Horses an inspiration to the nominees – who are an inspiration to all
Brough Scott, chairman of the panel, reflects on the selection process
It's time we stopped apologising for how tough it can be working with horses. Gemma Hogg doesn't. She was an outstanding employee of the year winner at the 2016 Godolphin Awards and has now written a raw and glorious book about her early days at Middleham back in 1998. If things are a bit less rough there nowadays, the weather isn't, but she still won't swap the unique "hope every morning" start to the stable day.
For the inspiration that horses give remains the abiding memory of my years judging these awards. From Roy Barrett heading up Lenny Lungo's squadron of horses overlooking the Solway Firth that opening year in 2005 to Terry Doherty celebrating a quarter of a century of dedicated stud life beneath Watership Down last spring, the same theme comes through. What lifts them are the needs of their four-legged others.
There is something deliciously incongruous in having the final judging process and now the presentations in the very heart of London, about as far from their daily routine as it is possible to travel. For listening to these finalists whisks you away to that other world of the food bucket and the muck heap, the whinny and the hoof beat, the skittish two-year-old and the heavy-headed chaser, the wobbly foal and the frisky stallion. You don't find them on the checkout counter or the daily commute.
Of course there is also incongruity in the whole idea of we judges sifting through CVs, quizzing on the telephone and finally deciding between finalists in the warmth of a grey-suited office not the chill of a windcheatered yard but, like Gemma, I am not apologising. Sure it's a far from perfect system but we do the very best we can to give everyone the fairest shot of what have to be, pro rata, the most generous set of awards for any set of staff in any business anywhere. Godolphin's original £50,000 commitment has grown to £120,000, and the £40,000 that is shared between the overall employee of the year winner and their yard can only be matched by landing one of the richest of Group 1s or the Grand National.
Time was when trainers and stud owners were loathe to enter, not just through idleness but because, and I kid you not, that they were worried that somebody else might clock how good their guys were and hijack them. The penny – or rather the prospect of all those pounds – has now firmly dropped and this year no fewer than 256 individuals were put forward for these honours, albeit that in the way of these things 100 came through in the last 24 hours.
You will appreciate that so sizeable an entry brings mixed feelings for the judges, particularly in the opening stages when pairs of us have to pick a top ten from what, however complete, can be no more than written commendations. We then swap categories and while the chance of a good chat with the contestants gives us much more insight, it only highlights the difficulty of selecting a final three.
But choose we must and choose we have. And while deciding a winner from the trios before us in London is the most invidious of tasks, it’s much eased by the thought that each of them
– and their yard – has already copped handsomely, ensuring instant popularity.
That last process is also lit up by the one thing that guests at the awards will once again notice tonight. It's what still drives Gemma Hogg up at Middleham and has shone from all our other winners down the years. It's called devotion.