Keith Knight condemns the current trend of retiring top three-year-old colts and fillies
A plea for more top horses to train on like Frankel
This month’s piece concentrates on a time-worn chestnut, an issue, to use a phrase from a well-known sciencefiction franchise, ‘that tasks me’. I believe from the depths of my shallow heart that if owners voluntarily came round to my way of thinking many of racing’s financial problems would be eased.If owners refuse to bend, mind you, I would encourage the powers-that-be to bring in regulation to persuade them to mend their ways.
The issue I refer to is the retirement of 3-year-old colts to the breeding sheds. I will also include the premature retirement of 3-year-old fillies.
Horses do not have a full complement of teeth until they are 5-years-old and yet horses, fillies and colts, are removed from training before they reach this significant age in the life-span of a horse. I exclude from my argument those horses who suffer serious injury, though not those with injuries that easily mend with time.
I have overflowing respect for the great owner-breeders, Prince Khalid Abdulla, Godolphin, the long-established studs, Coolmore (though less so since they named a horse Spanish Steps, a calumny I find hard to forgive) and hesitate to criticise them as without their contribution to our sport our lives would be greatly diminished. Yet I resent having to feel grateful to them when they keep a classic winner in training as a 4-year-old ,as is the case with Enable.
We should always be grateful and respectful to, in this instance, to Prince Khalid for his patronage of our sport.But in turn his income and enjoyment of our sport would not be possible if we did not share his passion for the thoroughbred, racing and the history of its development. Without Prince Khalid, and all owners and owner-breeders, especially those institutions at the top end of the pyramid, my life would be ,wholly different ,I suspect.We go hand-in-glove; the people for whom money is an irrelevance and those of us who must work nine-to-five always in hope of better times ahead. Racing unifies us; allows us to be part of the same team.
But why should we have to sing ‘he’s a jolly good fellow ’when a classic winner is kept in training as a 4-year-old. Why should we be so damn grateful? It is the responsibility of everyone involved in our sport to promote and support it in every way we can. Every division of the industry, from those who bet to those who take those bets, from stalls handlers through to stable staff, jockeys, trainers, racecourse management, journalists and so on, must present horse racing in the best of light ,must do what we can to show the outside world that our sport is honourable and deserving of respect.
The major separation between National Hunt and the flat, away from the use of higher case lettering for the former ,is that the equine stars of the winter game come back year after year. Unless injured, of course, we take it as a matter of course that Altior, Douvan, Thistlecrack and old dependable Cue Card will grace our racecourses for as long as they are able. Unless we get to a situation where the same can be said for the equine stars of the flat season then the summer game will continue to be seen as deficient, perhaps not as loved by the public as National Hunt.
It grates upon me that journalists will continue, as if reading from a script, to nominate such horses as Sea The Stars, Dancing Brave ,Nijinsky, Sea Bird, as great racehorses ,among the greatest our sport as ever known. This is ridiculous, as ridiculous as when John Oxx said Sea The Stars was being retired to stud ‘as he had nothing else to prove’, when he had a whole lot more to prove .Winning the big
races at level-weight or receiving weight from no-doubt lesser horses only proved he was the best of his generation. It did not prove his greatness as a racehorse, merely only displaying the potential he possessed to be included in that legion of greatest racehorses. Sea The Stars was retired to stud at the end of his 3-year-old career to maximise the owners return on their investment .Horse racing is a sport, to treat it otherwise is plain disrespectful to the paying public.
Small adjustments to the rules of racing would help to a lesser degree. For bidding the exclusion of geldings from all races, excepting those confined to fillies, of course, including the classics. But the main alteration should be that except in special cases no colt should be allowed to stand as a stallion until the end of its fourth year, encouraging owners to keep Guineas and Derby winners in training for at least one further year.
Flat racing needs more than any other adjustment to have its best horses kept in training for as long as can be respectfully expected. The breeding-shed is an important element in the world of horse racing but it is the length of Doncaster’s home straight away from being as important as the actual racing of horses.Sea The Stars and the other ‘only best of their generation’ put to stud before it was ever established how good they were is a case of‘ me, me, me, money, money, money ’.
The sport should come first. Always. Instead of acceptance of the commercial element we should criticise and twist arms.If Frankel could be kept in training as a 4-year-old, then the principal is good enough for every other classic winner.Let the campaign begin today.
Prince Khalid Abdullah