Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday I've got Monday on my mind

Having written the previous chapter on Sunday (ie four days ago), I've been to the races once since then.  I took Kilim to Windsor on Monday evening.  That was very pleasant.  We had hazy, rather than bright, sunshine, but it was 26 degrees, so we could enjoy beautiful English summer conditions.  And I say 'English' because what could be more English than a racecourse on the banks of the Thames almost in the shadows of Windsor Castle?  Idyllic.  And the fact that I chanced upon a pair of swans standing guard over their three cygnets on the river-bank while I was walking the course was a further bonus, and one in keeping with the general Englishness of it all.

Kilim ran adequately, finishing sixth of 13.  She was, admittedly, a fairly well-beaten sixth, and she never looked like winning.  And it was, admittedly, a weak race.  But, even so, it was a massive improvement on her resumption at Bath last month.  She settled much better this time and consequently finished her race off fairly well rather than pathetically.  So that's good.  We can press on still with a modicum of hope in the human breast, and we can hope that she may eventually become the winner which her excellent pedigree suggests she should be.

On pedigree, Kilim ought to be a proper stayer, but persuading her to act like a stayer is easier said than done.  But Monday was encouraging.  We'll now step her (back) up in distance and see how we go.  The race was also encouraging for Minnie's Mystery's Harry Dunlop-trained three-year-old Rock On Dandy (whom I sold as a weanling) who ran his best race to date in finishing a close second.  Fingers crossed he should find the winner's enclosure before too long.  You can see him on the rails here, just beaten by the horse in the middle of the course, and with Kilim too sticking to the rail a few lengths behind him.

It is worth noting that Nicola Currie, who was on board Kilim on Monday evening, has now had three rides for us.  These have been an excellent and excellently-executed win on Kryptos at Chester last Saturday, and two unplaced runs.  The two unplaced runs have both been on horses who are good at separating the sheep from the goats (Roy and Kilim, neither of whom is an easy ride and both of whom can over-race fiercely if not ridden skillfully and sympathetically) and Nicola (pictured this morning in the final three photographs, on So Much Water and White Valiant, as she was kind enough to call in here on her way home from Yarmouth) has been found wanting when weighed on the balance of neither of them.  Both have settled beautifully for her and have travelled extremely kindly.  God willing she will ride them both again next week (Roy at Sandown on Wednesday and Kilim at Chepstow two days later).

If I'm handing out praise (for once) I ought to mention, on the subject of Windsor Races, that Monday's meeting was one of the last at Windsor at which I will see Ed Arkell officiating.  I had been keen to walk the course because I'd watched the previous few Windsor meetings on ATR and had been bamboozled about where we ought to be racing because a few recent meetings had been held in terrible weather, in which the horses had been racing anywhere and everywhere, the track had been being chewed up terribly, and the winners had been coming any which way they could.  Anyway, I walked the track and found some lovely ground to race on, which has generally been the case at any racecourse at which Ed has been clerking.

Edward, as you probably know, has recently been signed up to fill the shoes of the soon-to-retire Seamus Buckley at Goodwood, arguably the most special racecourse in the world.  Massive shoes, and ones which few could be able to fill properly.  He'll be up to the job, though, and the news is good news both for him and for Goodwood.  In general our horses are more Windsor / Brighton / Lingfield / Fontwell class than Goodwood class, and we'll miss him at those courses.  But I generally grab any opportunity run a horse at Goodwood (usually in a maiden race) which is a special place for owners, trainers, staff and horses alike.  So hopefully I'll be seeing him down there instead for many years to come.

ARC, of course, lost Neil Mackenzie Ross, another top-class clerk of the course, to Bahrain only a couple of years ago.  I was chuckling to myself, when I heard that it had now lost Ed too, that, as Oscar Wilde might have observed, 'to lose one top-class clerk of the course may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness'.  Still, life will go on, at the ARC courses as well as at Goodwood, and there are plenty of other good people involved in racecourse management.  In particular, Brighton is in very safe and very conscientious hands with George Hill, and I'm looking forward to my next visit there, which I hope will be with Roy for the Festival in three weeks' time.
Sunday, July 16, 2017

Born Sandy Devotional

Thank you very much for the feedback at the end of the last chapter, Neil.  And don't worry about the chapter's headline.  Yes, Free Electric Band is has no connection to the contents beyond being the title of one of Albert Hammond's best songs.  (In other words, it has no connection to the contents).  It is just that I was rather tickled by the idea of getting someone to write the headline who hasn't read the article.  So I started following suit and was still doing so (notwithstanding that I'm only pretending as I am both writer and headline-writer on this blog) in the last chapter.  And I'm doing so again here.

