Irresistible Lure

By Oakley, Robin | The Spectator, June 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

Irresistible Lure


Oakley, Robin, The Spectator


A recent survey of trainers by the Racing Post found them pretty disillusioned with the racing game. It is not an easy life. First, the horses you handle are not the robust animals they look from a Saturday afternoon armchair. They are frighteningly delicate creatures bred over 300 years to install the maximum engine in the most streamlined frame, a recipe for constant injury and breakdown, It is an achievement to get most of them to the racecourse, let alone to win a race with them. Even when you do have quality horses, viruses can sweep in from nowhere and lay your yard low for a season. On top of that you have to be able to finance and manage a labourintensive business with a restlessly itinerant workforce.

Newmarket's racing chaplain said the other day that he had encountered one lad who'd been in every stable except the original one in Bethlehem. And, with the competition for the leisure pound as hot as it is, you have to be a marketing director and public relations whizz, patrolling the racecourse bars and figuring on the dinnerparty circuit in the hope of increasing your orders for the sales. Sometimes it goes further. One comely female trainer was reckoned by male colleagues to increase her stable numbers by services of a strictly after-dinner nature for one elderly patron. I am sure it works the other way too. I did once overhear one elegant female whisper to a companion, as Francois Doumen went to saddle a horse, that she wouldn't mind at all if he'd been coming to saddle her too.

At the end of the day few trainers are making significant profits. Many of them are frustrated that they cannot pay more to staff who are being expected now to look after four or five horses where once it would have been only two, and to travel to evening and Sunday meetings that did not exist a few years ago. But four out of five of the stable staff who leave racing for a better wage are back in a yard within a year or two, drawn by the irresistible lure of the racing life. And comparatively few trainers quit, despite the difficulties in making a go of it. Winners cure most depressions, and I did not see many sad expressions in the Sandown unsaddling enclosure on Saturday afternoon.

The happiest face I saw was that of Newmarket trainer Paul Howling, who was on the phone to his wife inquiring what price she had got as his 101 winner Mise En Scene came back in after an impressive performance in the European Breeders Fund maiden fillies stakes. …

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