Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Gives hope to us all

We had a disappointing trip to Brighton yesterday. It is very rare that I am disappointed by one of Roy's runs, but I was disappointed yesterday.  I went into the race thinking that I'd be disappointed if he didn't finish in the first three, and he finished sixth.  It'll obviously help him getting back down to Class Six and having a lower rating, but even so I wasn't expecting to finish merely sixth of eight, or to be beaten 25.25 lengths.  But it was a really weird race, run very unsuitably from our point of view, so I'm content that things will work out better on another day.

Roy runs best when he sits last and is able to finish off strongly off a strong pace.  Yesterday had to be seen to be believed.  The fact that we sat fourth of the eight runners, when we're basically determined to sit last pretty much every time, tells you plenty about how unhurried half of the jockeys were.  Two of the runners went clear from the outset.  If no-hopers go clear, particularly if they are ridden by questionable jockeys, then it's generally safe to give them plenty of leeway.  In this case, though, it was the first two favourites and the jockeys were world-class, Adam Kirby and Richard Kingscote.  You can guarantee that those two jockeys would not be going too fast.

Another world-class jockey, Tom Marquand, worked out what was going on and, although his horse had started slowly, he moved up into third, albeit a fair way off the first two.  But the rest?  We'd still be running now if we'd waited for them.  John had to abandon the plan and sit fourth, albeit still giving the favourite a huge start in a sedately-run race.  At halfway the two leaders, including the obvious likely winner King Of The Sand (rated 86 in the spring of last  year, rated 70 yesterday) under Adam Kirby, were a long way clear.  If one were to have any chance of winning the race, one had to get after them.  We moved into third, but basically we had to make a premature move to do so and got tired at the end.

King Of The Sand won, heavily eased, by 13 lengths.  Richard Kingscote's horse was second, four lengths clear of Tom Marquand's horse.  And then two of the very conservatively ridden horses stayed on towards the end to pass us as we were tiring from our mid-race exertions.  It was just a complete non-event from our point of view.  I think that Roy probably isn't quite at his best yet - and it irks me to say so as I've been very happy with him - but the complexion of the race was just so far from our ideal scenario that I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I hope that we'll go back to Brighton in two and a half weeks' time, on 7th June.

Otherwise, it was, as usual, a pleasure to be there, particularly in such lovely weather.  And the afternoon started with a bonus.  I'm an optimist and am usually prepared to give a horse the benefit of the doubt even if he has achieved nothing in his early years in training.  Even by my standards, though, the first winner provided a remarkable and heartening case of coming good eventually: Pocket Warrior was not merely an eight-year-old maiden, but an eight-year-old who had never been placed!  He was beaten 63 lengths on his debut in a juvenile bumper at Huntingdon in November 2014, and he finally made the frame when winning yesterday (on, admittedly, only his tenth start) over five and a half furlongs in May 2019.  That's great.  It's probably worth mentioning that he has only joined his current (very good) trainer Paul D'Arcy this year.  Gives hope to us all.
Monday, May 20, 2019

Illogical and irresponsible too (and I'm not talking about myself, for once)

Off to Brighton tomorrow.  Looking forward to it.  Roy (naturally).  His first attempt at a mile and a half this season after having had two runs there this spring at ten furlongs, and I hope that he'll be competitive.  He's inching back down the ratings' list.  If he's inched far enough down he will go very close; if he needs to inch down a bit more, he won't be quite so close.  But he has everything else in his favour: his favourite course, his favourite distance, his favourite ground (fast) and his favourite jockey (John Egan), and he's very well.  Fingers crossed for a good run.

Aside from getting preparing for our only trip to the races of the week, the other big feature of life in the past few days has been having our two kittens, George and Percy, gelded.  They are about six months old now so were ready (in fact, Percy was making it plain that he was more than ready) so it was a relief to have them neutered.  One can think of downsides, obviously, but basically I just look at it that their life-expectancy has increased for the operation being done.  Boy cats do tend to roam, particularly at night, and the chance of their being run over is hugely lessened if one removes their incentive for leaving the property.

