Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Keeping on keeping on

Busy week.  Two runners coming up, plus my VAT return is due no later than Friday.  The runners ought to be quite straightforward.  Both of them (Cottesloe at Nottingham tomorrow, Roy at Brighton - where else? - on Thursday) are fit and well and ought to run creditably, but both are high enough in the weights and have been in work a long time, so might be vulnerable to less exposed and/or fresher horses.  So, as always, we'll hope for the best and expect nothing.  John Egan rides Cottesloe but won't be on his and my faithful steed Roy: he has to ride in an early race at the Chelmsford evening meeting, so the 4.30 at Brighton isn't feasible.  This means that we'll have Dan Muscutt on board.  Dan is a very good jockey who always rides them well, so that's fine.  (And Roy, whose ears this morning on Long Hill can be seen in the second paragraph, has again managed to draw an even-numbered stall, so that's one worry out of the way as he won't be in the gates for too long, which is always a major concern with him).

Those trips ought, fingers crossed, to be enjoyable.  I wish I could say the same about the preparation and lodging of a VAT return, but I can't.  Still, I've been doing one four times a year for over 21 years now, so at least familiarity has made them relatively undaunting.  It won't ever breed contempt, though, as the thought of being audited again is enough to keep one on one's mettle.  Still, they come with compensations.  The compensation in this case was the amusement which I gained from reviewing my veterinary accounts during the compilation.  One myth is that all Newmarket-based horses are sick, and another is that Newmarket trainers run up huge veterinary bills on their owners' behalves.  Anyway, I found myself chuckling today when taking on board the fact the entire veterinary bill for the stable for the month of August was £67.95 + VAT.  That wouldn't even buy the paper that a Therapeutic Use Exemption is written on.
Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sick, slow or badly ridden? Take your pick!

We were a beaten favourite at Newcastle on Friday night when Hope Is High ran.  But she ran creditably even so, finishing third, so that's not the end of the world.  And it's particularly not the end of the world as it was on the AW, where I am generally even more prepared for defeat than I am on the turf.  Which is saying something as I never count my chickens even at the best of times.  As always, Josie gave her every chance, and I was more disappointed on her behalf that she didn't have a winner than I was on our behalf that we didn't have one - so was particularly pleased that her later ride, for Hugo Palmer, won, meaning that she is back in the lead in the apprentices' title.  Let's hope that she can remain there for another three weeks.  I hope that we might be able to do a bit more to help her in the final week of the season as I have pencilled two horses in for Yarmouth on 10th October, but there's plenty of water to flow under the bridge before we get there.

The main jockey news, though, hasn't, of course, been the apprentices' title, but James Doyle's future.  He will presumably remain under contract to Godolphin for the remainder of that contract's term (up to the end of this year, perhaps?) but clearly is no longer one of their principal riders.  It was odd to see Danny Tudhope riding Saeed's horse in the Middle Park yesterday while James was sitting in the weighing room, particularly as James had won the Royal Lodge in the Godolphin silks - on a horse trained by Hugo Palmer, a trainer for whom he hardly ever rides - earlier in the afternoon.  Whatever happens, though, James will be OK: not only is he a top-class jockey, but he is also widely recognised as such (the one does not necessarily follow the other) so he won't struggle for good rides.

It was, though, very appropriate that James should lose his job this week as principal rider for Saeed bin Suroor's team as I'd been thinking about related issues only the other day, when expounding in my blog my belief that 'the virus' has been vastly overstated and is much less of a factor behind poor performance / under-performance / non-performance than either unsoundness or lack of ability, even if 'the virus' can be put forward as a convenient and seemingly blameless excuse.  Anyway, what had particularly tickled my fancy had been an article in which Saeed bin Suroor had bemoaned the woes of presiding over a supposedly virus-hit stable ("Most have been coughing") but also threw in the observation that "the three-year-olds are very slow.  They're healthy, they're sound ...".

