Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Brighton ahoy!

I've got a relatively quiet week, which is rather pleasant.  I'm reasonably up to date with my accounts (although, of course, I need to start getting myself organised for the change from one financial year to the next) and I don't have much writing to do (which, of course, is a mixed blessing at best).  And in the stable we are relatively unpressured, not least because I think that we shall be having something like a four-week lull between runners.  Kilim (pictured after the race with Franny Norton - and it was very good of him to come and ride her in a Class Six race on a Saturday evening as she was his only ride) ran adequately at Wolverhampton on Saturday night, fifth beaten 3.5 lengths; but really I think that we're banging our heads against a sand wall with her, which means waiting for a race on the grass, which in her case means waiting until the first week of May.  Before then I hope that So Much Water (possibly at Brighton, believe it or not!) and Roy will run some time in April.

It just appears to be the case that pretty much all AW races now are slowly-run.  This means that there's no point in running horses such as Roy (pictured in this paragraph on Sunday; the subsequent photos were all taken today, and one can see Roy's ears in the first of them) or Kilim, ie hard-pulling horses who can't run well unless they can be switched off and persuaded not to put everything into the first half of the race, and who won't switch off unless they are buried away behind horses.  You have a chance of burying the horse away just behind the leaders if you're drawn low, but if you're drawn wide - forget it: you have to take back.

We had tried going forward and slotting in with Kilim two starts previously when she was drawn 10 at Lingfield, but it completely failed: she couldn't slot in, pulled fiercely for two thirds of the race and finished completely tailed off.  (Well, to be exact, I see that she was beaten 28 lengths, which on the Flat is pretty much the same thing).  In her two subsequent runs at Wolverhampton we've taken her back and she's run well (beaten 1.5 lengths into fourth and 3.5 lengths into fifth) but really, on the AW, that's nowadays seemingly just a recipe for continually running well without winning.

The good thing on Saturday was that, covered up, she did relax acceptably well.  (Typically well ridden by Franny).  But even Wolverhampton now is a write-off from our point of view.  I always used to find that it was the one AW track where the races were run at a tempo similar to that of races on the turf (I used to put it down to the fact that, because the straight is so short, the jockeys didn't wait until the straight before quickening up, as they do elsewhere, but would wind it up from the start of the back straight, as they do at the almost-identically-configured Chester) but that's no longer the case.

I would say that over the years I've trained as many winners at Wolverhampton (most of them ridden by Franny, funnily enough) as at all the other AW tracks put together, but I hadn't woken up until Saturday night to the seeming fact that the goalposts have moved.  I was talking at the races to Stuart Williams who has a lot more AW runners than I do (in fact, he has a lot more runners full stop than I do) and he observed that it has been virtually impossible to make up significant ground in nearly all the races at Wolverhampton this winter, that he has had a few runners there whom he has had ridden back in the field, and that they have all run disappointingly.

I saw Adam Kirby interviewed on ATR by Robert Cooper at Lingfield a couple of weeks ago after riding a winner, and he passed on the observation that over the past year the AW has changed a lot to the extent that nearly all AW races now are slowly run.  So that's fine - but it just means that horses who need to be taken back in the field might as well sit the winter out.  That includes Roy, whom I'd love to keep going at Kempton over the winter except that we gave him one run there in the autumn after Brighton had finished for the year, and that reminded us that there really isn't any point.  And it also seems to include Kilim.

And (who knows?) as Brighton works for Roy, perhaps it might work for her too.  So I hope that her next race will be there, on either 2nd or 3rd May.  There are two Brighton meetings in April and I hope that Roy will run at one of those; but nowadays although the turf season still starts at the Lincoln meeting (in April this year, strangely, rather than March) that presages merely a phoney war as the bulk of the racing, particularly for low-grade horses, is still on the AW for the first month or so of the new campaign.
Thursday, March 16, 2017

Water, water everywhere before the watershed

Ah, the Cheltenham Spring Carnival.  You've probably heard and read more than enough about it, but I think that we ought to highlight the water/heat nonsense.  This isn't actually merely nonsense: it's dangerous nonsense.  Basically, ITV were going on both yesterday and today about the supposed dangers of racing horses in extreme heat, giving the impression that yesterday's high of 16 degrees is bordering on lethal for horses.  They weren't actually doing this out of devilment, but because they wanted to highlight what a supposedly wonderful job Cheltenham are doing to combat this supposedly serious problem.  But basically it's just nonsense.  Dangerous nonsense.

