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The turf

The turf: Top-heavy

Writing racing books you can turn an honest penny but you can’t expect to hit the bestseller lists.

5 February 2011

12:00 AM

5 February 2011

12:00 AM

Writing racing books you can turn an honest penny but you can’t expect to hit the bestseller lists.

Writing racing books you can turn an honest penny but you can’t expect to hit the bestseller lists. ‘Why not try fiction?’ some friends ask, and Mrs Oakley chivvies. I haven’t yet for one reason: the odds against success, even if you do find a publisher. Out there are a magic dozen — the John le Carrés, Jeffrey Archers, and so on. Their next book is going to be a success because the last one was. Once you have had a bestseller the process is pretty well guaranteed because the supermarkets automatically order in bulk the books of those who have previously hit the top ten. Back into the next top ten they go, while for the unknown first-timers in the fiction market, it is a lottery, and who can rely on the lottery to pay the bills?

That is why I am so admiring of small trainers who keep going to defy the odds at a time when they know that, in a similar way, almost every decent horse that comes on to the market is going to be snapped up by big-money owners and sent to be trained by the likes of Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O’Neill, Philip Hobbs and David Pipe. They have trained big winners before so if you have laid out the guineas on a potential big winner it makes sense to send it to one of them. Never mind that all five are delightful men with remarkable horse-handling skills who deserve every bit of their success: the game has become top-heavy.

Every Saturday through the jumping season you go to the races at the top tracks expecting the bulk of the winners to be trained by the Famous Five, so what a joy it was that the predictable victories for four of them on Cheltenham Trials Day, the last meeting at the course before the Festival in March, were accompanied by successes, too, for a couple of small yards. There is no better fun to be had in racing than a little yard with a big horse who is going places and we may just have seen two of those last Saturday.


When Steve Gollings’s Local Hero won the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial he maintained an unbeaten record in four outings over hurdles, thanks partly to an outstanding ride by Tony McCoy. His trainer admitted Local Hero was novicey at some of his hurdles but was content that he would have won better if the race had been run at a true pace instead of the dawdle we saw for the first half. But then he added with real feeling, ‘Some of the top trainers do not know how lucky they are to be standing here on Saturdays because, for smaller yards like mine, it is very much a rare treat and I couldn’t be happier.’ Local Hero has a good cruising speed and for me he remains good value at 20–1 for the Triumph Hurdle in March.

Anything which puts the irrepressible David Bridgwater in front of the media is to be welcomed. The Stow-on-the-Wold trainer was renowned as a jockey for his all-out effort on every horse, and he shrugged off some fearful injuries to keep going. I am not the squeamish kind but, after seeing the livid scars on his leg and the metal pin popping in and out of one of his joints as he was matter-of-factly making a point about the hazards of the game in Lambourn a few years earlier, I needed a stiff drink — and it was only 10 a.m.

Bridgwater has not exactly been blessed with a parade of top-liners since he took to training and he only handles a dozen horses but, as he says, ‘I may not have trained many great horses but I’ve ridden plenty,’ and so he knows when he has a good one. After Rodi Greene rode his The Giant Bolster to victory in the Timeform Novices Chase, the words came tumbling out as ‘Bridgy’ insisted that he had a horse that could be good enough to win the Gold Cup in a couple of years’ time. First he joked, ‘He was only going for a school round today — bloody jockeys!’ before paying tribute to the ride his horse had been given after falling on his previous appearance.

Then he added, ‘This is a serious horse. It’s all about looking after him now.’ He couldn’t remember a previous Cheltenham winner as a trainer, not surprisingly since there hadn’t been one. But then he doesn’t bring many to Cheltenham: ‘They shouldn’t come here unless they are good enough. I don’t send many. I’m not a social person — I don’t have social runners.’ What he did reveal is that while he is not a gambler he did have £1,000 on The Giant Bolster at 33–1 to win his bumper, in which he was beaten a short head. Same old story really:

The rain it raineth every day

Upon the just and unjust fella.

But more upon the just because

The unjust’s got the just’s umbrella.


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