Friday, September 15, 2017

In this ever-changing world in which we live in

Plans, plans, plans.  Last weekend we planned to have four runners, only declared three and only ran two.  But that was OK because the two yielded two pleasing runs.  White Valiant ran a nice race to finish fifth at Fontwell on his hurdles debut on Sunday, which was pleasing; and Kryptos won easily at Thirsk on Saturday, which was very, very, very, very, very pleasing.  It was straightforward for him and he seems to have come out of the race very well, so he and Nicola can head north again tomorrow, to contest at Class Two handicap on Doncaster's St Leger card.  It'll be an honour to compete on a Classic raceday, something I don't think I've ever done previously.

He will be against better (and older) horses, but he'll only have 8:03 to carry and he doesn't look out of place in the field.  Initially the plan had been for him not to run until Newmarket at the end of the month which would mean having three weeks between races, as had been the case after his runs at both Chester and Salisbury, when he needed each time to have a bit of an easy time afterwards to bounce back to his full self.  This time, though, he was full of beans right from the outset, hence the change of plan.  So it means that I'll see my fourth St Leger, having previously been at Doncaster for the wins of Touching Wood, Snurge and Encke.  Whom will I see etch his name into history tomorrow?

This coming weekend has turned out rather similar to last weekend in that this time too we'll have fewer runners than originally planned.  Hope Is High was meant to go to Bath tomorrow and Sussex Girl to the same course on Sunday, but the problems which have come to light with the turf on the bend at the course mean that neither race will take place.  And then we'll only run one of our two entrants on Monday.  Kilim can go to Brighton to see if she can follow up on her win there last month; but we won't take Delatite to Worcester.  There's a bumper at Sedgefield 15 days later, and he can go there instead.

Happily, neither Hope Is High nor Sussex Girl needs to wait too long before having another chance to run.  With Sussex Girl it was straightforward as there are two suitable races at Chelmsford on Thursday evening.  With Hope Is High, however, we have had a bonus opportunity, and it is totally thanks to the public-spiritedness of ARC that this is happening.  Her race at Bath was to be the Final of the Bath Stayers' Series, for which there have been qualifiers run through the summer.  (She ran in two qualifiers, winning one and finishing fourth in the other).

This Final has been very much something for connections of horses such as her to look forward to through the summer.  Consequently it was a big disappointment (for a small number of people) when it had to be abandoned.  It was also disappointing for Bath, because it was the centrepiece of what was to be a big day for the racecourse, Gentleman's Day, which now isn't going to happen.  So it was a shame that the race was off the agenda, but it was nobody's fault.  C'est la vie.  Happily, while there was obviously no obligation on ARC (the racecourse's parent company) to reschedule the race, the management has decided to do so, and it will be run at another ARC racecourse (Yarmouth) on Thursday.  Good on 'em.  Much appreciated

So Hope can go to Yarmouth on Thursday, which is great.  There's a further bonus in that this means that we'll be having a runner at the Yarmouth September Meeting (now known as the Eastern Festival) which is a big deal among smaller owners and trainers in this part of the world, and a big thing among East Anglian racegoers.  It's always nice to have a runner there as it's a big and very happy occasion (one year we even managed to have two winners at the meeting, Picot De Say and La Gessa, albeit not on the same day) so now we'll have a runner at the meeting, which wouldn't have done otherwise.  Let's, as always, hope for the best.

And a further silver lining to what initially seemed to be the cloud of the problems at Bath is that we shall be able to open on Sunday for the Newmarket Open Day.  I would have felt obliged to go to Bath if Sussex Girl had been running, despite the fact that I think that the Newmarket Open Day is a very good thing and that one should support it by opening one's stable if at all possible.  But the plan to go to Bath had meant that we were not on the list of stables to open - but now, no Bath so we'll be open.  The forecast isn't very promising, but you'll get a warm welcome if you call in to see us, as you will do in any of the open stables if you pay them a visit.
Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Open(ish) Day

I'm writing this chapter rather shamefacedly.  I think that in a recent chapter I commented how our counterparts at Epsom put us to shame when it comes to opening their stables on their town's open day.  The collective record of Newmarket/Exning trainers, all 70 of us or however many there are meant to be, in this respect is woeful.  Yesterday the list of trainers who will open their stables here on Sunday 17th September was unveiled.  There are 18 names on it, 18 names of trainers who should be commended.  And the embarrassing thing is that I am not one of them.

