Jessica ponders the secrets of the trainer’s mind
Horseracing enthusiasts were treated to an historic Grand National this year. Not only did Rachael Blackmore become the first female jockey to win the race aboard Minella Times (IRE,) but trainer Henry de Bromhead secured the first and second position in the race; replicating the 1908 achievements of Fred Withington with Rubio and Mattie Macgregor. De Bromhead’s victories in a triad of prestigious events including the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Betway Champion Chase and the Wellchild Gold Cup only fed my curiosity and led to a pertinent question; what are the secrets of his success?
I found some answers in his studies with Robert and Sally Alner, Sir Mark Prescott and the prestigious Coolmore Stud in County Tipperary, Ireland. But I still sought additional confirmation. This was where I found Marten Julian’s 2015 publication, Strictly Classified: Insights into the Trainer’s Mind. The title immediately lured my attentions and reminded me of the seductive art of “tempting titles and tantalizing covers” as referenced by Alberto Manguel in The Library at Night.
This theory is easily applied to the title of Marten Julian’s book which places a mysterious thing into the fore: the horse trainer’s mind. How can a trainer understand the psychological make-up of their charges? How do they use this knowledge to elevate them to their full racing potential like the bay gelding Minella Times?
The title of the book suggests that the answer is withheld from public circulation; that it is “strictly classified” and that we may gain insight into the secretive art of the trainer by reading its pages. This is an alluring prospect for any inquisitive member of the horseracing fraternity. However, after reading this book, I feeling that my understanding of de Bromhead’s victories is like the tempting image of the trainer on the book’s cover; far-off and incomplete.
Nevertheless, I found the book an interesting read, particularly the first chapter called “The Broken Spirit.” This was named after a conversation between the author and jockey
Declan Murphy at the Newmarket Sales. Julian asks whether a horse wins with its “spirits, character and sheer determination” and even questions if such a thing exists.
Of course, both sides of the debate are represented but the most compelling argument for it comes from the National Hunt champion Declan Murphy. Murphy’s understanding of a broken spirit is incredibly profound due to his life-threatening accident during the last flight of the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in 1994. He could not disguise the pain he was feeling and, in his view, neither can the horse as he states that if a horse has something on his mind, then few people will realise it … you can tell so much purely from the horse’s eyes.”
I found Marten Julian’s writing the most compelling at this point. After reading his “Warm Up” column and his articles in The Sunday Times there is no doubt of his dexterous grasp of the written word. But his status as a qualified counsellor and his emotional connection to the sport make the idea of a horse’s spiritual life that more credible.
In this instance, I find the title of this book to be slightly misleading. The work provides elements of the trainer’s mind which have already entered the public sphere. They are presented using a series of anecdotes rather than in the revelatory style promised by the title. By the end of the book, I felt more intrigued about the secrets of a thoroughbred trainer like Henry de Bromhead, perhaps because they are more complicated and varied than any book can describe.
It is unlikely that we will see Minella Times competing this year. Instead, he will enjoy the summer in Martinstown while de Bromhead and his inner circle plan his 2022 campaign. However, this trainer is certainly worth following when performance-affecting factors are in his favour and it will be interesting to see his future pairings with jockey Rachael Blackmore. Until next, time stay safe and good investing.