This article, which appeared under the headline "Infection and 'very slow horses' blighting Bin Suroor's season" struck me as rather bizarre, so I have rather enjoyed the post-script of the stable's jockey being replaced.  We all have barren spells (as I know only too well, having had umpteen of them over the years, most recently last winter when we went something like seven months between winners) and it's often hard to work out just why the pieces of the jigsaw aren't fitting smoothly into place.  But this article made it very hard to establish whether ill health was or wasn't at the bottom of the problem.  And now, of course, we have a further complicating factor: the horses have apparently had the wrong jockey up.  If Josephine were to turn out to be his replacement (and you could get 10,000/1 with me about his replacement not being male) then at least that excuse couldn't justifiably apply.  (Any more than it can justifiably apply now.)
Thursday, September 22, 2016

He is, after all, Roy's brother

Gee, I gave White Valiant's trip to Kempton such a big build-up, and I could hardly have got it more wrong.  It was a complete non-event, and the waiting is not over.  He's very quiet both in the stalls and elsewhere (as this picture of him doing stalls' work last month with Clare Alexander suggests) but things went badly wrong.  He was very quiet down at the start, walked into the stalls nice and relaxed and stood there calmly for about a minute - but then, presumably spooked by the pandemonium going on around and behind him including a horse rearing over, he panicked, reared and fell down.  Thank God neither he nor Paddy Aspell was injured, but once he had been extricated from his stall the starter wisely decided not to put him back in.  And that was that.

What I might do with White Valiant (which is something which I arguably should have done anyway) is run him in a couple of three-year-olds' bumpers so that he's more seasoned mentally by the time that he has to (a) have a stalls' test and (b) race from stalls again.  There's one at Huntingdon in ten days' time, so that might be a suitable option.  He'll have scared himself yesterday, although, remarkably, he was completely unfazed afterwards; and, as this photograph, taken this morning, shows, he was his usual laid-back self this morning.  But he will have had a fright, and it'll be easier to put it behind him if a bit of time can pass and he can do a bit of growing up before he has to revisit a stalls' scenario.

Anyway, nobody was hurt, nor did the world stop turning.  I just came home thinking, "Gee, I should have seen that coming; after all, he is Roy's brother!".  So that was that.  Two more outings coming up now in the next couple of days.  A trip to Milton Keynes later this afternoon to the ATR stoodio to help with the TV coverage of Chelmsford this evening; and then the long drive up and back down the A1 tomorrow, Hope Is High (seen here relaxing just now with her friends Kilim and Roy) having indeed scraped into her intended race (only thanks to it being divided) tomorrow evening.

Oh yes, your queries from the last chapter, Neil.  Yes, the odd card just for two-year-olds can be a good idea at this time of year.  Can be popular with both owners/trainers and race-goers too.  Newmarket usually has one each autumn.  Regarding how long does it take to learn to jump - it's really the same as the length of a piece of string, or how many lessons a learner-driver needs before he is ready to pass his driving test.  A quick learner could go up a line of hurdles once and be proficient: a slow learner could go up 100 times and still be inept.  Once they have learnt to jump well, I'd question whether there's much point in continually checking that they haven't forgotten, aside from the odd bit of practice to keep their eye in.  Horses are fragile creatures, and just from the point of view of minimizing the build-up of wear and tear, one doesn't want to work them just for the sake of it.  As regards tired horses falling late in a race, that's always going to happen.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Gestation period of an elephant - but will it produce a mouse?

Great excitement.  The week started on a good note as it was the Open Day on Sunday, which is always an enjoyable day.  But what makes the week particularly exciting is that that wasn't the best bit.  Tomorrow is more exciting (for me, anyway, if not for anyone else) as White Valiant will make his debut.  He's three, so was born three and a half years ago, which means that he was conceived four and a half years ago.  But it's not just that I planned the mating five years ago (I'm his breeder, as well as his owner and trainer) - I planned it six years ago.  He's from the second crop of Youmzain, and I resolved to send Minnie's Mystery to him from the outset (well, probably before the outset, as he continued racing for so long), only she didn't visit him during his first season as she was booked into Le Havre (to produce So Much Water).

