Friday, October 23, 2020

Blameless


Another runner tomorrow (Saturday).  Our second of the week.  Hard to know what to expect.  Only five runners in the race, which makes it easier to figure in the frame.  I'd rather be running The Rocket Park on turf as he's a proper dour staying horse, and such horses are generally more suited by turf races than on the AW.  But he doesn't want the ground to be too soft, which means that he won't get his preferred conditions on grass until maybe April or May, so the next six months or so it's the AW or nothing.  So we'll try the AW and see how we go.  He's seems very well and has run well (finishing first and third) in both his runs this season, so we'll hope for the best.  And we'll hope that we don't get wet because we've gone from consistently wet to very changeable, which can mean sunny but can also, of course, still mean wet.


The several areas of the country going into Tier Three of lockdown spell bad news for many aspects of society, most particularly the inhabitants of these areas, but it's bad news for racing too with the racecourses' income dropping further with large numbers of betting shops being closed and thus not buying the television coverage of the races.  The courses are semi-qualified to weather the behind-closed-doors paying-customer-less storm by virtue of being paid by the betting shops for the pictures of the races.  But when so many betting shops are closed, it becomes a double whammy.  Depresssing.  


On a happier note, it seems as if the zilpaterol mystery has been cleared up in the most satisfactory manner.  I was stupid because naively I had assumed that the feed companies would buy basic ingredients and then create the feed mixture, and that thus zilpaterol must have found its way into the mix by a major blunder.  However, if I'd used even a small amount of common sense I'd have worked out that for some of the ingredients the feed companies buy previously-processed food to put into the mix, and it seems to be one of these that has contained zilpaterol.


That's just common sense.  Soya beans are grown overseas, so the obvious thing to do is to process the beans into the soya meal near where they are grown, and then export the meal.  That applies even more with sugar cane.  I would guess that it takes a mountain of sugar cane to make a gallon of molasses, in the same way that it needs a mountain of sugar beet to make a bag of sugar; and in Britain they reckon that there's no point in growing sugar beet unless you live within maybe a 60-mile radius of a sugar beet processing plant because the costs of transporting it are too high.


Anyway, don't take this as gospel as I may have got the wrong end of the stick, but this is my understanding of the situation.  Pretty much all horse feeds contain molasses to make them palatable.  Molasses are made from sugar cane.  As outlined above, the feed companies don't import sugar cane and process it in the British Isles; the sugar cane is processed where it is grown, and then molasses are imported into Ireland and Britain and added to the feed.  Straightforward.  The molasses generally come from India, where a lot of sugar cane is grown.


However, this is the year of COVID.  Apparently COVID has been bad in India and has disrupted some aspects of agriculture there, and there has been less sugar cane grown in India.  However, there has been plenty grown in South Africa, so a molasses importer/wholesaler has switched from buying molasses in India to buying it in South Africa.  And that's very straightforward because molasses is a totally natural feedstuff, wherever it's produced- it's just processed sugar cane, and sugar cane is sugar cane wherever it's grown.  Seemples.


However, it is not only US cattle-farmers who like to bulk up their cows unnaturally by feeding zilpaterol, which isn't an anabolic steroid (technically it is a beta-agonist) but has similar effects to anabolic steriods.  South African cattle-farmers use it too.  (It isn't legal in the EU - and this is a reminder that we don't want to be lowering our food standards on leaving the EU).  And apparently their preferred method of getting it into their cows is in the molasses which are part of the cattle feed.  Anyway, it seems to be the case that a batch of molasses which was imported into Ireland from South Africa turned out to be molasses which had been made for cows rather than horses, which shouldn't normally be an issue because molasses are molasses whoever is going to eat them.


Anyway, I don't think that Gain even knew that their molasses were any different to the totally natural ones which they had always used.  I don't think they even knew that the country of origin had changed, never mind that their molasses were no longer natural, un-doctored molasses.  You wouldn't: molasses are molasses are molasses (you'd think).  It genuinely has been an innocent error which was out of Gain's hands.  So at least we can rest assured that there has been no attempt to feed anything unnatural to the horses, either by the trainers or the feed companies.  And I can't see that either can be castigated for what has happened.  Hopefully no winner has tested positive to zilpaterol so we wouldn't need to agonise over this, but my opinion is that it would be very harsh to disqualify any such winner or to discipline his/her trainer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Character


I enjoyed my trip to Windsor on Monday, notwithstanding that Das Kapital's run was not particularly good.  It wasn't particularly bad either: sixth of sixteen, not beaten too far (seven lengths) in a race in which there were 85 lengths between first and last.  As that latter statistics suggests, the ground was very testing - but the track was basically in very good nick, and the Windsor grounds' staff have done well to get to the end of their season with the track as undamaged as it was, although obviously the fact that they didn't start racing until June gave them a little bit of help.  I'd hoped that Das Kapital would be placed, but he wasn't.


