We’ve had more than our fair share of gloomy weeks in the racing world of late, but few can compare with the past seven days as those of us privileged enough to work in the industry have come to terms with the devastating news about Freddy Tylicki.
For those who may have missed it, Tylicki was involved in a freak pile-up at Kempton a week or so ago and was rushed to hospital. For days, we waited for good news, but the news – when it came – was far from good: Tylicki is paralysed from the waist down.
I met Tylicki for the first time a few years ago when he was staying in the same York hotel that I was for the Dante meeting. It wasn’t an especially racing-oriented hotel and I presumed he’d be keen to keep himself to himself so I nodded politely at breakfast and left him to it. Within seconds, he’d pulled up a chair, introduced himself (needlessly but charmingly) and we spent the next half an hour previewing the racing and chewing the fat.
Since then he’s always been a smiling presence whenever I’ve seen him on course. What is remarkable about the aftermath of his tragic news, is the outpouring of affection for Tylicki. Let’s be honest: not all our jockeys are thoroughly nice guys. We might respect them but we don’t necessarily like them.
Tylicki could not be any more likeable: warm, engaging, talented in the saddle and a joy to be around out of it. For now, we must pray that his strength of character prevails as he lines up for the biggest challenge of his life.
I find it perilously glib to identify uplifting elements amidst such a torrent of wretched news, but for the record, the response to the fundraising efforts to help Tylicki have been quite extraordinary.
Matt Chapman of ATR and soon-to-be ITV betting reporter had the inspired idea to set up a fundraising channel for Tylicky late last week. At tie of writing, more than a quarter of a million pounds has been raised through the site, all of which will go to Tylicki’s treatment.
Racing has its quota of windbags, whingers and glass-half-empty merchants, but I can’t help but think we rally round our own better than any other sport when the chips are down. Read the fundraising page and cherish the well wishes, the hope, the tributes and the collegiate sense of belonging that exists within the sport. It lifts the spirits at a time when they are in need of a lift like seldom before.
I am no fan of comparing the suffering of humans with the suffering of horses. Pain is as emotive as it is real, and those who seek to compare or “rank” loss, often only serve to accentuate it. So when we heard late on Sunday of the death of Willie Mullins’ star chaser Vautour we had to fight back the urge to put it into the context of Tylicki’s injuries.
Truth is, Vautour will leave an enormous hole at the Mullins yard, even with all its riches. On the same day, the yard lost Avant Tout, who had been antepost favourite for the Hennessy later this month. It doesn’t matter how many Festival favourites you have, how rich your owners are or how talented your jockey is, when a yard loses two horses on the same day it has every right to be filed under the devastating banner.
Amidst the past week’s overwhelming sadness, the run-up to the Open meeting at Cheltenham this weekend has been devoid of joy and anticipation. This is inevitable but the finest tradition of our sport dictate that we dust ourselves down and make the most of it while nonetheless remembering those in need.
I shall be back on the betting bus this weekend, not out of disrespect to those who are reflecting on their bad luck, but for them and because of them, because that is the sport we love and they love.
Stiletto looks too big at 25s in what is now the BetVictor Gold Cup and although Winter Escape looks too short in the Greatwood on Sunday, the damage is already done with me joining in the gamble earlier this week so those two will try to lift me from my glumness after what has been a really challenging week.
Donate to help fund Freddy Tylicki’s treatment