Monday, May 22, 2017

Cuil Mhor v. Dali

The weather has indeed really come good (and looks set to stay lovely all week).  Even so, I think that we were correct to miss Windsor with Sussex Girl tonight.  The ground has dried out a lot, but even so it is probably just good ground or slightly softer, and definitely no firmer; while she would ideally, I believe, like proper fast ground, firmer than good.  It does, though, look lovely ground - and I so wish that we had been allowed to run So Much Water there.  I'm not sure where she can go instead, but I have entered Sussex Girl for a seven-furlong fillies' maiden at Goodwood on Saturday.  It would be good to run her at the end of the week as the ground should be fast everywhere after a few days of this lovely weather.

And it's always nice to go to Goodwood - even if the thought of contesting a maiden race which contains a horse with a three-figure rating is not a particularly appealing thought.  That doesn't happen very often because for a maiden to have a rating, he/she has to have run three times - and it is not often that a horse runs three (or more times) without winning a race while running well enough to earn a rating of 100 or more.  However, this race on Saturday contains a Richard Hannon-trained filly whose rating is 101.  You'd presume that she'll be something like a 1/10 shot if she runs - but I'd imagine that we'll run anyway.  If every time one entered a horse and then looked at the entries and decided that one would be unlikely to win it, one wouldn't have many runners at all.  All one can ever do is run and hope.

And that's what we'll be doing tomorrow with Roy (seen after work yesterday in the first two photographs) at Brighton and on Wednesday with Hope Is High (seen today in the fourth and fifth photographs, with Indira following her up Long Hill in the former) at Lingfield.  The drawer (if that makes sense) hasn't done us any favours again: Roy's stall one is the very worst for us (as he doesn't like being in the stalls for long - I've been wracking my brains to try to work out what to do about that without, so far, coming up with a satisfactory solution; so what I'll do now is bury my head in the sand and pretend that the problem is going to go away - which, of course, it won't - otherwise I wouldn't get any sleep tonight) while Hope Is High's 11 or 12 is the second worst draw we could have had (twelve, of course, being the only one worse).  She had a double-figure draw first-up too, and I feel that that cost her whatever chance of victory she had; so we've just got to hope that things can pan out a bit better this time.

There's plenty going on aside from the inconsequential trivialities in our little corner of the racing world; and a couple of incidents over the past week have caught my eye, making me feel that I ought to ruminate in this blog on the issues which they have thrown up.  However, that can wait.  I'm tired and I'd like to get to bed by 8.30 to keep me fresh for the two busy days ahead of us.  So what I'll do is keep things light-hearted. What better way of doing that than by mentioning the wry grin which spread across my face yesterday when I saw that Aidan O'Brien was running a horse called Dali at Naas?  That, to my mind, was too good to be true.  As I saw it, Coolmore naming a horse called Dali was never going to work, so I was not surprised when this horse started favourite and finished last.

However, Dali got me thinking.  How about Godolphin follow suit and name a horse Cuil Mhor?  Kinnaird, one of Newsells Park Stud's best broodmares, usually has a nice yearling in the October Sale, so John Ferguson could buy one of her children and he/she could be called Cuil Mhor.  (Look at your atlas of Great Britain if you can't follow that one).  That animal thus named could then be a perfect recruit for the Godolphin string.  And here's another good name for a Godolphin horse: Ballet D'Oeil.  The Darley broodmare band must still contain a few daughters of Nureyev.  Send one of them over to France to be covered by Vision D'Etat - and bob's your uncle!
Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pound for your thoughts

All the while that we were enjoying our prolonged dry spell, the worry in the back of the mind was that we would pay for it before too long.  Fingers crossed we have now settled the debt after some prolonged spells of rain during the week.  Yesterday was a horrible day, but we have had a lovely sunny morning today, notwithstanding that we have been told to expect more rain this afternoon.  However, it's remaining dry so far; and the forecast for next week (starting tomorrow, Sunday, obviously) is for warm, dry sunny weather.  So hopefully we can start to enjoy conditions again.

We're never happy about the weather, of course, and so I've been worrying about all this rain.  We had four horses entered for the first half of the week (Sussex Girl and So Much Water at Windsor on Monday, Roy at Brighton on Tuesday, and Hope Is High at Lingfield on the grass on Wednesday) and, predictably, all bar So Much Water are horses who would prefer dry rather than wet ground.  It pained me to do it, but the ground for Windsor was still soft at declaration time and there was more rain forecast so I didn't declare Sussex Girl (seen in the fourth photograph, this morning) because she really seems not to handle soft ground, and it seemed inconceivable that the ground would be dry enough for us.

