Monday, 30 October 2017

FROM STARS TO STRAGGLERS


Steve Williams was once the highest earning New Zealand sportsman. He accrued considerable earnings from his percentage take for carrying the golf bag of Tiger Woods and, to what degree we will never know, having influence on the decisions that 'his' golfer made during a tournament.

A racehorse trainer has more influence on the outcome of an event than a caddy, but neither could be really classed as sportsmen. In horse racing it is possible to be next to useless and remain a participant. For training, as long as you have a wealthy, dedicated and foolish supporter, or have the wherewithal yourself, you can drift aimlessly along and make up the numbers.

William Jarvis hails from a famous racing family. With support from the Howard De Walden family, he burst to prominence early in his career with the top class Grand Lodge. The colt won the Dewhurst, was narrowly beaten in the 2,000 Guineas, then gained compensation in the St James Palace Stakes.

Jarvis has not trained a winner at the highest level in the twenty three years since.He has trained seven winners so far this year, eleven last season, and nine the year before. The last Group race winner trained by Jarvis was Gravitation a decade ago.She too was owned by the Howard De Walden family.

There was a general opinion that Robert Armstrong was a 'good trainer'. It was one of those mechanical opinions. A compliment delivered without much thought.In the written word there was never a word printed that bordered on questioning his ability, even when he had clearly lost the touch, interest, key staff or whatever it was.

Whether criticism was a no go because of him having a famous father trainer, being related to the Piggotts, and often being able to secure eye-catching jockey bookings, who knows.

Armstrong did excel with two champion sprinters in Moorestyle and Never So Bold during the first half of the eighties, but it cannot be denied that his career was only prolonged in the end by Hamdan Al Maktoum support.

The owner supplied him with his final Group One winner when Maroof caused a massive upset when winning the 1994 Queen Elizabeth 11 Stakes. Armstrong trained until the end of 2000. In his last three seasons he trained fourteen, eight, and six winners respectively.

On retirement he revealed that he wanted to have more time for other interests, such as sports car racing in Jersey.It was an easy choice to make given how his training career had regressed and is a clear indication that the enthusiasm had subsided.Very few others in a similar position would have had the option of pursuing such a glamorous, alternative hobby.

That Hamdan Al Maktoum sustained the flat training career of  Harry Thompson Jones is a story of its own, but not to forget the same owner likewise was the lifeline in the later stages of the training careers of a good few more, in particular Ben Hanbury,and the once revered P.T.Walwyn.

Hanbury was another trainer who received the perfunctory 'good trainer' label without much thought put into the statement. He retired in 2004. He always came across rather pompous in his television interviews. While he will be known chiefly for the exploits of Midway Lady, his last winner at the highest level was Hamdan's Matiya, in the 1996 Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Peter Walwyn's Seven Barrows yard was arguably the strongest in England in the first half of the 1970's, with 1975 seeing him enjoy his most famous year with the celebrated Grundy. Many forget he went close to winning the French Derby in that year too, with Patch, a colt carrying the same Dr Carlo Vittadini colours.

So, we go into 1976. Walwyn now with the yard that has the most kudos in the land. His main runner in the Epsom Derby that year was Oats, in the Oldroyd colours. He ran a fine stayers race if albeit a touch onepaced, to finish third behind Empery and Relkino.

What no one could foresee at the time, was that this would be the last ever time Peter Walwyn would have a runner in the frame in the Epsom Derby.

Bit by bit, the relentless motion of the combine began to slow, though it was not obvious unless you looked hard enough.The short flirt Walwyn had with the Wildenstein horses concealed the fact that all was not right with the Seven Barrow's operation per se. Slowly the owners went.Lord Howard De Walden and Louis Freeman gave the pick of their juveniles to Henry Cecil.

We were told, and have no reason to doubt, that a virus had set in and remained.Others noted that Ray Laing and Matty McCormack, lieutenants in the team, had now set up training on their own. Laing did not really prosper with a licence himself, though he was admittedly never given much to work with. Neither was McCormack, but he did achieve big race success with Horage.

In May 1979 New Berry won the Glasgow Stakes at York in a close tussle with Niniski. A genuine Derby prospect possibly, but it was not to be. Only four years on from Grundy this would be the last time Eddery and Walwyn would team up in the race.The whole set up was losing face, no surprise then when Eddery accepted an offer from Robert Sangster to move to Ballydoyle, after initially being approached in the Summer of 1980.

In an interview in the November 1980 edition of Pacemaker International, Eddery told Chris Hawkins,' I've never really thought I'd leave Peter who's a great trainer. But I found I was missing some of the big meetings trying to win races on moderate horses elsewhere, and that's not good for your career.'

And with an honesty you would not hear from a modern day Premiership footy player, he revealed, 'So when the Sangster offer came I had to think about it,especially when the money was upped after I originally turned it down.'

The humiliation for Walwyn  did not let up. The  highest priced yearling at the 1979 Keeneland Sales ended up in Seven Barrows, and was set to be trained from there for the duration of his career.I remember being told by someone who worked there at the time that the lads were expecting some prepossessing individual but were far from impressed with the smallish,compact specimen they set their eyes upon.

The following spring owner Stavros Niarchos transferred him across the Channel to the yard of Francois Boutin. He cited tax laws,although the other yearlings he had sent to Walwyn, remained with him .

The animal, who was removed from Walwyn before he ever ran, was Nureyev. God only knows how the Northern Dancer colt's career would have progressed if he had stayed in Lambourn.

If that was not enough punishment, the trainer tried to obtain the services of the champion apprentice Walter Swinburn, offering him a position of second jockey. Michael Stoute then stepped in and matched the offer. Walwyn then went further and offered him the position of stable jockey. Stoute matched that offer too and the rest is history, with Shergar's 1981 season being Swinburn's first with the Newmarket trainer.

P.T.Walwyn's career continued on a lower orbit. He did at least capture a Group One in his last decade training, in the shape of Hamas, winner of the 1994 July Cup. His last season with a licence was 1999. By then he had already downsized and moved back to Windsor House,with Nicky Henderson going in the other direction.

In addition to William Jarvis, there are other licence holders operating now who have taken a tumble downwards. A few other are close to the cliff, close to slipping.They can certainly all thank their lucky stars that racing is not a professional golfing tour as they would be at risk of losing their card.

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