Jamie Spencer has a colourful story. I saw him last evening at Windsor races and while the gift of eternal youth might finally be diminishing a little, Spencer still looks every bit the young man. And that’s extraordinary to believe, given he has been riding for the guts of two decades, not least in the most high-profile job of them all a decade or so ago at Ballydoyle.
He has retired and returned, suffered the ignominy of a very public relationship breakdown with his wife, and battled his demons. His riding, however, is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this entertaining character’s profile: a cursory glance at Twitter reveals as divergent a set of opinions as can be found in racing, and given we are talking about racing and Twitter here that really is saying something. His hold-up trademark style drives some to distraction and dismay (and worse) as he all too often faces a wall of traffic before finishing fractionally too late, full of running, but failing to get up. He attracts opprobrium from the grandstands like few others. But when it works it is the most glorious sight in the sport.
So it was with Aidan O’Brien’s Deauville in the States at the weekend. The scribblers would have it down as a “masterful, typically cool Spencer ride”, which is perilously closely related to “awful misjudgement from Spencer”. But let’s celebrate him when he gets it right as well as despairing when he gets it wrong: his Deauville ride was a thing of rare beauty and few if any of his Weighing Room colleagues possess the brain and the bravura to pull it off.
If I were down to my very last pound (not that far off, in truth) I wouldn’t risk it on Spencer. But my goodness he adds colour to the sport like few others, and long may he remain at the back of the pack, ready to weave his way through.
Despite (somewhat inevitably) doing my dough on Saturday, it was still great to see Henry Candy in the Winners’ Enclosure with July Cup hero Limato at the weekend.
Limato is a horse with whom I have an uneasy relationship, as I still bear the scars of his defeat in last October’s Prix de la Foret. Even so, Candy is a wizard in the training ranks, understated and delightfully straightforward.
I will never forget him gently suggesting — a few years ago — that a two-year-old he trained by the name of Treatyofparis was incorrectly installed as the 25/1 rag in York’s Acomb Stakes. It went on to turn over The Grey Gatsby and land a rare old touch. Candy doesn’t duck, nor does he dive, so the reception he and Limato were afforded on Saturday was richly deserved.
Candy’s rival, Mark Johnston, has been at it again. His latest rant is directed at ITV’s execs as he urges them not to include betting in their coverage when it takes over from Channel 4 in the New Year. Betting, argues the Middleham trainer, deprives racing of the space it requires to develop more wholesome story lines to attract the public.
With respect to Johnston, I could not disagree any more fervently. For me, betting and racing and like fish and chips, like Morecambe and Wise. One without the other is a hugely diminished prospect and, whether he likes it or not, out in the big wide world, the simple truth remains that the majority of us found our way to racing via a bet — our grandfather’s, our own, whoever. It is betting on racing that sustains the sport, financially and as a sport which warrants the time it does on Terrestrial TV. Sure, we can tweak it, but to disassociate coverage of racing from the betting markets is absurd.
While I’m in the mood, I’ll finish with a final rant about another racing absurdity, namely the choc-full nonsense that was last weekend with barely a second to breathe between races all over the land, compared to the paucity of this weekend’s thin gruel offerings.
The lack of common sense in the fixture list is a major concern. The only bright light for readers is that in objection tot he state of affairs, I shan’t be tipping a horse to lose this Saturday!