When Giles Bravery retired from the training ranks in 2017 after 26 years, the sport may have lost one of its smaller trainers, but it also lost one of its bigger characters.
In the racing bubble we all tend to have terrifically inflated ideas of how important our jobs are, but when you fall off its treadmill (more of which later), it keeps going and, as Bravery points out, it does not look for survivors and nor should it – or as the saying goes, “graveyards are full of indispensable men”.
But after a quarter of a century of struggle on Newmarket’s Hamilton Road, even Bravery thought that becoming a delivery driver with his own van, and clocking 100,000 miles a year, was a slight case of how the mighty have fallen.
But the coronavirus pandemic has turned numerous things 180° on their axis and Bravery now finds that as a driver delivering, among other things, ventilators and ventilator parts, he actually earned an upgrade in status, and achieved what no other trainer has in the current situation, the eminence of a key worker.
Yesterday he was delivering nuts and bolts to Shrewsbury for a hospital in Swansea. (“Work that one out,” he said.) Still based near Newmarket, a lot of his work involves delivering medical equipment from Cambridge’s science parks.
And among the hazards he encountered on the M6 on his journey home was a tree – not, alas, further evidence, like goats in Llandudno and ducks in Paris, that nature is quickly recolonising the built-upon parts of the world but, rather, one which fell off the back of a lorry.
“I do feel that I’m actually doing something useful after all,” he said yesterday. “I’m actually getting a frisson of worthwhileness. There are lots of us and, even though I’m only driving from A to B, it feels a bit better doing it now. Hopefully it is helping someone or aiding someone to get better.
“I’ve also become incredibly polite and don’t swear as much,” he pointed out, “but I can also see [this job] from an outsider’s point of view. When you turn up to cargo at Heathrow it becomes a competition between drivers to see whose delivery is going furthest; New Zealand, South Africa, Japan. And I think ‘but actually you’ve only just driven from Hounslow’.”
As a trainer, Bravery enjoyed his biggest moment when Torgau won the Cherry Hinton and was Cartier two-year-old of the year in 1999. He picked up the award the night his daughter Lily, now a singing student at the Royal Academy of Music, was born, making it quite a day.
He was a regular subject of this racing diary, most notably on the occasion when he and his wife Fiona decided they needed to join a gym in Newmarket. Like the ducks in Paris, they were a bit out of water, it not being their natural habitat.
Fiona was on a bike on one side of the gym while Giles was on a treadmill the other side when, beginning to glow, he decided to take off his sweater – without taking the practical precaution of stopping the machine.
The jumper was halfway over his head when he lost his balance and the treadmill, ticking along at an impressive 10 kilometres per hour, spat him out like a human cannonball into the wall of the wall of gym where he lay, crumpled and struggling.
Not only could he not see because the jumper was over his head, his arms were such that what was not blinding him had him trussed up like a straitjacket. Meanwhile, the woman peddling next to Fiona passed the observation that “the poor man over there has had a heart attack”.
Despite having taken vows involving “in sickness and in health” (and this situation could have been construed as a bit of both), Fiona’s loyalty did not extend, on this occasion, even to admitting that she knew the “victim”.