Friday, August 18, 2017

Tonight will be fine

It's been a very good week for us with our two runners.  Salisbury was good.  It's generally a lovely racecourse to visit; even better if one's horse runs well.  Kryptos ran very well.  For most of the race I thought that he was going to win, but through the final 300m it gradually became clear that he wasn't going to be able to reel in the leader Surrey Hope, the mount of Ryan Moore.  He's still very unseasoned, physically and mentally, and it was no disgrace that he couldn't quite get himself organised well enough to win.  Particularly as the winner is a very nice horse and was ridden by Ryan Moore, who is always hard to overhaul on a leader.  Ryan never goes too hard too soon, but always manages to save a bit for the end - as the other jockeys found when he landed a mighty victory on Eminent at Deauville on Tuesday.

So Kryptos was good.  And then Hope Is High was even better.  (Which isn't strictly true.  He was beaten a neck off 84 while she won by seven lengths off 59, which clearly means that his performance was markedly superior).  Common sense said that she ought to win as she had been a 'certainty beaten' in a very similar race over course and distance 16 days previously.  But, of course, luckless losers don't always become winners next time.  However, this time, aided by a typcially perfect Silvestre De Sousa ride, the theory did indeed become the practice, for once.  So straightforward!

On the previous occasion, the Julia Feilden-trained Best Example had finished just over two lengths and one place behind her, giving her 6lb.  It seemed fair to estimate that Hope's mishap coming out of the stalls might have cost her about five lengths.  This time Best Example was again giving her 6lb (Hope had gone up 3lb in the ratings, but Best Example no longer had a 3lb-claimer on board) so it was fair to suggest that Hope ought, if the theory held true, to beat Best Estimate by about seven lengths.  So what happened?  Hope won, Best Example was second, and the margin was seven lengths!  Even accustomed as we are to how consistent genuine horses can be, this was truly remarkable.  Maximum plaudits to both horses.

So that was lovely.  We'd had rain overnight and through the morning (as had Yarmouth, 8mm of it, which meant that we were racing on perfect ground, which is always a pleasure) but it turned out to be a gloriously sunny, very warm evening.  Conditions were idyllic, just right for a wonderful evening of racing.  10 out of 10 for Hope; 10 out of 10 for Silvestre; 10 out of 10 for every aspect of Yarmouth Racecourse (including its ground and weather) and all involved in its running.  And it gives me (nearly) as much pleasure to say that today as it did to be there last night.

So what's been happening in the wider world?  I see that Adam Carter has been found guilty in that long-running BHA enquiry, but that John Wainwright was inevitably exonerated.  Why do I say inevitably?  Do I know that he was innocent?  Of course not!  I have no idea whether he was innocent or guilty.  But I do know, if the Racing Post reports of the hearing were accurate, that the BHA's barrister made such a poor job of presenting his case that the case was doomed to failure.  One might say that if the BHA had to resort to making the idiotic 'he was using an "out-of-sorts" jockey, therefore he didn't want to win' line of reasoning a plank of its prosecution, then it clearly had so little on which to base the case that John must surely be innocent.

However, however weak one's case, one wouldn't stoop to using such nonsense if one had any common sense as it just makes one's case look weak, whether it is weak or not.  The key to pushing one's cause if one's case is weak is to conceal just how weak it is, rather than to emphasise (one could even say exaggerate) its weakness.  The pushing of this line of supposed logic didn't actually tell us that the BHA's case was weak; it just told us that it was being incompetently put.  And if you put your case incompetently, you're going to lose irrespective of its merit.

You have to feel for the BHA as it doesn't seem to have had much luck with its lawyers.  One didn't have to be a lawyer to realise that Mathew Lohn, on the basis that he intermittently worked for the BHA, was not qualified to be the supposedly independent adjudicator in any case in which the BHA was the prosecutor; you just needed to have a measure of common sense.  The BHA was entitled to feel aggrieved that he didn't point this out when offered the job of adjudicating in the Jim Best matter, and it is now again entitled to feel aggrieved that its barrister has based its case on a line of 'reasoning' so flawed that it doomed the case to failure.

What else has happened?  Well, we had the tragedy of Permian's death, and we have the announcement of plans to reduce the amount of non-runners.  These are connected, aren't they?  As I see it, if you declare a horse, you want to run.  If you then scratch the horse, you generally do so because of one concern: the horse's welfare.  You are either concerned that the ground has become too soft and the horse is likely to labour on it or has become too firm and the horse is unacceptably likely to jar up or worse; or you just are no longer happy that the horse is physically or mentally in a condition to be pitched into a race.

