Robin Oakley

The turf | 29 November 2008

Jack the lad

Eat your heart out, Stubbs. Wrong century, Sir Alfred Munnings. After Nicky Henderson’s Jack the Giant had won the Carey Group Handicap Steeplechase at Ascot last Saturday and stood in the winner’s enclosure quietly steaming with that unmistakeable gleam of achievement in his eye, his proud trainer revelled in his commanding physicality. ‘Isn’t he just what you would take if you had to have a model to paint a racehorse?’ he exclaimed.

Chasers don’t come much better-looking than the tall six-year-old. Jack the Giant is a perfect example of well-honed strength and athleticism, his big frame coupled with just the sort of boldness in the eye you would expect from a son of the great battler Giant’s Causeway. Nicky’s enthusiasm for his shape as well as his scope reminded us that racing is about grace and beauty as well as speed and strength.

In the latest stunning collection of Edward Whitaker’s racing photographs In the Frame (Highdown, £30), there is a picture of Henderson’s schooling jockeys mounting and dismounting the silhouetted string from Seven Barrows as the early sun chases away the wisps of morning mist. Along with a skyline shot of John Best’s string entitled ‘Red Sky in the Morning’, it comes as close to capturing the privilege of being among these magnificent beasts as any artistic endeavour you could name. If you can’t get on the gallops or go racing then Edward’s action shots from the track, his eye for landscape and composition offer the perfect substitute.

But back to more immediate business. Nicky Henderson is racing man of the hour, turning out winners by the handful. Most of the horses I back turn out to be the ones that have been on the John Sergeant training regime — sitting in their boxes reading the Racing Post and munching the equine equivalent of bacon butties while others are out on the gallops.

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