Jamie Spencer has found himself without a job and now without a flagship horse since coming out of a retirement that lasted all of about five minutes, writes Neill Dennehy.
His ousting by the slightly callow Andrea Atzeni as retained jockey to Qatar Racing was likely the hurtful blow that prompted his short absence. It put this corner in mind of the most poignant scene from the soulless Jude Law remake of the film Alphie, where Law’s cougarish lover discards our hero for an even younger Toy Boy. Law was described by Michael Caine as “too knowing” to capture the spirit of the Alphie character and that scene is the only one where he shows a trace of humanity.
Spencer could look at Atzeni and like Law’s Alphie wonder aloud “What’s he got, better than me?” and if Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and his advisor David Redvers were being honest, they would probably say the same as the Cougar….. “He’s younger than you.”
Qatar may have caused the pain, but it is the sale of Toast of New York by owner Michael Buckley to Al Shaqab Racing, a narrow second under Spencer in the Breeder’s Cup Classic that has made Jamie look silly. Toast is now the mount of Frankie Dettori.
An informed poster on an Irish betting forum rightly pointed out the frothy misreckoning by Attheraces of the Toast of New York Breeder’s Cup story being Flat Racing’s reawakening of the spirit of Danoli and Tom Foley. It isn’t as trainer and owner were already pretty well-heeled, but there can be no doubting the significance of this horse to the career of Jamie Spencer. Standing at 16 hands and having been beaten just a short head in the Classic after a Stewards Enquiry on only his sixth career start and with 4.5million pounds in prize money already earned, this was the coming international horse and the reason Spencer stayed in.
While awaiting the verdict of that Stewards Enquiry in the Classic that evening in Santa Anita, and in a fine piece of sports journalism, trainer Jamie Osborne was asked by ATR’s Matt Chapman whether he would feel a tinge of guilt were he to take the Classic from American Hall of Fame Trainer Bob Baffert’s first past the post Bayern in the stewards room. There is still a slight stigma about winning in such a way in British and Irish racing circles. In the millisecond it took for Osborne to assess the $5 million dollar purse and then a training career that hadn’t followed the trajectory of a gilded prior existence as a leading jump jockey, he curtly replied “Nah.”
Osborne felt he was owed for all the rubbish Friday nights at Wolverhampton and bleak Tuesday afternoons at Southwell. He has kept the training of the horse and is primed to plunder the lucrative international racing circuit with an animal that could contest multi-million pound Group 1s for years to come most of which won’t be near as deep in as the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
What does Spencer get and where does he go? Why go on even? From the top table, Fallon and Dettori are the two most recent to be broken by slumming it with the freelancers. What is different now from when he chose to retire as the horse that changed his mind is no longer his?
Spencer has had a good career having won and lost the lottery in that sense before the age of twenty-five (former first jockey for Coolmore and Sheikh Mohammad) and is from an affluent background. Jamie Osborne said before Christmas that Toast of New York will not run for a purse of less than £1 million. You’d wonder did a man like Jamie Spencer really need to go back on his word to go pot hunting in that way. “Sometimes to return is a vulgarity.”