There has been far too much written and said following the death of Permian on what would have been, by British standards, a rock-hard track.  I don't really want to add to the already-excessive pontification on the subject, but I would be interested to know how many of the people who have lambasted Mark Johnston for not being cautious enough, for supposedly being too cavalier with the horse's welfare and for running the horse on an occasion when, with the wisdom of hindsight, we can say that he would have been better off not running, how many of them have on other occasions sounded off about trainers being too cautious, being too concerned with their horses's welfare and being too free to scratch their horses.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We're only making plans for ...

I think that when I last wrote a chapter on this blog, we had just run Parek (Sussex Girl) at Bath and were shortly going to run Roy at Brighton.  Roy did indeed run there last Friday.  I'd been a little uneasy going there, even with a horse who likes the track and likes fast ground, as on TV the ground hadn't looked very nice on the first two days of the Festival, George Hill (the clerk of the course) having found himself in the difficult position of having had plentiful rain forecast but only a minimal amount arriving.  The worst thing (as regards laying himself open to a barrage of criticism) that a clerk of the course can do is to water and then have rain arrive, leaving the ground softer than people want.  The upshot was extremely firm ground for the start of the Festival, and quite rough too as the track has had a lot of racing this summer.

However, George sorted things out very well, watering and putting up a false rail, so the horses ended up racing on a very acceptable surface the day that we were there.  That was good.  So was the race, sort of.  Roy finished last of the five runners but ran well enough.  The three three-year-olds in the race finished first, second and third.  The two older horses finished fourth and fifth.  The three-year-olds have such an advantage in these 3yo+ handicaps.  Not only do the receive a hefty weight-for-age allowance, but they are so much less exposed than their elders, and hence are generally much better handicapped.

The first two home in the race will probably still be well handicapped when their ratings are 10lb higher than they were last week; while Roy, at the age of seven, was 1lb higher than his highest winning mark.  The other older horse in the race, who beat Roy by one and a half lengths for fourth place, won three races last season (one at Windsor, two at Goodwood) and had now dropped back to a mark 2lb lower than the one off which he won at Goodwood at the end of August, and had seemingly been waiting for the fast ground.  In effect, we were dependent on one of our rivals running below form for us to finish anywhere but last.  None of them did (well, the third arguably did, slightly) so fifth of five it was.  But that was OK.

I ought, as I believe most trainers do, to have looked at the updated handicap list as soon as it was released this morning.  However, I didn't: getting the horses worked requires one's full attention.  Well, it requires my full attention anyway, from 5.30 to 12.30.  And then there are always plenty of other things to do.  So I'll finally have a look now (at 7.50 pm) ... You bewdy!  Roy has dropped a pound, and Sussex Girl has dropped 4lb.  That's got to help, both of them.  Both ought to run again around the end of the month, possibly Roy at Epsom on August Bank Holiday Monday and Parek four days later, at Thirsk on 1st September.

More imminently, we have a runner a day on the next two days.  Kryptos goes to Salisbury tomorrow and then Hope Is High back to Yarmouth on Thursday.  Fran Berry on Kryptos, Silvestre De Sousa on Hope.  One would hope that both horses should have a good chance.  I was in two minds whether to declare Hope, but I'm glad that I did.  Of the entries, The Detainee (who had beaten her narrowly last time over course and distance when she did not have luck on her side) looked easily our most daunting potential opponent.  It was an obvious race for him, and unsurprisingly he was jocked up with Trevor Whelan to ride again.

We decided to declare - and I'm glad that we did, now that we find that The Detainee has not been declared.  Set against the pleasant surprise of finding that The Detainee was not in the field was the discovery that we have drawn ten of ten.  Snakes and ladders, swings and roundabouts, as ever! But we'll start worrying about what Yarmouth will bring for this genuine filly, who seemingly finds it very easy to be placed but considerably harder to win, once we have tomorrow's outing out of the way.  Kryptos' work has been very good, but there are some nice horses in opposition and his mark is now 84, so we won't take anything for granted.  As ever, we'll travel full of hope while expecting nothing.
Thursday, August 10, 2017

All men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them

Runners update.  Two runners this week.  Sussex Girl (Parek) at Bath yesterday with Georgia Cox; Roy at Brighton tomorrow with Nicola Currie.  The story of yesterday's trip was the rain.  We had an inch here (yet another inch) yesterday.  I don't know what they had at Bath, but it was probably more than that.  The band of rain was moving across the country, so Bath had its rain earlier, and the one consolation was that it had stopped raining there by the time that racing started (while it rained here right through to nightfall).  If the rain had come before declaration time, I wouldn't have declared - but it was good at declaration time (albeit with rain forecast, but there's rain 3mm and there's rain 60mm, so one doesn't know how much is going to come) so we declared.  And we were declared so we ran.

She actually didn't run too badly, so it would be an over-reaction to say that she didn't handle the ground.  But, even so, I suspect that she will be better on a firm surface.  She hadn't run for three months, had only ever run three times previously, and most of the horses in the race had a bit of form.  So seventh of ten was OK.  The run, and the experience, will have done her good because we're behind schedule with her, and she's ready for racing now and needs racing.  And she was the best down at the start and going into the stalls that I've known her (I generally go down to the start to be with her and lead her in) so all in all that was satisfactory.  Let's hope that it's onwards and upwards.

