14th July 2014
Two winners out of three runners today at Ayr. Can’t be bad. And a treble for Joe Fanning and his new agent Niall Hannity. The combination have only been working together for a few days and they are flying high. It is great to see Joe with full books of rides as he clearly deserves. I have long thought it to be totally ridiculous that Joe could go to tracks like Hamilton, where he is the leading rider, and have few, if any, rides apart from ours. It has always been blamed on me having entries in most races and liking to make my decisions as late as possible, but Niall is already showing that that was never the case.
I went to Ayr myself today. I flew from home, departing at just after noon and arriving in Prestwick an hour later. The twenty minute taxi ride from the airport still wrangles a bit as it adds 30% to the journey and is so unnecessary as we fly straight over the racecourse and could land so easily if the course were minded to allow it. They have all sorts of excuses for not allowing planes to land but none of them make sense. If only Hamilton or Musselburgh had the same space for an airstrip, I know they would have one in a shot.
Anyway I still arrived at the track in plenty time to partake of their unrivalled hospitality. I had forgotten just how good the lunch is and, if only I hadn’t been flying, I could have helped myself to wine too. It is hardly surprising that the dining room is packed but, strangely, the parade ring is empty by comparison. Surely it can’t be that the food and drink is so good that owners stay indoors rather than go out to see their horses. Clearly that isn’t the case and the sad answer is that many of those partaking of Ayr’s hospitality have no connection with runners at all.
I was approached by a stranger as I entered the course and asked if I could give him two badges and two lunch tickets. He knew that I had three runners and was quite put out when I declined to give him the owners’ badges. But, looking at the number of people in Ayr’s dining room and thinking of the touts at Newmarket last week, I have to conclude that some people are passing their badges to people with no connection to the runners and/or selling them.
On the one hand it is easy to say that the courses get off lightly as, overall, only a small percentage of available owners badges are ever taken up. Today, the Duke of Roxburgh and I used two of the available fourteen (or was in twenty?) badges for my horses. The owners pay dearly for the, sometimes doubtful, pleasure of competing for pitiful returns and a few entrance tickets, or even meals and drinks, should never be grudged to those who are paying to provide the participants. It could be argued that those entrance badges and meal tickets are the owners’ to do with as they please and I do encourage our owners, when they can’t attend themselves, to send their friends or even share their badges with other owners who don’t have a runner but are available to go. It generally works well, helps to promote the benefits of ownership, and most tracks are very accommodating and will even supply extra badges on the few occasions that they are required.
But, surely, to hand badges to strangers or, even worse, sell them to touts is a step too far. It belittles and devalues the privilege of racehorse ownership and might make courses like Ayr question their policy of providing such excellent fare for the owners who support them.