Magazine article The Spectator

Competitive Instincts

Magazine article The Spectator

Competitive Instincts

Article excerpt

Racing journalism may not be as tough as rock journalism, once defined by Frank Zappa as people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk on behalf of people who can't read, but it still has its problems. Some trainers find it easier communicating with their horses than they do with their fellow human beings. For racing correspondents, trainers who know how to turn out a regular supply of winners are a boon. But trainers who can talk entertainingly about their winners, their losers and how they do their job are a journalistic jewel beyond price.

One clearly in that category is Lambourn's John Hills. His horses do not win by accident and Tempting Fate was backed down to 11-10 favourite before running out a comfortable winner of the first at Newbury last Friday. Although he was confident that she had had a bit more in the tank if required, John said the useful filly would now stay at six furlongs for a while. Back in form after his yard had been afflicted by a spell of virus trouble, he explained the sort of problem it can cause, particularly in a wet season like this one: `Bad weather sets back their recovery just when you're getting out of jail. It's not till they're back in shape that you can start to direct them and know what you are doing.'

Tempting Fate, he said, had looked like a seven-furlong filly. But lately she had been showing some speed. `When they're not right they don't show you what they are.' Other trainers struggled to describe the ground, damp on top but firm enough underneath. `They're kicking off the top,' said John. `It's a case of wheelspin.' And in the next race you could see that that was exactly what was happening to some of them as they tried to accelerate.

That race, the Listed Doncaster Sales Washington Singer Stakes, was won by Prizeman, another hotshot from the Highclere Thoroughbreds syndicate. Having enjoyed a drink with some of the syndicate members before the race, I am glad to say I was on, although I shared their palpitations as the winner was given a much harder race than expected by Barry Hills's Perfect Sunday. Six furlongs may now be a bit sharp for Prizeman, and Barry reckoned his horse might have won in another few strides. But when I suggested that like son John he was now back on the victory trail, having had a good few recent winners since he too suffered with the virus, his response was, `It's not good enough for me. …

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