I suppose that if one stretches the point far enough, then there is a connection between the title and the text here.  Paul Kelly memorably describes The Triffids' wonderful album 'Born Sandy Devotional' as "a great cathedral of a record inside which singer David McComb preached on love, lust and loneliness, surrounded and uplifted by the soaring architecture of 'Evil' Graham Lee's pedal steel.  Nashville never sounded like this.  For months I worshipped there daily."  In other words, it is a truly wonderful record, a cathedral in which I still regularly worship, 31 years after its release and 18 years after David McComb's death - and yesterday was a truly wonderful day.

Well, it was for us anyway, thanks to Kryptos winning at Chester in thrilling style.  (He's in the first four pictures here, the first having been taken when Ivona was riding him on Friday morning and the fourth this morning, with Sussex Girl.  It's our other Juddmonte refugee, Freediver, in the final photograph).  He's a lovely horse who was bought by Tony Fordham out of the Juddmonte draft at last October's Horses-in-Training Sale at Tattersalls, having previously had two races from Dermot Weld's stable.  He's made good progress as he has become less immature, but it hasn't been plain sailing at all.  He nearly died from a twisted gut in the first week of February, a completely freak occurence which left us with the immediate choice of an operation (which might or might not save him) or a certain and agonised death.  Thankfully, courtesy of the skill, efforts, care and dedication of Mark Hillyer and his colleagues at Newmarket Equine Hospital, he's still with us.

Any winner is very special.  When the win is as thrilling as yesterday's victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat finishing surge, and is posted on a big day on a good racecourse by a young, unseasoned horse showing genuine promise and potential, it is particularly special.  And when it is posted by a horse who had been lucky to survive a very-near-death experience less than six months previously, then it makes for a great cathedral of a day.  Happily Tony and his family, who are wonderfully staunch patrons and supporters of the stable, were all able to be there, so all fell into place very nicely.

Kryptos is entered at Newmarket on Friday.  Obviously if he should have a decent chance there if he runs there without a penalty (being unpenalized courtesy of yesterday's win having come in an apprentices' race) so we'll just have to spend the next couple of days mulling over whether he'll be ready to back up.  In the interim, we shall have Kilim running at Windsor tomorrow night.  Same jockey: Nicola Currie, who rode Kryptos really well yesterday on what was her first ride at Chester and only her third winner.  She's an excellent rider who rode Roy (who isn't easy) very well at Newbury a couple of weeks ago.  While Kryptos ultimately won quite comfortably yesterday, he's still an unseasoned horse and was running in a competitive race on a tricky track.  He wouldn't have won without good assistance from his jockey.
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Free Electric Band

Very good to read the observations of 'Unknown' at the end of the last chapter, thank you.  Yes, I'm very pleased that any reader of this blog doesn't just have to take my word for what a thoroughly pleasant, friendly, approachable and jovial man Michael Stoute is.  He gets such a bad press so (not, of course, that I would imagine that he loses any sleep at all about the way he is portrayed) that it's good to set the record straight.  The best time to see him, of course, is when he's with his friend Michael Holding (pictured here in a photograph I took a couple of years ago with another of the Heath's great and popular characters, former Essex and England cricket captain Keith Fletcher).  The two Michaels make a great pair on the Heath.  The only trouble, of course, as Michael Stoute says, is that "he only ever wants to talk about racing, while I only ever want to talk about cricket!".

I'll try to keep this chapter brief because I'm tired.  It was a lovely evening at Bath last night, but of course Bath is nearly 170 miles from Newmarket, so that means being in the 7.10 race means getting home some time after 11.30 and then getting back in the house some time after midnight.  This makes for a long day when the day has begun with tacking up the first horse (which in yesterday's case meant Roy, who blotted his copybook by insisting on mingling in with John Gosden's string, with the exercise I ended up doing with him, the only one I was able to do, being very, very different from what I'd intended when I pulled out) at 5.30.  And it makes for a short night when the next day too begins with tacking up (Wasted Sunsets, today) at 5.30.

Hope Is High ran another sound race yesterday.  She's a proper trouper, and has proved to have been a great buy at the 800 gns which Emma paid for her at the February Sale last year.  She finished third, but would almost certainly have finished second (so her jockey Silvestre De Sousa tells me) had the winner kept straight in the final furlong rather than ducking across in front of her to the rail when he had gone past, causing Silvestre to stop riding for a couple of strides, the consequence of which was that Silvestre had to ease her for a stride or two, the consequence of which was that she was nabbed for second in the dying strides.  (Needless to say, the stewards, as we have previously discussed, having seemingly given up on the task of trying to police races, there is no mention of this in the stewards' report of the meeting).  A beaten favourite almost by definition means a disappointment, but she ran well and bravely, as always.