Two of the things which made the trip particularly enjoyable were the traffic (ie how little of it there was - I don't think that I've ever had an M25 trip where the traffic has been so light on both the outward and the homeward journeys) and the fact that I had a chat to Ken Wingrove.  I noticed that a Miss Megan Wingrove was riding in the race, on Laurence Bellman's Smiley Bagel, trained by Mark Loughnane.  I guessed that she might be one of Ken's many children so asked Mark if that were the case, and indeed it is.


What was even better was that one of her siblings - her brother Damien - was there too with Mark, leading the horse up.  I was very pleased to meet Damien and hear of his dad, who made many friends here when he trained in some boxes rented from Mick Ryan in Cadland Stables for a couple of years in the '90s.  The children were only small then - which was just as well as there were quite a lot of them so they needed to be small to be able all the cram into the horsebox when they had a runner, which is what happened.  A lovely family.


I think that Ken had been training somewhere near Coventry before he came to Newmarket, and that he returned to that same area afterwards.  He hasn't been training for quite a few years now, although I did bump into him at the races maybe four or five years ago.  He's one of those people you're always pleased to see and who always gives you such a warm greeting that you remember the instances when you do see him.  Anyway, Damien said that his dad, who is now 82, doesn't get about so well now so doesn't really go anywhere.  I asked him to pass on my best wishes, but he did even better than that: he rang him and put me on, and it was lovely to have a chat to him.  We're always told there aren't the characters around nowadays, but I was lucky enough to speak to one of them on Monday.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Racing round-up (ours, not in general)


Apologies.  I seem only to be writing a chapter on this blog when we have a runner coming up.  And that's only about once a week.  You'll have guessed from that that, yes, we do have a runner coming up: Das Kapital (pictured here with Jana on Friday) at Windsor tomorrow.  It's an amateurs' race so Ross Birkett will be on him again, the pair aiming to run about half an inch better than at Haydock.  If they can, it'll be a clear-cut victory - the judge would hardly need to look at the photograph!  It'll be the first time that I've run him on a right-handed track.  I've kept him to left-handed tracks in the past because he can lean left (often quite markedly) when he's under pressure.


However, in fact he's perfectly happy galloping round right-handed bends (which he does quite often around Bury Hill) and only lugs left in the closing stages up the straight when he's getting tired.  So I don't anticipate him having any trouble at all with the bend and, while I would probably baulk at running him at Windsor on fast ground when staying close to the stands' rail is an advantage, on soft ground they drift over to the far side anyway, so his habit should not be too disadvantageous.  He seems still to be in very good heart - in fact, I'm expecting to find that his run over hurdles will have done him good, toughened him up a bit - and he should handle what will be extremely soft ground, so we'll travel hopefully.  As we always do!


Kryptos was also entered tomorrow (at Pontefract) but, while it was tempting to back him up after his good run at Nottingham on Wednesday, we have ended up not doing so.  I went to Nottingham feeling that I'd be a bit disappointed if he didn't win, but I came away happy with second as he ran a very sound race, doing well on ground that was a bit more taxing both than I had been expecting and than is ideal for him, and only went down to a horse both very well handicapped at present after several luckless defeats and also very well suited by very soft ground.  William Buick rode him beautifully and, particularly pleasingly, was extremely complimentary about him afterwards, which was rather nice as when a jockey regularly rides some of the best horses in the world, eg Ghaiyyath, it would be understandable if he wasn't quite as in awe of Kryptos as we are.


Hopefully Kryptos can have one more go this season, at Newmarket in 12 days' time.  We just want the weather to settle down (which it actually has done the last couple of days - so what we want is for it to remain fairly settled through this week and next, which might be asking a bit much) and the ground thus not to be too heavy, and you'd hope that he'd run very well there too.  Between now and then I hope that The Rocket Park (entered at Newbury on Friday but likely to wait for an AW option the following week as Newbury could be too soft for him) and Hidden Pearl (similarly steering clear of turf when it's wet) might have both had a run.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A wet autumn


I think that I wrote the last chapter saying that we were abandoning plans to run Kryptos at York because the 5.7 GoingStick reading was the lowest at the track since 2013.  I'm glad we didn't run because it actually got even lower as the race(s - we were entered in two) approached.  5.7 on the Thursday.  5.6 on the Friday.  5.5 on the Saturday.  What was particularly helpful is that the course told us that the GoingStick reading for the centre of the straight was fractionally higher than that for the ground along both the stand's rail and the inside rail.  That was great service, telling us that: takes both the effort and the guesswork out of trying to find the best ground.


So what we're doing is heading to Nottingham tomorrow. Again we have the GoingStick to thank.  The ground is and has been 'soft, good to soft in places'.  But that can mean anything.  According to the GoingStick, however, it genuinely does mean somewhere between good to soft and soft.  And I'd be happy enough with that.  I was hopeful because (a) the weather hasn't been as bad in the middle of the country as it's been in East Anglia and (b) Nottingham's season did not begin until September, so the track won't be as battered as it is elsewhere.  And the GoingStick confirms that it won't be the usual Nottingham autumnal quagmire because the reading is roughly two points higher than it generally gets down to at this time of year there.


