I’m utterly biased but is there another sport that throws up the kind of heart-warming tales that racing so happily provides? Let’s start this week’s blog with a bloke that should be dead. Actually, I’ll correct that: let’s start with a bloke who died and then came back to life. This is the story of Brian Toomey, the 26-year-old jockey who took such a bad fall a couple of years ago at Perth races that he died for 6 seconds. Somehow he came back to life, was put into an induced coma and spent the next 5 months in a hospital.
As doctors operated on his brain, he was only given a 3% chance of survival. He landed the gamble and yesterday, Toomey was weighing out at Southwell to recommence his career as a jockey. His entire family were there — blinking along with the rest of us in near-total disbelief that Toomey was not only alive but in his silks, back at the races and prepared to face all the dangers of our tragic, glorious, wonderful sport head on. Toomey is more than a hero, more than an inspiration. He is a super-human.
Watch Toomey’s return race:
At time of writing, the Managing Director of Arena Racing Company, Tony Kelly, is preparing to let his hair down in Soho House, London, for his leaving party this evening. Kelly is off to Hong Kong later this year to take up the position of Executive Director, Racing Business & Operations, at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. We will give him a terrific send-off tonight and drink far too much but when the hangovers subside and incoming ARC boss Martin Cruddace opens his briefcase for the first time, what will he make of the state of the racing business?
ARC is, after all, the largest racing operation in the UK, with nearly 40% of the UK fixture list. It’s a fixture list that is seldom out of the news and rarely makes for comfortable discussion. Last week, I highlighted the non-sensical loading of a weekend overflowing with high quality racing at the expense of this coming weekend which is positively gruel-like in its thinness by comparison.
ARC aren’t implicated in this case study but their decision to turn Newcastle into an all-weather track has set many a horseman alight with rage; so too the oft-presented “creep” of all-weather racing. Kelly leaves behind him a lot of unfinished business and Cruddace will have his hands full for some time yet.
Dynaste has been one of my favourite horses in recent National Hunt times; his victory in the 2014 Ryanair Chase was a financial highlight but it was largely his trainer — David Pipe — whom I have to thank when I asked him for a tip at Haydock back in November 2011 and he coolly replied: “I’ll be upset if Dynaste doesn’t win the Fixed Brush.”
He was the 7/1 second favourite that day and duly obliged to further entrench my man-love for Pipe. Pipe of course — and all puns are intentional — is part of the Pond House dynasty. His father, Martin, re-wrote the record books in the 80s, 90s and beyond by getting horses ultra-fit and running them often. The son has picked up where dad left off and is very clearly an equal genius (in my wallet-oriented eyes).
I was thinking about parallel dynasties in the Flat ranks this weekend as Charlie Hills scooped the July Cup with his ace sprinter Muhaarar. It was a great win for a superb horse who can already lay claim to being the sprint king this year after 2 Group 1s in 2 months with the promise of much more to come. Hills has a phenomenal distance to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath of his father, Barry, whose skill in landing gambles — especially at Chester and York it always seemed — remains legendary.
Throw in a couple of half decent riders in Charlie’s brothers, Richard and Michael, and the Hills family could lay claim to being the most dynastic of all the surnames out there. If you’re after a sure fire Charlie Hills tip, by the way, it’s that you will find him and his great mate and another famous training son, Richard Hannon, in the China Rose restaurant in Bawtry, South Yorkshire, on the night before the St Leger in September. Hills and Hannon haven’t missed it for years and my advice to the team at the China Rose is to start stocking up on extra crispy duck and pancakes.
I’m having a self-imposed ban this week after a sobering visit to the bank manager earlier this morning. I’m sure readers will approve.
Image: Brian Toomey on his first race after recovering from a life-threatening injury, by racingfotos.com/REX Shutterstock