Presumably, if you are reading this you have some level of interest in horse racing, either that or you’re a sympathetic friend wanting to ensure my blogging journey is not undertaken alone.
If it is the former, have you ever considered just how the passion came about and how it has endured, while other fancies may have fallen at the first of the stand double?
I ponder it regularly. Possibly more so lately now I am on the outside looking in and finding that somehow the industry has moved on and my skills are no longer required. Odd really, considering I left the industry in order to gain broader experience and therefore the ability to offer so much more when I made my (triumphant) return.
The other thing I have noticed while I sit with my nose pressed up against the window is how much youth is now prized. Having fought throughout the early part of my career against the dual handicaps of being born the “wrong” sex and being unforgivably young I find it equally exciting and desperate that neither appear to be a handbrake to career progression.
What does seem to be unforgivable now though is two-fold – age and knowledge. Seemingly, if you are old enough to remember having actually witnessed great racing moments AS THEY HAPPENED then it is probably time you crawled off into a corner and took up residence in your rocker to count your remaining marbles.
So, probably not a good thing to talk about how incredible the atmosphere was in the back bar at Trentham that Labour weekend when the post-races crowd split down the middle in their extremely vocal support of Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star. For God’s sake don’t ‘fess up to being at Hawera – I know, why would anyone, but this was special – for that last ever time we saw WD Skelton ride. Recalling you saw Slip Anchor when he annihilated The Derby field is probably not a memory you want to unleash. Nor the fact that you tipped out the trifecta for Empire Rose’s Melbourne Cup but didn’t take it because you were having too much fun having your photo taken with Roy Higgins at the NZ Magic Millions marquee you were hosting.
While the young ones might make like they are enjoying your trips down ancient memory lane, they are more than likely rolling their eyes at the fact you didn’t record ANY of this on Instagram – so in their eyes, it never happened.
They don’t care, they are not interested in the past. They are the future and if you don’t get out of their way they will just stomp over you.
It never used to be this way.
A million years ago when I started out as a cadet journalist, the news I would be on loan to racing meant a respite from the structure of the shipping column (don’t ask, but it did teach accuracy!) and the scraps sent my way (ie stories we couldn’t possibly stuff up….50th wedding anniversaries anyone?). On Saturdays, I shared the press box with a legend of the racing media. A man who held a record for the most typewriters destroyed on a single race day. He was grumpy and gruff – and retired. I should’ve been terrified but he delighted me.
He was generous with his time and his knowledge and I still consider myself lucky to have had some of my rough edges buffed thanks to his mentoring.
A few years later I was in Auckland living the dream as editor of BloodHorse magazine. As a long time adherent to the belief that racing is a heritage industry and wanting to acknowledge that history, I often interviewed trainers and breeders coming to the end of their careers. I remember being slightly stressed as I rode the ferry over to Waiheke Island – so, so far removed from the ritzy, island hideaway it is today – to interview the legend who was Clyde Conway.
I needn’t have worried, Clyde was an old school horseman and journalist with stories no one could match. He flew for the RAF in World War II and delighted in telling the stories of his many crashes and near misses. He was a joyful, generous man who immediately put me at ease telling me he “enjoyed the warmth” I brought to the stories I wrote. I was smitten and there began a lengthy friendship which involved the swapping of books and telling of many tales.
The relationships I created with these two doyens of racing journalism not only aided my writing, it also cemented my desire to continue along the path I had chosen, despite the latent (and sometimes not so latent!) sexism encountered.
Given the road I have travelled and the assistance (and obstruction, more about that sometime in the future!) I encountered along the way I would like to think I have something to offer to those who are looking to forge a career in racing. In the roles I have filled during my ten-year hiatus from racing I have mentored plenty of young journos and seen them go on to achieve amazing feats in the “real” world.
But mentoring is out of fashion in racing. Instead, the racing/breeding marketing genius is hatched fully formed in their 20s, armed with a degree and blessed with inclusion in some industry fast-track training programme which introduces them to the industry as a fully-functioning cynic.
And cynical they are! Beyond hilarious really, given they haven’t known a time when racing governance came via the DIA; when the TAB and Racing Industry Boards were separate entities; when there was no Trackside; when we underwent the 1991 Ministerial report; when we spoke to the Select Committee on the Racing Act 2003.
Back when public breeding companies were flying racing journalists around the country and plying them with champagne as stallions were launched, the new breed was either mastering the alphabet or not even a consideration. Likewise when it all came tumbling down.
But despite their gauche and grating approach, I love that there are still young people coming through into the racing and breeding scene and remind myself it is a passion we share.