In general, I'm in the camp that one should have all one's animals neutered at the earliest opportunity unless there is any realistic chance that one might want to breed from them at some point in the future.  Dogs and cats, obviously; but horses too.  For horses, in particularly, their quality of life improves massively once they are gelded.  (We're talking only about male horses, obviously).  One of my pet hates is people whose modus operandi is to geld horses far later than common sense says should be the case, mostly from the point of view of the horses' enjoyment of life, but also from the point of view of those who handle them.

I've been thinking a bit about this not solely because of Georgie-Boy and Little Percy paying a visit to the vet's surgery on Friday, but also because of geldings being barred from the Commonwealth Cup and because of a gelding (Mustashry) winning the Lockinge Stakes on Saturday.  What's the deal with the Commonwealth Cup?  Isn't this just very silly?  We're told that it is in line with policy on all Group One races restricted to three-year-olds - but what's prompted this policy?  We know that geldings can't run in the Classics, but the only justifiable reason for maintaining that policy is a respect for tradition and heritage.  To apply the policy to new races, races which have no tradition or heritage, is ludicrous.

Why do I say this?  Why does the initial reason for barring geldings from the Classics no longer apply to the major three-year-olds' races?  Well, there's one very good reason - they have been overtaken by events.  The idea behind barring geldings from the Derby was so that we could find out which horse was naturally the best, rather than the best after having had a performance-enhancing operation.  So geldings were barred, because at the time gelding a horse was the only performance-enhancing operation that there was.

But that's no longer the case.  Wind operations are the most obvious and most common performance-enhancing operation, but there are also no end of operations that can be and are done to horses' legs. And I don't just mean operations to repair damage done to the horses on the way through: unbroken horses can have operations to correct perceived conformation deformities.  What is the sense in barring geldings from running in, say, the Commonwealth Cup when horses who have had wind operations or leg operations can run in the race?  Answer: none whatsoever.  I actually think that the move is worse than useless because, from a welfare point of view, we ought to be encouraging people to geld their colts sooner rather than later rather than providing them with further reasons not to do so; so it's not just illogical to bar geldings from these races, but irresponsible too.
Friday, May 17, 2019

You don't suffer from anxiety? What's wrong with you?

I was disappointed last night that Loving Pearl finished last, but not down-hearted.  I was fairly despondent two thirds or three quarters of the way through the race as she was struggling, but I was relieved to see that she didn't just pack it in up the final hill but kept stretching out to and past the post.  She's bred to stay two miles and, the way she kept going despite having been under pressure for most of the race, suggests that she should indeed do that.  If she is indeed a proper stayer, then there was nothing in yesterday's run to say that she won't make the grade over farther.  Even leaving the distance aside, too, she will come on for the run anyway.

That's been our only runner this week.  I think we'll just have one next week too, Roy at Brighton on Tuesday, but then I think we'll be busier thereafter.  It's possible to envisage us running six horses during the following week, which is a thought both exciting and daunting at the same time.  That week will, of course, be Derby Week, while this week is Mental Health Awareness Week.  One of the features of Mental Health Awareness Week has been a series of announcements about the percentage of people in each of racing's category who have suffered at some point in the past year or so from stress, anxiety or depression.

With jockeys I think the percentage was in the low 80s; with trainers it was around 75%.  That doesn't make sense, though, does it?  How can the trainers' percentage be as low as 75%.  Surely it should be 100%?  A trainer would have to have something wrong with him not to suffer from anxiety every time he has a runner.  Every morning, in fact.  Unless you are totally indifferent to the safety of your horses and riders, every morning is a source of anxiety.  You can't really start to relax and enjoy the day until all the horses are worked and nothing has gone wrong, nobody (horse or human) has been injured.  I know that, hopefully, the days when things go wrong make up only a small minority of the days, but any day could be one of them.  Anxiety is as much part of the job as a yolk is part of an egg.

