Tuesday, September 17, 2019

It's good to be busy

Nearing the end of the latest busy period.  I needed the week to recover from the last one, and I'll need the rest of this week to recover from this one.  We had Salisbury Friday evening with The Rocket Park (pictured here pre-race with Hector Crouch) and Dereham who both found the novice company in their race a bit hot but who both performed with a degree of credit even so.  Then we had Hope Is High at Bath on Sunday.  It had been firm ground when she had won at Bath 11 days previously but it was firmer again this time and she didn't run quite so well.  She didn't run badly, mind, finishing mid-field in a very competitive race, but even so it was slightly disappointing to have her lose her record of never having been unplaced at Bath.

I haven't, of course, submitted an inability to handle the ground as a reason for a disappointing run.  I haven't submitted any reason.  Basically on the day she was not good enough, and that requires no explanation.  My feeling that she found the very firm ground to her disadvantage is by the by, and it would be idiotic to submit it as a contributory factor to her finishing unplaced.  The official going description on the day she had won a week and a half previously had been 'firm' and it was still 'firm' on Sunday, so it would be idiotic to start claiming that she didn't handle the firm ground (or Bath).

And now it's Tuesday and we're off to Yarmouth with Konigin.  I can't even say that I'm full of hope, never mind expectation, because it's hard to be hopeful of her after her lack-lustre effort (or lack of effort) at Leicester last time, but she is very well and more than capable of winning today's race if she puts her mind to it.  Let's hope that she does so.  Whatever, I'll sleep well tonight - over and above the schedule outlined above, I had a shift in the Sky Sports Racing stoodio on Saturday evening from 7.00 to 11.45.  It's good to be busy.
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Changes

A much quieter start to this week.  No runners until Friday, when The Rocket Park (Flat debut, having previously run, and won, under National Hunt rules) and Dereham (debut) run in the same novices' race at Salisbury.  Last race at an evening meeting, but one slight consolation of the generally depressing fact of summer drawing to a close is that the last race at an evening meeting is at a very acceptable time, in this case 7.10.  (That is until one races under the floodlights at an AW fixture in winter, which is great if you're nocturnal and cold-blooded but far from ideal otherwise).

These two horses are shown together in the first photograph, taken around 8.30 in the morning.  At that stage I would have said that the two riders on them here would be the two riders on them in the race, but it's turned out that I would have been wrong on both counts.  You'll see Josephine Gordon on Dereham, and it turns out that she won't be at Salisbury; and you'll see former HK jockey Howard Cheng (who works for William Haggas) on The Rocket Park, but he won't be riding either.  That's disappointing, but it turns out that his GB licence application had not been processed fully in time.  I can't help feeling that it should have been, but c'est la vie.  Hopefully he will be able to ride the horse on his next run instead.

After Friday, I hope that we shall have Hope Is High at Bath on Sunday and either one or two runners in the same race at Yarmouth on Tuesday.  Konigin and Das Kapital are both entered in a 12-furlong 0-60 handicap.  She'll definitely get in but we'll need to wait until tomorrow when the elimination order is published to know if he has any chance of getting in.  It should be a suitable race for each horse but we'll start worrying about that in a few days' time.  First we'll get Friday out of the way, and then we'll start worrying about Sunday.  And we can start worrying about Tuesday after that.

Predictably, having a few days without going racing has not been a recipe for taking things easy.  Far from it, but at least I have caught up with my sleep as at least I can get to bed around my preferred time of 9.00.  There are always more things to do and in this case that has largely meant my 'making tax digital'.  You'll have seen the Quickbooks ads on the TV and I have signed up to them (because it has now become compulsory to use a computer programme to compile one's accounts and submit the VAT return) but it certainly hasn't made life any easier.  Very much the reverse, in fact.  I've been using paper for my VAT records for 24 years, and change definitely isn't a rest in this case.  And the change increases costs too; and the crazy thing from the government's point of view is that this stealth tax doesn't equate to extra money in the pocket of the Chancellor, but of Quickbooks.

I'll get used to it in time, I imagine.  I was dead against having to keep and submit one's PAYE records on-line (although at least in this instance the government provides the software rather than requiring you to buy it) but I've got used to that.  But this latest one really does seem to be a case of change for change's sake.  Do you see where I'm going with this?  No?  Well, I wouldn't either, except for that I read Lee Mottershead's column on Monday.  Lee was sticking to his guns about the BHA's examination of sales' practice, and it's good that he is.  I'm very much behind him on this, but I was rather surprised to read that I was one of those calling for change.

