Horse Racing Review 2021 – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
As we enter 2022, and what is hopefully a more positive year, it’s time to reflect on some headlines that have dominated the sport over the past year. There have been vicious scandals, tragic passings, and the continued effects of covid-19, but some truly memorable performances and victories to go with it. Perhaps not horse racing’s finest year, but one we won’t forget, that’s for sure! A year of highs and lows, and where better to start than with the hero that is, Rachael Blackmore…
Racing’s Golden Girl -
In a year of controversies, Rachael Blackmore was the shining light of racing. Back in March, Rachael was dominating the headlines at the Cheltenham Festival as she rode winner after winner over the four days. Six winning rides saw Blackmore become the first-ever female to secure the coveted top jockeys’ award, with more winners than the entire British contingent combined. Only Ruby Walsh (7) had ridden more winners in one week. Impressive victories aboard Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle), Bob Olinger (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle), Sir Gerhard (Champion Bumper), Allaho (Ryanair Chase), Telmesomethinggirl (Mares' Novices' Hurdle), and Quilixios (Triumph Hurdle) saw her claim the title. Four of her six winners were trained by Henry De Bromhead, who broke a record himself, being the first trainer to win The Big 3 at the meeting and taking home an impressive haul.
But it wasn’t just at Cheltenham where she excelled, either. Blackmore rode a brilliant race aboard Minella Times just a month later, again for trainer Henry De Bromhead, to become the first female jockey ever to win the Aintree Grand National. A year of records for Rachael topped off by being voted BBC Sports Personality's World Sport Star of the Year for 2021. An incredible year for an incredible jockey and long may her successes continue!
The Grand National Returns -
The Grand National was back on our screens this year, and what a sight it was after a year without the race. The 2020 running was cancelled due to Covid-19 and replaced by a virtual running, won by 18-1 shot Potters Corner. Although not a scratch on the real thing, profits from the race were donated to the NHS in what was, and still is, a tough time. The return of spectators, the roar of the crowd, and the sheer brilliance of the real thing in 2021, though, was what we had all been waiting for. The excitement as 40 thoroughbred horses are sent on their way is unrivalled, and as always, it lived up to its name. Another perfectly executed ride from Blackmore saw her win the biggest jumps race in the world aboard Minella Times by a cool 6.5 lengths. The other De Bromhead horse, Balko Des Flos, was back in 2nd too, as he picked up a pretty nifty 1-2. What a year it was for the pair and how great it was to have such a spectacle back. Just a race to some, but a tradition to others!
The Irish Grand National Shock -
Freewheelin Dylan certainly lived up to his name out in front, as he came home at ridiculous odds to land the BoyleSports Irish Grand National in April. The gelding, trained locally by Dermot McLoughlin, was a 150/1 shot as the race got underway, lining up against the likes of Latest Exhibition, Coko Beach, and Agusta Gold. The horse hadn't won for almost a year, nor had he ever run over such a distance, but his owner was confident of a big run. A brilliant ride from jockey Ricky Doyle saw the opposition struggle to peg him back in testing conditions, as he pulled out more to the line, eventually winning by 1.25 lengths.
When interviewed, owner Sheila Mangan revealed she had backed her horse at 66/1 earlier that morning, before lumping on again when he drifted to 100, and then 150/1. She said: “I was so confident in our chances when I knew Ricky was riding him. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t run in a while because Dermot can get them ready first time up, he’s a class trainer.” She said: “When Vics Canvas was third in the Aintree National, I’ll never forget Dermot telling me that Freewheelin Dylan was his next National horse. He was dead right.”
The trainer himself wasn't shocked either: “Dad won the race in 1962, so we’ve been coming here every year since as it’s a local race for us. It’s nice to have a runner, let alone the winner! Off his mark, we planned for one of these big staying chases and the ground came right for him.”