With Roy (pictured this morning in the third and fourth photographs, keeping himself clean for tomorrow's outing) we're in a different boat.  While we hope that Parek might just be getting her act together and, as they say on TV, taking a step forward, Roy, at the age of seven, has probably gone as far forward as he can.  He is (I hope!) very far from going backwards, but it's hard to say that he's going forward.  He's in extremely good form, and his last two runs (in the past two weeks) have been very good.  But tomorrow it's a three-year-olds-and-upwards handicap, rather than a four-year-olds-and-upwards handicap, so he's an outsider in the betting.  The horses taking a step forward, ie the younger ones, generally hold sway in such races, and tomorrow it looks likely to be the same.  But he'll do his best, as always, and with Roy at Brighton one always has a chance.

Despite what you may have read in yesterday's Racing Post in the preview of the three-day Brighton Festival, Nicola will be on Roy again tomorrow, for the fourth time in a row.  The past three runs have been apprentices' races and, while she's ridden him spot-on every time, he's John Egan's ride any time that John is free.  John was set to be back on tomorrow, but yesterday morning it became apparent that he wouldn't be permitted to go to Brighton on Friday for his three booked rides because Sandown's evening meeting tonight would be his ninth meeting of the week.  The jockey's week runs Saturday to Friday, which is sensible because it means that they can never be caught out by this rule on a Saturday, the most important day of a jockey's week, and that's as many meeting as they are allowed to ride at.

So John will be twiddling his thumbs tomorrow afternoon (well, that's not true because he's a workaholic, so he'll be keeping himself busy somehow or other) and Nicola will be riding Roy. The nine-meetings rule is an unwieldy one.  A meeting is a meeting irrespective of whether it's a mile from home or 300 miles from home; a meeting is a meeting irrespective of whether a jockey has one ride there or six; an evening meeting is a meeting irrespective of whether a jockey drives past it on his way home from the afternoon meeting or whether it's in the opposite direction.

A meeting is a meeting irrespective of whether the jockey drives himself there or is driven and sleeps throughout the journey, or flies.  However, overall the rule has a sound basis, ie making sure that jockeys don't work themselves to exhaustion and either fall asleep behind the wheel or lose concentration in a race because of tiredness.  It's probably just as well that there's no similar restriction on the length of a trainer's working day or working week, otherwise a few of us might have to pack up!  And on that note, I'm off to bed - long and busy day tomorrow (again!).
Sunday, August 06, 2017

Reasons to be cheerful

Subsequent to the previous chapter which was written on Wednesday, we had our second runner of the week.  Roy went to Epsom on Thursday and acquitted himself well, finishing third behind two nice horses.  Again he was ridden extremely well by Nicola Currie, who is currently beginning to enjoy the success that her ability and application deserves.  Let's hope that it continues.  Certainly last week was a good one for her as she doubled her career total of winners, taking it from three to six (from five rides during the week).  Her three winners were for three different trainers: her boss Richard Hughes, Mark Usher and Henry Candy.

On the subject of jockeys, one of the consolations of our two good minor placings during the week (ie consolations that they didn't win, Roy having been beaten on merit and Hope Is High, beaten a head at Yarmouth, having caused her own misfortune by stumbling as she jumped out of the stalls) was that in each case I was delighted on behalf of the winning jockey.  Hope went down narrowly to The Detainee, who helped his jockey Trevor Whelan (formerly of this parish, when he was riding for Neil King prior to Neil's relocation to Barbury Castle) to continue to establish himself on the Flat, having prior to this summer been riding only over jumps.

Trevor is very effective under both codes - as he demonstrated on Tuesday, dashing away from Yarmouth shortly after his win to make the long journey to Worcester, where he rode in a jumps race in the evening.  I had an enjoyable shift on ATR last night, covering the Lingfield card plus US racing from Saratoga, Laurel and Mountaineer Park with Tim Carroll, and was very pleased to be punditising (if that is a word, which it isn't) on another winner for Trevor (which took his Flat tally to three) when he stepped in for Shane Kelly (held up in traffic) to win a race for Gary Moore at Lingfield, a victory which owed plenty to Trevor's positive riding.

At Epsom the winner of our race, Miss Inga Sock, was ridden by Georgia Cox, who is apprenticed just round the corner from here to William Haggas (and who is pictured in this paragraph's photograh, on Kryptos this morning) and who is not only one of the best apprentices in the country but also one of the most diligent.  Her professionalism, work ethic and thoroughness of preparation is second to none, and she deserves any success which she achieves - which is plenty because she only really started to get going last season, and she has already ridden 45 winners.  On both occasions last week, therefore, I can genuinely say that, while obviously I would have preferred to see our horse win, I was happy to salute the victory of the horse who did.

