Sunday, November 10, 2019

I didn't fight the law and the law won

I really enjoyed watching the racing on TV yesterday afternoon.  One of winter's few advantages (from my totally subjective point of view, anyway) is that the racing ends so early, which is a big plus for me on a Saturday afternoon.  We start evening stables at 3.00.  In the summer all the best races take place after that so I have either to miss them or to keep nipping back into the house to watch them, and end up taking twice as long to get the work done as I should.  In the winter most of what I want to watch is finished by about then.  Anyway, one thing which caught my eye was Neil King nearly sending a horse down to the start at Wincanton without his cheekpieces, only remembering them after the horse had left the parade ring and was about to go out onto the course.  This reminded me of a little tale which I was going to tell.

I did something similar, if not congruent, when Das Kapital ran at Yarmouth on 14th October.  For once I was on the ball saddling and he was one of the first horses into the ring.  He had set off around the parade ring when I realised that I hadn't affixed the cheekpieces to his bridle.  I was going to call Jana back, but then thought that it would be easier to let her continue around while I ducked back into the stable-yard to collect them, meet her and the horse at the entrance when they had completed a circuit, and then affix them there.  Straightforward.  The photograph in this paragraph shows him wearing them in the parade ring prior to heading to the start.

As I was returning to the parade ring with the cheekpieces in my hand, the woman whose job it was to check that all the horses were wearing the right gear approached me and told me that Das Kapital was not wearing cheekpieces, having been declared to run in them.  I told her that the matter was in hand, that I had them in my hand (showing them to her) and said that I was about to put them on.  Which I then did.  There were still fewer than half of the runners in the parade ring by this time so Das Kapital completed maybe another five circuits, then went out and raced.  End of story (one might think).

Anyway, he ran well, finishing third.  All was good, until to my surprise I was called into the stewards' room.  Once there, I was told that Das Kapital had not had his cheekpieces on in the parade ring, as he should have done.  I explained that that was not totally correct, and ran through what actually happened, repeating what I have just written above.  I was told that the cheekpieces had to be affixed before the horse entered the parade ring, an assertion whose truth I queried.  I said that I was under the impression that horses had to wear any declared headgear in the parade ring, when cantering to the start and in the race.  I pointed out that the horse had done all that; and that, although he had completed one circuit of the ring without cheekpieces, he had then completed five with them.

I queried whether the rule specified that the headgear had to be on the horse before the horse arrived in the parade ring.  I also pointed out that I hadn't needed to be reminded to apply the cheekpieces, because I was walking towards the horse with them in my hand when I was pulled over by the official.  I raised the point that, in the days when the horses used to be turned into the middle of the parade ring and held there before the jockeys mounted, it used to be common for trainers to put the blinkers on at that point.  This didn't seem to cut much ice with the officials, bar making them look slightly confused.  In retrospect, I should have asked for one of the stewards to read me the rule which I was supposed to have broken, but didn't as I wasn't taking the episode very seriously.

Anyway, I was sent outside and then recalled to be told that I had committed an offence, for which I was being cautioned; and that if I committed it again in the next 12 months I would be fined £150.  The stewards' report confirms this: "DAS KAPITAL, trained by John Berry, had arrived in the Parade Ring without its declared cheekpieces, which were then located and fitted on the gelding before going to the start.  After being interviewed, Berry was cautioned."  (Similar wording was used in the Wincanton stewards' report yesterday after Neil King's horse left the parade ring without his cheekpieces but had them affixed at the end of the chute which leads to the course, which incident also resulted in a caution).

Anyway, it was slightly irking me that I now had a black mark on my disciplinary record (albeit no financial penalty) but wasn't irking me enough to make me dig out the rule-book.  We don't actually have a rule-book any longer (I would have had a look in it if we did have one) because everything is 'on-line' (the great god 'on-line' - it is all 'digital', notwithstanding that nobody knows what digital actually means.  Of or pertaining to digits, I suppose; and digits can be either number or fingers.  Which doesn't get us much closer to what digital actually means on the majority of occasions on which it is used, such as this one). 

