Every owner knows racing is arollercoaster ride, but rarely dothe peaks and troughs jut intoone another as quickly as was thecase with Emperor’s Choice eitherside of the new year.
Owned by the Bellamy Partnership,of which Kate Brazier, an ROAmember since 2014, is a part, Emperor’s Choice had gone nearly a couple of years without a victory until justifying favouritism in The Last Fling Handicap Chase at Haydock, seemingly setting himself up nicely for a crack at the Welsh Grand National a week later.
He had won the flagship race in Wales in 2014 and started joint third favourite at 10-1 this time, the £150,000 handicap chase having initially been abandoned due to waterlogging but salvaged and restaged. However, much to the disappointment of connections, his backers and his many fans accumulated over the best part of seven years of racing, the 11-year-old did something he had not done in his 35 previous outings over obstacles. He fell. At the first, to boot.
Fortunately, the Venetia Williams trained horse and rider Charlie Deutsch were unhurt.
Reflecting on that Chepstow misfortune, and racehorse ownership experiences generally, Kate says:“Sport is such a great leveller and racing no different, so naturally there have been highs and lows, as there are for most owners.
“Aso finishing a gallant third inthe Ryanair at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and Emperor’s Choice winning the Welsh Grand National in 2014 are definite highs.
“With Emperor’s Choice having won The Last Fling Chase at Haydock a week before the Welsh Grand National, we were quietly hoping he might run a good race at Chepstow and challenge for the crown again.
“Rather than being a versatile type, he’s a horse who needs all the variables to be 100% in his favour to win: heavy going, longest possible trip, weight, jockey booking, fitness,design of track, etc. So from this perspective everything was as well prepped as could be.
“Unfortunately we were brought back down to earth after the success at Haydock rather quickly, when three furlongs into the race he fell at the first.”
While obviously disappointed, the main thing for Kate, as withany owner, was Emperor’s Choice’s wellbeing, while keeping in mind the incident’s place in the grand scheme of things can also be a mind-settler.
She says: “I think it’s really important in situations like this to try to keep things in perspective – thankfully, and most importantly, both horse and jockey were fine. It must beterrible for those who don’t fare so well and experience fatal falls and/or sustain long-term injuries that can affect the rest of their lives.”
While perhaps not unique in this, Kate is certainly a very unusually hands-on owner – she has ridden Emperor’s Choice out on the gallops.
“I switched from eventing to racing in my late teens, since when I’ve had lots of fun riding out for various trainers, both Flat and National Hunt, taken part in a charity race – at theAscot Shergar Cup meeting in August 2002 – and am now, along with six others, enjoying the time as a co owner of a few National Hunt horses,”she explains.
Elaborating on that enjoyment, she says: “Off the track the stable visits to Aramstone in Herefordshire, where our horses in training with Venetia are based, are always fun, and a good opportunity to learn a lot and to see behind the scenes exactly how much hard work is involved, plus the extent to which success relies enormously on a concerted team effort.
“The dedication and tenacity of the stable staff – especially at this time of year when weather conditions can be at their most harsh – is an inspiration.
“My former eventing trainer introduced to me the conceptof ‘the 6Ps’: prime and proper preparation prevents a p***-poor performance – the group effort we see from everyone involved backstage at Aramstone is a great example of this in action.”
Efforts, meanwhile, to promote racing and broaden its appeal,especially to the younger generation through such mediums as concerts after racing, is a topic that divides, as much as it groups racing stakeholder bodies and individuals together. Kate, though, is very much in the camp of those who believe the industry needs to persevere with such initiatives.
“As exciting and unique a sportas it is to be involved in at closequarters, I agree with the sentiment from Ed Chamberlin – expressed at the Gimcrack dinner in Decemberand reported in the Racing Post –about racing needing to modernise in some areas, and not just move with the times but aim to be ahead of the curve,” she says.
“While appreciating there’s a delicate balance to be struck so that some of the sport’s much loved traditions and character are not entirely lost, surely it’s equally crucial to stay on trend by continuously innovating and learning from mistakes to end up with an even better product with a more sustainable long-term future?
“There was an interesting article in The Times recently about asurvey of 1,616 British adults who, along with racing, watch a wide range of 16 other sports including athletics, golf, cricket, tennis, darts, cycling, boxing and gymnastics. The result was that only 25% considered racing to be exciting to watch, versus 47% for athletics, which came out on top.
“Despite lacking in clarity as to exactly who accounted for the 1,616 taking part in the survey, it’s still a statistic that would be good to see improved upon, and racing deemed more entertaining by a wider portfolio of the public.
”Summing up the experience of owning horses, Kate adds, in a summation which is also very fresh given the literal recent ups and downs of Emperor’s Choice: “I guess the best and worst elements of ownership are not entirely mutually exclusive – somewhat of a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences where we are kept grounded by the unexpected pitfalls, while also having lots of fun along the way.”