Get close to your heroes but beware the beast. I got kicked in the thigh at Newmarket on Friday. It was my fault. Pushing out of the paddock I got too close, the horse stabbed out a hind leg and walking will be pretty sore for a few days yet. But it could have been a lot worse. It could have been you.
It could have been anyone buying this paper who ever has to be in the paddock for professional or, like me on Friday, entirely for pleasure reasons. Indeed pleasure can be the problem. Redford in whom, (if you hadn’t read at interminable length in previous columns) I have a share, was running in The Bunbury Cup. There were 19 runners. The sun was shining. Amongst the disparate throng of the Highclere Syndicate our hopes were high. It was exactly what you dream of as an owner. But it doesn’t mean you should get dreamy.
For me it was more conceit than ignorance. Six decades of paddock experience should have been lesson enough in giving a horse’s hind legs a clear berth. But there was a touch of euphoria in the air. Dunwoody and Lester had just trekked up the July Course at the end of Richard’s ludicrous and wonderful 1000 hour, 1,000 mile walk. Redford looked better than ever and I had been shamefully boasting of how well he had felt when I rode him a week before. Nothing could spoil it. A hind leg could.
The chestnut Beaver Patrol has done precious little wrong since he won first time out for the Johnson Houghtons as a sharp and bonny two year old at Windsor in April 2004. His 63 runs since have won owner Gary Stevens over £300,000, and his 8 victories have included the Tattersall Sales Race at The Curragh as a two year old, the Vodafone Sprint on Derby Day in 2006 and a £40,000 event at Nad Al Sheba this February. As Richard Mullen rode him round the Newmarket paddock on Friday, the least he deserved was respect.
Which, from me, he did not get. Sure there was not much of a gap between Beaver Patrol and the horse behind, but I thought get through it. As I started, to move Beaver Patrol’s hind quarters skittered across inwards towards me. Suddenly we were close to collision course. In equine terms it was only a protective, precautionary jab from his off hind but he weighs eleven hundred pounds I weigh 150. We all know what damage a 224 lb (16 stone) heavyweight can do with a jab – and he has a glove not a sharp aluminium shoe on his fist. Lucky it was not my knee.
If it had been this would have been a bedside note. If it has been any higher, all remaining reproductive ambitions would have been over. Any lower and the shin or the ankle would have been facing months in plaster. As it was, I got up after taking a count, managed to watch the race (Redoford 6th but back him now for the Ayr Gold Cup) before finding pain killing sanctuary and super professional expertise in the ambulance room. It could have been very different. It could be any race and day.
You will note that the only complaint in this cautionary tale is against myself. It would be easy to argue that racecourses should take even more steps to avoid anything like this happening, that there should be even more regulation of who goes into and what happens in the paddock, that there should always be a plastic rail between the horses and anybody but the professionals who deal with them, that every possible risk should be avoided. Yes, it would be easy to write that. But it would be wrong.
Even if we could, which we can’t, why should we try and make racing into a risk free zone? A central part of the thrill of racing in Britain was, is, and should always be the actual exciting power of the horse as an athlete. Everyone who can should be encouraged to share the experience of seeing that athlete up close. But they should regulate themselves, not ask the racecourse to do everything for them. And if they don’t? Like me, they will deserve their kicking.