The trainers whom we should salute are (in alphabetical order) Charlie Appleby, Michael Bell, Marco Botti, Tom Clover, Simon Crisford, Luca Cumani, Ed Dunlop, James Eustace, James Fanshawe, Julia Feilden, Charlie Fellowes, Amy Murphy, George Peckham, Denis Quinn, David Simcock, Richard Spencer, Roger Varian and Stuart Williams.  Fair play to them all.  Particularly fair play to Roger, who didn't open last year which was understandable as his horses were just returning from a serious bout of sickness at the time, and to Charlie Appleby, who by opening is flying in the face of Godolphin's deeply ingrained tradition of secrecy.

In my defence, I ought to point out that I might end up opening.  I've opened the stable every year (notwithstanding that I do have reservations about the concept of the Open Day in so far as it implies that we aren't open the other 364 days of the year - we are, or rather I am, so if you're in Newmarket any other day and would like to have a look inside a stable, feel free to get in touch because you will be made very welcome here) bar one, when I was obliged to go early to Tattersalls Ireland's Yearling Sale at Fairyhouse.  Unfortunately, this year I have another commitment which looks likely to mean that I won't be in Newmarket.

Parek (Sussex Girl) is an intended runner at Brighton on Monday, and then the intention is for her to back up at Bath six days later, which is the day of the Open Day.  I always take our horses to the races unless it isn't feasible (and sometimes it isn't feasible - for example, this Saturday I won't be able to take Delatite to Stratford as I will be taking Kryptos to Thirsk the same day) and on this occasion definitely would be taking her to Bath because she is difficult at the start and I always put her in the stalls myself.  I didn't put Parek in on one occasion (when she ran at Yarmouth, and I only didn't go down to the start with her because Hope Is High was running in the next race, and I'd just have been putting myself under too much pressure for saddling the latter if I'd gone to the start for the previous race) and she came within an ace of not going in.

In fact, the only reason why she was given such a painfully long time was because there was only a very small field.  Had there been a larger field, the starter's patience would have run out a minute or so earlier, and "Take her away" would have been the order.  So if Parek runs that day, I'll go to Bath and I'll go down to the start with her.  Which means that I won't be here, so the stable won't be open, as it would not be satisfactory from any point of view to open the stable and the trainer not be there.  If plans change in the next 11 days and Parek doesn't run, then I'll open.  But I thought it less unsatisfactory to open without having been on the list of open stables (social media makes it easy to spread the word that another name has been added to the list) than to be on the list of stables open and be listed in the brochure as being open, but not open.

So that's the weekend at the end of next week.  I hope that we'll have runners three consecutive days: Hope Is High at Bath on Saturday 16th, Sussex Girl (seen in the second photograph, on Sunday with Kryptos) at Bath on Sunday 17th, Kilim (in the penultimate photograph, strolling around the yard after work this morning) at Brighton Monday 18th.  More immediately, I hope that we shall have a similar schedule this weekend: Kryptos at Thirsk and Delatite (whose ears can just about be seen in the first photograph, at the bottom of Waterhall at dawn on Sunday) at Stratford on Saturday 9th, White Valiant (seen schooling here yesterday morning under Jack Quinlan, who will ride him and Delatite in their races) at Fontwell on Sunday 10th, Sussex Girl at Brighton on Monday 11th.  Busy times.  As ever, we'll hope for the best but take nothing for granted.
Sunday, September 03, 2017

Singing in the Sunday choir like Haldeman and Ehrlichman

It was a pleasure to go to Thirsk on Friday.  As we headed up the A14 towards Huntingdon and kept on going on to the A1 rather than turning off to remain on the A14 to head to the midlands, the thought came to me that I hadn't been that way for quite some time.  On reflection, I suspect that this was the first time that I'd headed up there this year, which is remarkable bearing in mind that we are now into September.  I would usually have expected to have made the odd trip up to some of the Yorkshire courses at some point, or even to have headed farther north or over to Carlisle.