If there is something to worry about, it is that 25% of trainers don't suffer from anxiety.  I imagine that if you have a lot of runners, you probably get a bit gung-ho about it, and develop a skin so thick that the reverses - and I don't just mean that inevitable occasional injury, but the frequent disappointments too - are no longer something to be feared.  But time doesn't diminish the anxiety - in fact, I'd say that it increases it, because the longer you have been doing it, the more aware you become of the potential for things going wrong.  Anxiety?  Just the thought of having six runners in one week is catalyst enough!
Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Local matters

One runner this week and that's tomorrow.  Newmarket - which isn't actually as easy as you'd think.  I always find having a runner at Newmarket quite hard.  The thing is that if you're going somewhere else, you're flat out in the morning until you have to leave and you might find yourself getting home late, but from the time you leave until you get home - which could be eight hours or more - it's fairly easy as there's not much you can do other than drive the horsebox, get the horse ready, wait, talk, eat etc.  Effectively, you have an easy day.  When the runner is at Newmarket, you're rushing all day because you do all your usual daily stuff, plus fit in the time to run the horse as well.

If that sounds negative, it's not meant to be.  I'm really looking forward to the day, both because I love Newmarket and having a runner there, and because I'm really looking forward to seeing Loving Pearl (pictured in this paragraph, galloping on Monday morning with Jana on Railway Land; and in the next paragraph just before the gallop) have her first run for us, having run four times for Ralph Beckett last year.  She's a nice filly and, while I won't be heading there with unrealistic expectations because it's a competitive race and she's only resuming over a distance which might end up as seeming to have been short of her best, I'm expecting a good run.

If that sounds silly, I should just point out that her two best runs last year, when she finished second each time, were over seven furlongs and seven-and-a-half furlongs so, while she's bred to relish two miles, it would be rash at this early stage of her preparation to resume over any farther than the mile at which she will be racing tomorrow, particularly the Rowley Mile which I always regard as one of the most testing miles that there is.  She's a very nice filly and it's exciting to be running her at a great racecourse.  And I'm pleased that Nicola can ride her.  She is three-from-three in Tony Fordham's silks (thanks to Kryptos) although the overwhelming likelihood is that her strike rate in them will be 75% rather than still 100% come tomorrow evening.

Another nice thing about running tomorrow evening will be that the evening is sponsored by the Heath Court Hotel and the race which she is contesting is the Heath Court Hotel Fillies' Handicap.  The Heath Court Hotel is managed by my friend and former fellow Newmarket Town Councillor Robert Nobbs, so I'm pleased that we're running in his race.  And, yes, that wasn't a misprint: 'former' - both Robert and I lost our seats at the recent local elections!  That was disappointing but not surprising (for me anyway, but I didn't expect Robert to lose his).

Local politics shouldn't be party-political.  If you attended Council meetings, you wouldn't really know which party anyone is in, which is the way it should be.  In many parishes, there aren't even any political parties mentioned on the ballot paper, with candidates being merely described by phrases such as 'retired civil servant', 'plumber' etc.  In Newmarket, however, in recent years anyway, it has been the norm to have a political party next to your name.  This time around, for reasons some of which I imagine are obvious, there were several former Conservative Councillors who did not feel comfortable with having 'Conservative' next to their name. I was one of them.

Most of them stood under the auspices of the relatively young 'West Suffolk Independent' Party.  I could and probably should have done that, but stupidly had some misguided residual loyalty to the Conservative Party so, while I couldn't face the embarrassment of having 'Conservative' next to my name, I didn't like the idea of having another party's name next to my name either.  One other Councillor did the same, John Winter's widow Philippa, and it turned out that she and I were the only two candidates to have the description-box left blank.  Over and above our disenchantment with the Conservative Party, we both feel that correctly party politics have no place in local politics anyway.  I suppose we should just have written, 'Independent'.  Anyway, Philippa and I (unsurprisingly, it would be fair to say) both lost our seats.  As did Robert, a Conservative, which I was surprised about.