Once temperatures get over 40 degrees one might start to be concerned; and really I'm not that happy a about staging National Hunt racing (longer races, higher weights ...) over 30 degrees.  (Although nobody else seems too worried about that as I'm seemingly the lone voice crying in the wilderness about summer jumping, which everyone else seems to think is marvellous, being an abomination).  But 16 degrees?  Come on!  Edwulf got into difficulties at the end of the National Hunt Chase, but that was on Tuesday when it wasn't particularly warm.  Many Clouds dropped down dead at the end of race at Cheltenham in January, but I don't remember that being a hot day.  Rather a cold day, in fact, if I remember rightly.  For jumps racing in winter, heat just isn't an issue, and shouldn't be treated as such.

Yesterday we kept hearing about what a wonderful job Cheltenham were doing to help the participants combat the heat.  We had the special cool area under the trees (about four spindly little mini-trees standing lonely, with not a leaf on a single branch) which was just complete nonsense.  And we had Nico de Boinville falling off Might Bite when someone presumably employed by the racecourse threw a bucketful of water over the horse.  To illustrate just what a joke this was, when Might Bite (reunited with his jockey) made his way to the winner's enlclosure, another racecourse employee produced a sponsor's sheet for him to wear to keep him warm.  And the trainers of most of the other runners, who weren't obliged to turn their charges into advertising hoardings, seemed to be electing to put sheets on their horses too, to keep them warm.

I could probably have let this one go through to the keeper (and I shouldn't because it is dangerous nonsense, the consequence of which - and I know because this does happen - is that you go to the races in mild weather and have members of the public, who know nothing on the subject other than what some idiot on the TV once told them, berating you and telling you that you should be throwing water on your horses all the time) but we returned to the subject today with ITV's technology giving us a heat-highlighted film of a horse having water thrown on him, which supposedly told us how important that it was to do this.  And this straw broke this particular camel's back.

This told us nothing of the sort, of course.  And the ITV presenters, of course, conveniently forgot to say that the faces of the humans came up the same shade of red as the horses' skins, and yet nobody was saying that the humans were so critically hot that their lives would be at risk unless someone gave them a cold dowsing.  Just complete bulls*it.  But it did come with a compensation, as the first photograph in this chapter illustrates.  Wonderful.  Just wonderful.  I didn't create this, but a (male, obviously) friend managed to capture this image from the TV.  Never mind water, water everywhere - what about the watershed, and the masterstroke of getting delicious soft porn like this on national TV before the 9pm watershed?  All is forgiven.

Otherwise, we have had three days of Cheltenham, and the seven handicaps so far have produced four Irish-trained winners and three English-trained winners.  One of the Irish-trained winners was the horse who, of all the horses in all the handicaps at the meeting, had supposedly been the most unfairly treated, ie Presenting Percy.  So I hope that that will have ensured that the 'It's not fair ... we Irish are being picked on ..." whinge has been put to bed.  What hasn't been put to bed is the declaration time for the Grade One races.

Flat racing has 48-hour declarations (which I prefer) but jumping (for generally valid reasons) still has 24-hour declarations.  However, it is standard for big races over jumps, including normally all Grade One races, to have 48-hour decs.  And not just the Grade Ones: the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter, for instance, has 48-hour decs.  But at Cheltenham?  Some of the Grade One races do; some don't.  There were four Grade One races on the first day.  Two (the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Hurdle) were 48-hour; two (the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Arkle Chase) were 24-hour.  On Friday the Gold Cup is 48-hour and the Triumph Hurdle is 24-hour.  How on earth was this cock-eyed non-system devised.  Some ... not all ... not none.  Some.  Common sense says that they all should be 48-hours, but it would actually be less nonsensical to have none of them 48-hours than merely some of them.  Or am I missing something?
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Second-hand news

Two days down from Cheltenham, two to go.  Surprisingly, my tips from the Preview Evening at the Racing Centre aren't going too disastrously (ie don't look any worse than most other people's).  Special Tiara EW as the bet on the drying ground in the Champion Chase looks OK.  My highlight of the Cheltenham Festival so far has been the sick-making pre-race hyperbole on ITV of the supposed invincibility of the supposed super-horse Douvan being followed post-race by Matt telling us that his defeat wasn't actually that surprising as the word from the Mullins stable (which, unless I was making a cup of tea at the time, they had all forgotten to mention before the race) had been that he had been working badly.  My highlight so far has been the ultra-brave win of lovely Apple's Jade, who is just about my favourite National Hunt horse currently in training.