So the birth of a racing career which will take place tomorrow comes at the end of a very long gestation period.  Like all of Minnie's Mystery's offspring he has taken a while to come to himself.  In fact, he hasn't really done so even yet, but he's turned himself inside out during the past couple of months, and is now definitely ready to run - and, I hope, run well.  Certainly he's more ready than he was at the start of this year, around the time of the photograph in the first paragraph, taken by Emma, showing the proud breeder riding a very babyish horse.  (You can also see him more recently in the second photo with Aaron Lau; in the third photo with Clare Alexander; and in the fourth photograph with his half-brother Roy Rocket, last week.  And we see another sibling, So Much Water, this evening, in the sixth picture).  So I'm getting quite excited about my trip to Kempton tomorrow evening.

The only pity is that Josie isn't riding him, which is particularly unfortunate as she was kind enough to come in to put him through the stalls a couple of weeks ago, something which I certainly wouldn't have asked her to do had I known that she wouldn't be riding him first time out.  It's a cock-up really: she was booked for a ride in the last at Goodwood, and clearly wouldn't be able to get to Kempton in time for our race if that ran.  I waited until after declaration-time to check that her Goodwood horse was actually running, and only made other arrangements when her agent confirmed that the horse had been declared and that she wouldn't be able to be at Kempton in time to ride our horse.

So I made other arrangements - and then (because of another race being divided) the time of our race was moved back, so she would be able to be there.  Ah well - but there's no harm done because the good news is that I've ended up anyway with a booking that I am really happy with.  Paddy Aspell is one of the several very good jumps jockeys to have turned to the Flat.  He's in the same boat as Jim Crowley, Graham Lee, Dougie Costello and PJ McDonald.  He too was a very good jumps hoop (Cheltenham Festival steeplechase winner) and he too is a very good Flat hoop.  The only difference is that he hasn't taken off on the Flat, yet.

Paddy (seen here riding into the unsaddling enclosure on Gift Of Silence at Catterick a couple of years ago) was in the process of getting going on the Flat when he had a bad fall at Kempton late in 2014.  It was a very long, very hard road for him just to get back to race-riding again after that, never mind to pick up where he left off.  Happily, he has finally returned; and happily he rode two winners last week.  He's an excellent jockey who has had a few rides for us in the past - all totally satisfactory - and who has done me a lot of favours as regards riding work.  (He was previously down in Newmarket, with Marco and then Roger Varian, although he is now back up north).  Anyway, the upshot is that Paddy rides him tomorrow, which I am very pleased about.

So tomorrow's trip is the highlight of the week.  And if  Hope Is High survives The Eliminator for Newcastle for Friday, that will be another highlight because it will be nice to take her up there, not least because it will be my first visit there since the desecration of Gosforth Park.  So that's all good - as, as mentioned at the outset, was the start of the week, ie the Open Day.  We had plenty of visitors, all of whom were a pleasure to welcome.  It's just lovely that people are interested enough to come, so making them welcome when they arrive is the least we can do.

It was a shame that only 15 stables (a figure down even from the originally-intended 16) opened, but that's the others' loss.  It is understandable that Roger Varian, who clearly has had to contend with the problems of a virus this summer, didn't want to open; and he more than made up for not opening by taking part in both the football match and the show-jumping competition.  But it would be disappointing if others have used the supposed virus as an excuse - and particularly so if, by doing so, they have somehow managed to come out of it as winners, by putting out the message that they are the responsible ones, while we have been putting our charges at risk by exposure to the general public.  Which, of course, is nonsense.