Now, I'm not going to criticise the Newmarket electorate for not electing me because I wasn't much of an asset to the Council.  I wouldn't say that I was a bad Councillor, but I never have much spare time, and I wasn't the most proactive.  But Philippa was outstanding; ditto Robert.  I would say that over the past four years, Philippa has done more for the town than any other Councillor.  (And Robert went well beyond the call of duty too).  Madness. She really should have been elected.  But that's the Great God Democracy.  And, unless you're involved in the Council or otherwise you keep your finger very closely on the pulse, you wouldn't have any idea at all, because people like Philippa are proper unsung heroes.

None of which goes to contradict a very good tweet which I read one Sunday a couple of years ago that 'At the moment I wouldn't trust a British electorate to vote that today is Sunday'!  Anyway, the upshot is that I'll have more time on my hands. And a further bonus is that I don't have to be involved in the current madness.  If you've read the front page of last week's Newmarket Journal (which you won't have done) you will have gathered that the local Conservatives have lost the plot and have been patting themselves on the back for, as they see it, 'winning Newmarket'; and that they have turned Newmarket Town Council business into party-political warfare and have created a mire of ill-feeling.  And it's a mire in which I'm not unhappy not to be bogged down.  (No wonder I lost my seat: the double negative tends to be confusing enough, never mind the triple negative).
Saturday, May 11, 2019

Off the mark

I was indeed very pleased to get to the end of yesterday, not least because we'd had a winner by that time.  In fact, I still wasn't home when the day ended, as Sussex Girl, Jana and I got home from Nottingham shortly after midnight, and Sacred Sprite and Ivona (along with Nick Littmoden's runner and his assistant Barry Denvir who very kindly saddled and oversaw the filly for me) arrived about five minutes after we did.  Jana and I had a fruitless trip to Nottingham, but Ivona was bringing home a winner so it was very easy to shrug of the heavy rain which had reached Newmarket by that time.  When I finally got back in the house, soaking wet, at around 1.15, I was a very happy man.

Sussex Girl's run was a non-event.  We had had an hour of heavy rain at Nottingham earlier in the evening and the track was very soft, and I didn't really want her to go right to the back of the field in heavy ground (on which it is often hard to come from too far off the pace).  But she needs to be buried away as she's too keen otherwise, and unfortunately she jumped so smartly that, from her wide draw with nothing coming across in front of her, she just saw too much daylight, raced too freely and inevitably weakened out.  And when you're racing on ground that is borderline heavy, weakening out means weakening right out.  But no lives were lost, so that's OK.  She can fight another day.

With Sacred Sprite, though, everything went well.  She isn't very fast but she stays well, so stepping up beyond a mile and a half (which you can't do until you graduate to handicaps) was always going to help.  And, more pertinently, dropping from running up against Listed-class horses such as Verdana Blue and Gumball in novice races to running in a Class Six handicap off a rating of 54 was clearly going to give her a decent chance.  Even so, there are always plenty of horses who go through their maidens satisfactorily enough, start out in handicaps with their connections thinking that their prospects are rosy - and end up never winning a race.  Thankfully, she is not in that category, having won her first handicap yesterday.

So that was very happy.  And doubly so for the fact that it was the first winner owned in Europe by Dato Yap's Raffles Farm in New Zealand, who also bred the filly, having bought her dam Lively Sprite (in foal to Nathaniel, ie carrying this filly) at the December Sale in 2014.  Several Group One winners in Australasia, most notably Sacred Falls, have carried the Raffles silks to victory, while they have also raced some very good horses in Asia.  They have a rich history, and it was an honour to help in writing a small chapter in that history by sending out their first winner in Europe.  Let's hope that we can add to that tally in the coming months - obviously one hopes that Sacred Sprite, having raced only four times, might be open to further progress; and we have Konigin, a very nice filly, for them here too - but, whatever happens, yesterday was very special.  Whatever does or does not follow, the first win is always a very special one.