The main feature in my calendar so far this week, though, has not been watching racing (or even enjoying the lovely weather) but attending Brian Procter's funeral and wake yesterday afternoon/evening.  In one sense it is silly to refer to such a thing as 'a good funeral' but in another sense it isn't.  If it is acceptable to use such a phrase, then yesterday was a time to do so.  Sadness prompted the occasion, but basically the occasion was an opportunity to spend time with good people sharing memories of a good person.

Marcus Tregoning gave a lovely eulogy revolving around reflections from West Ilsley, and one came away reflecting that Brian had lived a good life and had earned respect and affection from all whose paths he crossed.  And, really, no man can ask for more than that.  I used my column in 'Al Adiyat' (the weekly racing magazine in the UAE) last week to pay tribute to him and to John Powney, and I reproduce it below.  Hence the title of this chapter, prompted by the fact that we've been watching a lovely 'Classic Albums' series on the TV, and the last one which we watched focused on Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours'.  As previously, not all the photographs are mine: the last two are stolen from an old Sporting Life, so I hope that the photographers don't mind.


This column has been spending too much time in the past recently.  At the start of last week I made a resolution that this time we would discuss something current.  The Cheltenham Festival, perhaps.  (And, why not?  Everyone else does, until the cows come home).  But then two of the nicest people in my home town (Newmarket) died.  And when the bell tolls for people like these, it tolls for all of us.

The world keeps turning.  Today’s big stories become yesterday’s news, until eventually they get lost in the mists of time.  It’s the same with people.  One doesn’t have to put it quite as bluntly as Robin Williams’ character John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’, whose advice to his pupils was “Carpe Diem” (‘Seize the day!’) because eventually we shall all be “food for worms”.  Instead, one can merely reflect on Bart Cummings’ wry observation that a man could be “an institution one minute, and the next he’d fallen off the face of the earth.”

In retrospect and viewed from a distance of nearly half a century, that could be case with David Robinson, England’s biggest racehorse owner in the late 1960s and early ‘70s but rarely mentioned nowadays.  David Robinson was one of Britain’s commercial titans of the post-war era, riding the wave of the popularisation of television with his company Robinson Rentals (which he eventually sold, in 1968, to Granada for £8,000,000).  Nowadays televisions are relatively inexpensive, but until the 1970s they were very dear.  Consequently, many people preferred to hire, rather than buy, them.  Many of those who took that option did so through Robinson Rentals, and the company’s founder consequently made a fortune.

What set David Robinson apart from many tycoons was that, having made his money, he chose to put it to good use, rather than to hoard it.  He hailed from Cambridge and he loved racing.  And he used his money locally.  He donated £18,000,000 (and those were in the days when a million was a million, rather than a down-payment on a flat in the East End) to Cambridge University to found its newest college, Robinson College.  He gave £3,000,000 to found the Rosie Maternity Hospital in Cambridge (named after his mother) which is now part of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, as anyone from Newmarket who has become a parent knows.

David Robinson (who became Sir David Robinson in 1985, two years before his death) also devoted his attention to racing, buying both Clarehaven and Carlburg, adjacent properties in Newmarket’s Bury Road which are now occupied by John Gosden and Roger Varian respectively.  He employed Michael Jarvis (who had been head lad to Gordon Smyth in Sussex and who had led up the 1966 Derby winner Charlottown) and Paul Davey (whose father Ernie trained in Yorkshire) as his principal private trainers.  For a few years he was the country’s most successful owner.  His best horse was My Swallow, an outstanding colt who had the misfortune to be born in the same year as both Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef; while his other stars included the top-class sprinters So Blessed, Deep Diver and Green God, as well as Meadowville, runner-up in 1970 to Nijinsky in both the Irish Derby and the St Leger.

David Robinson’s trainers also included at various times Bruce Hobbs (who subsequently became very successful as a public trainer), Bob Smart (who had previously trained in a small way in Yorkshire) and John Powney.  The latter had preceded his appointment by working as head lad for both Sam Armstrong and Tom Jones.  During the two years that he trained for David Robinson, John Powney tended to be sent the lesser lights; and it was a similar case subsequently when he became a public trainer in Saville House Stables in St Mary’s Square.