A brilliant front-running ride saw him become the biggest-priced winner of the race ever! It was just a shame it was behind closed doors…
A Battle of Tactics -
The King George VI Chase is always something to look forward to on Boxing Day, and it didn’t disappoint again this year. A star-studded line-up with the likes of Clan Des Obeaux, Frodon, and Minella Indo, it was destined to be a great race, and it was! But perhaps for the wrong reasons…
With a lot of rain falling before the race, and soft going to contend with, it was perhaps not the best idea to go off quickly in front, but Bryony and Rachael clearly didn't get the memo… Leading at a fast past, the two of them became embroiled in a battle for the lead, with the others watching on. From the 13th fence onwards, the pace-setters tired, but still jockey Danny Mullins sat quietly aboard Tornado Flyer, biding his time. Approaching the home turn, he got his mount into a prominent position, and with good jumps over the remaining fences, went clear to romp home by 9 lengths. Not the prettiest of races and perhaps not Rachael’s finest moment of the year, but an admirable choice of tactics saw The Mullins team run out clear winners. Questions were asked why two of the market principles went off so quickly, but those on Tornado Flyer won't mind one bit! A classy performance, a cool ride, and a great bit of Boxing Day drama!
Farewell Galileo -
The mighty Galileo, the world’s most sought-after racehorse sire, passed away in July this year, aged 23. An injury to his near-fore foot, which was unfortunately incurable despite surgery, lead to him being euthanized on 10th July at Coolmore Stud in Ireland.
Galileo was the leading racehorse sire for many seasons, fathering many top-class horses, including the legendary Frankel, Highland Reel, and Cape Blanco. Across all the flat horses that Galileo sired (correct at time of writing), they have run a combined 11,529 times, producing 1832 wins and almost 3000 placed efforts. This totals just shy of £95 million in earnings amongst the 1417 horses that have run to date, 338 of which were Stakes winners, and 228 Group winners. The debilitating foot injury lead to the racing world losing one of the most prestigious racehorses ever, and one who shaped racing to be what it is today. The effect that Galileo has had on the breed through his progeny will be a lasting success, and he will be remembered for centuries to come.
Enter Frankel -
A superstar on the track, and equally impressive off it, Frankel this year emerged as the world’s top-sire, following in the footsteps of his legendary father Galileo. Topping the charts on data and beating horses such as Dubawi, Kingman, and Deep Impact, it looks as though it’s business as usual. He’s already sired some quality horses with the likes of Cracksman and Hurricane Lane, and his demand increasing all the time (£200,000 stud fee); surely it’s only a matter of time before he becomes the top-sire ever! An impressive overall strike rate whilst producing eight individual Group 1 winners saw Frankel make an inexorable rise to the no.1 spot on the leader board. With his progeny already amassing a combined 2363 runs (correct at time of writing), with 472 wins and over 600 placed efforts, he has to be the most sought-after racehorse in the world at present. As we say farewell to the legend that is Galileo, we welcome his ever-impressive son, who looks sure to keep the family tradition alive for many years to come!
Adayar’s Brilliant Double -
On to the flat now, and what a year it was for Adayar! Trained by the great Charlie Appelby in Newmarket, Adayar is a top-class middle-distance horse out of the superstar that is Frankel. After some desperately unlucky 2nds earlier in the year, Adayar found his winning form upped in trip, winning both the Epsom Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes emphatically. Fending off the likes of Hurricane Lane and Mishriff is one thing, but winning the double is another, becoming the first horse since Galileo in 2001 to complete the feat. Things have turned a little sour since with below-par runs in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Champion Stakes, but his accomplishment is mightily impressive, and he did so in such a taking fashion. It could be a while until we see a horse do the double again!