So she isn't running - and neither, unfortunately, is So Much Water.  They were entered in the same mile maiden race, and I think that So Much Water would have been very happy on the wet track; but sadly she was one of the five of the 19 horses declared who were eliminated.  That's life, I suppose: the horse who was guaranteed a run in the race wouldn't have liked the ground, while the horse who would have liked the ground couldn't get a run.  Ah well - it's still early days in the season, and we'll have plenty of opportunities to run them both subsequently.

Hopefully our plans will be less frustrated later in the week.  It's currently still soft ground at both Brighton and Lingfield, but I'm hopeful that we should have enough time for both courses to dry up enough to be no softer than good come raceday.  I think that we'll run Roy come what may as he would probably cope with any ground to a greater or lesser extent; but Hope Is High (seen in the sixth and seventh photographs) really doesn't like wet tracks at all, so she'll only run if it isn't softer than good.  But we have four (supposedly) drying days between now and then, so fingers crossed we'll be OK.  Both horses seem well and ready to run a nice race.

What else has been happening?  Well, I suppose we ought to touch on 'Poundland Hill'.  This is so strange.  The questions are several.  How has Epsom been able to sell 'branding rights' to a piece of unenclosed common land which it doesn't own?  How does calling the most exclusive area 'The Queen's Stand' and the least exclusive one 'Poundland Hill' tie in with JCR's generally egalitarian policy which at its racecourses has seen the 'Silver Ring' re-named as the 'Family Enclosure' (or whatever) because, although the words 'silver' and 'ring' are not per se disparaging, put together they are seen as denoting a facility for the lower orders?  And why does Poundland see it as a good thing to have its name added to the least chic part of the racecourse?

I think that we can answer them thus.  Epsom isn't really in a position to sell branding rights to the Downs at all, but has done so anyway because it can get away with it because nobody is going to step in to stop it.  Giving the Downs an 'Old Kent Road'-style tag isn't in keeping at all with the 'classless society' policy generally favoured by JCR because the modern way is not to let your poorer 'customers' think that you're looking down on them - but as the people on the Downs aren't customers but are people who can watch the races for free (presumably much to the disgruntlement of JCR) then JCR probably isn't unhappy to be seen to be a bit sniffy about them.  Basically, it appears as if JCR has pulled a fast one and is getting some money by selling something which is not its to sell, while having a little chuckle at the expense of the people who are cheeky enough to watch the racing for free.

And in respect of the third question (and to revisit a topic frequently touched upon in this column) the answer is that marketing men often aren't very bright.  While I accept the 'no such thing as bad publicity' school of thought and while I acknowledge that Poundland has already had plenty of publicity resultant from this seeming faux pas, the answer is that it clearly doesn't do Poundland any favours in having its name added to the Downs, but that's not going to deter the marketing men.  If Poundland wish to put money into the Derby Meeting to boost its (ie Poundland's, not Epsom's) profile, then sponsoring a race (or even part of the racecourse, rather than an adjacent piece of common land from which people who don't pay to get in to the enclosures can watch the racing for nothing) would have been a much better idea.

The Poundland Dash would have had a good ring to it.  Or how about the Poundland Bar, in which every half-pint (or even pint, if Poundland were really to push the boat out) of beer, lager or cider were to cost a pound?  But calling the cheap seats the Poundland Hill really isn't very clever.  But that won't deter these wise guys.  If Longines, a firm world-famous for subjective accuracy, is happy to have its name attached to the 'World Thoroughbred Rankings' (which stem from vague, objective guesswork by some of the very few people on earth who believe that Hartnell is a superior horse to Kitasan Black) and to the 'World's Best Jockey' (which is even sillier) then we can't be taken aback by any marketing man's brainwave, however off-the-wall it may seem.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Better to be safe than sorry

Disappointing night last night.  I didn't really expect Delatite to win his race yesterday, as my feeling was that the most likely outcome was that he would finish one place behind the Gary Moore-trained odds-on favourite Kaveman, a lovely-looking horse who (like Delatite) had improved for his debut to be placed next time out, and who (unlike Delatite - although Del is by a most promising young National Hunt stallion, Schiaparelli) is as well-bred for bumpers as one could get (being closely related to numerous bumper winners, including being a full-brother to a Cheltenham Championship Bumper winner).  That, admittedly, did happen, although in a six-runner race I had not expected it to turn out that neither of us would finish in the first two.  Ah well.  Disappointing, but not the end of the world.  I feel in retrospect that I sent Del to the races too fresh and that he performed accordingly (ie passing the post exuberantly in first place, as one can see in the second photograph, on the first rather than the second time) which self-criticism has left me uncomfortable but wiser.