After finishing training, John Powney worked on studs; and in retirement he was a regular fixture at both the National Horseracing Museum and Tattersalls.  In the museum, he guided visitors with his special blend of friendliness, courtesy, knowledge, experience and enthusiasm.  If you ever visited the museum in recent years in its site in the High Street (from which it moved last year to its new National Heritage Centre premises in Palace House) you may well have met John - or you may have seen cycling into town from his cottage in the Bury Road.  You would also have met him if you had bought a horse in Tattersalls and collected the horse yourself.  For years John manned the control office at Park Paddocks during sales weeks, his blend of efficiency and amiability ensuring that the potentially fraught process of making sure the right horses went in the right directions ran like a well-oiled machine.

Sadly John Powney died two weeks ago, aged 87.  Newmarket thus lost one of its senior figures and most loved and respected characters.  Additionally, we have also lost a link to the David Robinson era, a special chapter in the town’s (and British racing’s) rich and varied story.

Last week we lost another great racing man when Brian Procter passed away aged 75.  While John Powney was a Newmarket man from the cradle to the grave, Brian Procter only spent his final couple of decades here.  However, that was long enough for him to become part of the town’s furniture.

Brian Procter’s working life lasted a good 55 years, but he only ever had three employers.  In fact, one could almost say that he only ever had two jobs as his first flowed seamlessly into his second.  He joined Sir Gordon Richards from school, served his apprenticeship in the stable of the former multiple champion jockey, and stayed on until that legend retired from the training ranks in 1970.  Lady Beaverbrook’s horses and the Ballymacoll Stud horses owned by Sir Michael Sobell and his son-in-law Arnold Weinstock moved to Dick Hern’s stable at West Ilsley; and Procter went with them, staying there until Hern eventually retired in the early ‘90s. 

During his years working for Dick Hern, Brian Procter became a living legend.  He served as second jockey behind firstly Joe Mercer and then Willie Carson, achieving a status far more exalted than his totals of winners might suggest.  Although that was not long ago, it seems like another era.  Major Hern could be viewed as one of the last great ‘old-school’ trainers, concentrating on quality rather than quantity, running his stable along strict military lines, insisting on the highest of standards at all times.  He did not suffer fools at all, gladly or otherwise – so the fact that he clearly held Brian Procter in the highest regard speaks volumes.  The jockey became a byword for horsemanship, courage, loyalty and reliability.

So synonymous was Brian Procter with West Ilsley, and so much of an anachronism had Major Hern’s painstaking professionalism and attention to detail become, that it was hard to think of a stable where the jockey, by now in his 50s, could work without feeling that he had come down in the world.  Happily, a solution presented itself: Sheikh Mohammed offered him a job as a work-rider for the Godolphin string in Saeed bin Suroor’s stable.  This was a match made in heaven: he was perfect for Godolphin, and Godolphin was perfect for him.

Thus Brian Procter, having been synonymous with the Berkshire Downs, became a Newmarket man during his final couple of decades.  For those of us who like to think that we can ride adequately, he unwittingly provided a salutary reality check: riding out daily until the age of 70, he was plainly not only the oldest rider on the Heath, but also the best.  When you passed the Godolphin string on the Heath, it was like, if you fancy yourself as a bit of a runner, having Sir Roger Bannister lope past you in the park every morning.  For those of us lucky enough to make his acquaintance, the further joy was the discovery that he was every bit as decent, kind, friendly, modest and humble a human being as one would have hoped him to be.  Sir Mark Prescott often dispenses the wise advice that one should try not to meet one’s heroes, because it usually leads to disappointment.  Thankfully, Brian Procter was the glorious exception to this generally sound rule.

As the world keeps turning and time keeps passing, so do all good things come to an end.  The loss of John Powney and Brian Procter, two good men who were lifelong adornments to the sport which they loved and which they served so well, leaves racing poorer for their absence.  It behoves us to cherish their memories and to recall the parts which they played in some great chapters of racing’s rich history.
Monday, March 13, 2017

Time reveals all

Gosh, some days this training game seems incredibly hard.  I thought that Hymn For The Dudes was certain to run well at Chelmsford on Saturday night.  He didn't.  He ran extremely badly.  Two furlongs from home the race looked between him and the eventual winner as they were the only two horses travelling easily; 100 metres later it was clear that he was going to finish out the back.  I've rarely seen a horse stop so quickly.  Bloody frustrating - but, then again, no lives were lost; plus we're already hardened to disappointment.  Days like Saturday, though, make the rare days when things go right seem all the more special - even if I've never been lucky (or skilled) enough to have a day go as right as today went for Chris Gordon, who ran five horses (which will be a fair proportion of his whole stable) and they all won.  It's hard enough at our level to win one race in a day, never mind five.  Superb.