Baaeed the Winning Machine -
Another superstar in the making, this time for the William Haggas contingent, Baaeed put together a string of very impressive wins in his first season on the flat. A lovely looking colt out of Sea The Stars, there was little surprise when he put his debut race to bed cosily, and then followed up with some impressive performances at both Listed and Group 3 level. An entry in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp saw him readily despatched of some very classy, more experienced opposition before a thrilling finish in the Queen Elizabeth saw him fend off the 5-time Group 1 winner Palace Pier to maintain his unbeaten record. Palace Pier was subsequently retired, so it remains to be seen what Baaeed offers this season. Already racking up almost £1million in prize money, will he reach new heights? Or will he fall just short? One thing is for sure, he is a class act! His high cruising speed and impressive turn of foot are reminiscent of Frankel; let's hope he can continue his tremendous form in 2022!
The Superstar Overseas -
It’s not just us Brits with the top-class flat horses this year, either! Japan has its very own in Loves Only You, who achieved a very impressive record in 2021. The 5-year-old, trained by Yoshito Yahagi, has a whopping £6.2 million in earnings so far and put together a string of wins at the highest level over in Hong Kong and the US. His first win came in April at Sha Tin, as he despatched of his opposition in the QEII Cup, before winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar in November, and rounding out with a narrow victory in the Hong Kong Cup just last month to complete the hat-trick. Those three races alone total at over £3.5million in earnings, which, after a winless 4-year-old season, is nothing to be frowned at! With no mention of retirement yet and a horse clearly in the form of his life, it'll be interesting to see what he achieves in 2022. Not one for doing it the easy way in his races, but impressive nonetheless!
Unfortunately, though, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows in 2021… Some events brought a tear to the eye of the racing world, whilst others even tarnished its reputation somewhat…
Tylicki vs Gibbons -
One of racing’s most controversial stories reached a damning end on 21st December. The incident occurred at Kempton Park in 2016 where the two jockeys in question were contesting a 1-mile fillies' race. During that race, Tylicki was thrown from his mount and subsequently trampled by other horses, leaving him partially paralyzed and a permanent wheelchair user. Tylicki and his lawyers took the incident to court, blaming Gibbons for causing the accident and seeking compensation. The accusations made included that from fellow jockey Jim Crowley, who said that on the day of the incident, Gibbons’ breath “stank of alcohol”, and that he had sufficient time to manoeuvre his horse elsewhere, avoiding contact. Evidence from the other side saw them call it a “racing accident occasioned by the horses coming together” and nothing more, despite four other jockeys being involved.
Fast forward to 21st December 2021, and a verdict had been reached. After the five-day hearing concluded, it was announced that Freddy Tylicki and his team had won the £6 million case, as the judge ruled Gibbons had ridden with "reckless disregard.” They said: “Mr Gibbons knew, or at the very least ought to have known, that Mr Tylicki was inside on the rail and had moved up to within a half-length of Madame Butterfly. He exerted pressure on the right-hand rein of Madame Butterfly to bring her across Nellie Deen’s racing line and did not stop bringing her in close to the rail even after the first collision.”
Was it a lapse in concentration? A deliberate attempt to injure an opponent? Or were other factors at play? Either way, it was a horrific incident that has unfortunately left Tylicki with life-changing injuries, and could have wider implications for racing, too!
Dunne vs Frost -
The Tylicki-Gibbons case wasn’t the only scandal in 2021, either, as jockeys Robbie Dunne and Bryony Frost were embroiled in a harassment case. Frost lodged a formal complaint to the BHA back in September 2020, claiming that fellow rider Robbie Dunne had bullied and harassed her. She claimed Dunne had intimidated her following an incident at Southwell on 3rd December 2020, but it resulted from a long line of actions. The incident involving the two riders saw the mount of Dunne, Cillian’s Well, suffer a fatal fall, after which there was an angry and abusive confrontation. During this, Frost claimed Dunne had said: “if you ever f*****g murder me like that again, I’ll murder you”, and “The next time I ride against you, I promise I will put you through a wing”.
