I liked John Gosden from the moment he tried to get me upgraded on a flight from London to Dubai. Most trainers would insist on racing correspondents being strapped to the wings.
So now that Johnny G finds himself in the stratosphere of the trainers’ championship it is easy to write warm words about him. Especially as his talented wife – my fellow columnist Rachel Hood – could well do so in the vicinity of this article at some point.
Rachel is protective of John in a way Lester is of his wallet. I found this out when I did a piece on the couple, shortly after my great friend David Ashforth had produced an analysis on Gosden suggesting the big man was not exactly cutting the mustard in British racing.
I tried to pretend I had not even heard of David, yet Rachel – brimming with a fusillade of her legal tactics – extracted the truth. Yes, I did know who he was. Yes, he was a pal of mine. No, I don’t have a backbone.
Gosden was wounded by Ashforth’s piece, as anyone might by having their professional expertise questioned. And I’m sure David’s scrutiny would yield a different conclusion with the benefit of a larger and more contemporary sample.
But then John Gosden has got used to raising his shield to the arrows. He was on a loser before he even returned to the UK from California in 1988, the trainer who had managed to get the ear of both Robert Sangster and Sheikh Mohammed at a relatively young age. Gosden was not expecting a brass band reception in Newmarket, which was just as well. He got a raspberry.
“There were only two fellows in the whole of the town who said it was nice to see me back,” he told me. “I’m afraid Newmarket suffers from the fact that it has a garrison-town mentality.
“When you live in the somewhat insular world of horseracing you are inclined to think that Newmarket, Suffolk, is the centre of the universe. That nothing else really matters.
“Training in New York and Los Angeles is different. You train in the middle of millions of people and once you leave the racetracks you are just Joe Blow in traffic. It’s easier to understand the word humility. Around this place people get delusions of grandeur and can get so preoccupied in themselves that it trivialises the existence they have. It’s a malaise and it’s a pity.
“If you have a nice winner there are those who tend to run the other way, but if you have something go wrong a lot of people can’t wait to come over and tell you how sorry they are. There are plenty of good people in Newmarket and others who need a lesson in perspective.”
Newmarket is effectively a social eco-system of its own, where not much changes from decade to decade. It should be twinned with the Galapagos. Training there is a business that takes you about 40 years to get going, if the likes of Cecil, Stoute and Prescott are any barometer. And if you are not one to start with, they will make you a knight if you hang around for long enough.
This, however, is not the Gosden way. He had the cheek to leave town for Manton when Sheikh Mohammed wanted Stanley House back for Godolphin, and then the further audacity to return to Headquarters when he bought Clarehaven.
Yet thinking outside his boxes seems to have paid off for John Gosden, Newmarket’s pre-eminent trainer of the season. It might even take him to the trainers’ championship if he can overhaul Aidan O’Brien.
Gosden is certainly not aiming for the runner-up spot, whatever his feigned indifference.
“Winning in this game is absolutely everything,” he once told me. “Like [Bill] Shoemaker used to say, ‘second is like playing with yourself. It just isn’t the real thing’.”