Another others' victory (if that makes sense) which has given me pleasure (colossal pleasure, in fact) has been the triumph today of Dream Walker in the 100,000-euro EBF Ahonoora Premier Handicap at Galway, repeating his mighty win in the race last year in at least as exhilarating style.  He is a true marvel (as is his trainer Brian Ellison, who was saddling the winner for the fourth year in a row, and who supplied the trifecta) and this triumph, I think, takes the tally of victories for the offspring of Minnie's Mystery to 32.  She has given me plenty of reasons in the past to describe myself as a proud breeder, but never more than today.
Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The garbage and the flowers

Interesting comments after last night's chapter by David Winter, Glenn Pennington, Craig McKenna and David Wilkinson.  Thanks to all for the feedback.  I would recommend anyone reading the comments, but particularly racecourse managers.  (And I should mention that Yarmouth's extremely competent and conscientious clerk of the course Richard Aldous called me at 9.30 last night, and has been very and typically helpful).  Regarding yesterday's events, it has been interesting that Emma's blog has prompted three other trainers to volunteer that they have had similar unpleasant telephonic experiences recently, two of them this week.  (And it's still only Wednesday).  One common denominator between the three is that the integrity of all three is beyond dispute.

Another update to last night's blog is that I have been in touch with the BHA on the subject today.  Apparently this matter is ongoing, the calls are believed all to come from the same person, and the Metropolitan Police are apparently close to a breakthrough.  The BHA apparently cannot comment any further primarily because the police do not release, even to interested parties, unnecessary details of ongoing investigations.  It's hard to work out why this is taking so long.  (It seems hard to believe that one can actually guarantee anonymity just by pressing the anonymity button on one's telephone, that it genuinely isn't possible for the police to liaise with the phone companies and establish what withheld number called my phone twice around 2.28 pm yesterday.  If they really cannot do this in seconds, then there is no point in watching things like 'Spooks' or the Jason Bourne movies.)

I would hope that this matter is being taken seriously by the police because these calls are effectively death-threats, which can't be legal.  I suppose the miscreant could argue that he was not suggesting a knife in the kidneys when he told me to watch my back, but was merely giving friendly general advice, although the fact that he had called me a paedophile in the previous sentence might make it hard for him to argue that he was speaking in anything other than a hostile manner.  Even if he could pass that one off, it would be hard for him to put an anodyne spin on the call in which he threatened to cut a trainer's throat.  (Bizarrely, that trainer had just trained a winner!).

I did mention yesterday that, while this caller's contributions are not acceptable, we should not be too quick to censure on-course spectators who feel free to barrack (providing of course that they don't go down racist, sexist, etc. lines).  Soccer fans, of course, can and sometimes do go way beyond what is acceptable, but similarly they can be particularly witty.  Over the past year or so I have been enjoying the fact that, apparently, since Hull (somewhat surprisingly) became European City of Culture, the Hull City fans have adopted the practice at home games of taunting visiting supporters with the chant, "You're only here for the culture".  Excellent.  (By the way, does Hull actually exist?  Is it not correctly Kingston-upon-Hull?).

Fortuitously, at bedtime last night I chanced upon an even better example of soccer supporters' wit.  Earlier this year I read and greatly enjoyed Michael Channon jr's superb book, 'How's your dad?'.  While doing so, the thought came to me that I really should have read Mick Quinn's autobiography, 'Who ate all the pies?'.  It would be overstating things to say that Mick and I are close friends, but he is one of the Newmarket trainers with whom I get on best and one of those whom I most like, and I would regard us as being more than mere acquaintances.  The thought came to me that, were I to make the effort to write a book, I would hope that some of my friends would take the trouble to read it.

Anyway, I am reading it now, and enjoying it very much.  The human and sporting anecdotes are very entertaining.  During the chapter which I read in bed last night before turning off the light, I came across this gem from Mick's days with Oldham.  "I arrived at the club in January 1984, at the same time as goalie Andy Goram, who went on to play for Scotland.  Andy, who had a broad Lancashire accent and was known as the Bury Werewolf, also played cricket for Scotland.  Later he joined Glasgow Rangers and was diagnosed with mild schizophrenia; away fans used to sing, 'Two Andy Gorams, there's only two Andy Gorams.'"  Very good indeed - a bit naughty, for sure, but that level of wit would have done Oscar Wilde proud.  Let's hope that Roy can do us proud at Epsom tomorrow night.  He generally does.  And I would imagine that he will be very well ridden by the excellent Nicola Currie, whose 7lb claim is a gift and who has already ridden two winners this week (on Dandy Flame at Windsor on Monday night for her boss Richard Hughes and on Born To Please for Mark Usher at Sandown tonight).