Many of you will know by now that I was assigned a new care company a few weeks ago. Well, it is a great relief and absolute pleasure to reveal that the change of ‘stables’ has been akin to winning the Lotto.
Not only because some of the ‘new’ team were in fact not that to me at all. Our paths having crossed in some cases years previously. More than that, though, they’ve obviously heard of the of the old business principle The customer is always right. Or an amended version of same.
Perhaps what has had the biggest impact of all, however, has been the way in which the people who had been unknown to me beforehand and I have hit it off. Every so often, the feeling dawns that somebody – or several – up in the bar above are working away for me still.
When one of the ladies arrived in to help me to bed, she informed me she had a long night ahead of her for reasons that could not only be understood but which made my night – she was waiting on a Charolais cow to calve!
Her colleague in assisting me wasn’t of a farming disposition and so was curious and fascinated not only by the process involved but perhaps even more so that she was about to stay up all night if needed be to assist the mammy and her newborn offspring.
But here’s the thing, anyone who loves animals – not to mention those who actually work with them – are so devoted to their stock that to tend to their needs is a reflex reaction. A vocation rather than anything burdensome. Whether it’s a bitch about to have pups, a cow about to calve down or a mare about to foal makes no difference. Nor would it if the case was an ill beast of any species or gender, the devotion and attention to detail is the same.
Naturally, it’s a bit easier now than was once the case owing to the advent of technologies such as calving cameras, EasyFix rubber matting, calving jacks and the like make the process considerably easier but the procedures never change. As far back as 1958, the last thing my late grandfather Jimmy Boylan did before his death was take an oil lantern and go out to the cowshed to check on a Hereford girl who was on the point of calving.
All those willing to stick a knife in Gordon Elliott for the last week – indeed queuing up to do so – would want to take a good long look at the above. And a longer one at themselves. Mind you, those taking it upon themselves to be judge, jury and executioner in the case of the Baying Masses vs. the man who made a mistake are such vain snowflakes they would probably see nothing wrong with their public pillorying of the Summerhill native. The last man who never made a mistake was crucified on a Good Friday – there was absolutely no need for a replay.
I do not know Gordon Elliott personally, have never met the man in fact. Bidding him the time of day in Fairyhouse or Navan being as near as could be said to have got close to the man. You’d want to have been living under a rock not to have heard the words “Horse Racing”, “Gordon Elliott” and ” Success” in the same sentence over the course of the last decade and a half.
The keyboard police would seek to point to the backing of some of the biggest movers and shakers in tme sport as a means to explain away the former top amateur jockey’s incalculable level of success since taking out his licence. Bullsh**. In racing, things work the other way around. You only get the likes of JP McManus and Gigginstown and Newtown Anner Stud and Quatar Racing into your yard if your representatives put you in the limelight.
Now, once these people afford you their backing, it is generally accepted that they have your back through thick and thin. As evidenced by the way Michael O’Leary and Philip J. Reynolds came out almost immediately and offered their backing to the embattled Longwood-based handler.
Sadly but perhaps predictably those extending messages of support didn’t extend to Cheveley Park Stud. Who took the cowardly option, listened to the noise and took their horses out of Cullentra. Eaten bread gets forgotten quickly when kicking a man when he’s down.
It’s hard to know what was more upsetting and annoying – the noise makers who know as much about racing as a cow does about getting Bank Holidays off or leading figures from his own industry – contemporaries and colleagues of the man – jumping on the bandwagon to dance on his professional grave.
An example of some of the vitriolic bile sent in this direction when support was expressed for somebody greatly admired going through a difficult time and his family. Some of whom are quite well known to me:
“I don’t know who he is or anything about him, but he’s obviously a b*****d to do that to an animal”. Do what exactly? Did Gordon or anyone working for or connected to him deliberately kill the horse? No. Did they ignore an animal in obvious distress? No. Did Gordon personally request the photo be taken and placed in the public domain? No.
For the sake of balance here, he should not have sat astride the deceased animal. Of course he shouldn’t. But the narrative that it was somehow a staged stunt is not only damaging and wrong, it would be completely at odds with the ethos of anybody who works with or cares for animals of any sort. The manner in which he has been transformed into public enemy Number One is symbolic of a society – a world – that takes far too much glee in giving people a good kicking when they under greatest strain. Something not just confined to this case but also shamefully prevalent at the time former Taoiseach Brian Cowen became seriously ill a couple of years back and, more recently, during the vicious unforgivable attacks on the homes and families of Simon Harris TD and Stephen Donnelly.
Public opprobrium from a populace so easily led they make sheep look obstinate is difficult enough to stomach, but to observe those of similar ilk – more than one of which are in absolutely no position to talk – and one in particular acting like a self-appointed Almighty with authority to pontificate for and on behalf of the entire racing community has been disingenuously nauseating
Most disturbing of all, mind you, is the reality that somebody was willing and vindictive enough to photograph the incident put the content thereof into the public domain. Something which, let it be said again, should NEVER have happened but was well over two years ago.
