Out Of Kilter …
September 5th, 2019 | Marten's Perspective
I have said before that to succeed at racing, be it as a trainer, jockey or punter, you need to be focused to an almost obsessional degree.
To use contemporary jargon there has to be almost an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) element to your work.
Stories are legion of great sportsmen’s obsessive behaviour – just look at Rapha Nadal’s finely-honed routine with his water bottles at the chair and, more noticeably, his tweaks and adjustments before he serves.
In racing I gather Martin Pipe had some unconventional behavioural traits while many other sports stars have superstitions which are not dissimilar.
David Beckham concedes that he has OCD.
He wanted everything in a straight line or pairs before he played, tidying his hotel room and putting leaflets and books into a drawer. Even today if there are an odd number of cans in the fridge he will throw one out to leave an even number.
Mo Farah always had his head shaved before a race. He also drank coffee about 20 minutes before the start.
It’s all about taking control of the moment. Showing that you are in charge, and focused to such an extent that you can appear oblivious to what is around you.
I have seen that look in the eyes of jockeys when they have mounted a horse in the paddock. This especially applied to Richard Dunwoody and Lester Piggott.
Both knew who I was but avoided eye-contact when they rode past in the paddock. They instead looked into the far distance with something akin to what soldier’s refer to as the 1,000-yard stare, although of course that is a consequence of seeing things most of us can’t even imagine.
What we are talking about is a private place – a sanctuary, where people at the top of their professions – people that have attained a level of true excellence – need to access. When there, they are oblivious to what is around, either through their own volition or just habit.
I would never wish to compare myself with such high achievers – far from it – but I am aware of that place and there have been many times, both in the context of work and other areas, when I have been there.
It used to happen when I was trying to unravel how a race would be run tactically. I played it over and over in my mind to such an extent that when it actually took place I felt I was watching a replay.
It happens more these days in other parts of my life.
As some of you are aware I have a religious background and there are times I find myself in situations when I am touched by things I see, and everything around me becomes still – not silent, that is different.
This state of being, which is how I would describe it, can be associated with the less desirable feelings or experiences we have. As with the 1,000-yard stare in the case of the soldier, those who suffer with depression have what the late Spike Milligan described as a “layer of skin missing” that exposes them to a degree of sensitivity to things around them, both the good and the bad.
It is therefore a type of synergy or interaction that I’m talking about – a receptiveness to what is around while, at the same time, an ability to exclude the trivial or inconsequential.
The David Beckham and Rapha Nadal thing – the look of Dunwoody and Piggott in the paddock – is not a selfish, arrogant rejection of the world around them. It is more a state of being at one with the place they find themselves – a type of harmony.
I will now admit that I have lost touch with that access for the time being.
Things happen in life that affect our receptors; everyone reading this will know what I mean.
It’s often reflected in betting – missing a horse that we’ve waited for – or getting distracted from having a bet that was long planned. Just missing an important appointment after being held up in traffic or more serious chance occurrences.
It is almost as if there is a rhythm to life – a pattern – when everything seems to go well for a while and then everything turns bad.
Whether it is of our own making or not nobody knows. There are some things we can control and others we can’t. I guess the key is to know the difference, in the words of the Serenity Prayer:
“Oh God and Heavenly Father, Grant us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed, courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other … ”
It’s easy to pigeon hole the things that bother us as ‘distractions.’ It’s also easy to lose sight of what is important and what can be parked to one side.
The trouble with racing is that it is relentless. Half-a-dozen meetings a day, but thank goodness we now have horse trackers to help us.
I am fortunate to have access to such systems and the support of excellent staff. However there are some things you can’t delegate – ask Beckham, Nadal, Piggott and Dunwoody. They couldn’t tell you what was happening in those special moments that I referred to earlier.
My season has gone well, from the perspective of results, but I need – indeed want – to be back in that special place.
I may have to go for some long walks …
Bye for now