The 2005 Champion Hurdle will be talked about for decades to come. The fact the first five home were all Irish Trained would provide a talking point in most years, but in the aftermath of this race, that was barely mentioned. Instead everyone was talking about the ride Paul Carberry gave Harchibald. He cruised through the race, and went in between Hardy Eustace and Brave Inca as they jumped the last. In such a scenario most jockeys would ask for full effort on landing, Carberry didn’t, he sat still. Half way up the run in he was still sitting still, and to most observers it was only a matter of pressing the button, and Harchibald would go clear. Carberry pressed that button with about 80 yards to go. He was a neck down at the time, he got beat a neck. Harchibald found nothing.

Some spectators booed the jockey as he came back in, others claimed he would have won a length or two had he asked him for his effort earlier, and the other theory doing the rounds was that Harchibald was a dog, and didn’t put it all in. I’m going to put forward another theory, one that not many outside his trainer and jockey have claimed in the past. Harchibald was a very genuine horse, so much so that he ran as fast as he possible could, without the jockey having to ask him too.  Why is this theory so hard for most to believe?

Some horses are ungenuine. For example a horse who refuses to hit the front, and will will duck in behind another horse rather than going on to win the race. You do have horses who travel well on the bridle, but if the jockey has the gaul to push them, their head goes up and they curl up underneath. I’ve no problem with these types being called dogs. Harchibald however wasn’t like that. Yes he traveled like a Ferrari on the bridle, but if he had something left to give, when his jockey pressed the button, he gave it willingly. Although he tended to idle a little when he got there, he had no problem actually going to the front.

Harchibald also found plenty off the bridle, if he had anything left that is. His last race before the 2005 Champion, was in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Rooster Booster, the 2003 Champion Hurdle winner, went off at a really good clip, and must have been still at least 25l clear as they started around the home bend. Harchibald had been held up last in that race, but at that stage Paul had no choice but to move him into 2nd to try to chase down the leader. Harchibald closed him down to about 15l jumping the 2nd last, where he made a mistake, and came off the bridle. If he was half as soft as some made him out to be, that would have been enough to get him beat, he wasn’t, and it didn’t . He found plenty for pushing, and nailed Rooster Booster about 100 yards out, before going on for a 1 1/2l victory.

The theory that he would have won the Champion had he been asked for his effort sooner, shows an ignorance of how a horse achieves the fastest time between two points, which is generally even pace, after accounting for gradient obviously. Both the winner Hardy Eustace, and the 3rd Brave Inca were off the bridle before the home bend. They battled on well under pressure, but horses off the bridle as long as them are still, unless they’re total dogs, slowing down gradually. Harchibald gained nothing on either of them when he came off the bridle, and as such he was slowing down too, to suggest he could have run faster from the last by using more of his limited energy reserves sooner, when he hadn’t even got enough left to maintain his pace, is miles off the mark. Yes he probably had enough petrol left to go 1/2l or so up on landing after the last, but he would have hit the wall almost straight away, and would almost certainly have got beat further.

Brave Inca made a habit of coming off the bridle a good way out in his races, before staying on well to the line, often winning races against horses who traveled much better. He was wildly acclaimed as being a great battler, and very brave because of this, but what really happened is that by refusing to go into the red zone without strong driving, he had energy reserves late on in the race, but he only had them, because he refused to use them of his own free will. Harchibald was a little more generous with his, using everything he had without being asked, or as soon as he was asked, if he had any left at that point. It is for this reason Paul couldn’t ask for full effort sooner, as Harchibald wasn’t inclined to keep any energy back for himself, and it was up to the jockey to try ration it, so he didn’t use it too soon. It seems mean to ignore Hardy Eustace who was a good winner, and a  hell of a good horse, in a great era for Irish hurdlers, but this piece is more about Harchibald, and whether he really gave his all.

When I was in school I did the bare minimum. If the teacher was a bit soft, I took full advantage by not doing my homework, If I could get away with a 500 word essay, instead of 1000 words, I did 500. If an assignment was due on Monday, but I knew I could wait till Friday to hand it in, and still get the same grade, I waited till Friday. My sister on the other hand always did her homework on time, she’d do extra study to make sure she got very good grades, she’d do exactly what the teachers told her to do, and generally make there life easier, while I’d make it harder. Consequently when it came around to ‘school report’ time, mine always ended with ‘could do better’, while my sisters contained phrases like ‘top of the class’.

In the workplace who would the boss prefer. The lad who does his job without being asked, who is always looking for ways to improve things, and will take the initiative, and do extra work when his time allows, or the lad who does as little as possible, and has to be constantly hassled to even do that? Who do you regard as the better friend, the one who realizes you need a lift to the doctors, and brings you, without you even hinting at it, or the one who needs to be asked, and then moans about how much you’re putting them out?

Apart from horse racing, I can’t think of any other part of life, were the person who only does the bare minimum is lauded, and the person who does everything without being asked, is called names. If we were horses I think I’d be Brave Inca, and my sister would be Harchibald. In most workplaces a Harchibald would be the star member of staff. In school he would be Top Of The Class, while Brave Inca’s report would read ‘Could Do Better’. I’m guessing of course, I don’t know Brave Inca could have done any better, but I do think there was more chance Brave Inca didn’t give his all, than Harchibald didn’t give his.

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