Anyway, a few days ago I did eventually wrestle with the never-very-satisfactory search-engine in the on-line rule-book, and this is what I came up with: Part 8 of Section 3, which is the 'Equipment Code'.  "The Headgear that has been declared must be worn by the horse on the way to the start and during the Race.  If any Headgear that has been declared is not worn on the way to the start, or if any Headgear that has not been declared is worn on the way to the start, the horse will be withdrawn."  And that's all that there is applicable to this case.  So that was that.  October 14th, the day when I didn't fight the law, but the law won anyway.
Wednesday, November 06, 2019


I'm glad that Chelmsford is local and that our runners there on Saturday night weren't too late (5.00 and 6.00) so it wasn't too late a night.  I think we got home around 8.15 and I got back in the house around 9.30, which wasn't too bad.  (And then there was the Breeders' Cup to watch, although I couldn't make it through to the Classic and watched that the next morning).  As I then had a night without sleep on Monday, covering Flemington's Melbourne Cup Day card with Tony Ennis on Sky Sports Racing, it would have been difficult had I had too shortened a night on Saturday.  As it was - helped, of course, by how exciting the Flemington racing was - I got though the night well on Monday/Tuesday and even coped with the drive home too.  But I'm tired now and won't linger writing this blog as I want to go to bed.

Chelmsford was relatively satisfactory.  I went there thinking that if both horses finished second last - ie if neither finished last - it would have been a good night.  The Simple Truth had finished a distant last in both his races, and Ethics Boy had finished last in every gallop in which he had ever participated, so for each of them beating a horse would have been a step in the right direction.  And, indeed, they did both finish second last, so that was OK - although it would have been even nicer had each horse beaten two (or more) rivals rather than merely one!

There were a couple of very interesting stewards' enquiries that day (ie 'controversial' ones in which it would be easy to say that the wrong result was reached) but I haven't got the energy to analyse the wins of Global Storm at Ascot and Diego Du Charmil at Ascot, so I'll restrict myself to quoting a tweet which I posted on Saturday afternoon, referring to Global Storm's race: "You'll never see a better illustration of the shortcomings of our rules.  It is absurd that Global Storm kept the race - but under the rules (which say that runner-up would only be promoted if we're certain that he would have won but for the interference) it was the correct decision.".

As regards moving on to other subjects, what I'll do is restrict myself to following up a train of thought which I started in the last chapter.  I was wrong in saying that the first Breeders' Cup winner had cost 5,000 euros as a yearling because I didn't realise that the Marathon Stakes (the winner of which, Itsinthepost, cost 5,000 euros as a yearling) is no longer a Breeders' Cup race.  But that doesn't really contradict my point about the meeting giving us plenty of evidence to suggest that the spending of fortunes on horses isn't always the act of genius that we're led to believe.  And there was plenty more evidence to come as the meeting progressed.

British Idiom took her record to three-from-three (including two Grade One wins) in the BC Juvenile Fillies, having cost $40,000 as a yearling.  Storm The Court, winner of the BC Juvenile, cost $5,000 as a yearling.  Belvoir Bay, winner of the BC Turf Sprint, cost 20,000 guineas as a yearling.  BC Spring winner Mitole, who has now retired to stud with a career record of four Grade One wins and only one defeat, cost $20,000 as a yearling.  BC Mile winner Uni cost 40,000 euros as a yearling.  The same day, of course, saw Newmarket's final Group race of the year, the Horris Hill Stakes (which was transferred from Newbury).  The winner Kenzai cost $6,000 as a yearling. 
Friday, November 01, 2019

Shaking a stick on a Friday night

I'm writing this on a Friday evening.  Not just any old Friday evening, but a Friday evening when Sky Sports Racing is showing us a Group One race from Newcastle and also several Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita.  A treat indeed.  We've just had the Vertem Futurity.  That was a splendid contest.  I was sceptical about the wisdom of putting it on the AW, but it worked really well.  It was a very exciting race ('event') and a very good one.  That's food for thought, not only as regards the prospects of the several top-class horses who contested it but also for the AW's place in the greater scheme of things.  Newcastle would have been a very special place to be tonight.

