Monday, August 22, 2016

I am military

Our trip to Bath on Saturday was not totally satisfactory, notwithstanding that Hope Is High finished 3rd of 11, which isn't bad.  I had been hoping for a fair bit of rain, and 10mm the previous day/night with the promise of more to come during the day seemed fine.  But it rained and rained and rained, very hard at times, and turned the course into a far wetter and far looser surface than I or the filly would have chosen.  I didn't walk much of it because I don't like being cold and very wet, but the bit I did walk (outside the stables) was, in my opinion, good to firm the first time I had a look, and then good, beautiful ground, an hour or so before the first race.

That would have been perfect, but it kept on raining very hard.  The first two races opened the ground up, and it was not a good track at all by the time that we ran in the third.  To compound the problem, she was drawn six, and the horse in stall four jumped violently right on leaving the barriers.  That knocked the horse in five into her, and she ended up being thumped between the horses on either side of her.  Then, three strides later, she stumbled, and she looked laboured all the way thereafter.  As Josephine put it, "She was murdered coming out of the stalls, and she was never comfortable afterwards."

From halfway it was clear that she wasn't going to win, and I thought for most of the race that she would do well to finish in the first six.  But, bless her, she showed the fighting spirit of a champion to box on for a very dour third place.  (By the way, the bit about a her showing the fighting spirit of a champion isn't a misprint: I know that she isn't a champion, but it never does any harm to correct a myth often propagated by the pundits by pointing out that the difference between a genuine top-class horse and a genuine lower-grade horse isn't that the former tries harder, but that the former has more ability).  She tried her heart out and had a very hard race (and there's not much of her anyway) so she won't be running again for a handful of weeks, but she'll bounce back.

Anyway, that was all slightly dispiriting, and I had to keep reminding myself of the truism which I often cite that when a horse runs well and he/she plus the jockey both come home safe and sound, it hasn't been a bad day.  And the journey was straightforward: the only bit of congestion we found on the roads, on the M25 on the outward journey, was where I had predicted that it would be, so that was fine.  Mind you, the journey running like clockwork was no less than I would expect: it seems currently to be fashionable in racing circles to parade one's service record, so I might as well point out that (on the basis of having eventually risen to the rank of lance-corporal in the Wellington College CCF) I am military, so I expect to be obeyed.

If only life were that simple.  If it were that simple, I would merely have to command Magic Ice (pictured in the final paragraph waiting for her tea last night - and the final four photographs, all taken yesterday, show that the weather here is much, much, much better than it was at Bath) to win at Chelmsford tomorrow.  She had had me scratching my head two weeks ago when galloping pathetically (for no obvious reason other than pulling too hard in the first half of the gallop: she is 100% sound, and she didn't bleed, externally anyway) but last Wednesday she went a lot better.  Later that morning I was long-reining a young horse around the bottom of Warren Hill just before noon, ruminating on the subject of Magic Ice as I did so.  My ruminations eventually led me to the conclusion that I probably ought to make an entry for her as soon as a suitable race presented itself.

My Eureka moment came when I looked at my phone and saw that it was 11.58.  I quickly went on to the Weatherbys site on my phone (bear in mind that I was still long-reining this young horse on the Heath, so don't try this at home, as they say on the TV) and saw that the entries for two local meetings would be closing in just over one minute's time.  I quickly clicked on Yarmouth, only to see that there was nothing suitable there.  Chelmsford - bingo!  A seven-furlong 4yo+ 46-60 handicap, a race in which I immediately entered her with no more than 10 seconds to spare before the deadline.

Only ten entries (so if I'd missed the deadline there would only have been nine, and it would have been re-opened) so it was a no-brainer to run her, especially when she galloped pleasingly again on Saturday.  So she can run tomorrow and we can see if she is ever going to have a future as a racehorse, which the form book suggests is unlikely to be the case.  Anything, though, is possible - but realistically we'll be travelling much more in hope than confidence.  You can see that realism has ruled my thinking because, while I would have loved to have had Josie ride her, I am even keener to see Josie win the apprentices' title; so when her agent said that she also had the chance to ride Mark Loughnane's runner, I immediately said that she should do that as that would almost certainly give her a better chance of a winner, without even pausing to see whom Mark is running and what, if any, chance his horse has.
Friday, August 19, 2016

Olympic glory

I suppose that there's no harm in my acknowledging in this blog that the Olympics are taking place.  Generally I pay them no attention at all.  When they were in London four years ago I watched nothing live (well, other than the first 15 minutes of the opening ceremony, which was dreadful) apart from a few minutes of some hobby/pastime/activity which happened to be on the television in the canteen at Yarmouth one afternoon.  This time around I've watched nothing.