I can't remember exactly what I wrote when we touched this topic a week or two, but I think that the gist was that we should all be squarely behind the BHA in its investigation, including supporting it as it follows through by acting to correct any misdemeanours which are uncovered; and that we should be a bit sceptical of anyone who isn't.  And so we should be, because it's in all our interests that potential investors in the sport can become involved without fearing that they might be taken for a ride.  Is that calling for change?  I suppose that it is, depending on what the report's findings are.  I haven't read the report, so don't know how many areas have been identified as requiring change.

I suppose I would have been less surprised to read that I had been calling for people to behave honestly and for people to support the BHA's attempts to make sure that people are behaving honestly.  And supporting the Racing Post's coverage of the topic.  I suppose that that probably does equate to calling for change, if the report is as damning as it might well turn out to be.  It's just that I'm a conservative (which is why I'm no longer a member of the now-inaccurately-named Conservative Party) and in general I don't think of myself as someone who calls for change.  Ever.  I think I'll just leave it as once again endorsing Lee in particular, the Racing Post in general and the BHA overall on this one.  And I'll repeat my initial observation: we should all be 100% behind the BHA on this one, as firmly behind the BHA as the Racing Post is.
Friday, September 06, 2019

A well-timed win

I didn't just get exhausted by the busy period of, whatever it was - six trips to the races in nine days?  Something like that, anyway.  I got behind with things as well.  And when I'm under pressure, this blog is one of the obvious things to neglect.  Hence we're now on 6th September and the last chapter was on 30th August.  We've had three runners in the interim, all of which went unpreviewed here.  And one of them won!  Massive relief.  I usually say that one shouldn't worry about a run of horses running well without winning, but I was finding myself struggling to heed my own advice.  It's much easier now to be sanguine now that one of them has won.

The winner we did have could easily have been another valiant and creditable loser.  Hope Is High won at Bath on Wednesday but only did so very narrowly and because absolutely everything went right.  Megan Nicholls gave her a superb ride, and it came with the bonus of her free 3lb claim.  Would we have won with 3lb more?  Would we have won if we'd had one or two points in the race where things weren't going our way?  Would we have won if the pattern of the race hadn't worked out in our favour?  Hard to answer in the affirmative to any of those.

But that's racing, just as it's cricket.  Sometimes the luck goes your way and sometimes it doesn't.  There's no need to feel guilty about winning a race when you think that, had things gone differently, you wouldn't have won, because there are plenty of times when one comes away thinking, "Gee, that was hard to swallow.  If we could run that again and do things different, we might well have won it".  Whatever - Hopey won, and that was wonderful.  A massive relief.  Not to mention a thrilling race.  And the victory was even more of a relief as the first two runners of the week had both run poorly.

Roy ran very flat at Brighton on Monday, coming with a run approaching the two-furlong pole but then starting to struggle shortly after that.  And Sacred Sprite did something similar at Bath half an hour before Hope won, looming up on the outside half a mile from home but then cutting out quickly.  But no harm done.  They're both fine.   Roy always goes off the boil in the autumn and he's clearly had enough for the season, not that he'd let you know that as he's never not perky.  And it had been a gamble running Sacred Sprite only a week after her previous race.  Previously I'd always given her plenty of time between races, but it looked worth having a go (witness the fact that she started favourite) and the world has not stopped turning because it didn't work out.

The other reason why the win on Wednesday was very well timed was because the weather is starting to deteriorate, and it's always good to have a boost to one's morale as we start to say 'farewell' to summer, as it's a depressing time of year.  The return of cold and/or wet weather and of getting up in the dark is always hard to swallow after an extended period of regarding the natural conditions as friend rather than foe.  Winter's bearable when you get there, but it's the getting there that gets you down.  But a winner always puts a smile on one's face.
Friday, August 30, 2019

Tired

Just about back to normal after the hectic period.  It seems ages ago now - you lose track of time - but I think that starting last week we were at Brighton on Tuesday, Bath on Wednesday, Leicester on Thursday evening, York on Friday (albeit having a day out rather than running a horse, and letting the train take the strain which was a real luxury), Goodwood on Sunday and Bath on Tuesday evening.  Six trips in eight days.  That really took it out of me.  I've been very busy here since then but at least we haven't had the travelling, which has been much needed.  The journeys to and from Bath on Tuesday weren't actually too bad, relatively speaking, but we did have two road closures on the journey home: the M25 and the A1.  Fortunately I knew the areas so the detours which I devised through Watford and Graveley meant that we didn't add too many miles or minutes to the journey - and at that time of night, that was a massive relief.

I think that we've already covered all those runners on this blog bar the two at Bath on Tuesday night.  That was another slightly frustrating outing.  Sacred Sprite started odds-on in the first race, a five-runner apprentices' handicap over two miles and one furlong.  She wasn't an odds-on shot in my eyes as all her worthwhile form was on the AW, while she had run disappointingly on her only previous outing on grass.  As it was, she finished second in as weird a race as you might see.  The margins will explain what I mean about the weirdness: 13 lengths, 15 lengths, 12 lengths, 20 lengths.  A great advertisement for the competitiveness of British racing!

