When, in January this year, I booked a holiday to Thailand for just after the Grand National but before the Guineas weekend, I lost little sleep as I looked ahead to the racing I’d be missing. After all, Sandown’s end of season finale that used to be known as Whitbread day wouldn’t rank all that high in the pecking order of days in the calendar, would it?
Imagine my horror, therefore, as the entire racing, sporting and media circus geared up to give AP McCoy his emotional send-off last Saturday. I had to content myself with a cold bottle of Chang off the Koh San Road while following updates from Sandown on Twitter. Even the social media stuff had me fighting back a lump in my throat as I ached to be there, in the press huddle, giving the greatest jockey of our time the send-off he deserves.
Imagine my horror, therefore, as the entire racing, sporting and media circus geared up to give AP McCoy his emotional send-off last Saturday.
Who is to be our next champion jockey? Richard Johnson would be a popular winner, having worn the mantle of runner-up to McCoy so graciously for as long as anyone can remember. Sam Twiston-Davies will surely go close with the Paul Nicholls armoury at his disposal, but if not next year, then a sure-fire champion jockey in the moulding is young Sean Bowen who, at Sandown, collected the conditional jockeys’ title and who, in the big race of the day, reminded his elders that he is every bit their match aboard Just A Par.
All season, he has caught the eye as a skilled horseman with both feet firmly on the ground and a work ethic to ensure he goes far. I hope he has to wait awhile as time is on his side, unlike the utterly charming Johnson who deserves to emerge from AP’s shadow this next year. For the National Hunt fraternity, many of whom go into reverse-hibernation, until the Charlie Hall Chase later this Autumn, there is suddenly much to be excited about in the battle to succeed AP.
A couple of years ago I made the rare move to wake early in the middle of Glorious Goodwood and head to the golf course at the Kennels. The cause was a good one: it was a bacon butty breakfast and a VIP jolly – two things which I struggle to sidestep at the best of times.
I was teamed up with Mick Fitzgerald and young up-and-coming Newmarket handler Hugo Palmer. Mick Fitz is a prolific golfer, but had to curtail his round to attend a Channel 4 production meeting, leaving Hugo and I to share a buggy and chew the fat. I’d never met Hugo properly before, although earlier in the week he’d saddled his biggest winner of his career at the beautiful Sussex track. He was utterly charming. His golf attire left a bit to be desired (beach shorts and cricket boots) but left me with an impression that he would leave no stone unturned as he progressed through the training ranks.
Hugo Palmer’s golf attire left a bit to be desired (beach shorts and cricket boots) but he left me with an impression that he would leave no stone unturned as he progressed through the training ranks.
Palmer told me of his time in Australia and the steep learning curve he’d been on. Undoubtedly privileged, he seemed hungry to learn about every varied aspect of the sport. He wanted to boost his media profile and we discussed ways it could work. In the end, Palmer has done it the beautiful way: training group winners and shooting for the moon. This weekend he saddles Home Of The Brave who is round about a 25/1 chance to upset the odds and land the 2000 Guineas after winning his trial a fortnight or so ago. He may not be good enough and he might not stay, but his trainer is every bit good enough and is set to stick around for many years to come on the Flat scene.
A bit of parochial tittle-tattle whilst we’re on the theme of Goodwood: my particular highlight of the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association (HWPA) Annual General Meeting earlier this month was the dismay which the members greeted Goodwood’s decision to move the Press Room. Apparently nobody at the HWPA had been notified by the Goodwood exec’s decision to convert the long-standing press room in the main stand. Cue: much gnashing of teeth amongst the HWPA who have expressed their disappointment in no uncertain terms (whatever that means).
And what of the old Press Room with its sensational views over the Sussex Downs and beautiful balconies? Why, of course it’s being converted into a top-of-the-range hospitality suite for Qatar. Well, if you do sign the biggest sponsorship deal in British racing over a ten-year period, you might expect to get a bit of bang for your buck, I guess.
I’m tempted to retire this section of the blog, but if it only helps to strike through the selection on your way to eliminating horses from your weekend short-list I’ll keep plugging away. At Newmarket this weekend, I’ll be backing losers all day on Saturday but will hope that Osaila is as good as her pedigree suggests in Sunday’s 1000 Guineas, being by mile specialist Danehill Dancer. There you have it – the first filly to cross off the list!