I am often asked about my best days racing, rarely am I asked about my worse days racing, yet that is actually an easier question to answer.
When asked the question people expect me to relate a day where I have had a bad betting day and have lost a great deal of money. Those days, sadly, are all too common and it would be invidious to single out any particular day.
My worse days racing actually relates to a day when I had no bets. It was also the one and only time I have walked out of a course in absolute disgust.
My other passion in life, alongside racing, is travelling. If I can combine the two all the better. This is what happened a couple of years ago when I had a holiday in Brittany. Looking at the France Galop web site I noticed the town of Pontivy was staging a meeting the Sunday I was there.
It was a “typical” French provincial meeting, staging a mixture of harness, flat and jump racing – something for all tastes. It was also during a dry spell and the going could best be described as “hard”.
My concerns first arose shortly after arriving when I noticed the jumps were nothing like those we have at home … for a start there seemed to be an awful lot of concrete used in their construction.
The harness and flat races went off without any incident, although it took four attempts to get one of the flat races off – there were no starting stalls here. The problems happened once the jumping races began.
In the first race a jockey was unshipped at the fence in front of the stands. He was attended to by the doctor, who I shall call Dr Death, as that seems to be the best way to describe her. He was still prone and being tended to as the horses approached on the second circuit. Naively I assumed, as at home, the fence would be dolled off and the horses would by-pass the fence. What happened next is beyond belief – the “good doctor” just grabbed the stricken jockey by his legs and dragged him out of the way of the approaching horses. I was gobsmacked and I must admit when the jockey did eventually get up he looked none too impressed. My French is not good enough for me to be able to lip read, but looking at the way he was addressing the good doctor I think I can safely assume he wasn’t asking her out on a dinner date.
Like a fool I thought things couldn’t get any worse, sadly they did. The next race was also on the chase course. In case you have forgotten my earlier comment the going was most definitely on the hard side.
Now those of you who are used to racing here in the UK will know the strict rules surrounding safety dictate there should be two ambulances at the course and racing is followed by safety vehicles, including medics and vets.
At Pontivy there were no following vehicles and the ambulance was parked in the car park all afternoon and on the occasions I saw it one of the crew was asleep and the other reading the paper.
Anyway back to the race and there were two incidents which eventually led to me walking out.
The first incident was equine. A lovely looking horse took a fall at the concrete / brush fence and sustained a really nasty leg injury. I’m not sure if it was broken but it was bleeding badly and, although I am no expert, the horse looked to be distressed. No screens were erected so the poor animal was in full view of the crowds. After an examination by the vet (I am assuming it really was a vet) the decision was clearly taken to put the horse down. At least they didn’t shoot it in front of the crowd, however it was given a lethal injection in full view of everyone and it was not a pleasant site seeing the poor animal totter over and fall. I did not hang around to see what happened next.
The other incident involved a rider. The rider was thrown to the ground on the far side of the course and was motionless on the ground. Nobody went to his aid. It was not until after the race that an announcement was made by the commentator over the PA for the ambulance to attend the rider. The announcement had to be made three times before the ambulance eventually set off, at no great pace, to attend the stricken jockey. The last I saw they were preparing a spinal board. I shudder to think what the prognosis was for that poor jockey.
It was at that point I left the racecourse, close to tears. Tears of anger at what I had seen, tears of upset at the fate of both the horse and jockey and tears of frustration wishing I spoke better French as there was so much I would like to have said to the course executive.