Aside from our disappointing trip to Chelmsford, things haven't been too bad.  The weather is really bucking up, and bucking us up too.  Today was very pleasant, and the place is really drying up too.  The forecast for (at least) the next three days is similarly good, so we can say that spring is here.  The weather really is a big factor in one's enjoyment or otherwise of life when one is working in a stable - I always say that the weather is both the best part and the worst part of the job - so it really provides a massive fillip when it comes good.

Aside from that, we have Cheltenham to enjoy.  Thanks to having been on the panel for a Cheltenham Preview in the Racing Centre (ie New Astley Club) last night and having thus done some homework to prepare for that, I am reasonably au fait with what is likely to be running (as far as one can be in an era when, thanks to the Festival having too many races, it is impossible to predict what races some of the good horses will be running in until, in some cases, the runners are cantering to post).  Regarding the handicaps, Neil, I think that we had better just wait to see who wins what before drawing any firm conclusions re the fairness of things.  Basically, in each race we shall find that one horse turns out to have been better handicapped than all the others.

The likelihood is that some will be GB-trained and some will be Ire-trained.  It is, though, not quite as simple as saying if a horse has a higher rating in one country than another, he has been unfairly treated in that country: the two lists are completely separate, and they don't necessarily even run in parallel.  That would be like saying that because the BHA handicap list, the Racing Post ratings list and the Timeform ratings list might between them have a horse on three different ratings, two of the three must be wrong.  In fact, all of them could be correct, just as all could be wrong.  Time, as always, will reveal all.  By the way, to honour Danehill Dancer (an excellent sire of racehorses, sires and broodmares who sadly died today) I have included a photograph of him as a two-year-old in November 1996 in his box at Rathmoy Stables with my friends Michael Tidmarsh (who was Neville Callaghan's head lad at the time) and Richard Sims.  Happy memories, eh - and weren't we all so much younger then?
Friday, March 10, 2017

Once more unto the breach

Probably the longest gap I've ever left it between chapters: two weeks.  Feels like longer, funnily enough.  Don't know what I've been doing, because I haven't achieved much / anything (delete as applicable) in that fortnight.  We had one runner: Kilim was fourth at Wolverhampton (seen here, and then a few days later in the next paragraph, at home with Blakeney).  She's her own worst enemy.  That was her best run yet (albeit off her lowest mark, which rather undermines any such boast) as she was only beaten a length and a half, but it's taking her forever to learn to race properly.  She's like Roy: he never won until he was five, not only because it took him that long to strengthen up but also because he just did (and still does, really, if left to his own devices) so much wrong.

She's the same: she wants to do all her running in the first half of the race.  She's finally beginning to learn that that's not the way to do it, and it was very pleasing at last to see her running on to finish close-up.  But, gee - she's still hard work!  Franny Norton, as you'd expect, rode her absolutely perfectly, but even for a rider of his skill she was difficult, pulling much too hard.  She has to have a fair bit of ability (and stamina) to finish the race off so well after over-racing so badly, so if she does ever learn to do things right, she ought to do well.  Still, we seem to be going the right way - and, if she's on Roy's time-table, she's still got about 14 months to go before we need things to fall into place!  We'll see what happens when she runs next (eight days from now).  Looking farther ahead, I would imagine that we might be choosing the Roy option of going to Brighton (a great place to run a hard-pulling horse, as Roy's record suggests) once the turf racing has resumed.

Other than that?  Well, I put a lot of creative energy and emotion into paying tribute to the late, great Brian Proctor in an essay which I posted on Facebook.  I was thinking of putting it up as a chapter on this blog, but didn't.  What I might do is to put up a tribute which I paid to him and to another good man who has died recently, John Powney.  This appears in this week's Al Adiyat, the weekly racing magazine in Dubai to which I contribute a weekly column, and I can't see any harm in its being re-used.  But not today.  We've probably got enough ground to cover in tidying up other loose ends.

We might just touch upon the nonsense of the idea of 'city racing', ie running races through the streets of London.  (If this means nothing to you, don't worry; and don't try to rectify the omission because even by mentioning its (im)possibility in passing, I have given the concept more respect than it deserves).  It's just that the fact that time and money is being wasted into looking into this farce is another sad indication of the problems which we face from within rather than from without.  And we had another such reminder on Wednesday evening.