Fast forward to December, and the result was in… they found Robbie Dunne guilty of conducting a campaign of bullying and harassment against Miss Frost, lasting around 7 months, online, on the track, and in the weighing room. As a result, he was handed an 18 month ban, 3 of which were suspended. Not only does this mean that Dunne’s career could be all but over, but also that it will carry implications for the weighing room culture. The idea that “what happens in the weighing room stays in the weighing room” has led to some very controversial opinions about Frost speaking out, that she had done her sport and colleagues a grave disservice… But is it not better to take a stand against this sort of hatred so something is done?
A lot is made of bullying etc nowadays, and what is and isn’t acceptable to say. But at what point does it go from banter to bullying? And what more could they do to prevent things like this from happening in the future? If you fear for your safety and feel uncomfortable doing your job, then I think you have done the right thing in speaking out. It was a highly publicised and controversial case that has finally reached its conclusion, and the correct one at that!
Gordon Elliot’s Training Ban -
Another of 2021’s scandals involved top Irish trainer Gordon Elliot. Elliot, perhaps best known for training Grand National winner Tiger Roll, found himself in hot water when a photo of him sitting on a deceased horse was leaked online. The image seemed to show Elliot sitting on the horse, which had collapsed on his gallops, on the phone and showing a peace sign, whilst smiling. The story rumbled on for about a week before the panel, after hearing evidence from the IHRB, handed him a 12-month ban, with the last 6 months suspended. He was also ordered to pay costs of around £15,000. Elliot later said: “I was disrespectful to a dead horse, an animal that had been a loyal servant to me and was loved by my staff. I will carry the burden of my transgressions for the rest of my career. I will never again disrespect a horse, living or dead, and I will not tolerate it in others.” Too little too late if you ask me…
As a result of his actions, Mrs Denise Foster then took charge of his horses. During her time in charge, she managed many winners, most notably at the Cheltenham Festival, with Tiger Roll winning the Glenfarclas Chase, and Black Tears the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle. Despite being back in charge now, many simply cannot forgive the trainer for what he did… Where do you stand on the matter?
Losing some of Racing’s Famous Faces -
Amateur jockey Lorna Brooke tragically lost her life in April after succumbing to her injuries as a result of a fall at Taunton on April 8th. After paramedics spent over an hour treating her on the course, she was airlifted to Southmead Hospital in Bristol and placed in an induced coma. Despite initially being tested for a spinal injury, complications from the fall lead to her being placed in a coma, from which, unfortunately, she never woke.
Brooke won the first-ever Ladies' Chase in Ireland/England at Fairyhouse in 2015 aboard 25/1 shot Moonlone Lane and was a much-loved member of the sport. News of her passing rocked the racing world, and a minute's silence was observed around the country in her honour. A devastating incident; RIP Lorna…
Legendary owner, Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, also passed away on 12th January 2021, aged 83. The owner/breeder, whose ever-present green, white, and pink silks were carried by the likes of Frankel and Enable, was a household name in racing, and one of the most successful owners of the past 40 years. Abdullah had over 500 stakes winners during his long and illustrious career, 118 of which were at Group 1 level, winning races such as the Derby, 2000 Guineas, and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. A quiet and dignified man, a legend of the sport, and one whose legacy will stand the test of time. He let his horses do the talking, and talk they did! RIP Prince Khalid…
We also lost Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, aged 75. Another legendary owner/breeder, who contributed so much to the sport we know and love, leaves behind an admirable legacy after being one of the most prominent figures in racing for over four decades. His investment and involvement in equine property and bloodstock helped to change the face of the sport around the world. His iconic blue and white silks, carried by many high-profile horses including the likes of Battaash, will be remembered for many years to come. A 9-time champion flat owner in Britain with success all around the globe, he will be sorely missed. RIP Sheikh Hamdan…
So, as you can see, 2021 was full of highs and lows. There were trials and tribulations, but also a lot of successes too. It wasn’t racing’s finest year by a long shot, but now it’s time to see what 2022 brings!