With about twenty minutes remaining ones prayers were further answered when Marcus Rashford was bought on for Adam Lallana, who it has to be mentioned had a faultless game. The aging in the England tail was evident to see. Pushing Wales defence to the limit.
As full time approached the Welsh fans picked up their voices, to get a draw would be victory in itself with only one point more required to guarantee them to progress to the next stage of the tournament.
The fourth officials board read three added minutes, most of resigned to another draw, which would mean a most precarious of positions for England to be situated in. The white shirts though continued to press forward Sturridge worked how way last two defenders and seeing an opening hit the ball goal wards, through what must have seemed a blanket of Welsh defenders the stadium erupted as the ball hit the back of the Welsh net, where they had covered in the previous game in the dying moments, try ha turned it around and scored the winning goal themselves.
England manager Roy Hodgson jumped out on his sit much like a jack in the box toy, the relief for him must have been immense.
Wales gave it a go to get a dramatic equaliser through Gareth Bale but England showed their cool and the game was deservedly theirs on this occasion.
Both sides now have the chance to seal progression with wins against Slovakia for England and Russia for Wales in five days time.

Chris Luke, June 2016

Categories: Uncategorized

Here We Go Again?


England 1 Russia 1
Marseille, France.
July 11th 2016

The first half, a typical England major tournament finals showing. Hard working and dominating at times, but as often the case a lack of that final touch magic.
With Wayne Rooney playing deeper than usual in the heart of the midfield was a risk Roy Hodgson felt worthwhile taking and fair dues the team captain dominated his territory with effect. There were are opportunities to draw first blood for the England boys but no one able to capitalise.
Russia disappointingly quiet, but not a side to be taken lightly.
Both Lallana and Rooney went close buy the interval came and went without any real threat for either keeper.
The second half began much like the first, entry of movement but nothing of real substance for either side.
Russia had their first real effort on goal just after the hour mark when Smolov was allowed to take a pot shot that just shaved wide of Hart’s right hand post.
Sterling’s pace was noticeable at times but one felt him prone to holding onto the ball one too many strides. Rooneyhad a magnificent effort pushed away from the Russian keeper for Lallana to pounce on after 71 minutes, but Lallana’s shot also blocked. Englandpushed forward and Deli Ali wasfouled just outside of the box, up stepped Eric Dier with a most superb free kick to equal that of Gareth Bale’s earlier in the afternoon. The deadlock broken, England a goal to the good. The Marseille stadium erupted with the sound of English song. CaptainRooney was taken off for Jack Wilshere in the seventy sixth minute, most likely to save his legs for the next game against Wales.  With the goal,England  visibly grew in confidence, the nerves less edgy maybe. England’s movement with the ball was distinctly more fluent.But one can never relax when it comes to England in this stage of any tournament and in added time Russia pounced to equalised with an awkwardly defended situation allowing Berezutski to push the ball over the line. Asis too often the case a shaky defence has let England down, coupled with a lack of killing power in front of goal. England are going to have to step up a notch or two to compete with a very lively Welsh side.if they want to progress further.

Lack of concentration at the end?

The Red Dragon Roars.

gareth-bale-wales-euro-2016_3472247Wales 2 Slovakia 1
Bordeaux, France
June 11th 2016

With Euro 2016 at last under way, the most enthralling match thus far without a doubt has to go to Wales v Slovakia.
One has to wonder with some bemusement how Martin Skyrtle was allowed to carry on throughout the entirety of the match. An absolute certain penalty he should have been sent off for, however somehow the extra official failed to put up his flag, despite the fact he must have witnessed the blatant elbow and charge the Slovakia player made on John Williams.
Gareth Bale put the Welsh ahead with the most sublimely taken free kicks. Wales began to show there composure to half time.
The second half started much the same until Duda, with his first touches of the game after joining the game as a substitute scored the equaliser for Slovakia when they actually looked as if they would never really trouble the Welsh goalkeeper.
The game turned around drastically for a good while after that. The eastern Europeans peppering the Welsh defence, hitting the post with a most brilliant header after slipping around the usually foot perfect Welsh skipper Ashley Williams by Memet.
Throughout the game the Welsh proved to be a most tenacious group of players and deserved the winning goal when a most sublime through ball from Aaron Ramsey for Robson Kanu to slot between the goalkeepers legs to clinch the game 2 – 1.
The last player to score against Wales in the finals of a major championship, none other than the great Pele himself, putting Duda in perfect company
Chris Coleman the Welsh head Coach must be quietly fancying his side against England who play later this evening in their opening game against Russia.

Chris Luke. June 2016.

Money Talks?

March 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Nina Carberry aboard On the Fringe after winning the 2016 St James Place Foxhunters Chase.