Furthermore, if my sources are anywhere near right regarding where the storm which has engulfed Cullentra and its under siege resident emanated from, it would be very much a case of eater finding its own true level rather than where they would like to say it resides.
Philip Reynolds, in his statement on the matter, offered the understanding and forgiveness which has been in such short supply for the man who founded his career on successful spells with leading figures in the sport – Tony Martin, Noel Meade and Martin Pipe: “None of us has a monopoly on shock, horror, disappointment, anger and sadness – and having spent my life owning horses and in the pet industry, believe me, in this case, I own as much of those feelings as anyone else”.
“My professional relationship with Gordon dates back more than five years. In that regard and having been to his yard a number of times, I have no hesitation saying his facilities are world class – and as a trainer, well, his record speaks for itself.
The affable Longford man and son of former Taoiseach Albert went on ““I would love people to hear the many stories of how, and only because of his deep understanding and passion, he revived and made horses champions again.“Not just the big names like Silver Birch or Samcro, but the many much lesser lights whose owners’ Grand Nationals were won midweek in the pouring rain in small tracks up and down the country”
“But sadly it seems in this discourse there is little room. I know no matter what I say there will be folks who believe no punishment will be strong enough. I accept their view. Mine is from a sense of forgiveness.
“The authorities will deal with Gordon, but his trial has already played out. We have stripped him bare and flogged him in public. The scars of this week are his ultimate punishment, ones that will live with him long after we have all moved on to the next event.
“For all these reasons, and accepting this is a one-time error of judgement, I will stay with Gordon – and I hope we can all find it in our hearts not to destroy him. He’s only human.” In my view, the most important line in the entire document from Mr Reynolds is that which refers to the trainer’s acumen at achieving beyond the bounds of expectations with what he termed the “Lesser lights” among his string.
In no way was the term deployed intended in a derogatory manner. Rather, as a compliment of the highest order. Referring to ordinary horses, owned by ordinary people, as distinct from those in the echelons of superstardom owned by folks for whom figures with several zeros at their end is no object. Groups of the trainer’s own friends, additional syndicates and maybe a Racing Club in his or her name are how most of these people get going in racing.
Indeed, for the majority of trainers, those not blessed with the patronage of what we’ll call the elite owner division, syndicates are the staple diet of what keeps their businesses afloat. Unfortunately, the economic crash from 2008 onwards saw the syndicates fade away and, as a consequence, many fine people lost to the industry.
However, Denise Foster is one of racing’s great survivors. In many ways, taking into to account the tragedy she has encountered in her life. More fundamentally, though, she has shown admirable tenacity in one of the most competitive, cut-throat sporting/business arenas there are.
Yours truly was co-opted into a syndicate, about two and a bit decades ago involving a horse called Find A Way. The steed never got up to a whole lot, save facilitating my first and so far only trip to Downpatrick Racecourse. I just thought, given the current situation, that the gelding’s name was aptly worth giving a mention at the minute. Both in terms of ‘Sneezy’ Foster’s own operation and the sustainability and future re-invigoration of Gordon’s business.
In both cases, it goes back to syndicates. Members of the group whose animal gave Gordon his first success as a trainer – long before he’d had a winner on home soil or reached anything like the reputation he deservedly attained for garnering gongs in the ultimate results business – have become great friends to this corner in most recent times. As have some of those connected to the Barstool Prophets Syndicate who’ve had some great days with Gun Shoot among others. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that particular members of the latter named group are lifelong friends of mine but it was only lately that it was discovered they were into the horses.
Now re-read the earlier reference to the importance of syndicates. Just as vital as it is in starting trainers off and sustaining them, equally they are generally the basis by which trainers get notice and thus attract the attention of the sport’s biggest owners. In Irish racing, that mostly means getting the green and gold hooped jacket and white cap of one of the greatest Irishmen of them all, JP McManus, into your yard. Not only does the Limerick legend send horses to an inordinate number of trainers in Ireland, a plethora thereof in England and some in France, if some have fallen on hard times, you can be absolutely sure reinforcments will be sent from Martinstown to help out.
Or trainers could be the beneficiaries of JP’s other favoured way of doing business – to make a horse’s original owners an offer they can’t refuse but leave the animal at its current abode. That was the case with ‘Sneezy’s Pike County who put in a very taking performance in claiming a Ballinrobe bumper. So much so that he made his way onto the Boylan Talks Sport Horses To Follow list for that winter. Faith placed in the 8-year-old gelding has yet to be repaid but there’s still belief in this seat that he’s capable of getting his head in front in a contest for a decent pot.
In the meantime, Denise will get the platform and profile her talents as a horsewoman deserve, while, with the support of his staff, the people that matter most to him, and the fair-minded majority of the racing community, Gordon can rest assured that matters are in very safe hands during this difficult time.
As is generally always the case, his horses will do the talking for him. Hopefully starting next week in Gloucester.