4) Cool Ground – Cheltenham Gold Cup (12 March 1992)
I’m a pretty laid back guy, but just occasionally something unjust or distasteful sparks my anger and here was a fine example from a quarter of a century ago (was it really that long?)
Carvill’s Hill was the worthy Evens favourite in a field of eight having earlier destroyed the opposition under top weight on heavy ground in the Welsh National. To put that performance into context, which many keen judges rate as one of the finest by a staying chaser ever, Party Politics received 19 pounds and a 20 length beating in second place before winning the Grand National later that season.
In horse racing parlance Carvill’s Hill ‘had an engine’, which nowadays might prompt an investigation by the BHA integrity department, but back then just prompted plaudits from all that were lucky enough to see him in action. His one weakness was a slightly awkward style of jumping a fence, and one that was to be mercilessly exploited by trainer Jenny Pitman who had two horses in the race – Toby Tobias, who finished second in the 1990 Gold Cup to Norton’s Coin, and 150/1 no-hoper Golden Freeze.
It was soon clear why Golden Freeze had been entered after the flagged dropped and he harried Carvill’s Hill into a mistake at the first. Instead of going on at a steady pace, his jockey then waited for Carvill’s Hill to go past and then sped up again. If you look at the picture below, you don’t see many jockeys driving low in the saddle after 2 fences, especially when they have been restraining their mount just a few strides before.
The video is available on YouTube and damning evidence it makes, with the legendary commentator Peter O’Sullevan noting that the outsider was “clearly trying to bustle” the favourite. It’s known in racing circles as a ‘stalking horse’ and is theoretically illegal, although as the clowns at the Jockey Club proved at a later inquiry, is quite hard to prove.
The unrepentant Pitman said that Golden Freeze was “running on his own merits” and threatened to sue those that said otherwise, but ATRIED is not afraid of the bully dubbed ‘the Winnie Mandela of racing’ and as always tells it straight: it was plain to everyone who saw the race that her horse was not running on his own merits but solely there to hassle Carvill’s Hill.
It can’t have been easy for Pitman to be a female trainer in those days, but that she chose to go about her business by being more aggressive and obnoxious than any of her male counterparts sullies her own legacy as much as the reputation of racing.
The ugly scenes of that day, as well as her brazen and shameless denials later, have resonated over the decades and the race remains the least satisfactory of Gold Cup renewals. Cool Ground’s connections can also, bizarrely, be miffed at Pitman’s tactics as it denied their horse the limelight in a tremendous finish over The Fellow and Docklands Express.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the whole disgraceful episode, though, was that we were denied the opportunity of seeing just how great Carvill’s Hill could have been – he staggered painfully over the line in a distant fifth, having suffered back injuries so severe that he never raced again. Shame on you, Jenny Pitman.
(As a quite astonishing postscript, in June she was appointed by the BHA as a member of the new disciplinary panel and licensing committee. Anyone can make a mistake, but to employ somebody who has so vehemently and spitefully denied that mistake for so many years shows that the BHA are in an even worse mess than I previously thought.)