The whole virus thing, of course, has been nonsense.  Not for Roger, who clearly had a worrying few weeks in the summer. But otherwise?  But I think what summed it up was that time when I got so fed up of hearing the RUK pundits wringing their hands over this virus-ridden town that I was moved to look at the Hot Trainers' list in that day's Racing Post, and noted that eight of the top 15 stables on it were Newmarket-based.  'The virus' has long been an easy and blameless excuse to explain away poor form - much better than the horse having jarred up, or just not being as talented as hoped - and will continue to be so.  But the observation I would make is that at this time of year there are plenty of horses showing signs of wear and tear from the physical strain of training, and that if you go out on the Heath in the mornings you will see 100 horses who aren't 100% sound for every one you hear coughing.
Saturday, September 17, 2016


I really enjoyed my trip to Hexham yesterday.  The hot and sunny weather did indeed end yesterday.  Farther south and west of here there were three inches of rain overnight and into the morning, but we had not had any here by the time that we left shortly after 7.00.  It duly arrived here, and by the time that I got home at 10.30 a band of rain had moved over, depositing 18mm on Newmarket.  So it would have been a fairly miserable day here, a horrible one in other places, but Abbie and I managed to avoid the rain: it was raining in Hexham while we were in Newmarket and raining in Newmarket while we were in Hexham, but none actually fell on us (although we drove through plenty).

It was simply glorious up there, notwithstanding that we saw much more cloudy than blue skies.  (Actually, thinking about it, it would be fair to say that I really enjoyed being at Hexham yesterday, but I didn't enjoy the travelling.  I enjoyed the final stages of the outward journey and loved the first 40 miles of the return journey, savouring the Northumbrian countryside on a splendid evening; but the bulk of the outward journey took place in solid rain, and the last couple of hours on the return were very hard work.  We didn't actually get back that late (10.30) but it felt much later than it was.  Thank God I had been able to doze for an hour when I was up there, as even with the benefit of that I was finding it hard to stay awake).

That was my first visit to Hexham since Bold Cardowan won a novices' hurdle there under Richard Guest on 2,000 Guineas Day 2002, and I must make sure that I don't leave it another 14 years before I go there again.  The claim that it is Britain's most beautiful racecourse is easy to sustain, and its canteen is right up there with the very best, which is always a major factor in my grading system.  And the racing surface was lovely: they had had a lot of rain overnight and it was a bit wetter than 'good', but really it was just very, very good.  The fact that they hadn't raced there for four months obviously helped, but basically the turf was so pristine that it could have been four years.

Cottesloe ran a nice race.  He basically jumped well, albeit was just a tad deliberate on a couple of occasions, as one might expect with a horse in his first jumps race.  The three horses who beat him all had some decent placed runs to their name, and he'll be sharper in his jumping for having had that experience, an experience which he really seemed to enjoy, as he was the most relaxed and calm at the races, both before and after the race, than I've known him for a while.  He can go back to the Flat next time (Nottingham 11 days hence) and then I hope can go back over hurdles the time after that.

I hope that we shall have two runners next week.  Hope Is High and White Valiant are both entered at Ffos Las on Tuesday, but regretfully I think that we ought to abandon that plan, as the ground will probably be just a bit wetter than Hope Is High (who would be the reason for making that marathon trek) would like.  So what we shall probably do is let White Valiant (pictured in the final two paragraphs, doing stalls work with Josephine Gordon seven days ago) make his debut at Kempton AW on Wednesday, and let Hope Is High run at Newcastle AW on Friday, The Eliminator permitting.  In the interim, we have the Open Day tomorrow.  It is disappointing that there will only be 16 of the 80-odd stables in town open; but we shall be one of those 16, and it will once again be nice to welcome visitors.

And one other piece of house-keeping: as Neil Kearns correctly spotted, Cottesloe, although he had schooled over hurdles in the winter, did his more recent schooling over 'brush hurdles', which isn't ideal, but was the least unsatisfactory of our options.  We had the choice of schooling over hurdles on turf or over 'brush hurdles' on the AW.  We have had very good weather, so schooling over hurdles would have meant schooling on ground much firmer than I would ever ask him to race on over jumps, meaning that the AW option was preferable.  But that's life: you usually have to settle for the least unsatisfactory option, rather than the most ideal.