It really was a Black Saturday which had nothing to do with favorites biting the dust at Flemington and Randwick, dodgy getaways at Shatin and losses on the punt.
It had to do with a much bigger loss- the loss of jockey Desiree Gill while riding at the races on the Sunshine Coast.
I had never heard of Desiree Gill, but made the time to read about her, her husband Barry, her passion for racing, how much she helped young jockeys, her falls, her comebacks and then her final fall. She will be missed.
Every time we lose a jockey, silks and boots go to heaven, a few racing clubs and fellow jockeys mourn their loss for day or so, and riding fees are donated to specially setup funds as was the case of Simone Montgomerie who had a fatal fall a few months ago.
It’s a great gesture- a Remembrance Day and Final Salute of sorts.
A jockey’s life is a tough one. Every time they get on a horse, they take their lives in their hands in what must be the most dangerous sport in the world.
Jockeys- the marquee value names and the battlers- are all part of one global racing community.
When one of their own falls, it must, somehow, affect them all. Yet, they put this behind and keep moving forward.
Sadly, it’s something seldom registered in the psyche of many race-goers- especially those who think through their pockets and damned be human feelings.
This is a side of racing I detest. It’s not good for the sport, it’s not good for the soul. It’s just pure greed.
I think about Noel Barker and Brian Taylor, below, great jockeys, I knew personally, and whose deaths affected me in ways few would understand.
I think of South African Bart Leisher, a truly underrated Hong Kong success story, my great friends Wayne Harris and the legend that is Felix Coetzee, below, Danny Brereton, Jeff Lloyd and Darren Beadman, also below, all brilliant jockeys and now sidelined through injuries and with the legalities and complexities of insurance payouts being another subject completely.
And then there are all the others like Desiree Gill and Simone Montgomerie who were not household names, but made horse racing their career.
When “one of our own” falls, this is where racing clubs should look beyond the obvious and help- help the jockeys, help those they have left behind and help race-goers- the young and the old- understand what it takes to be a jockey and how to respect them as athletes.
Respect for many sportsmen and respect, in general, amongst human beings is sorely lacking in the world today.
We’re all in a rush to get somewhere and end up nowhere.
We are Lennon’s Nowhere Man making plans for nobody.
Everything and everyone is taken for granted and that we are all, somehow, “entitled.”
We are not and, at the end of the day, we are all the same.
In the racing world, we cheer, we might jeer a ride or a rider without understanding those split second decisions, without knowing how the horse might be traveling and without knowing jack shit, but being an armchair critic. And we’ve all been guilty of that.
When we lose one of these athletes through a fatal fall, surely this is the time all racing clubs around the world should band together and create something like a Global Racing and Jockeys Fund. Come together, right now, over me.
Why? Well, if I have to tell them- racing clubs- they’re a sorry lot, but as many are- and with a lack of balls and imagination- let me spell it out: Horse racing is a global sport with cash-rich owners who splurge on horses, but, often, with scant regard for the human factor.
Every jockey riding those magnificent four-legged animals everywhere in the world are part of the main attractions to the sport.
Take them away and what do you have? Not much. Not anything except for an empty racetrack.
Imagine IF someone with the profile, financial clout and love of the sport of The Aga Khan or Sheik Mohammed or even Lloyd Williams were to be one of Founders of this Global Jockeys Fund and donates that first cheque. Or a sponsor associated with the sport.
Hell, it will be a bigger story to the mainstream media than Jesus feeding the forty thousand, Moses parting the Red Seas and Chauncer Gardner walking on water at the end of the brilliant Being There.
Let me be straight up: I know quite a number of executives in racing clubs- nice enough people- but if something like the above is suggested, it would go over their heads like pigs in space.
However, the very few good men we have running racing clubs- and I can count them on one hand minus a few fingers- CAN make this happen.
By so doing, they can change the image of the sport as being one built solely on greed and, perhaps, even make the anti-horse racing lobby see a new and caring side to the sport.
Pollyanna-type thinking? Perhaps. But just maybe, cynicism is holding us back from turning negatives into positives and changing the current landscape of horse racing into something “more” than it is today.