So I hope that Kryptos will run very well there.  He ran well in the Cambridgeshire, although you wouldn't necessarily know it from his finishing position, as he finished a good second over on his unfavoured side of the track.  (It wasn't that we hadn't done our homework, but rather that our low draw - four of 29 - basically meant that we, and the others who stayed over on that side, basically had to go there).  Tomorrow's race will obviously be considerably less competitive, so let's hope that we can get a very good run.


Other than that, it's basically been a case of weathering the weather, as it often is at this generally fairly demoralising time of year, when one is becoming accustomed again to inclement conditions when the glorious days of summer have gone and the days are getting consistently shorter and the weather is getting generally less pleasant.  Still we plod on - and that's the case for everyone, even for a champion trainer such as Aidan O'Brien, who really must have found the double whammy of the Gain feed contamination and the wrong-jockeys-on-horses debacle at Newmarket hard to swallow.  It's a testing game for everyone!


Aidan's a perfectionist and he must have been scratching his head as things unfolded at Newmarket, clearly his responsibility despite the fact that he wasn't even in the country when the mistakes were made.  It's amazing that this can have happened twice in the same year - the previous occasion was back in March when the Hayes, Hayes and Dabernig stable managed to put the wrong jockeys on two runners in the Bendigo Guineas - and I can only repeat the observation which I made back then.  The most baffling aspect for me is that neither of the people leading the horses up noticed the error.  I couldn't understand that back in March, although in this more recent instance one can see how they might have both failed to identify their rider as the jockeys would have been wearing masks, which does make things difficult.


Still, I suppose that that debacle is easier to understand than the strange situation we have concerning the government's continued refusal to allow a controlled number of spectators to attend sporting events, including race-meetings.  We just keep seeing and hearing more and more non-sequiturs which make a nonsense of this.  We can start with the car-boot sales at racecourse, proceed via Boris Johnson urging people to go to the cinema (strange but true) and continue on to two more strange things which were brought to my attention today.  Firstly, one can buy tickets to go to the circus and secondly, almost unbelievably, the London Palladium is playing to what look like fairly full houses.  It's a pretty pass we've reached if we are feeling sorry for racecourses, but I do feel really sorry for them at the moment.  I really do.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Overtaken by events


Overtaken by events.  My confident prediction in yesterday's chapter that we would have two runners at the end of the week has not proved to have been accurate.  There was a further 13mm of rain at York overnight and the GoingStick reading is now down to 5.7, which is the lowest it has been since 2013.  Those 13mm in theory only changed to ground from 'soft, good to soft in places' to 'soft', which doesn't sound much of a change, but one doesn't get half an inch of rain without the ground softening rather more than that slight change might imply.  Under the circumstances, it would be a hopeless task for us to try to run him there on Saturday, so I didn't declare him.


I was tempted to declare him and then watch tomorrow's (ie Friday's racing) to see how very soft it really was.  But I would only have been doing that hoping against hope that it wouldn't be too soft for us, and doing that would mean that if we withdrew him on the basis of 'Self-certificate - Ground', he wouldn't be able to run for a week.  (One can only come out on the basis of 'Ground' if the official going has changed since declaration time, or if one brings the horse to the track and then decides that the ground is not suitable for him.  I would imagine that the official ground won't change, that it will remain 'soft' all the way through, so we would have had to have used a self-certificate).  And there's a suitable race for him (if the stormy weather relents) at Nottingham on Wednesday, so it would not have been wise to rule him out of that, all for the sake of declaring in a race which he almost certainly wouldn't have contested.


Let's just hope that we get a good run from the one runner which we will have this week, ie Dereham at Kempton tomorrow.  We should do, but one can't take anything for granted, particularly with a horse who has never been placed and who will probably be one of the outsiders.  It would be a nice boost if he could run well.  I had a nice boost this morning as I saw our old friend Brief Goodbye, formerly a stalwart of this stable.  The last horse to race for our much-missed friend Joe McCarthy, Brief won seven of his 50 races and was a proper trouper, generally competing in fairly decent company with wins at Newbury, Sandown etc.


He's 20-years-young and is still a key member of the teaching staff at the British Racing School, whither he retired after concluding his racing career at the age of eight.  He has taught numerous young people plenty about riding and that is exactly what he was doing this morning in the string of British Racing School horses and pupils who had, presumably, cantered on the Heath before we saw them crossing the Bury Road to leave it onto the Severals (in this photograph) and then set off up the Bury Road to return home.  He's still full of beans, a real sight to bring a smile to the face.  We need those in any autumn but particularly the autumn of 2020.