David Wachman’s announcement this week that he is to retire from training at the end of the season, after some 20 years, encouraged one to reflect on various aspects of this great game.
Wachman is only 45 and cited more time to spend with his family, as well as pursuing various other business interests, as reasons for what looks a rather premature decision.
But it is entirely up to Wachman to do what is best for him and if no longer training horses is the way forward then that’s as it should be.
He wasn’t what you would describe as wildly successful, but he was a solid performer nonetheless and a career total of 11 Group/Grade 1 wins was perfectly respectable.
He will always be most remembered for his handling of the top class filly Legatissimo last season, when she won the English 1000 Guineas, the Nassau Stakes and the Matron Stakes.
I spoke to Wachman many times over the years and found him an easy person to like, he was always courteous and friendly.
Wachman’s somewhat surprising retirement set you in mind of the last really high-profile trainer to decide it was no longer for him, namely Vincent O’Brien’s son, David.
If Wachman announcement surprised, then O’Brien shocked the racing world.
He won the Irish and French Derbys with Assert in 1982 and in 1984 saddled Secreto to beat his father’s absolute flying machine, El Gran Senor, in the Epsom Derby.
He was the youngest trainer to ever win the Epsom Derby.
I got to know O’Brien only on a superficial level, which essentially meant having the odd word with him, after he saddled a winner.
He came across as rather shy and not particularly at ease with the attention that inevitably arrived as Vincent’s son and with his own increasingly progressive profile.
David seemed destined, we all thought, to follow his father into Ballydoyle, but had other ideas.
And so in the late 80s, he pulled the plug on his career and headed to France, bought a vineyard and became both a producer and distributor of wine.
Married to Catherine, his wine business reportedly thrived, although he has since, in 2009, relocated his family to Perth in Australia.
The departures of O’Brien and now Wachman made you consider the manner in which the likes of Dermot Weld, Jim Bolger and, to a lesser extent, Aidan O’Brien have survived for so long.
Those three, together with John Oxx, have been the biggest names in Irish Flat racing for many, many years.
Indeed, right now O’Brien leads Weld and Bolger in the trainers’ championship.
Weld and Bolger have been at the top of their professions for decades and their longevity, given the massive pressure that comes with competing at the highest level and the ongoing problems of training horses, is quite astounding.
They both seem to place great store in having a long-term stable jockey, and that has proved greatly beneficial.
Mick Kinane, for instance, was Weld’s number one for 14 years and Pat Smullen is now in his 18th season as the top gun in Rosewell House.
Kevin Manning has been Bolger’s stable jockey since 1993.
Aidan O’Brien has had many first jockeys in his 20 years at Ballydoyle, but the supporting team, led by Seamie Heffernan, has rarely changed.
What it all means, surely, is that familiarity, rather than breeding contempt, has worked admirably for these organisations and, perhaps, offers a lesson for others?
It moves me to wonder why a number of wealthy owners feel the overwhelming need to have their very own private jockey. It’s a concept I can’t understand.
Surely having your own jockey can be self-defeating.
Smullen rides everything for Weld, Manning for Bolger and Ryan Moore, or one of their own, everything for Ballydoyle.
But that is not the case in other places and jump racing is as bad, if not worse, than the Flat game. I mean if you put a horse in training with Weld and then your own system demanded that someone else besides Smullen was to ride how would that make any sense? Imagine, when Paul Carberry was in his pomp, having a horse with Noel Meade and preventing Carberry from riding it. But the best example of all has to be asking Willie Mullins to train for you and then leaving Ruby Walsh on the sidelines.
Owners, of course, make a massive contribution and are responsible for the employment of so many people.
He who pays the piper calls the tune and all of that of that and it is obviously more than fine if you want to have your own jockey to join the plane, helicopter and yacht.
But the notion of telling the likes of Smullen, Walsh and Carberry that you don’t require their talents, even though they are readily available, is a principle that is difficult to comprehend.
Stable jockeys make sense, the need for an alternative is just puzzling.
People in Britain get greatly exercised by racing on terrestrial television and ITV, who take over from Channel 4 come January 1, has been slowly unveiling their team.
The seven people thus far who have got a job are Ed Chamberlin, Francesca Cumani, Rishi Persad, Oli Bell, Hayley Turner, Sally Ann Grassick and Mick Fitzgerald.
Channel 4 did a good job and had its share of heavyweights. I’d say ITV already has more than its share of lightweights!
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