Just when everything seems to be going to plan, the fickle finger of fate appears and a potential celebration turns into commiseration. It does say much for the doughty souls involved in racing that to paraphrase Kipling , win or lose they do “treat those imposters the same”
Although there are some occasions when you would forgive them for consigning Mr Kipling to the nearest bin.
There have been numerous times in the annals of racing history when victory has turned to defeat as the result of a riderless horse. But at Newton Abbot on 14 December 1992 saw what well may have been the first time a mount was brought down by a horseless rider. The race looked to be at the mercy of Wheal Prosper, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, until they fell at the last when well clear. This left Hywel Davies on board the nearest challenger with only the final fence to jump before claiming his prize. Troubador Dancer cleared the fence well enough but touched down just as a dazed Mick Fitzgerald was getting to his feet following the earlier fall. The resultant collision sent Troubador Boy crashing to the ground and out of the race. The horses trainer, Tim Thomson Jones later said “Mick hobbled into the weighing room looking for a bit of sympathy but all he got was an earful from Hywel”
Whilst on the subject of unlucky jockeys, few jockeys suffered so much misfortune as William McDonagh.. During the first running of the Grand national, in 1839 McDonagh partnered an Irish horse called Rust. They were lobbing along quite nicely until McDonagh opted to take his mount wider to take advantage of the better ground. Suddenly horse and jockey found themselves deliberately hemmed in by a crowd of spectators who clearly had their money on another entrant. McDonough and Rust were only allowed to continue when the rest of the runners were virtually out of sight. By then pursuit would have been futile and the hapless Rust was pulled up. Seven years later, McDonagh took the ride on Lancet. This horse was also handily placed in the race until a mounted spectator galloped into him, knocking him out of his saddle. Given his luck it will come as no surprise that William McDonagh never won the Grand National.
Yet another hard luck story took place in the 1919 renewal and involved a locally trained horse, All White. The horses usual jockey, Robert Chadwick, was injured about a week before the race so All White`s connections swiftly sought a replacement jockey who could ride at 9 stone 10 lb. The only one available was a certain T. Williams who is believed to have been French although it has to be said that Williams is not exactly a common name in France
Anxious to make the weight, Williams fasted religiously for days on end and on the day of the big race thought it was safe to sample some sea food from a stall at Aintree. The intake of mussels and cockles may not have upset the scales but they certainly upset his stomach. With All White in a challenging position after jumping Bechers Brook on the second circuit. Williams suddenly pulled the horse to a halt at the side of the course. The spectators were amazed to see the jockey leaning from his mount to be violently sick. As soon as he had cleared his system, Williams set off in pursuit once more but he could never hope to make up the lost ground. The partnership however still finished a very creditable fourth.
Trainers are always prone to excuse their charges poor performances by blaming the ground, the distance or the pace amongst other things.
For the ultimate in excuses, how about being foiled by a dog?
Three days after winning the 1835 St Leger, Queen of Trumps was turned out again at Doncaster, this time in the three runner Scarborough Stakes. Facing only two rivals, Queen of Trumps was backed as if defeat was out of the question, being backed down to 1/10 favourite. As the race unfolded, favourite backers appeared to have little cause for concern. But just as Queen of Trumps was moving out to deliver her challenge whilst still on the bridle, she as suddenly brought to her knees by a bulldog that had run onto the course. While stunned racegoers struggled to come to terms with what had happened, Ainderby ran on to claim a hollow victory.
There was another canine invader during the 1926 Derby. Swift and Sure was bearing down on the leaders when a little Jack Russell ran into his path and nearly brought him down. The horse finished fourth but would have undoubtedly been placed but for the intervention of mans best friend.
One dog which got on to a course without affecting the result was a greyhound that took part in the closing stages of a handicap hurdle at Lingfield on 21 December 1985. The dog – an ex-racer – slipped its leash and chased the horses home, eventually passing the post in a respectable third place. The excitement proved too much for the dogs elderly owner who, after trying to retrieve the errant hound, collapsed and had to be taken to hospital.
And when your luck is out, it certainly is out. Take the case of the American jockey Frank Hayes. In July 1923 he rode the 20/1 outsider Sweet Kiss to victory in a steeplechase at Belmont Park in the United States. At the end of the race when the horses were being pulled up, his grateful trainer rushed over to congratulate him. They found poor Hayes slumped forward, dead in the saddle. So unable to weigh in, the horse was subsequently disqualified.
The final word goes to Barry Brogan, the talented Irish jump jockey of the seventies who once said after falling in four successive races “The L in my luck has been replaced by an F”