But seemingly not - which is believable, as Brighton, Yarmouth and Bath seem to have been our most frequent ports of call this year.  It was only three years ago that, I think, Catterick was our most-visited racecourse.  Not this year, though, so it was particularly good to head up to 'God's own county'.  And we did so on a very pleasant day.  So I really enjoyed the trip to Thirsk, and doubly so because Parek (Sussex Girl) ran a very nice race.  She only finished sixth of nine, but she was only beaten two lengths.  Pretty much all the horses in the race had been running competitively recently (as the fact that we were the complete outsider of the field suggested) so this bold show, in only her second handicap, was very promising.

Fingers crossed, Parek can go to Brighton on Monday week.  I feel that the course will suit her particularly well, so I'm very much looking forward to that.  As, indeed, am I looking forward to turning Thirsk from a place which I hadn't visited for ages into somewhere I seem to go every week: I hope that we will be back there on Saturday, with Kryptos (who can be seen in the final photograph, relaxing with Parek in their pen out in the yard in the sunshine yesterday afternoon).  It's always a pleasure to go racing in Yorkshire, so it's good to be making up for our recent absences.

So that's no runners for us now until Saturday.  One outing, though, between my eight-days-apart trips to Thirsk: this morning I headed over to Milton Keynes for the Sunday Forum.  My heart had sunk when I had seen that the Davy Russell case was still rumbling on, as that's a topic which had already been done to death by racing's chattering classes.  Whether we found anything to say on the subject this morning which hadn't already been said 10,000 times I don't know, but it seemed a straightforward programme anyway.  We can't too expect too much at this time of year, as we are only now, of course, emerging from the silly season in which August traditionally sees inconsequential nonsense dominating the front pages.

Within racing's little world we might think that we've seen some trivial matters being discussed as if they were of world-changing importance, but that's nothing compared to the outside world.  The Times/Mail story of the five-year-old Christian (if there is such a thing, which I doubt - surely you have to be older than five to be in a position to decide which, if any, religion you wish to join?) being placed with Muslim foster-parents was rammed down our throats as if it were a major issue, but surely such a situation is preferable to a five-year-old supposed Christian being placed with atheist or agnostic foster-parents?  And that, presumably in these godless times, must happen all the time without seeming to attract any comment at all.

And that's not even to mention that anyone prepared to become a foster-parent, irrespective of their religion or, indeed, whether they even have a religion, should be exempt from any criticism from the rest of us, the vast majority who wouldn't take on a parent-less child in need in a month of Sundays.  Yet we have had to endure this non-issue being given banner headlines - hot on the heels of the non-story of MPs' collective over-reaction to the silencing of Big Ben.  I suppose, under the circumstances, Russellgate becoming the biggest story since Watergate isn't too weird at all.
Thursday, August 31, 2017

To light the maps and diagrams that Leonardo made

It was a beautiful Bank Holiday, something like 28 degrees, and then Tuesday was lovely too.  We had a sharp deterioration yesterday (Wednesday) when it was colder and rained, but today is very pleasant indeed - even if one would have to call it a very pleasant autumn day, unlike the very pleasant summer's days which we enjoyed at the start of the week.  Still, autumn has to come, and if it comes with the breath-takingly beautiful starts to the days such as we enjoyed this morning (as you can see here, with White Valiant and his mate having a hurdles schooling session at the Links as the sun appears) then we won't resent its coming too much.

But back to summer.  It was lovely at Epsom on Monday.  August Bank Holiday Monday, on which day Epsom has been racing for decades, is now also the day of the Epsom Stables Open Day.  That seems to be a great success, not least because the Epsom trainers show us how it's done.  Last year every trainer in Epsom opened his/her doors for the Open Day.  Here there were something like 16 stables open when we had our Open Day three weeks later - which is pathetic when one considers that there are apparently something like 70 trainers here.  All too many here used the excuse that exposure to the great unwashed might place their precious charges at risk of falling sick.  Such a potential problem didn't seem to apply for Harbour Law, who happily won the St Leger 13 days after Laura Mongan had allowed the General Public to visit him.

Roy seems to be holding his form through the summer better this year than in the past two seasons.  He ran very well at Epsom on Monday, finishing a staying-on fifth.  When Ross Birkett rode him in the Amateurs' Derby last year, the field opened up like the Red Sea on straightening, and Roy was able to scoot through on the inside.  This time, ironically, they remained tight packed, which meant that Roy was boxed in when he needed to be starting to work forward.  He had to sit and suffer, but finished off the race very well.  With a clear run he might have been a place or two closer.