However, the past couple of mornings I've seen replays of various highlights as I've been turning on the television when I get up so that I can monitor the weather in advance of tomorrow's Bath meeting.  An early-morning weather bulletin has been keeping me up to date with what, if any, rain has fallen overnight, and what, if any, rain is likely to fall in the next day or two.  And, of course, the weather bulletins have been squeezed in amongst the lengthy Olympic reports.  So I know that Great Britain, which generally does badly, is doing very well; that China is doing less well than one might have thought; and that Australia, which generally does fairly well, is doing very poorly.  So that's good, even if not in the eyes of our antipodean brethren.  But then again it never does an Aussie any harm to see his national teams perform poorly.

Anyway, what I was hoping to see was a fair amount of rain for Bath.  I made three entries for Hope Is High this weekend (Bath and Chelmsford on Saturday; Brighton on Sunday) and Bath was my preferred option, not least because it is the only one without a question mark over how she would handle the track and the only one at which Josie would be able to ride her.  Anyway, the ground at Bath would have been hard at daybreak today (notwithstanding that officially it was merely 'firm') so, even though she likes fast ground, I was hoping to see a solid amount of rain fall there.  Happily, I think that we'll be OK: they had 7mm today and ought to get a similar amount through the day tomorrow before our race at 6.05, so I hope that we should have safe fast ground, rather than rock-hard fast ground.

Even if I hadn't been watching television at dawn, however, I would still have known that the Olympics were taking place.  The clue comes from the word 'repercharge'.  One hears this word on the radio frequently for one week, and then never hears it again for another 207 weeks.  And when one does hear it, one knows that the Olympics have started.  Since having my few days of repercharge overload, the clues have been coming in thick and fast.  Another sign that the Olympics are on is that the one keeps hearing the noun 'medal' used as a verb.  And that has indeed been happening over the past couple of weeks.  Pretty much all the time.

Yesterday I heard an even worse example of a media personality attempting to demonstrate that he can misuse the English language as well (badly) as the next man.  The disc-jockey who comes on Radio Two after Ken Bruce exhorted his listeners to call in by asking whether any of them has a five-year-old child who has been so inspired by the success of the British Olympians that the child has taken up "swimming or gyming".  For God's sake!  It's one thing saying as a (very good) joke that any noun can be verbed; quite another believing it.

The trend of abusing our native tongue has, of course, spread across all branches of the media as life continues to imitate art.  Devotees of Alan Partridge's former graveyard shift on BBC Radio Norfolk will recall him berating Dave Clifton, one of his many betes noirs, for saying that he was "splidding hairs".  The spat ended with him calling Dave a "dwad", so you get my drift.  Anyway, Steve Coogan had clearly spotted a habit among media types of pronouncing the letter 't' as 'd', but since then the matter has really got out of hand.  Yesterday morning's BBC weather bulletin, delivered by a seemingly educated man in his 50s, told us that it would be a warm night in "the towns and ciddies"; while Battersea contested the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury last Saturday under the nom de course of Badderzee.  And naturally the Briddish medal tally continues to rise.

Another Partridge brahma which has been imitated in real life has been the non-subjects which nowadays spawn TV shows.  We chuckled when Pink found himself lonely and depressed in an hotel in America in 'The Wall' and had "thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from" (because, of course, we only had three channels at the time, and it was inconceivable that there could be thirteen).  Yet now we find ourselves with 513, or however many there are, channels of shit on the TV to choose from.  So it was with Alan when an idea sprung to life in his brain, prompting him to reach for the dictaphone to record an aide-memoir for Lynn to contact Tony Hayers with an idea for a programme which clearly would be so shit that it could never possibly be commissioned.  ('Partridge among the pigeons' ...).