Another superb Cheltenham Festival passes, yet again giving the world of National Hunt four days of scintillating racing of the highest standard. No matter where one watched, be it from the stands or, from the warmth and comfort of the sitting room, the racing was as always at the festival, of the highest standard.
As expected Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh ruled the roost in terms of winners, which was to be expected, given the number of runners they bought over from Ireland. However, saying that they still had to run their race and overcome the opposition. They did not have not everything their own way though and that was a blessing for jump Racing in general.
Tears flowed and the cheers resounded around the entirety of Gloucestershire as Sprinter Sacre crossed the line to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase in emphatic style. The gasps of despair on the final day as Cue Card fell in the Gold Cup when going so sweetly, added to the sigh of relief as he cantered away from his distraught but uninjured jockey Paddy Brennan. Seconds later those groans changing to cheers of jubilation as the handsome Don Cossack powered away from his rivals to win that most coveted of small maybe in size but unequalled in jump racing stature, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The euphoria of the whole meeting up till then for ones self though was severely damaged not an hour later.
Over the past week I have been accused of being bitter, envious and a few other expletives, but I stick by my guns, because I honestly felt that, despite many saying the Victoria Pendleton circus has been good for the image of racing I vehemently disagree. I have been accused of disrespecting an Olympic Champion on occasion, before and after the meeting has all but packed up for another year. However, I must emphasise that I have nothing but total admiration for the lady herself, it is no mean feat to get to where she is in such a short period of time. Ted Walsh was correct when speaking on television prior to the St. James Place Foxhunters Chase, when he said that there are and have been worse jockeys than Victoria allowed to ride in such events. My argument is fuelled singularly by the way things have been orchestrated from day one.
This whole fiasco was an orchestrated publicity stunt by Betfair. This was about money and not just for Ms Pendleton alone. I am not going to name individuals but it is plain to see that others benefited also and not just the horses owners and trainer.
Had the exercise been carried out in a more discreet manner the possibilities are that many would have been more supportive. However, every move recorded by a sensationalistic media circus meant that the Olympic champion was for ever going to be under highlighted scrutiny, placing tremendous pressure on her. I do not believe it fair to mention her mishaps along the way as that is not the point of which one is attempting to make in this instance. However one must congratulate her on her winning ride at Wincanton on the horse she partnered eventually at Cheltenham, Pacha Du Polder.
Over the past weeks we were bombarded with news on Victoria’s progress. One could not get away from the Betfair publicity circus. We continuously had it drummed into us how marvellous it all was for the image of National Hunt Racing, not once could one see how. Maybe if not for the financial gain there is the possibility that things could have been viewed differently.
Come the day of reckoning.
The circus was in full swing. Channel Four Racing could so easily have been renamed.
I actually wondered as all unfolded in front of us how comfortable Mick Fitzgerald genuinely was having to announce the fact in true Elvis style that Victoria will soon be arriving in the jockeys weighing room and changing area. Then moments after, Victoria is in the house, one could understand similar moments on the day Sir Anthony arrived as a jockey for the final time following his amazing career, however for this viewer at least the tummy rumbling had commenced.
Then throughout the afternoon between races, the countdown is on. One thought we would be heralded with the fact that they were counting down to the Gold Cup, but no not the case, the Victoria Pendleton moment was getting closer.
Finally the moment had arrived, the fact that there were twenty three other horses and jockeys preparing to go out onto the course mattered not, in the eyes of Claire Balding and the rest of the Channel Four presentation team it was a one horse race. Matter not the other contenders, many of them probably their only opportunity to be placed in the spotlight on what was their big day. Not a mention of their hard work and dedication over the years to arrive at this moment, for many the pinnacle of their amateur racing experience. Throughout the build up the camera would pan in on Pacha Du Polder, following horse and jockey as they lined up. Being a racing enthusiast one would have liked to have been given the opportunity of viewing the other runners.
During the race itself one has to admit that Ms Pendleton gave her mount a decent enough ride, sitting at the back keeping out of trouble, for myself though hacking out the back for two thirds of a race at the very least is not making sure ones mount is given every opportunity to win, however on this occasion I can despite my misgivings accept that inexperience was the key factor. To finish fifth in the race was most creditable if I am honest.
The circus though, following the race became a fiasco.
Despite the fact that the race winner, On the Fringe , brilliantly ridden by Nina Carberry, winning by just a neck from the German bred Marito, one could not have been blamed if just tuning in that Pacha Du Polder had in fact been the victor. Claire Balding lost all, questioning her professionalism, one believed she had turned into a burbling star struck school girl, other thoughts came to mind also, however, better one does not go down that road. One has to wonder what the reaction would have been from great racing presenters of the past, Sir Peter O’Sullivan, Michael O’Hehir, Lord John Oaksey, Brought Scott and Julian Wislon. Those now departed watching in horror as their trade was dragged to the bottom in such an undignified manner.
The anger seriously boiled over and the tummy rumbling that was evident earlier had by now transformed to pure nausea when it was announced that the Cheltenham stewards were allowing special dispensation towards the Paul Nicholls trained mount of the Olympic Champion, despite finishing fifth was being allowed to join the winner and the three placed horses in the winners enclosure.
A feeling of total disrespect now digging deep within. When looking back at the great horses and jockeys that have been denied the chance to enter the inner sanctum of winners after a race having been beaten in great battles on the run in. The circus was now in full swing, the winning horse and all connections by passed.
The money factor though is the most sickening of all. Channel Four, what did they gain from all the publicity given throughout the proceedings? Why would the racing authorities allow the ruling to be overlooked that only credible placed horses and connections enter the winners enclosure.
The main protest that one has is left to last. The question being, how come despite the fact it was inevitable that whatever the outcome a jockey riding under amateur rules was even allowed to be granted such a licence by the ruling authority, the Jockey Club, with the knowledge that said jockey was to receive remuneration for riding in a series of races at the conclusion, whether or not they win? I for one am confused.
My final word though is this, one cannot fault the hard work Ms Pendleton obviously had to put into her quest to ride at the festival, having this time last year not having even sat on a racehorse. To accomplish what she has done does require courage and much tenacity and therefore one must applaud that of her quest, without doubt.
What next, the Grand National?

Copyright: All rights reserved Chris Luke, March 2016.