The only downside was that when we drew stall one yet again, I felt obliged to take yet another yellow card so that we didn't have to be loaded first.  That pushes us over the stall-test threshold again, so he has to have another one of those before running again.  That rules us out of what would have been a very suitable race at Brighton this Sunday.  If we had drawn an even-numbered gate, we'd have been fine and would have run in both races.  With the benefit of hindsight, now that we know that we were destined to draw the gate which we least wanted at Epsom, we would have been better not to have declared for that race, and gone straight to Brighton.

However, as is always the case, we can always be wise after the event.  But at the time giving ourselves the chance to run in both races, while ensuring that we would definitely run in one, was the sensible way forward.  Not declaring for Epsom would have guaranteed that we wouldn't have been able to run in both races.  As it is, we won't run at Brighton on Sunday, nor at any of Brighton's other few remaining meetings this season as, by the time that we'll be allowed to run again, the only remaining Brighton card won't have a race suitable for him.  However, we should get another couple of runs before the season ends - Salisbury early in October and Newbury later in the month - so an Indian summer would be even more welcome from Roy's point of view than it would be anyway.

Tuesday was a lovely day too, but yesterday was significantly less warm, significantly less sunny and significantly less dry.  Still, at least it was relatively pleasant at Kempton in the evening.  Wasted Sunsets has been here for nearly two years now since arriving as a yearling from France in September 2015.  She's been a very slow developer, so it was very good at last to get her career under way yesterday.  She ran respectably, finishing fourth of six, admittedly well beaten by the principals, and if she can build on this with more time and more distance, which ought to be the case, then she'll be fine.

Another horse who I hope can progress with time and distance is Sussex Girl.  She's further forward than Wasted Sunsets, having already had four races.  Tomorrow she shall have her fifth race, at Thirsk.  She's been working nicely and I think should run fairly well.  How well that is we shall find out tomorrow afternoon.  She has learned to relax and now finishes off her gallops very well, so it might be that she will progress further when she steps up from a mile to ten furlongs.  But even saying that, I hope that she will run competitively tomorrow.  As always, we'll hope for the best and expect nothing.
Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bank Holiday sunshine

Another week.  Well, this other week has begun beautifully, its first day (Sunday, of course) having been a truly glorious day.  We've spent large parts of both July and August feeling short-changed by the weather, so it's rather good that during the August Bank Holiday weekend, which is so often very wet, is proving to be such a delight.  It's due to be even hotter tomorrow (24 today, 27 tomorrow) so that's great.  We'll be off to Epsom with Roy, and the traffic might be busy especially on the M25 as one approaches the bridge, so it'll be sensible to be on the road in good time, as it's not good to have a horse in a stationary horsebox on a hot day.

The amateurs' Derby is likely to be a hot enough race by Roy's standards, but he's very well and on bottom weight.  Ross Birkett rides him very well (he's ridden him twice previously, winning at Brighton in the middle of last year and then running well in this race a couple of months later) just as he rides all horses well, so we'll go to the races knowing that we have a legitimate contender in what is by our standards a big race; and we'll enjoy the day, knowing that Roy is almost certain to run his usual honourable and honest race.  

Later in the week we should have Wasted Sunsets making her debut at Kempton on Wednesday evening and Sussex Girl running at Thirsk on Friday.  Wasted Sunsets has been a slow developer, but that's been no surprise as she was a relatively immature yearling.  It'll be good to be able to begin to make up for lost time.  Sussex Girl has also been quite backward too and it's still fairly early days for her too, although it'll be her fifth rather than first race.  She seems to be progressing nicely, so I'd hope that she is ready to run very competitively.  We'll see.

Looking farther ahead, White Valiant (seen in the foreground this afternoon in the first photograph, out with his friends Indira, Kilim and Roy) is also preparing to take his career to a new stage.  He appears to be on schedule to make his hurdles debut at Fontwell two weeks today, 10th September.  He's working well and his schooling is going well too, courtesy of Jack Quinlan and his sister Megan who is doing us a colossal favour by giving him a lead on her horse.  As you can see from these last two photographs, taken yesterday morning before the clouds dispersed, this is first-class tuition, and White Valiant seems to be taking advantage of this excellent education.