Anyway, now life is imitating art to the extent that our 513 channels of shit feature programmes which are so shit that not even Alan would have had the gall to regard their commissioning as a possibility.  If you want to see some of the best examples, you can follow the Twitter feed @PartridgeIdeas, which is described as, "Real TV/radio shows that sound like Alan Partridge ideas.  Life imitating Partridge".  Each tweet has Alan supposedly coming up with a ludicrous non-idea on one side, and proof on the other side that such nonsense has indeed seen the light of day.

Anyway, how would we have reacted had Alan dictated the message, "Hitler to rise from the dead and become a world-class comedian"?  Too silly even for him?  Well, how about this 2015 movie, 'Look Who's Back'?  "When Hitler reawakens at the site of his former bunker 70 years later, he's mistaken for a brilliant comedian and becomes a media phenomenon."  This twitter feed (along with the similarly brahmatic @getinthesea) provides a perfect alternative for entertainment when you're sidding in front of the TV, flicking through the 513 unwatchable channels and looking for something more entertaining than the semi-final of the men's 10-metre air rifle target-shooding.

So, as you'll have gathered, we'll be off to Bath tomorrow with Hope Is High.  We can only hope that we might enjoy a trip more productive than yesterday's outing, when I took Cottesloe even farther down the same road, to Chepstow.  (Hence my listening to the radio during the morning).  Yesterday's race didn't work out as I'd hoped, but no lives were lost.  We'll see what tomorrow brings.  Cottesloe is pictured before yesterday's race in this paragraph.  Hope Is High is in the first three photographs, taken on Tuesday with Jana.  The next six photographs were all taken on Wednesday.  Magic Ice (who is entered at Chelmsford on Tuesday) is in the first two of them with Anna; White Valiant (who might make his debut the week after next) is in the last two of them with Clare.
Monday, August 15, 2016

I keep resisting temptation

The BHA's attempt to fill the races up with horses who ought not to be running continues apace.  Magic Ice is such a frustrating horse.  She started out here, but went elsewhere after she had had her fourth run, in February 2013.  She had been fairly straightforward when she was here, but she returned seven runs and seven months later as a horse very hard to get and/or keep sound.  I ran her twice in 2014 (in July and November) and twice in 2015 (both runs in January).  Another long break ensued before she resumed 17 months later, in June 2016

She was finally sound again by this time and was actually working quite well going into the race, but she ran atrociously and came back bleeding badly from both nostrils.  Anyway, she had another break, albeit a significantly shorter one this time, after that, and she's now back in strong work.  Last week she galloped well on the Sunday so I entered her for two races at Chelmsford today, but four days later she worked atrociously (for no obvious reason, bar that she pulled far too hard in the first half) so it clearly would not have been correct to run her four days later (ie today).

Consequently, come Saturday morning, I didn't declare her for either of today's races.  What happened?  Shortly after 10 o'clock that morning I received the obligatory 'Race re-opened!' text, the usual attempt to try to tempt me to go against my better judgement.  To my shame, I have to admit that I did investigate to see how many horses had been declared for the re-offered race (the five-furlong race - the six-furlong race for which she had been entered had received enough declarations not to be re-offered) but thankfully there were seven horses in the field, so it was an easy decision not to weaken my resolve.

However, if the field had been pitifully weak I probably would have declared her.  She's sound and basically in good fettle (as the photograph in the first paragraph, taken yesterday morning, confirms: she'd been out and done a brisk canter up Long Hill earlier in the morning, but was still feeling fresh enough to lark around with Cottesloe, who should go to Chepstow on Thursday and thus be our next runner) and it is likely that it wouldn't have done her any serious harm to run her.  But, really - a horse who gallops as badly as she galloped on Thursday shouldn't be running four days later, either from her point of view or from the point of view of punters, who are entitled to believe that trainers are sending horses to races reasonably confident that their charges are ready to run to something like their best form.