Chelmsford will be a very special place to be tomorrow night - for the owners, trainers and jockeys who will be there as competitors, eg Donnacha O'Brien and myself - but in the interim we have the rest of this evening's Breeders' Cup races. We've had one so far, the winner of which (Itsinthepost) cost 5,000 euros as a yearling.  It was a good afternoon for people (such as myself) who are sceptical of the myth of the genius of the people who lauded for spending huge amounts of money on horses and that has meant that the Breeders' Cup meeting has begun in similar vein.  Future Champions' Day at Newmarket a couple of weeks ago was good (with the winner of the first two-year-old race on the card, Tomfre, having been unsold at £600 as a yearling) but this afternoon was arguably even better.

Jonathan Portman has done very well with some inexpensive horses in the past - 1,000-guinea-vendor-buy-back yearling Mrs Danvers being a prime example - but this afternoon was particularly special even by his high standards.  He sent out the winner of the Bosra Sham Stakes (Listed), Mild Illusion, who scored under Josephine Gordon.  This filly was bought by Jonathan for 1,000 guineas as a yearling in Book Three of Tattersalls' October Yearling Sale last year.  Her victims today included the China Horse Club's Lady Light (3rd) who cost 850,000 euros as a yearling; Coolmore's Precious Moment (12th) who cost 500,000 as a yearling; and Godolphin's Divine Spirit (13th) who cost 850,000 guineas at the Breeze-Up sales this spring.  Even the filly who finished last of 16 cost 100,000 euros as a yearling.

Let's see what the rest of the evening brings.  And, by the way, Tomfre wasn't an aberration on Future Champions' Day. After her win in the opening Class Two nursery, we then had Max Vega winning the Group Three Zetland Stakes, a 25,000-euro yearling; home-breds (Military March and Pintubo) winning the third and fourth races; Stratum, who raced for his breeder until being sold as at the Horses-in-Training Sale as a three-year-old, winning the Cesarewitch; Richenza, a 48,000-euro yearling, winning the Boudicea Stakes (Listed); and Feliciana De Vega, a 50,000-guinea weanling, winning the Group Three Darley Stakes with a 2,600,000-guinea yearling in third.  Food for thought at the end of a month which has featured as many six- and seven-figure yearlings as you can shake a stick at.
Thursday, October 31, 2019

Racing galore, some of it drug-free

Big weekend of racing coming up.  The Breeders' Cup Friday and Saturday.  VRC Derby Day on Saturday.  The Vertem Futurity at Newcastle (AW) on Friday night.  Down Royal Friday and Saturday.  Big races in Sydney on Saturday.  Newmarket's last meeting of the year, Friday and Saturday.  The Bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday afternoon.  And Chelmsford on Saturday night, where The Simple Truth (second in this picture, taken yesterday) will have his third start by running in a seven-furlong two-year-olds' novices' race and Ethics Boy (leading in this picture) will make his debut by contesting a three-, four-, five- and six-year-olds' seller over 10 furlongs.  The form book suggests it would be hard to fancy The Simple Truth, but I hope that he'll take a step in the right direction.  The fact that Ethics Boy is starting out in selling company suggests that his home-work hasn't been special, but I hope that we might see some promise.