Looking ahead, we have Kryptos running in the last race at Chester on Saturday.  I'm looking forward to that, notwithstanding that it will be another long day.  He's a nice horse, but he's still a relatively inexperienced one who is up against some horses with solid Chester form, so it might be a fairly hard assignment for him off his big weight.  So, as ever, we'll hope for the best but expect nothing.  That'll be another late night, but I'll need to be on the ball the next morning as I'm on the Sunday Forum the next morning (after having ridden out and done all my other stable duties).  As regards the Forum, I was thinking last Sunday, when the Forumites had the inevitable Racing Post-induced whip discussions, that I was glad that my next booking was not for another week.

However, the storm of that topic hopefully having blown itself out, we now instead have two new 'issues' this week.  We have the idea of 'time trials' between races, and we have the vilification of Stan Moore for helping Josephine Gordon to become champion apprentice and to set her on the road, from an unpromising start made before she finally joined his stable, to a long-term career as a successful jockey.  I assume that we'll discuss both on the Forum so there's no need to get drawn into them today, particularly because Josephine, although clearly and understandably not wanting to be drawn into the debate, has published a very good defence of Stan in her 32Red on-line column.

All I will say as regards filling the gaps between races is that if we wish to help enliven the inevitable 30-minute gap between races at a racecourse, we should make sure that racecourses highlight the fact that there is a race every 10 minutes.  It always amazes me how little coverage is given on the course to the races taking place at the other racecourses.  It's hard to get any worthwhile details from the racecard, and it's easy to miss the televised coverage of them even if you are keen to make sure that you see them.  Shouldn't a race every 10 minutes be enough?  It is enough when one is watching the sport on the two satellite TV stations at home.  And it should be, too, on the racecourse, other than that most racecourses currently score a maximum of 1/10 for their promotion of the action elsewhere.

As regards the apprentices' thing, I was surprised that the Racing Post, when discussing its theory that trainers who promote apprentices exploit their proteges, did not point out that on the majority of occasions when an apprentice heads off to the races to have a ride, the trainer's share of the cut of the riding fee plus prize-money minus the contribution which the trainer makes to the apprentice's expenses is less than the wage which the trainer is paying to the apprentice that day for work in the stable which he/she doesn't do because he/she has gone to the races.  I can understand that the paper might want to castigate some trainers for their policy with apprentices, but not that the ones whom it should choose to castigate should be the ones who do promote apprentices, rather than the ones who don't.  There are all too many trainers with large stables of horses who never go the expense and effort to try to get an apprentice off the ground.  That should be the story, not that there are some who do and that once in a while one of them does not lose money by doing so.
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Pleasant Valley Sunday

Highlight of my weekend?  Easy: the lovely full-page feature which Nick Godfrey wrote in the RP Sunday's 'Story of the horse' slot about Roy, "the popular grey whose love of Brighton has taken him from zero to cult hero".  I had been very moved when Nick had contacted me a few days previously about the project, moved that Roy (pictured here twice on Sunday morning, the second time with his great friend Indira; and then in the third paragraph this morning with his sister So Much Water) should be accorded the honour of being the subject of a feature which is generally reserved for high-class horses.  And I was then overwhelmed when I read the article.  Nick had done such a lovely job of organising the reflections of Larry McCarthy, John Egan and myself, creating a truly lovely article.

It says a lot for how much I enjoyed reading Nick's piece that I rated doing so as my highlight of the weekend, because I had really enjoyed the Coral-Eclipse the previous afternoon.  Ulysses would have been a popular result with me whatever the circumstances.  I have huge respect for Michael Stoute and like him very much, sometimes wondering if the most genial, jovial and invariably friendly man whom one sees on Newmarket Heath is the same man whom the press tend to describe as if he were a cross between a Dickensian recluse and a Trappist monk.  And I hold Jim Crowley, a top-class jockey who is at least as high-calibre a human being as he is talented a jockey, in similarly high esteem and am always pleased to see him win.

Furthermore, I always love to see a mating of a Derby winner (in this case Galileo) over an Oaks winner (in this case Light Shift) producing a champion.  And the people within the stable closest to the horse - Radka Hovadova who looks after him and usually rides him, Sarah Denniff his head lad, and Kevin Bradshaw, former jockey of Minnie's Mystery in Jersey, who I believe gallops him on the rare occasions when Radka doesn't - are all people whom I would love to see enjoying top-level success under any circumstances.  But in this case there was a particular reason for my cheering so passionately in front of the ITV Racing programme on the television on Saturday afternoon.

I'm a big believer in the 'back the first jockey/trainer/horse you see' maxim.  It's remarkable how many Saturdays there are during the summer when the first jockey or apprentice I see in the morning rides a winner in the afternoon.  On this occasion it was a horse.  Lucinda (on Wasted Sunsets) and I (on Freediver, formerly trained by Michael Stoute and formerly resident in Freemason Lodge, coincidentally) were trotting down the Bury Road at around 5.55 on Saturday morning, heading for the Al Bahathri.  As we trotted past Freemason Lodge, I looked over the wall and saw three horses standing out on the lawn in the middle of the yard, picking grass.