We had planned to track Contingency Fee, who generally races prominently and clearly had a solid chance, but we found ourselves miles behind that horse through much of the race.  Georgia Dobie reckoned that the three up front were going way too fast so sat well back, as did Marco Ghiani on Cotton Club, an eight-year-old who was way better than this grade a couple of years ago and who seems to have been rejuvenated for joining new trainer George Boughey, who has a very good work ethic and who has had a very solid grounding in Hugo Palmer's stable and who looks set to make a big impact having started out a couple of months ago in the Hamilton Road.

Anyway, Georgia and Marco were right.  They were miles behind the others at halfway and miles ahead of them at the finish.  Cotton Club was first and we were second, Cotton Club picking up much more readily in the final half-mile than we did.  Still, although he beat us easily, we beat the rest easily and ran well.  Some people are hard to please, though: I had a few people say to me that Georgia gave Sacred Sprite too much to do, totally ignoring that the horses to whom we supposedly gave too big a lead finished miles behind us, while the only horse to beat us gave the leaders as a big a lead as we did.

Parek (Sussex Girl) finished much closer to the winner than Sacred Sprite did, but that was scant compensation as she only managed to finish fifth, beaten two lengths.  She's so frustrating: again she was too keen, meaning that she didn't have enough left in the closing stages of a race which I believe she could and should have won had she not ruined her own chance by, basically, stupidity.  Still, in the same way that I was very pleased to see George Boughey winning a race at his family's local track so early in his training career (not that George was there to enjoy it as he was at Doncaster's Premier Yearling Sale) I was very pleased for the winning owner/trainer in this race.  James Grassick is one of the nicest men in the game, and I was delighted to be there to salute him when Sophie Ralston brought Valentine Mist home in front at 100/1 to provide him with his first ever winner.

And coming up?  I'll have a late night tomorrow as I'll be in the Sky Sports Racing stoodio for the American racing during the evening and then having a two-hour late-night drive home.  And then I'll be heading to Brighton on Monday with Roy; and to Bath on Wednesday with Hope Is High and Sacred Sprite.  We've had a week of really lovely weather, in the low 30s for the first few days, and, while it won't be that hot, I hope that it will stay fine for us.  Fast ground would suit all of those horses.  I usually say that I'm happy as long as they run well irrespective of whether they actually win, but that philosophy has been wearing a bit thin in recent weeks.  We want a winner!

Otherwise, I heard from the ROA after my last blog post.  I'm pleased to be able to report that the ROA is 100% behind the BHA's bloodstock review, and that the couple of ROA men who had been quoted seeming to say things which made them seem half-hearted at best about the project had merely found themselves victims of a breakdown in communications.  So that's good.  And I'd imagine that I'll be in the BHA's and the Racing Post's good books for rallying to the cause.  Except that. bearing in mind that I referred to Philip Freedman as Mr Freedman, I won't be in the Racing Post's good books, will I?

I hate to drag this up because an off-the-cuff snippet in the paper has been blown up out of all proportion.  But I did think that it was rather sad that the paper's reaction to hearing Cieren Fallon jr refer to his boss on TV as Mr Haggas was to say that this was a problem for racing, rather than to say how refreshing it was to find a young person who had been well enough brought up to be courteous and respectful.  How Cieren refers to his boss tells us nothing about racing in general or about his boss, but merely tells us that Kieren and Julie Fallon have brought their son up very well and that their son is happy to be polite enough to take their lessons on board.

One of the problems of the modern world is that people in general are no longer as respectful of their fellow humans as used to be the case or as ought to be the case.  It's a rare pleasure to find courteous behaviour, and I really can't see that it's a problem for anyone when one finds someone who is polite and respectful.  It's just a matter of personal preference.  I address BHA officials as 'Sir' or 'Madam' but this doesn't mean that the sport is rooted in the Victorian era; it just means that that's how I like to do it.  There are a few with whom I have been on first-name terms for a lot longer than they have been BHA officials, and with those ones I generally use their first names, although I'd still say 'Sir' if we were in the stewards' room together.

