Keith Knight con­demns the cur­rent trend of re­tir­ing top three-year-old colts and fil­lies

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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



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