Mike Cattermole: Hard times
Mike Cattermole reflects on an emotional week at Cheltenham and on two jockeys at opposite stages of their careers.
Nicky Henderson with his former stable stars Bobs Worth (c), Simonsig (l) and Sprinter Sacre
SPRINTER SACRE AND SIMONSIG – TWO SUPERSTARS WHO NEVER HAD IT EASY
So, wear and tear finally caught up with Sprinter Sacre who has been retired after an extraordinary career.
Sprinter had it all – great looks, a supreme talent and that swagger. He was pure box office and, fittingly, that comeback last March was straight of out of Hollywood.
But he never had it easy. Given all of his problems, with a fibrillating heart and breathing issues being foremost, Sprinter had to have some constitution too. He clearly was as tough as he was brilliant. Richard Dunwoody once told me that Desert Orchid stood out because he was "a hard bastard" and Sprinter had those same qualities.
Nicky Henderson, who handled him superbly, can be forgiven for getting emotional when breaking the news.
He and his team then suffered a further and horrible setback later in the day. Poor Simonsig deserved better than to lose his life in a race. Henderson always said that this was one horse that had the engine to go with Sprinter at home. But Simonsig didn't have the rub of the green at all on the soundness front, which meant his career only lasted for 13 starts.
He had the versatility to win the Neptune Novices Hurdle over 2m5f in 2012 before dropping down to the minimum trip a year later to win the Arkle. We didn't see him again for two years and eight months, when he came back and finished second to stablemate Bobs Worth at Aintree, showing what a brilliant cruising speed he still possessed.
So, it must be a little deflating for those at Seven Barrows with no Sprinter, Simonsig or Bobs Worth around any more. All three were heroes in a vintage era for the yard.
But Henderson and his team have been here many times before. New talent is always there in abundance but there are some big shoes to fill. Step forward, Altior, whose chasing debut at Kempton next Monday is eagerly awaited.
ANDY THORNTON – INCHING CLOSER!
Andy Thornton remains four short of the magic 1,000 career winners – the same position he has been in since June!
"Lensio" (he wears contact lenses) is the oldest member of the weighing room these days, at 44, but few can match his enthusiasm – he just loves the game, never complains and keeps himself incredibly fit.
I admire him. With his stirrups down a few notches, his style is undoubtedly old-fashioned and unique these days. But he has stuck to it and has never changed. He has believed and trusted in his own talent and, as I understand it, the respect earned from some of his peers in the weighing room has been hard-won.
I clearly remember his extraordinary piece of horsemanship on Kingscliff at Ascot in 2003 when the left rein broke jumping the third fence. Incredibly, he managed to keep going over the remaining 17 fences to win the prize and earn a "Lester" for jump ride of the season.
I suspect that when the big moment finally arrives, he will probably call it a day and will then be in demand by various media outlets (though perhaps not at ITV who seem to be very well covered!) as he is a natural on that front.
"With his stirrups down a few notches, his style is undoubtedly old-fashioned. He has believed and trusted in his own talent and, as I understand it, the respect earned from some of his peers in the weighing room has been hard-won."
In the late '90s, Andy notched up some notable big race successes with the likes of See More Business in the 1997 King George VI Chase, Cool Dawn in the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup and the brilliant but ill-fated French Holly, who reeled off the Tolworth, Sun Alliance and Christmas Hurdles in 1998.
The following decade got off to a good start too, with wins in the Scottish National and Hennessy aboard Gingembre before forging an early successful partnership with Robert Alner-trained The Listener, before the owner jocked him off.
Since landing the Welsh National with a great effort on Mike De Beauchene for the Alners in 2007, "live" rides have been few and harder to come by. At the time of writing, he has two booked mounts, both for Victor Dartnall, one at Chepstow on Wednesday and the other at Ascot on Saturday.
At this rate, he is in danger of not making it until he is about 57! I joke of course, but send out an earnest request to all those trainers who might have booked him in his pomp to give him a hand here. Come on, give him a few steering jobs to help him over the line – he deserves it.
JAMES KING HAS A BRIGHT FUTURE
If Andy is at one end of the weighing room, amateur James King is right at the other. The 22-year-old was seen to good effect once again at Plumpton on Monday when he teamed up with Earl's Fort to notch their third successive victory together.
James is the son of Racing Post's west-country correspondent Andrew "Kingy" King, a consummate old pro who doesn't suffer fools and is also one of the biggest mickey-takers in the pressroom.
However, he must be extremely proud of his son who was considered, well spoken and confident when interviewed on At The Races. He was pragmatic too, as he fully realizes that a full-time career in the saddles depends on how he can manage staying light over the next year or so.
Be nice to see King senior reporting on a big win for his son one day. One thing's for sure, his son's feet will remain firmly on the ground. That's in the genes.
BARTERS HILL HAS AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Ben Pauling used to be Nicky Henderson's assistant and he too suffered an unwelcome reverse at the weekend.
My heart sank when I saw Barters Hill lose his action in the novice chase at Cheltenham last Friday. David Bass was very quick to realise that something wasn't right and swiftly pulled him up but the good news is that it looks as though he will be back for the Pauling team.
The diagnosis was a slipped tendon off his hock, which will heal but may have an affect on Barters Hill's action.
Katie Byam-Cook, the BHA vet, explained the injury: ""What happens is that the retinaculum, which is a band-shaped structure that holds the tendons in place, can get damaged.
"If the tendon slips off and stays off then it is not so much of a problem. If it slips on and off then it becomes unstable and can be quite painful for the horse.
"Surgical methods to address this tend not to work so the best thing is to allow the horse's natural scar tissue to develop and stop the tendon slipping again. It can take up to a year to heal properly and may well alter the horse's action. They can come back but they are obviously better off not having it."
Pauling himself has already admitted that Barters Hill might lose some of his speed so it will be interesting to see how he gets on when he does return. Knowing this will no doubt guarantee the admirable Barters even more of a following, which has been built so far on talent, guts and tenacity. Fingers crossed he will be okay.
MIKEY FOGARTY CAN DO BETTER
I don't know Mikey Fogarty and for all I know he is a top lad and great company. However, his use of the whip on Pairofbrowneyes at Cheltenham on Friday was sickening, one of the worst I have seen for some time.
It wasn't so much the frequency – I counted 16 strikes – but the sheer force. He didn't miss. It really turned the stomach and it was a relief to see that the stewards picked it up and hit him with a ban of 13 days, which was no more than he deserved. I do hope he will learn from this.
Paul Barton, the senior stipendiary steward, said: "It was a long way above the permitted level. He only escaped a fine because of the value of the race and he finished second. Had he won, he would have been fined £1050."
Barton's quote got me thinking about the rules as they stand. I get why the value of the race is important as it might discourage the "win-at-all-costs" sort of ride when there is a huge prize.
But, if a horse is being abused, what difference should it make whether the jockey wins or loses the race? Fogarty still broke the rules, big time, and the fact he didn't win should not have meant escaping a fine, too. It's almost as if by not winning the race, the jockey is compensated by not being fined and that can't be right.
- Mike can be contacted on Twitter on @catters61
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