Cheers And Tears

Balance is the essence of the universe. The Chinese call it Ying and Yang. Without balance nothing exists.

In life it is generally only the very young do not have an awareness that life is an emotional rollercoaster. If a child has been fortunate enough to have had a stress free childhood, then as soon as the teenage hormones begin flowing they will soon realise life is an emotional roller coaster and, unlike at Alton Towers, it is a ride that never stops.

Racing is, of course, no different. One moment there can be adrenalin induced highs resulting is resounding cheers, the next that gut wrenching feeling you have in the pit of your stomach when something goes seriously awry and the tears begin flowing.    

Saturday’s racing at Sandown Park was one of those days when both sets of emotions came to the fore.

The cheers came for two horses, one giving the first indication of his potential, the other underlining the potential he showed last year.

In the Henry VIII Chase all Free World had to do was turn up and the race was his – well that is what most thought.  

Trained by champion trainer Paul Nicholls and ridden by the champion jockey AP McCoy. The only conceivable danger could have come from Alan King's Araldur, ridden by Robert Thornton.

As they came to the last the pair were well clear of their rivals and Free World seemed to have the edge over his rival.

Then it happened, Thornton actually managed to out-McCoy McCoy.

Ask any jump jockey what they fear most in a race and they will probably respond 'McCoy in a driving finish'. He is not the greatest jump jockey ever for nothing and his ability to ride a well timed, powerful, finish is second to  none.

Yet, here at Sandown, in one of the toughest and unforgiving finishing straights in the country Robert Thornton was doing to McCoy what McCoy has done to so many of his rivals. He was outriding him.

In one of the best riding displays seen in a long time Thornton, metaphorically, carried his mount over the line to beat the odds-on favourite and champion jockey by a neck.

AP had been well and truly McCoyed.

The excitement was accentuated by the roar of the Sandown crowd. It is said to be impossible to beat the roar of the Cheltenham crowd, but from my vantage point high up in the Esher grandstand, I think the Surrey crowd gave the Gloucestershire / Irish mob a good run for their money.   

Barely 35 minutes later the big race, the Tingle Creek, was underway. Usually a very competitive affair this year the star attraction was Master Minded. Another Paul Nichols charge – the one who left racegoers open mouthed in awe at his 19 length win in Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase last March.

His only serious rival was Howard Johnson’s Tiday Bay and possibly his stablemate, last years winner, Twist Magic.

Yet it was neither of these who turned out to be his greatest threat. An obscure German raider called Fiepes Shuffle turned out to be the greatest danger.

The raider fell at the first fence but was soon on his feet and the loose horse decided to keep the front running Master Minded company as they turned out of the home straight.

AP McCoy, probably still stinging from his previous race defeat, was Master Minded’s controversial jockey at Sandown and I’m sure he, like many of us viewing from the stands, must have had flash backs to Clan Royal being taken out by a loose horse in the 2005 Grand National.

Eventually this loose horse decided to take the hurdle course and Master Minded was left to give a master class in a contest that was anything but a race.

Of his rivals Tidal Bay just wasn’t at the races and his stablemate fell at the second last when in second place but never likely to challenge the leader.

Again the Sandown roar did its utmost to lift the roof off the stand. This time in admiration of a class horse rather than a thrilling contest but the roar was just as heartfelt.

So we had the Ying aplenty, from two horses. One already an established star the other showing great potential. All being well Master Minded and Araldur are two names that will be discussed in years to come.

Now where there is the Ying there is also the Yang.

The Yang at Sandown came in the last race, the inaugural running of the London National.

Blue Splash will not be a horse familiar to most racegoers, trained by Peter Bowen his form figures coming into Saturday’s race were run 17, won 4, placed twice.

Nobody knew it when the runners set of at 3:35 but this was to be Blue Splash’s last race. His ending provided more than enough Yang to balance out the earlier Ying and it was to produce enough tears to balance out the earlier cheers.

Blue Splash was pulled up by Seamus Durack after the final fence on the first circuit. Durack quickly dismounted and started leading the horse back to the stables. Initially he looked sound and was walking back OK but slowly.

It was when he was walking past the stands that I saw out of the corner of my eye that he seemed to have "gone wrong" behind - it's strange how you suddenly notice these things, even when not actually consciously watching.

When I next looked a few second later Durack was removing the saddle and at the same time Blue Splash started showing the "classic" signs of a horse having a heart attack.

Unfortunately he collapsed right in front of the packed enclosure, no more than five or six feet from the rail.

In terms of getting to the horse it happened in the worse possible place - the vet was with him very quickly but she could do nothing to help alleviate the horses suffering until the screens arrived. Unfortunately it was the most inaccessible place for the following vehicles to get to and it seemed an eternity before the truck with the screens arrived.

The screens that could allow the horse some privacy and dignity in his final moments.

In a perverse way it was a blessing it happened so close to the rail as most racegoers would not have seen too much of what was unfolding on the course - although for those by the rail it must have been terrible and there were families down there too.

It was distressing seeing the horses life coming to an end so publicly and I am not ashamed to admit I had tears rolling down my cheek at what was unfolding before me.
One couldn’t help thinking what must have been going through the horses mind at this time – do they have any concept of what is happening to them? I hope not.

The incident also brings home the danger of the sport we follow so closely. How the competitors, occasionally human, more frequently equine, sometimes pay the ultimate price.

Although it was not pleasant to view, I can also see some positives from what happened so publicly on Saturday. It will remind some racegoers who forget (or choose to ignore), in particular those morons who cheer when a horse falls, that the sport is fraught with dangers and our enjoyment comes at a price.

The horses are not just objects provided for our entertainment, they are living creatures. They are generally loved and very well cared for, none more so than by the lad or lass who looks after them every day.

One scene that always upsets me at a racecourse is a lad or lass walking down the course, nearly always in floods of tears, carrying the tack of a horse of theirs who will not be returning home.

By all means cheer at the Ying but please never forget the Yang.

RIP  Blue Splash born 23rd April 2000 died 6th December 2008  


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