There were some races which I wanted to watch at Kempton on Wednesday night, so I turned on RUK, albeit with trepidation.  My fear was that the presenters would not realise that anyone who was watching that channel at that time would be doing so because they were interested in the racing which it was supposed to be covering; and that they might not realise that it's probably a good idea to conceal that they weren't actually that interested in the evening's sport, but would much rather be talking amongst themselves about - yes, you've guessed it - the Great God, The Cheltenham Festival.  Predictably, the horses were walking around behind the stalls and the pundits, seemingly having forgotten that their microphones were live, were amusing themselves with Cheltenham reflections.

Happily - and to their credit, because all too often RUK goes through the whole show in similar vein - they pulled themselves together after that race and devoted the next inter-race period to subjects related to the matter in hand.  Prompted by recollections of the former Tom George-trained Sun Alliance Hurdle winner Galileo (Pol), mattters moved on to Galileo, who is never out of place when one is discussing racing.  This gave Dave Yates the opportunity to drop a bombshell into the conversation: last year he met a(n unidentified) senior figure in the management of Epsom racecourse, and it became clear that this man had never heard of Galileo.

For crying out loud!  Not only is Galileo a Derby winner (2001) but he has sired three Derby winners (New Approach 2008, Ruler Of The World 2013 and Australia 2014).  He didn't sire the winner last year but sired the placegetters (US Army Ranger, 2nd; Idaho, 3rd) and also had Deauville, Ulysses, and Port Douglas in the race.  As Dave pointed out, if you had been hired to (co-)manage Epsom, in the unlikely event of your having no knowledge of the sport, you really ought to learn even a smattering about the subject - and you would be hard pressed to learn anything about the Derby without the name 'Galileo' appearing on your radar.  You'd have hoped that anyone involved with the management of Epsom would at least go to the races on Derby Day - and it would be very hard to do so without hearing about Galileo at some point.

Dave's bombshell made it a little bit easier to see how the management of Jockey Club Racecourses could consider that closing Kempton is a good thing.  I know that the way of the modern world is to have commercial enterprises run not by people who understand or are interested in the subject, but by people who have a 'commercial background' (whatever that is - presumably a degree in business management from a breeze-block university, and a reputation for being able to 'take tough decisions').  But really - what is the use of having key components of the sport run by people who have no interest in the sport?  It's not the lack of knowledge that's worrying: it's the lack of interest, of enthusiasm, of passion.  It would be impossible to have any interest at all in racing (or Epsom) and not have heard of Galileo.  So, I suppose, we shouldn't be too surprised if our overlords seem totally unable to understand the importance of that over which they have temporary stewardship.

On another matter, there was a BHA 'Roadshow' in Newmarket last week.  I probably ought to have gone, but it was in the morning; and I generally spend the mornings riding out unless it is not feasible.  It would have been stretching things to use the Roadshow as an excuse to take half the morning off, so I didn't go.  Instead, I quizzed one of my fellow trainers who had been there, making sure to pick one of the sensible ones.  I'd already had a report on the show from Emma (who was on the panel) so I had a rough idea whom to ask and whom not to ask - well, I actually only needed to know who had been there to have the answers to that one.

This observer's overview was that the first session was devoted to telling us of a strategy for 'growth' which might see another 500 horses in training, while the second session was devoted to discussing a supposed chronic shortage of stable staff; that the third session saw George McGrath, the boss of the National Association of Stable Staff, explain that the main goal is for staff to have a full two-day weekend off (ie all day Saturday and all day Sunday) two weekends out of three, while the fourth session was a lecture on why we will be having more evening meetings on Saturdays ...  In other words, the conclusion was that if one picked any problem at random, we would devote half our attention to solving it and half to exacerbating it.

But that's enough negativity.  Sure, we have big problems - but, then, who doesn't?  No doubt our sport will continue to stumble along indefinitely - even if, sadly, it appears that it will be stumbling along with both Dandy Nicholls and Adrian Maguire missing from the training ranks.  That's both sad and worrying: if horsemen of that calibre can't make it pay, what chance is there for any of us?  But there are positives, not least that we seem to have a pillar of common sense (Nick Rust) at the head of the BHA.  That's got to help.

On other matters, I'll be taking Hymn For The Dudes to Chelmsford tomorrow evening and then going to the Racing Centre in Newmarket on Sunday evening to sit on a panel at a 'Cheltenham Preview'.  I am not expecting to tip any winners, but I will try not to bore the audience too much.  Even allowing for my belief that spending more than five minutes discussing the likely outcome of any sporting event is not a good idea, this should be good fun for all present because Derek Thompson is the compere, and he is good at making things enjoyable.