Small-minded and childish are not words to be thrown about with abandon, but when a magnificent display like One Man's victory in the King George nine days ago has as its postscript an argument between grown men about a teddy bear, there are few alternatives.
For those who were, rightly, too preoccupied with the replays to notice, the bear in question was the corporate logo of John Hales, a toy manufacturer and One Man's owner. As One Man left the paddock and cantered to the start, it was clearly visible on Richard Dunwoody's silks, but when they returned to unsaddle, the teddy was obscured by a victor's sash, thoughtfully provided for the jockey by Tripleprint, the race sponsor.
George Ward, who runs Tripleprint, is one of racing's biggest sponsors, and is a man who cares deeply about the corporate image. In particular, he has complained bitterly in recent months about what he describes as "ambush sponsorship", whereby additional advertising on silks and saddlecloths dilutes the purity and impact of the race-sponsor's message. There have even been hints that, if the situation does not change, he might find something better on which to spend his money.
By obscuring Hales's logo, however, Ward took the argument a stage further, and may indeed have brought it to a head. The Racehorse Owners' Association recommended that its members should remove any similar sashes in future, and expressed concern that Ward's action might jeopardise tax concessions available to owners who secure sponsorship for their horses. This is a little extreme, but there are valid concerns that the new money released into racing by such agreements might simply drive out the old.
Quite why Ward should be so upset about Hales's teddy bear is hard to say. It is not as if One Man was bearing the message: "Get your films developed at Boots." Indeed, the British Horseracing Board has regulations to prevent any serious mischief-making by a race sponsor's direct competitors. Other sports, meanwhile - the walking billboards who drive Formula One cars spring to mind - manage to advertise many different products without any squabbles.
Both owners and sponsors have asked the BHB to "urgently clarify" its sponsorship guidelines, but beyond telling the protagonists to start acting like adults, there may be little more that the administrators can do. The basic problem, it seems, is the belief of many race sponsors that their money buys not simply a useful vehicle for advertising and other corporate functions, but rather the heart and soul of the event itself. It does not. The King George existed before the arrival of Tripleprint and it will do so quite happily if and when that company's promotional budget moves elsewhere.
Sponsorship is an important source of finance for racing, but the idea persists that it is almost a one-way deal, little short of charity. In fact, clever and successful businesspeople like George Ward would not invest substantial sums in the sport unless they were sure that the return was just as significant.
Racing is in competition with other outlets for their money, of course, but the sport's attractions for sponsors - not least the chance to entertain clients at the track - are considerable. Sponsors' money is an investment, not a donation, and while they will, rightly, wish to maximise their return, they should enter the relationship as partners, not dictators.
Though they are currently doing their best not to admit it, the long- term interests of both race sponsors and owners are the same. Both sides are best served by a healthy, financially-secure racing industry, and any agreement which brings new money into the sport can only move us further towards that goal.
Bickering does not. George Ward, and the Horseracing Sponsors Association of which he is president, need to take a slightly more realistic view of their role in the industry. There is, after all, more than enough room on the turf for everyone who wishes to be involved.
THE SATURDAY STATS
Favourites: 9 out of 26 won producing a profit to a level pounds 1 stake of pounds 4.03.
Winner at longest price: Trainglot, the Cesarewitch winner of 1990 and a promising staying hurdler in 1992/93, has been hard to train and was thus allowed to start at 33-1 for a modest handicap hurdle at Newcastle.
Winner at longest Tote odds: Trainglot again at a marginally better 36.8- 1.
Shortest-priced loser: Mack The Knife, who had been a consideration for the Champion Hurdle, again jumped poorly and went down at 10-11 to Ashwell Boy at Ascot.
Worst Tote odds: Hill Of Tullow at Ascot (starting-price 9-4) returned 1.6-1 (around 13-8). Rather better for Tote backers was Admirals Seat at Newcastle whose SP was 10-1 but produced a Tote return of 21.4-1.
Tote Placepots: Ascot (3 placed favourites) pounds 49.80; Lingfield (4 placed favourites) pounds 33.30; Newcastle (2 placed favourites) pounds 3,269.70; Warwick (3 placed favourites) pounds 2,147.50.
Jackpot: Has now gone unclaimed through eight meetings and so a pool of pounds 114,365 rolls on to Southwell today.
Jockey: The underrated Brendan Powell, who stuck to Dublin Flyer when he smacked the final ditch in Thursday's John Bull Chase. The 14-1 from Coral for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after Dublin Flyer's success was taken on Saturday and he is now 10-1.
Trainer: Peter Easterby, who earlier in the week announced that he will hand over to his son, Tim, at the end of the month, became the first modern- day trainer to train 1,000 winners under both codes when Dally Boy won at Newcastle on Saturday.
Horse: The 13-year-old Uncle Eli, who broke down when beating The Frog Prince at Ascot on Saturday. It was his first outing for two years and he has now been retired.Reuse content