Aside from that, though, it was an enjoyable evening.  Over and above all the many interesting parts of the evening at Towcester, I caught a couple of races from Windsor on ATR, including seeing a twice-raced two-year-old dislodging John Egan when doing a rodeo performance shortly after leaving the stalls.  Like Thunder Snow in the Kentucky Derby, but more so.  Which brings us on to that supposed mystery.  (You will note the fact that John's two-year-old yesterday had cantered to post beforehand, which actually flies in the face of what I'm about to say, but not to worry).

It has long baffled me that horses in America seem not to canter to post.  This practice presumably seems normal to our transatlantic cousins, but to me it's madness.  The canter to post serves three purposes: to loosen the horse up, to allow the jockey to check that he is happy with the horse's action (which merely walking or jig-jogging to post does not do), and to allow the horse to get any jumping around out of his system if he is uncomfortable for any reason, or just over-fresh.  The warming-up is self-explanatory and obvious.  The jockey assessment is so important.  It's the jockey's life on the line as well as the horse's if the horse is going to break down, and it is fair on neither horse nor jockey not to give the jockey a chance to assess the horse's action for signs of soreness.  (And the fact that the horse might not have been sore when he did final work before the race is not really relevant, as that work could have been the straw which prepared the camel's back for breaking).

As for the final point, Thunder Snow is the perfect illustration.  For many people it is the done thing at the races to put the saddle on uncomfortably forward and/or to do the girth up uncomfortably tight.  (And if one merely does the girth up tight enough, rather than as tight as it will go, the jockey generally tightens it anyway once he/she is aboard).  And this is with a saddle which is often uncomfortably small and/or with an uncomfortably small amount of padding underneath.  I saw a perfect illustration a couple of years ago.  I was at Catterick and a successful trainer (who was not present) had a runner in our race.  The saddle had been put on ludicrously far forward.  I pointed the horse out to our horse's connections, and observed that if I were a jockey and walked into the parade ring and saw that my mount had been saddled so badly, I would refuse to get on the horse but would instead ask the lad to take the horse back to the saddling boxes, where I would resaddle the horse myself.

Anyway, I thought no more about it for the next couple of minutes - until we took our horse out onto the track, and saw that the horse which I had been talking about was already out there, running around loose while the jockey stood on the ground bemusedly watching him, sporting that pained grimace which finds its way onto one's face when one has just been 'buried'.  But of course that didn't matter because the horse got his bucking out of his system, the saddle probably moved back to where it was more comfortable, and by the time that the race was off all was sweet.  But if the horse had merely been walked to post, the bucking performance would probably have happened a few seconds after the stalls had opened.

This is, of course, by the by because it doesn't happen very often.  But it is another reason to scratch one's head in bemusement that the horses don't canter to post in the USA, over and above the main one that the fact of not doing so almost inevitably increases the fatality rate (principally of horses, but of jockeys too) by taking away the jockey's opportunity to make an informed judgement of whether there is a significant risk about whether the horse he/she is about to ride might break down in the race.  (Racing horses on painkillers, of course, also largely takes away that opportunity from the jockeys, so even if they were to canter them to post, the jockeys still wouldn't be in a position to give a meaningful verdict on any horses racing on Bute).  We've all had the odd horse scratched at the barrier after the jockey has told the vet down there that his/her mount felt sore cantering to post.  Watch enough races and you'll see the occasional horse withdrawn at the start on veterinary advice.  And the jockey is perfectly correct to raise such concern if that is what he/she feels, and the vet is perfectly correct to act on the advice by scratching the horse if he/she feels that the concerns raised are valid (which there is a strong chance that they might be).