You only enter a horse if you want to run him/ her in it.  There are really only three principal reasons for not declaring him/her.  Either you aren't happy with his/her condition and you feel that it would be unwise to run him/her; or you feel that he/she won't be comfortable on the likely ground, and that it would be unwise to run him/her on it; or you are running elsewhere, and you can't run in two places at once.  Whichever applies, it is clearly in the interests of neither the horse nor punters for the horse to run.  I know that I keep saying this, but the-offering of races which have not received a certain amount of runners is wrong, whether you are a horse or a punter.
Friday, August 12, 2016

It isn't the cough which carries us off, not this time anyway

On what was an absolutely idyllic day of sunshine, this morning I stumbled upon something on Twitter which piqued my interest.  (Nothing unusual there, of course).  I've been trying not to notice such pontification, but it has been impossible recently to avoid punditry in the racing media which centres around speculation about the current supposed sickness of the equine population of Newmarket.  Generalizations are annoying at the best of times, but this generalization is just sheer nonsense.  Which was why I was particularly pleased today to stumble upon some objective evidence to support my contention.

A Lambourn-based trainer (Brendan Powell) happened to include a snapshot of today's 'Hot List' in the Racing Post in a tweet this morning.  As luck would have it, eight of the 15 trainers on the list train their strings on Newmarket Heath.  (I have phrased it thus because one of the trainers is Gay Kelleway, who trains in Exning rather than Newmarket, but she still works her horses on the communal grounds).  I know that there are a lot of trainers (70 or so, I believe) here, but there are several hundred in the country, so having a disproportionately high number of the trainers on the list (more than half) based hereabouts is a pretty strong piece of evidence to suggest that the line of reasoning upon which this punditry is based is flimsy at best.

We're having very few runners at present (one last week, none this week, probably two next week) but this idleness certainly doesn't stem from any ill health in the stable.  We have 14 horses in training here, and that includes ones who are in the very early stages of training, just walking and trotting, who almost certainly won't gallop this year, never mind race.  Of the handful who are reasonably fit and could, in theory anyway, race within the next month, some are totally sound and some, as will be the case in every stable in the country, are bedevilled by a few aches and pains, as happens with all too many racehorses when they have been in strong work and racing for a while.  But no horse here is unwell.

When we do have a horse who is unwell, he/she won't be ridden again until he/she is healthy, which tends to mean a few days off, as a sick horse usually becomes healthy with a few days of complete rest.  I still see strings of horses heading out to exercise from the few stables which are supposedly devastated by sickness, which suggests that the horses aren't ill at all.  Or, rather, the vast majority are not, as those stables seem to be having just about the usual number out on the Heath.  Every trainer in town will be having a good proportion of fit horses at present not running because they have things wrong with them (or, if they do run such horses, having horses running disappointingly) but in the vast majority of cases, in the second half of the season during a very dry period, such horses will be jarring up, not ill.

On a related subject, another similar case of Newmarket trainers being unfairly beaten with a misdirected stick cropped up earlier in the summer.  There was an evening meeting at Windsor where the ground was fairly firm after a spell of hot, dry weather.  Rain started falling just before racing, the bend became slippery, a horse lost his footing in the first race without falling (the winner, funnily enough) and the rest of the card was called off.  That was unfortunate, but nobody's fault.  Anyway, a letter was written to the Racing Post on the following Sunday calling for Windsor to compensate connections of the horses who had travelled to Windsor to run in races which did not take place.

I felt that this request was unreasonably harsh on Windsor, who had been just as unfortunate as the connections of such horses and who would have been an even greater financial loser because of the turn in the weather; but that's by the by.  What caused me to shake my head was that the letter-writer stated boldly and baldly that the charge faced by owners for having a horse taken from Newmarket to Windsor and back would be £500.  Halve that figure and it would still too high, albeit not massively so.  But, really!  We collectively are trying to market ourselves to the racehorse-owning public, so it's hard to swallow misinformation being put out about us, whether that information relates to the charges faced by our owners or the health of our horses.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Talent under our noses

I had an enjoyable evening with 'The Toft' (ie Simon Mapletoft, a very good presenter and very nice man) on At The Races last night, when we were covering the Lingfield evening meeting.  I always enjoy a Lingfield card as, for some reason or other, I always find that there are plenty of interesting competitors there, both equine and human.  One of the best possible trainer/jockey combinations - Chris Dwyer and Josephine Gordon - took the first race, a nursery, and we weren't covering that as it still came under Robert Cooper's afternoon shift with Dale Gibson.  But we had the next six races under our microscopes, and very interesting they were too.