Neither horse will be running on either Bute or Lasix.  Nor will the horses racing at Santa Anita trained by Roger Varian, Richard Fahey, Karl Burke, Jessica Harrington or Carlos Laffon-Parias, nor the horses trained in Japan and Korea.  The others will, though. I wouldn't knock the European trainers who run horses there on these drugs; rather, I would give particular plaudits to those who don't. The thing is that it's a very tough decision, particularly as regards Lasix: do you do the right thing, or do you arguably give your horse a better chance by giving him a powerful diuretic which acts as a performance-enhancer by reducing the horse's bodyweight, even though you know that it's the wrong, albeit legal, thing to do?

What would you do if faced with that dilemma?  What would I do?  I don't know.  Obviously the ultimate responsibility lies with the horse's owner because (one hopes) no trainer would run a horse on Lasix if the owner did not want to use it or run without it if the owner wanted it.  But if the decision was yours, what would you do?  It's a tough one, isn't it, when there is such big money at stake?  Basically, I think that it's unfair on European trainers to be put in this situation: the decision should be out of their (our) hands.  If you train on a British or Irish license, you should not have the option of running horses on Lasix or Bute, irrespective of where the race is taking place.

We're meant to be a drug-free jurisdiction. There's no excuse for the BHA or IHA abdicating the responsibility of the lead which they could and should be taking on this one.  It would be easy to do, to make it a condition of being granted a license by one or other of these authorities that you race your horses drug-free, wherever you race them. British / Irish racing would be the winner as we would be seen as actually meaning the drug-free mantra which we spout, rather than just pretending to take it seriously.  And British and Irish trainers would be the particular winners, or the ones with horses good enough to run in the USA anyway, as they would be spared the horrible moral dilemma which those running horses at Santa Anita this weekend have had to face.
Monday, October 28, 2019

Tonight, tonight the strip's just right

It feels like we're properly into winter today.  It was the coldest dawn of the winter so far, 1 degree, and disappointingly it's not warming up much.  It looked as if the sun would break through, but it hasn't done so.  It's just grey and raw.  We're forecast to get to 11 degrees this afternoon but it's hard just now to see it reaching double figures.  And, as Neil Kearns rightly observes in the comments after the last chapter, we had another aspect of winter, the low winter sun, giving us run-ins of half a mile or more at both Kelso and Aintree over the weekend.  Neil makes a further very valid point.  As the bumper is generally run as dusk approaches and the sun often becomes less glaring (visible) then, why not run the bumper earlier, after the last hurdle race, at meetings which might be vulnerable, and have a steeplechase as the last race, so that, at least, can be run without omitting fences?  (Obviously sometimes the sun remains blinding until it has dipped below the horizon, but not always).

Another race-programming issue which comes to mind is City Racing.  I'd assumed that this idea had died a death, but I now find that the surface is going to be trialled down the middle walking ground dividing Southfields and the Back of the Flat (ie behind the Rowley Mile grandstand) next week.  Clearly the project is still being pursued.  (One might say that the wild goose is still being chased).  This made me think that I missed a trick when I was in London recently.  It's hard to believe that there is a street in London which would be wide enough to hold racing, especially as it's unlikely that the promoters would be given permission to remove the iron railings / litterbins / traffic lights etc which appear so frequently on the kerbside - except that the Mall always seems like a wide thoroughfare, and it doesn't seem impossible that that might be a feasible option.

I read in the paper that Oxford Street had been ruled out as a potential site, but the only issue there is how it could ever have been ruled in.  The Mall could, though, be different - although I'd need to have a look at it to know - simply because when one sees it on the television it looks wide, and doesn't appear to have much 'street furniture'.  Trees could be an issue, I suppose; I don't know how close to the street they grow.  Anyway, I was close by there when I was in London a couple of weeks ago, but was too taken up with trying to ingratiate myself with the squirrels in the park to head over to have a look.  (Plus I didn't at the time realise that the City Racing dream was still alive so didn't realise that reconnaisance might be useful).  I'm still totally unconvinced that there is any merit in the project, but it might be easier to take it seriously if it could be shown that a suitable street exists.  The fact that Oxford Street was, seemingly, once put forward as a potential route hardly fills one with confidence.