The year and a bit spent as Racing Manager-ish for the late Ollie Cunningham and my father- even though the latter always denied any official involvement – was among the happiest time I’ve spent on this big old ball. Mostly because it was probably the nearest these wheels will ever get to racehorse ownership. Not that said aspiration will ever be given up on, mind you.
For anyone that is emotionally invested in racing, that has to be the big ambition. Alas, it’s very much the preserve of the select few. Particularly so on the Flat where the clout of Coolmore and a few Arab entities give those to whom they are benefactors a mostly unassailable head start on the have nots.
There are often exceptions though. Such as a flagship horse like One Cool Poet putting a young trainer like Matthew Smith on the map or, more recently Noel Meade getting his first Group One winner of an already long and highly distinguished career.
Of course there have been similar stories in jump racing too. I recall the late, great Tom Foley and Danoli or, just this year, the fairytale story of greyhound man Paul Hennessy attaining Cheltenham glory or, perhaps the greatest such story of an ‘ordinary’ operator usurping the higher echelons of racing.
That being the sporting romantic adventure of Hunt Ball. The only horse owned by a dairy farmer, Anthony Knott, he started off with a handicap mark of just 69 but went on a run of results which culminated in an impressive and unforgettable victory at The Festival off 142 and ultimately a career-high rating of 157
However, such stories are still the exception rather than the rule. And that situation is not helped when the Brains Trust go after perceived ‘little guy’ while those on pedestals can put their foot in it in terms of nefarious activity and not an eyelid will be batted.
For example, a few years back, Kilcock trainer David Broad was fined €3,000 over the running and riding of a horse at Ballinrobe while at the same time a leading figure in the sport was hock deep in dodgy goings on and not a word about it. That situation returned to the thought stream recently following a race at Listowel.
The contest was won comfortably by the Willie Mullins-trained French Made but in the aftermath of the contest the Stewards took a dim opinion of the running and riding of the third placed No Memory, trained by Liam O’Brien, a Fermoy based handler who hasn’t had a winner in 332 days at the time of typing. The aforementioned steed actually afforded Liam his last victory but ran a fine race to finish about eight lengths behind the favourite, a previous Grade 2 winner.
It can only be assumed the powers-that-be adjudged Ambrose McCurtin didn’t ride the 7-year-old out sufficiently to attain her best possible placing. Quite probably, I am not alone in considering such an observation to be complete bovine excrement. Yet the decision makers saw fit to fine the trainer €2,000 and suspend McCurtin for 14 days. Another case of small fish getting swallowed up in a big pond.
You couldn’t but concur with an enraged O’Brien afterwards who fumed “The reason she finished third was because she was out the back and they went too quick and the race collapsed. She obviously hadn’t the pace of the winner who was placed in a Grade 1 and was a Grade 2 winner and she finishes third.
“It was her best run ever and I’ll have to appeal”. As bad as the trainer felt for himself, his horse and her owner, he was equally as scathing in his analysis of the sanction meted out to jockey Ambrose McCurtin who now faces two weeks on the sidelines just as the jump season is about to ramp up intensity.
The aggrieved handler went on “We were given a E2,000 fine and Ambrose McCurtin got 14 days. Why? Because he didn’t flog her to death with the whip or something? It is scandalous.” Sometimes it’s about who you are rather than what you do.