Racing can be a brutal business. We rage when we lose — both on the track and down the bookies, and we celebrate winners for a while because of the elation they provide.
Seldom, however, do we think of racing in life and death terms. But the story of Brodie Hampson is one to stop even the most fickle, fair-weather fans in their tracks. Hampson’s dad, Mark, is dying of cancer. He was in the military and at the back end of last year he was told he had barely a month to live. His daughter vowed that, before he passed away, he would see her ride a winner in his colours. And so it came to pass at Sandown last month when Hampson booted home Jenny’s Surprise to score what must surely be the most emotional and uplifting victory seen in many a long year. It wasn’t the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it wasn’t the crème de la crème of thoroughbred racing and the monetary stakes and returns were irrelevant.
But Mark Hampson was there at Sandown on that dank, cold February afternoon and his daughter made good on her promise. And just this last weekend at Southwell, the young Hampson went and did it again — this time aboard Goal who had little right in the formbook to register such a special victory. But Goal and Hampson stuck to the script and we racing fans, who far too often can’t see the wood for the trees, should be applauding for evermore. What a sport we have, what people we have, how lucky we are to be able to share in the smiles of the Hampsons, who have so much to be sorrowful about. It defies logic and is utterly humbling.
The Hampsons’ story recalibrates all the dials when it comes to luck and fate and fortune, but we must also spare a thought for the team at Gary Moore’s yard who could scarcely have endured a more tumultuous few months since Gary himself was hospitalised last November following a freak accident.
A punctured lung and five broken ribs kept him off the gallops for all of three full days but he was back to see his star novice chase Ar Mad kick off December as he went on to finish it, emerging as the most likely Arkle rival to Douvan with thrilling victories at Sandown and Kempton.
Stable star Sire De Grugy won a Tingle Creek and Traffic Fluide caught the eye at Ascot in the New Year before Violet Dancer won the Kingmaker for the yard to provide fresh hope for a yard who had earlier received news that Ar Mad was out for the season. When Traffic Fluide was then ruled out for the rest of term it seemed the Moore’s luck could get no worse but we have just learned of the very sad death of Violet Dancer after suffering post-op complications to repair a condylar fracture.
It beggars belief that such misfortune can be bestowed upon one trainer. Moore is made of stern stuff as his November escapades revealed and if there is any justice in the world, both Ar Mad and Traffic Fluide will return in the Autumn and remind us all that the wheel has a tendency to turn for those who deserve it. The Moores deserve an awful lot more than they’ve received in the past few weeks and months.
I wrote recently about Paul Nicholls and his chasing star Silviniaco Conti. Conti isn’t bound for Cheltenham but it has been cheering in the past week or so to watch a notable upturn in the fortunes of our multiple-time Champion Trainer with barely a fortnight until the greatest week of our season. Nicholls has endured a relatively lacklustre Winter, made all the worse no doubt by the sight of rival Willie Mullins hovering up what seemed like every big race imaginable.
As the Festival looms large, the Mullins team remain confident but the absentees have left their mark, and Nicholls has regained some verve and attention. It’s precisely what we need and let’s hope PFN can sustain his run as we race headlong towards the Cotswolds.
Tipping up a horse not trained by Willie Mullins for the notoriously impossible Champion Bumper is a fast way to guaranteed poverty, but I’m happy to continue along that inevitable track.
Many observers on Sunday thought Aspen Colorado’s win was “workmanlike” and “underwhelming”. I disagree. I saw enough in the paddock beforehand to believe we have a real live Bumper hopeful. Given the cut and thrust of a championship race and, presumably, the services of Barry Geraghty, we can expect to see Aspen improve.
The money is down, Follow me at your peril.