Of course, with a horse scratched at the start, one never knows what would have happened had he raced: whether he would have run safely or well, or both, or neither.  But it's always better to be safe than sorry, and generally better to err on the side of caution.  A saying I often quote is that it's always better not to race and wish one had, than to race and wish one hadn't.  With the former there is usually another day; with the latter there usually isn't.  I'm always slightly irritated when I hear pundits pontificating about the safety or otherwise of dirt versus synthetics versus turf in American racing.  Such pontification is just an over-elaborate analysis of where best to place the deck-chairs on the Titanic.  Instead, ensure that no horse races on pain-killers, and canter the horses to post (and reassure the jockeys that they won't be sacked if they voice any misgivings which they might have - that's important, too) and, hey presto, the fatality rate would be reduced much more markedly than by any tinkering with the choice of surface.  Here endeth the lesson.
Sunday, May 14, 2017

Back on line

I finally got my old/new computer back during the week, so I'm slowly getting less behind with the things which I should have been doing on it.  Including the important stuff (PAYE etc.).  And including this.  I suppose I'm halfway towards the conundrum of my grandfather's axe (ie 'This is my grandfather's axe.  My father had to replace the blade.  I've just replaced the handle.  Is it still my grandfather's axe?').  The computer has had to have a new hard drive installed (onto which most of the data from the old one has been transferred).  No doubt the next problem will be that the the keyboard/screen/casing breaks, so the hard drive would then have to be put in a new body.  Would it then still be the same computer?

Not that that matters, of course.  What does matter?  Well, the result of the last race at Towcester tomorrow.  It won't matter in the great scheme of things, but it will matter to us because Delatite (whose rear can be seen in this paragraph, through Freediver's ears) will be running in it, presumably with some sort of chance of going one better than when he raced over course and distance last month (when he finished second).  We'll see.  That will be our only runner of the week (and we didn't have one last week) but then we should be busier the following week, with Sussex Girl, So Much Water, Roy Rocket and Hope Is High (all of whom bar Roy can be seen in the third photograph - while Indira is the first and fourth pictures, while Hope Is High and Sussex Girl are in the final two photographs, both taken yesterday) all pencilled in to run in a three-day period.  And then, fingers crossed, the week after that Indira might resume, which is an exciting thought.  (For us, anyway).

The racing was interesting at Chester during the week; while there was plenty going on, aside from the action.  Dougie Costello and Harry Bentley losing the rides on Quiet Reflection and Limato respectively attracted a lot of comment.  There has probably already been too much said, but it's probably worth pointing out that (while I'd like to think that if any jockey had been as successful on any horse which I owned as they have been on these horses, then he or she would be automatic first choice for the ride for life) it's no big deal.  The fact that a jockey has been the regular jockey for a horse in the past, however successful the partnership has been, neither means that he/she is obliged to ride that horse in the future, nor that the connections are obliged to have him/her on the horse in the future.

If you have raced horses for long enough, you will on umpteen occasions have found the jockey whom you regard as your horse's jockey declining to take the mount because he/she would rather ride another horse/for another trainer/at another meeting.  That's no drama - it never worries me, anyway, although some people can be miffed about it - because we all know that no jockey can ride two horses at once or be in two places at the same time.  But what it does is remind one is that it would be wrong to be too critical of any owner or trainer who decides that on this occasion he would like to try another jockey on the horse.  There's a good saying that today's favour becomes tomorrow's obligation - and the fact that you've been kind enough to let someone ride your best horse in the past oughtn't to mean that you're obliged to let him/her ride him/her every time in the future.

And, of course, we should remember that booking a different jockey for a future race does not equate to sacking the previous jockey.  When you book a jockey, under normal circumstances you are booking him/her for a particular race.  The jockey certainly won't regard it as a long-term contract to ride the horse indefinitely.  When it does become a problem, though, is when the (verbal) contract for the forthcoming race is broken.  Of course there are times when you book a jockey for a race and the horse does not run (because of lameness, changed underfoot conditions, illness, whatever).  That's inevitable, as is the fact that the jockey sometimes might not be able to ride (because of injury, illness, traffic, whatever).  And there are also times when a jockey takes a ride and then at some point prior to declaration-time either asks to be released from the obligation or tells you that he/she is releasing himself.  That's not great, but c'est la vie.

But what is not acceptable is when the contract is broken after declaration-time.  And what is totally unacceptable is when it is broken on the day of the race.  This should not be allowed (leaving aside when it becomes impossible or unfeasible for the jockey to ride) but the rules inexplicably permit it.  They ought not to do so, but it should not matter that they do because simple principles of good behaviour ought to ensure that it never happens anyway, permitted or not.  But at Chester we saw several instances of jockeys whose mounts had become non-runners on the day switching to other horses.

