Back in the 1970s I had a fascinating and enjoyable stint as editor of the Bloodstock Breeders’ Review, an annual publication that endeavoured to give extensive coverage of racing all over the world. As it had been published in Britain ever since the inaugural 1912 volume, we felt we did not have to apologise for treating events at home more comprehensively than those in other countries, but we had correspondents wherever racing had a significant presence, and their brief was to provide an overview of what had happened in their parish in the previous year.
Just to prove that all good things come to an end, the publication died, not quite making it to a 70th edition, and I dare say it is still missed by old-timers such as myself who relied on it for information from nations far and wide. Of course, things are very different in a 21st century world where there is plenty of timely knowledge to be gleaned from browsing websites originating in a multitude of countries.
But we were very proud of what we were able to provide in those comparatively dark ages, imparting factual, impartial data; as we were sticklers for accuracy, a lot of checking and re-checking had to be done, and that was not always easy. On occasions we were supplied with misinformation, and recycling misinformation in our book was not going to happen if I could prevent it.
Four times in the last 11 years the leading jockey has been denied the crown he justly deserved
Sires’ statistics could present a problem, and in the case of North America, where earnings over jumps were lumped in with earnings on the Flat, there was nothing I could do about it. But there was so little racing over obstacles that it hardly seemed to matter; it was extreme odds against those few races affecting the destiny of championships.
However, when I received the official sires’ stats for 1975 in Germany – West Germany then, the Bundesrepublik – I was immediately confronted with something I found incredible. The table was headed by Appiani, an Italian-bred son of Herbager who stood in France, with progeny earnings of DM1,321,080. That definitely required investigation.
What I discovered was that Appiani had only two runners in Germany in 1975. One was an English-bred two-year-old called Match Mate, who started three times and earned DM1,000 for his third place in a minor event at Mulheim. The other runner was the more consequential Irish-bred Star Appeal, who collected DM60,000 for his win in the Group 2 Grosser Preis der Badischen Wirtschaft, DM6,500 for his second place in a handicap in Cologne, DM6,000 for his third place in a handicap at Dortmund, and DM15,000 for his fourth place in the Grosser Preis von Baden. Star Appeal’s earnings in Germany were thus DM87,500; add on Match Mate’s contribution and the total for Appiani’s progeny was DM88,500.
So how did the Germans bump up his earnings to DM1,321,080? Not a problem. They simply tacked on the prize-money garnered from his wins in the Gran Premio di Milano, the Eclipse Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, his third in the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, his fourth in the Champion Stakes, and his fifth in the Washington DC International. That lot boosted Appiani’s tally by DM1,232,580 and made him Germany’s bogus champion sire for 1975. His true position in the table was 50th and the real champion sire was Kaiseradler, whose progeny earned in excess of DM1 million more than him.
Why would they perpetrate such a falsehood? It wasn’t as though they felt the need to promote a German-based sire; Appiani was in France. And Star Appeal, though trained in Germany and out of a German mare, was foaled in Ireland. Why wouldn’t they want to give due credit to Kaiseradler, one of their own? It was all frankly absurd and I took special delight in elevating Kaiseradler to the top place he clearly merited, dumping Appiani among the also-rans.
That, of course, was an extreme example of distorted statistics, but we see them all the time now where sires are concerned. We get stats now that cover the world, for the simple reason that it has become easy to compile them, and they should always be treated warily. Levels of prize-money vary considerably from country to country, and comparisons of sires’ progeny records are obviously apt to mislead in our era of regular international and intercontinental competition. It is possible, as it always was, to form a reasonable judgement of the comparative merits of sires where their progeny compete within the same jurisdiction, but it is much more difficult in this day and age.
At home the statistics I know I can’t trust are those for jockeys. It’s been a fact now for a couple of decades that the Flat season runs the full length of the calendar year, from January 1 to December 31. But when the lunatics took over the asylum they ignored the glaringly obvious and decreed an arbitrary season that just takes in everything between the start of racing on grass and the end of racing on grass. Of course, that period includes a lot of meetings conducted on the all-weather, which are no more and no less valid than the all-weather fixtures in the first three and last two months of the year, but, with startling lack of logic, they don’t count. They might as well not exist, so far as jockeys are concerned.
Accordingly, we have their prize-giving at a time when 90 days of their season have been wiped out as irrelevant and there are still 60 days to follow. The absurdity of this regime was first exhibited in 2004 when Kieren Fallon handed the trophy to Frankie Dettori, who had actually ridden fewer winners than him. Three years later we were supposed to celebrate two champions in a tie between Jamie Spencer and Seb Sanders, with 190 winners apiece; in fact, both had been riding on the all-weather and Sanders held a clear lead, 213 to 207.
In 2012 the media invited us to congratulate Richard Hughes on securing a long-awaited first title, which was all well and fine except that his annual score of 172 was second-best to the industrious Joe Fanning, who chalked up a tally of 188. Hughes earned my congratulations the following year, when he really finished on top.
And so to 2014, when Hughes was awarded a third title with 161 winners to his name within the arbitrary period. He rode a bit on the all-weather outside the set parameters, his actual score for the year being 166, but that was only enough to place him fourth on the true, all-inclusive list. Let’s give a hearty cheer for Adam Kirby, the real champion, whose 192 successes put him three in front of Luke Morris, while Joe Fanning took an honourable third place with 168 wins.
Now the proposal is to ignore even more of the season, and as a sop to the real champion jockey give him £15,000 and call him ‘leading jockey.’ Where else on the planet does such an absurd system apply? Champion jockey and leading jockey are logically one and the same. A trophy would be fine, but a monetary reward is not required. It’s about glory, about being a successor to Archer, Richards, Piggott and Eddery.
Some have argued for years that the jockeys’ championship should be determined by the prize-money earned by their mounts, as it is purses which serve as the deciding factor for owners and trainers. The Americans have long used prize-money as the criterion for their jockeys. How about settling matters by percentage of winners to rides? That is a feasible system, but where would the cut-off point for number of mounts be set? Would 500 be too many or too few? All a bit problematical, I feel.
In Europe centuries of tradition have made the highest number of winners the sole criterion for determining the identity of the champion jockey, and I see no reason at all for switching to anything different. What Britain needs to do is to ensure that the right fellow is identified as champion – the guy who rides most winners in the full calendar year.
Four times in the last 11 years the leading jockey has been denied the crown he justly deserved. Why should the guys who put in a full year’s effort receive such scant recognition? Let’s see justice for the likes of Fanning and Kirby, I say.