There are some whom I would address as 'Sir' on the racecourse but speak to less formally in a social situation; and some whom I would address as 'Sir' wherever I met them. Admittedly one is more likely to speak formally to/about one's elders, but's not specifically an age thing as there are some stipendiary stewards who are probably 25 years younger than I am, but I still call them 'Sir'.  It's not a racing thing as there is no pressure to do so: it's just personal preference as I was brought up to be respectful to people in authority and/or people whom one respects, and there are plenty of situations away from a racing environment where I would adopt the same level of courtesy.  Racing has many problems, but the fact that some (and it is only some) people in the game choose to conduct themselves courteously and respectfully is not one of them.
Monday, August 26, 2019

Forcing the pace

Going to Goodwood is usually a pleasure and yesterday's trip was indeed a pleasure, bar the half-hour so immediately after The Simple Truth's race.  He was very well behaved throughout and ran a nice race, travelling easily enough for three quarters of a mile before getting tired and dropping out.  That was predictable but I hadn't expected him to drop out as quickly or as much as he did - but the reason for the fatigue became clear when he came off the track.  Megan Nicholls had very alertly already dismounted, the horse having over-heated and suffering from heat stress, which made it very easy to excuse his sluggishness in the final two furlongs.

We've all seen and heard of horses suffering from heat stress after races but this was the first time it has happened to one whom I have trained; and, as I found out yesterday, one suddenly becomes a lot less detached about it when it's one's own horse.  It was alarming, but happily short-lived.  Megan was brilliant in grasping the nettle so immediately and the racecourse and BHA veterinary personnel were brilliant too.  We had water, water everywhere over him, and within 15 minutes he was starting to return to his usual perky, unflustered self.  His pulse-rate had come down close to normal within an hour of the race, at which point the vet gave us the thumbs-up to head for home.  And thereafter you would never have known that there had been a problem.  Quite a first day at school, though!

That aside, it was a true pleasure to be at a lovely racecourse in a lovely part of the country on a lovely day.  In south-east England it was apparently the hottest day ever recorded during an August Bank Holiday weekend, 33.6 degrees at Heathrow I think (although only in the higher 20s at Goodwood).  I suspect that today will have been hotter still somewhere; and it can't have been far off yesterday's Heathrow figure here in Newmarket.  I wouldn't mind it being less hot tomorrow as we're heading off on a long trip to Bath with Sacred Sprite (seen in the final photograph, having a gentle exercise this morning) and Parek (Sussex Girl).  After that we won't have any runners until next week, which is no bad thing as it has been a testing schedule and I'm struggling a bit.

I ought just to touch on the BHA Bloodstock Review and the Racing Post's coverage of it.  One might say that the BHA has more than enough to do without getting involved in something which arguably is outside its remit.  However, I salute it for grasping the nettle.  Malpractice and/or perceived malpractice in the bloodstock world is not good for the health of the racing game and its participants - and the health of the sport and its participants is definitely the BHA's responsibility.  And I think that it's a good thing that the Racing Post has shone the spotlight.  If I were in the BHA I might be tempted to shuffle this difficult issue into the 'too hard' basket as soon as I could do so discreetly, so it's good that the Racing Post is keeping the subject in focus.

Some of the quotes in the paper have been disappointing.  We should all be behind the BHA on this.  All owners and all trainers.  I know that I am.  If anyone has been using the sales to rip off any owners, then that is bad news for us all.  We want our sport to be clean and to be seen to be clean, and we want potential investors to feel that they can become involved without being denied a fair deal.  This review can only increase the chances of such people feeling that they can invest safely, and might well also increase the chances of them doing so.  So what on earth is the ROA up to?

Philip Freedman was quoted in Peter Scargill's article in his role as Chairman of the Horsemen's Group.  I presume that he is the Chairman in an ROA role.  He should be backing this project from an ROA perspective; and from a Horsemen's Group perspective he should be backing it too.  The Horsemen's Group represents National Trainers' Federation members (and others).  I am a member of the NTF and I wouldn't want my representative to be critical of the initiative, which is what has happened.  Disappointing.  What is also disappointing is his reported view that the BHA is 'poking its nose in' 'while not handling  matters under its direct jurisdiction adequately enough'.  Such an unnecessary cheap shot is disappointing and should have been beneath Mr Freedman.  He should be better than that - particularly when he has the honour of representing me!

Even weirder was what appeared in Lee Mottershead's article.  Lee quoted Tom Goff, who I think of as a bloodstock agent but who bizarrely was involved as a representative of the ROA.  What on earth was the ROA thinking of?  The review is trying to establish whether any bloodstock agents have been ripping off any owners.  Under the circumstances, having a bloodstock agent, even one with a very good reputation like Tom, as its representative is just plain nuts.  His quoted comments about "the potential to blow what is an embryonic and delicate process off course" do nothing to assuage the obvious misgivings.  It would be like if there was a review to find out whether any trainers had been ripping off any owners, and if the ROA had appointed me (or any other trainer) to speak on its behalf.  You'd be sceptical if under those circumstances I started trotting out a 'we don't want to be forcing the pace on this one' line, wouldn't you?