How can we condone this?  How is it acceptable for people to tell the jockeys who are thus disengaged at the eleventh hour that they aren't needed after all because a better jockey has become available?  And how is it that the world and his wife can become so hot under the collar about a couple of owners deciding to try different jockeys on their horses in forthcoming races for which they had not yet booked a jockey, while seemingly finding nothing amiss in jockeys who have been booked for a ride being disengaged only hours before the race for no better reason than that the connections would like to use someone else? (And, in the process, making a complete mockery of the overnight declaration of jockeys, a practice which is supposed to ensure that, as far as possible, the riders who appear in the morning papers will be the ones who ride the horses)?
Thursday, May 04, 2017

Guineas week

It was nice to go to Yarmouth on Tuesday sitting atop the 'Hot Trainers' table in that day's Racing Post, on 100%.  One can't have a healthier figure than that.  (The table is done on the trainer with the best winners to runners percentage over the past two weeks, trainers having had to have sent out at least two winners in that period to qualify).  One can, of course, I should add, have a healthier version of the same figure, ie it's better to have had a 100% strike rate over the past two weeks from, say, 20 runners than from the two runners (White Valiant and Roy) whom we had had.

Still, I'll settle for small glories.  I would like to say that our strike rate over the past fortnight is still 100%, but it isn't.  It is now 50%.  That's a figure which would still see one taking high order in the Hot Trainers list, but of course it won't see us doing that.  By the time that we have another runner (which should be 11 days from now: Delatite, seen in paragraph five, this morning, at Towcester on 15th May) our figure will be down to 0%, White Valiant's and Roy's triumphs having disappeared by then off the bottom of the fortnight-long screen and only Sussex Girl's and Hope Is High's fourth places remaining on it.

Anyway, at Yarmouth both horses ran adequately.  Merely saying that Sussex Girl finished fourth is actually flattering her: she was fourth of five (two of the seven declarations ended up as scratchings) and was well enough beaten, but that's OK because she was racing in company hotter than she will eventually have to face (ie maiden rather than lower-tier handicap) and over a distance shorter than will ultimately prove ideal (five furlongs, rather than something longer).  The lowest part of her performance wasn't actually her run but her behaviour before the race: she was very cheeky down at the start and for a while looked as if she wasn't going to go into the stalls.

Happily, all was well that ended well, and I'd like to think that henceforth she will take, or try to take, fewer liberties rather than more.  So that was OK.  As was Hope Is High's run.  Her fourth place was more respectable: fourth of 11, and beaten less far (3.75 lengths).  She probably had more than 3.75 lengths' worth of things go wrong during the race, the consequence of being drawn very wide; and all in all it was a pleasing performance on her first run since September.  I went into the day believing that she ought to be set for a rewarding season, and I still hold that view.  But then, as we see all too often, I am an optimist by nature!

So that was Tuesday, and the first four photographs illustrate the two horses' day.  As is often the case, conditions were considerably more bracing over at Yarmouth than they had been when we had left here.  They've been even more bracing than that here since then, with a chilly wind from a direction (north-east) which thankfully we don't have to suffer too frequently.  Still, there's plenty of daylight by this time of the spring so the weather will inevitably settle down and get warmer, with this weekend's Guineas Meeting, or QIPCO Guineas Festival as it is formally called, likely to take place in fairly pleasant conditions.

It's always an enjoyable weekend in Newmarket, and it looks as if we'll have a particularly good 2,000 Guineas.  I shall, though, devote at least as much attention to the Friday cards at Chepstow and Lingfield as I have a shift on At The Races tomorrow afternoon, which I'm looking forward to.  And I'll keep half an eye on what is going on in Tattersalls tomorrow, where White Valiant's full-brother will go through the Guineas Breeze-Up Sale as Lot 131.  I wish I still owned him, but I don't, having sold him as a weanling.  He's a lovely horse, as is his full-brother and as are his winning half-brothers Grey Panel, Dream Walker and Roy Rocket - the quartet of horses (ie including White Valiant, who is pictured in this paragraph, a couple of days ago) having won a total to date of 30 races.

However, the quickest way to the poor-house for any trainer is to own too many horses; and the quickest way to the poor-house for any breeder is to keep every horse which he or she breeds.  So some of Minnie's Mystery's offspring over the years have headed off to the sales as unbroken youngsters - and at least in the case of two of them (her current three-year-old Rock On Dandy, a son of Rajsaman who is trained by Harry Dunlop, and this horse who is by Youmzain) they did so at a worthwhile sum.  And the lovely thing as a breeder is that they're still your children whether or not you still own them - so I'll be keeping a paternal eye on this lovely fellow (beautifully prepared and presented by Ballinahulla Stables) tomorrow to see how he sells and where he'll subseqently be heading.