This trio was clearly waiting to be loaded on the truck to go to the races.  All three were wearing travelling boots.  Two bay horses and, nearest to me, one chestnut.  Radka was holding the chestnut.  One didn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that they would shortly be on their way to Sandown Park, and that the one closest to us was Ulysses.  Well, he just had to win, didn't he?  The first one to run, El Hayem, won.  Ulysses was the second to run, and he won one of the most exciting Eclipse Stakes ever, as well as the second fastest (second only to Sea The Star's Eclipse in 2010).  A thrilling race, and a lovely result in every respect.

There are, of course, things which just have to happen, and things which would be too good to be true.  So, I suppose, it went without saying that the most obvious winner of them (ie the third one to run, the Queen's Frontispiece who started odds-on) would be beaten.  That would have been the icing on the cake.  But, even without the icing, the cake was still a mighty one which gave me a lot of pleasure.  I'm hoping that our trip to Bath tomorrow night with Hope Is High (pictured in the final two paragraphs, coping well with Blakeney interrupting her dinner on Sunday evening) might give me even more pleasure, but we won't count our chickens.   As ever, we'll hope for the best and expect nothing.
Saturday, July 08, 2017

Crunchy Granola Suite

No runners (we didn't even have an entry) this week, but I still don't know where the time went.  Hence this being the blog's first chapter of the week.  I ended up having one outing, to the ATR studio on Thursday to join Robert Cooper in covering what turned out to be a storm-lashed meeting at Yarmouth.  That was extremely enjoyable, which might not have been what I would have been saying had I been there, dodging the lightning in the torrential rain.  And I actually had two other outings: to Thetford on Monday afternoon and to Cambridge on Wednesday afternoon, running errands for Newmarket's Legends of the Turf project, on the committee of which I am both the Chairman and the Town Council's representative.

The first week of the month, of course, is always a busy one with accounts to be done, and I'm pleased to say that I've used some of the time well and am a lot less behind with my paperwork than usual.  But, of course, my main occupation has been the work outside, riding and otherwise, of which there is always plenty.  And the great thing has been that the weather has been idyllic, which is great.  We have all too many weeks when the weather is a massive drawback to any outdoor job, so weeks such as this one when the weather is a colossal boon really are to be savoured.

More of this lovely weather, then, please (although it would be nice if a bit of rain can fall on Bath in the next few days.  Hope Is High - pictured in the penultimate photograph, going round Bury Hill yesterday with Jana - is entered there on Wednesday and, while she likes fast ground, it is debatable whether any horse likes rock-hard ground, which is what it will be currently and will still be on Wednesday if it remains dry in the interim.  I hope that we'll have two runners next week, ie Hope Is High on Wednesday and Kryptos at Chester three days later, and it'll just make it easier to confirm our running plans for Bath, which of course is the only racecourse in Great Britain which is never watered, if the ground there eases to the good side of hard).

Otherwise, what's been happening?  Well, the front page of yesterday's Racing Post has been the talk of the racing world.  Bearing that in mind, there probably isn't a great deal that needs to be said on the subject, with everything that needs to be said (plus a lot more) having already been said.  However, I can rarely resist the opportunity to chime in with the chorus.  On that basis, I might just venture the opinion that I would urge anyone who has seen the paper's front page (on which the headline is 'WHY RACING MUST BAN THE WHIP') to make sure to read the article, written by Tom Kerr and appearing on page 6, which ostensibly prompted this exclamation.

If and when you do read Tom's piece, you will find what you generally find when you read one of his articles: a sensible, considered piece by an intelligent man and very good journalist who cares deeply about the sport.  What you won't find is the type of sensationalism which the front page might have led you to expect.  One can forget that not everyone is aware that it is usual journalistic practice for the journalist merely to write the article, and for a sub-editor to re-arrange it and supply the headline.  The re-arrangements can include inserting a few spelling mistakes and/or grammatical errors, chucking in the odd rogue apostrophe, or changing a few quotations after the writer has been punctilious in ensuring that he or she has quoted the interviewee verbatim.

I would imagine that Tom will have been fairly non-plussed about the front-page headline which the article has spawned, by the sensationalisation of his rationality, by the turning of his attempt to disarm racing's critics into, arguably, fuel for their fire.  But he won't be the first (nor the last) journalist to suspect that the headline may have been written by someone who hasn't actually read the article, so he should be able to be fairly philosophical about it.  It happens to us all - as this chapter of the blog demonstrates.  And in this case the headline and the text were both written by the same person!