“TO SEE OURSELVES AS OTHERS SEE US”
There was Stratford and Worcester this week, two days summer jumping and an assignment from big impact GQ Magazine for a portrait of McCoy. For me it was a chance, to quote Robbie Burns, “To see ourselves as others see us.” It proved to be not quite the fun it was meant to be. Sometimes it was not fun at all.
For the Worcester “water nonsense” was the second time in less than 24 hours that the green screens were up immediately in front of the public. At Stratford it had been the water jump at which Mistanoora ended his 37 race, 8 season career by snapping a hind leg on landing and plunging around in shocking agony until the vets could get to him. “Why do they have it there?” asked GQ photographer Andy Earle. “Why do they have it at all?” seemed an even harder question.
So Earle was ready for ructions at Worcester but the sad part of the tale is that there, as at Stratford, his first impressions had been hugely favourable. As a man who had been James Hunt’s mechanic in an earlier life he had been used to winging it a little. As a photographer who has done album covers for both Madonna and The Rolling Stones he has had his share of management bloodymindedness. For him summer jumping was sunshine all the way.
Too much sunshine of course, and the pity of Wednesday was that while the stewards duly did their duty walking the magnificently well watered track, not enough attention was paid to the stable area where horses were coming off the transport completely lathered in sweat. Mind you the stewards didn’t have to walk that far. To realise quite how exceptional conditions were becoming, they just had to go into the jocks room.
It has been a disgrace for years. It is exactly the same, shambolic wooden hut as I sat in 45 years ago with the exception of the lady’s shower and a sauna in the far corner. But on Wednesday the whole place was a sauna. The vet’s official figure for the temperatures that caused the abandonment was 36.6C (98F). In the weighing room it must have been well into the 40s, so sweltering you could hardly breathe. “We should burn it down” growled Tom Scudamore, “it would be cinders in twenty minutes.”
So in hindsight we probably should not have raced at all. Certainly temperatures were much higher than at the Atlanta Olympics when everyone was on red “water alert” and runners had car-wash type cooling barns to walk through. As we did race, water and the ability to both use it and replenish it, would be the key. It is a matter of shame that not enough people did the first and that the second, at a paddock not ten metres from the biggest river in Western Britain, was dependent on a single droopy hose with all the pressure of a watering can.
The issue of replenishment has rightly caused a rumpus and will never be likely to lapse in such conditions again. But plenty of those loudest in their condemnations need to look at their own behaviour. As someone who has had this dehydration in hot weather as a hobby horse since being hosed down in the Auteuil unsaddling enclosure in the 60s, it astonished me to see some connections talking to their jockeys before washing down their obviously distressed runners. As someone who was a bit slow myself to pick up a bucket, it amazed me how few followed the lead of the vets, officials and our very own Steve Dennis to ferry water from the three 200 gallon troughs to the gasping Highland Laddie behind the screens.
It was not a happy picture to hold up for my new friends from GQ Magazine, Here were owners, trainers and jockeys all united in their passion for horses but when confronted with a crisis wanting to blame someone else rather than do something themselves. In many ways officialdom has brought it on itself, desperately calling London for instructions when what was wanted was for someone to take the microphone explain precisely the predicament and marshall those of goodwill to the cause.
Goodwill, especially in jump racing, is still there in abundance. We need to use it. Otherwise we may have to remember how those Robbie Burns lines “To see ourselves as others see us” actually came to be written. They were about “A louse on a lady’s bonnet.” We should be better than that.