Racing chaos at Cheltenham: A personal view

The great Monty Roberts has been a formative influence on my thinking, not just about horse management but also about human leadership. I was reminded of the links between the two at events at the Cheltenham festival this year

Tudor Rickards

I did not attend the spring festival of horse-racing at Cheltenham. I didn’t even watch transmissions of its races live, but later saw news bulletins about one race which produced headlines for the wrong reasons.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase

The billed highlight of the day was the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The Telegraph’s perspective focused on the tight finish in which the favourite lost narrowly. Read more carefully, the account [in synopsis below] also mentioned the serious accident at the start of the race:

One split second of confusion at a badly dolled-off final fence left Irish jockey Andrew Lynch in tears and Sizing Europe’s two-mile title defence in tatters following a dramatic Queen Mother Champion Chase, won by Finian’s Rainbow at Cheltenham on Wednesday [March 14th, 2012]. When Wishfull Thinking fell at the fence on the first circuit, smashing through the running rail – firing Richard Johnson into the ground and injuring a photographer in the melee – it changed this championship contest at a stroke.

Sizing Europe had been enjoying a nice run in behind, but was left alone out in front much earlier than Lynch had wanted. Finian’s Rainbow and Barry Geraghty drew closer but after clearing what had become the final obstacle, both Lynch and Geraghty were suddenly confronted with a fence that was dolled off just on the inside, where the injured Johnson lay on the landing side.
Both jockeys veered sharply right, and then right again, when it dawned on them that the fence would be by-passed completely. In a hard-fought finish, Finian’s Rainbow got the better of Sizing Europe to win, but clearly indecision had marred the closing stages of a gripping battle.

The second story

The second story, was [in the real-time radio broadcast] the potential serious injuries to a jockey Richard Johnson, to a photographer, and to spectators at the final fence of the first circuit. Richard Johnson was still in harms way beneath the ‘dolled-of’ fence as the race neared completion. The Telegraph added:

Curiously, there was no stewards inquiry, and officials were quick to dismiss the incident. Paul Barton, the stipendiary steward, told reporters the bypass procedures had been implemented correctly.

Monty-Roberts and intelligent horsemanship

Monty Roberts, the great equine specialist, made an impression on the Queen Mother at his skills in helping spooked race-horses calm down and perform to their capabilities. His ‘controversial’ ideas contributed to the movement to reduce abuse of horses including excessive use of the whip (still a contentious issue this year). He would have been distressed, but not particularly surprised at the events at Cheltenham yesterday in the Queen Mother Champion Chase

Acknowledgement

Image of Monty Roberts, Martin Clunes and Kelly Marks is from the Gloucester Mercury

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