It is all about how you impart bad tidings, I suppose, like the wife who told her husband one night, after the first drink: ‘The good news, darling, is that the airbag definitely works.’
Mrs Oakley and I have not only a grandson and five grand-daughters but also a grand-dog, Myla, who comes to stay when south London pressures build and our daughter reckons it time for the four-legged member of her troupe to take to the country. ‘You never really liked that Turkish carpet, did you?’ said Mrs O. one evening recently. It turned out that Myla, lying comfortably in front of the fire, had decided that our prized Istanbul purchase would look better without the tasselled fringe. I hope it tasted good.
Jump trainers tell me regularly that the worst thing about their job is having to call owners with bad news about their horses. Training horses is one thing, training owners is another. In the old days it was easier: owners were country-folk who knew that horses frequently suffered injuries that would take time to heal. In our more restless world, those who own top-class animals are often those who have made money fast in various trades and it is harder to explain the need for 12 months on the easy list.
It is no easier, it seems, when great horses come to the end of their careers. The retirement of the greatest steeplechaser we have seen since Arkle, Kauto Star, has been soured by a spat between his owner, the golf-course builder Clive Smith, and champion trainer Paul Nicholls over the horse’s future. Clive Smith, whom I have never found anything other than proud and civil on the racecourse, decided that Kauto should move on to a career as an eventing dressage horse in a different equine discipline.