Even though it was relatively mundane racing, there were several very creditable performances by both horses and riders.  Eddie Greatrex and John Fahy both put in particularly well-judged winning rides, while the several faultless losing rides included one by Darryll Holland on his only ride of the night.  "So what?", one might ask.  Well, these observations have been prompted by my having read articles in the past couple of days by seemingly perplexed journalists who find it odd that Gavin Lerena, whose riding during the Shergar Cup was excellent, is staying here for a week and has made himself available for rides without, as yet, having been booked for any.

I'd put it another way.  I find it less surprising that Gavin Lerena has not been in demand than that the likes of those jockeys mentioned above, plus many other excellent but grossly underused riders such as Simon Pearce, Royston Ffrench and Adam Beschizza, receive so few opportunities.  In other words, why would anyone use a good overseas rider who is going to be here for a week and who then won't be available in the future, when one is so spoilt for choice for good riders who are here anyway and who are available all the time?

It would make no more sense than if the newspaper editors were to say to their usual racing correspondents, "Don't worry, we won't want an article from you this week (and we won't pay you) because there's a journo from Seth Efrica here for the week and he writes OK, so we'll use him instead.  We'll probably want an article from you next week, though, so make yourself available then, please, just as long as we don't find another visitor next week whom we would rather use instead.  In that case, we'd probably want you the following week."  Our journos would be horrified if their editors took that approach, yet seem disappointed and perplexed that this is not the approach adopted by owners and trainers here.

My jockeys of choice, as you probably have noticed, are John Egan and Josephine Gordon, and I wouldn't take them off the horses whom they regularly ride irrespective of who was available.  And that's not altruism and decency: it's educated self-interest and common sense.  And if they can't ride, there are umpteen jockeys who in my experience generally give extremely good service and whom I'd regard as obvious stand-ins, such as Silvestre De Sousa, Franny Norton, Jim Crowley, Adam Kirby, George Baker, Darryll Holland, Adam Beschizza, Dan Muscutt, Frankie Dettori, Saleem Golam, Jamie Spencer, Oisin Murphy and Joe Fanning, to name off the top of my head just a few.  Gavin Lerena is clearly an excellent jockey whom I'd happily use on any horse if I were looking for a jockey; but if any of the above were available and could do the weight, why would one look elsewhere?

On another matter, by chance I came upon an interesting book two days ago, 'Royal Ascot' by Dorothy Laird, and it threw further light upon Hope Is High's remarkable forebear Mumtaz Mahal.  'The Flying Filly' won the Queen Mary Stakes, National Breeders' Produce Stakes, Molecomb Stakes and Champagne Stakes as a two-year-old in 1923, and the King George Stakes and Nunthorpe Stakes at three, before going on to be ancestress of umpteen champions, as well as lesser winners including this stable's former and current inhabitants Critical Stage and Hope Is High (who takes centre stage in this chapter's first two paragraphs, while Roy and his siblings So Much Water and White Valiant are much in evidence otherwise).  Mumtaz Mahal's merit, though, didn't just materialize out of thin air: it came from her parents, from whom also (obviously) descend her tribe.  I'd mentioned that her dam Lady Josephine was also a top-class racehorse and winner of one of Royal Ascot's biggest races (although I presume that the Coventry Stakes was run at Newmarket, rather than Ascot, in 1916).

Anyway, what was nice during my initial flicking through of the pages of this book was to discover that Lady Josephine's dam Lady Americus also holds a special position in Royal Ascot history.  At the same Ascot during which Bayardo registered his magnificent Gold Cup victory which is the centrepiece of Peter Corbett's excellent biography of that great horse, Lady Americus put in a memorable performance in the King's Stand Stakes.  A contemporary report of the race is carried in this book: "Americus Girl appeared to have won, and the spectators turned away, but those who glanced at the board were astonished to see that she had been caught".

We know that (inevitably) there were some miscarriages of justice in the pre-photo-finish era simply because judges were (are) normal human beings (ie fallible); and it sounds as if this was probably one of them.  But, anyway, this snippet has really whetted my appetite for reading this book.  I have recently finished Chris McGrath's superb 'Mr Darley's Arabian' and I wholeheartedly recommend it.  Unlike that one, Dorothy Laird's book is not recently published (it was written 41 years ago, in 1975) but I have somehow managed to avoid reading it thus far.  I will shortly enjoy putting that oversight right.