Monday, October 17, 2016

Parek's first school report

Right. First things first.  Re R P McArdle's comments below the last chapter: thank you very much indeed.  Your observations are very much appreciated, in every respect.  Regarding Sedalin, I don't know if it is a prohibited drug, but I presume that it is.  I have never looked into it - I have never owned or used any, so it has never really been on my radar.  I do recall once giving a horse some ACP, but that would have been at least 15 years ago, and I couldn't even tell you which horse it was without looking it up in some journal (which I have probably lost by now anyway).  Watching the vet give a horse a very strong sedative prior to castration is pretty much the only time I'm ever involved in the administration of one.  (And every time I marvel at the skill, strength and courage of our forebears who were gelding horses for centuries before sedatives and pain-killers were invented.  I would imagine that they used to give the horse plenty of alcohol, and morphine too if they had it.  And then I think that they tied the horse's legs together and winched them up.  But even so ... rather them than I!).

Basically, giving a horse a sedative would hurt my pride too much.  Rightly or wrongly, I kid myself that I am a good horseman, and to me giving a horse a sedative to make him/her easier to control is admitting one's deficiency in this respect; and I'm too proud / deluded / arrogant to want to do that.  Roy is (or, rather, fingers crossed, was) the worst traveller I have ever trained (although, thank God, over the past 12 months I have devised a routine which he seems to accept calmly) and there was once a time when I was offered some sedative (Sedalin, one might presume) to make the journey home safer.  Of course, I was too proud to accept - and when I was pulled over on the side of the road a couple of miles down the road trying to restore some order in the back of the truck, I did rue my pig-headedness.

To return to the matters in hand, today has been a long day.  The first photograph (taken of the 'Supermoon' through Roy's ears on Long Hill) confirms that.  (One could say that I was preparing him for tomorrow's assignment of racing in the dark).  And, dark as it was, it was taken on the homeward-bound part of the ride, not the outward.  We weren't actually home late from the races today (we were in the 2.40 race, left Pontefract at about 4.15 and completed the 148-mile journey just before 7.00).  But it felt like midnight - which is a worry because that (ie midnight) is about the time that I will be getting home from Kempton tomorrow.  I'm looking forward to the outing - I love Roy and love taking him to the races, and it's always a real pleasure to spend the time with my co-owners - but I'm not good at late nights.

As for today - well, it was a satisfactory debut for Parek (ie Sussex Girl - I don't usually use nicknames, for either horses or people, but Sussex Girl is Parek, for reasons which I will probably explain at some point, but not now) notwithstanding that she was beaten a very long way.  She showed plenty of speed for two thirds of the race, and it is likely that in retrospect we will see that the very soft ground (which Ethics Girl would have hated) was against her.  It was good to get her racing career started, anyway, and in good weather.  The highlight of meeting, though, took place after I had left.  Prior to today, Josephine had had eight rides (for four wins) in a royal blue jacket, but with a dark blue cap each time. Today, by a happy and topical coincidence, she rode in a race with a royal blue jacket and a white, rather than dark blue, cap.  And she saluted the judge in such livery, which result has given me great pleasure on her behalf.
Sunday, October 16, 2016

Keeping our world turning

Gosh, my previous chapter provoked much more of a response than either I expected or it deserved.  I wasn't expecting that it would become a news story, and still question whether it should have done.  Still, I probably should have anticipated it, but I never learn.  Ah well, the world, as is usually the case, has kept turning, and the sun did indeed rise this morning, right on cue (as you can guess from the sky, shown through Roy's ears).  And I hope that it will do so tomorrow too.  Particularly as we shall be taking a two-year-old to the races for her debut, an event which is always exciting - so it would be a shame if Armageddon were to come tonight, as it would be disappointing to miss that outing.

I initially had Ethics Girl's little half-sister Sussex Girl (shown here being cleaned off after work about three weeks ago, when we were still in our Indian summer) pencilled in to run at Catterick yesterday, but (even though the ground was given as 'good' earlier in the week) I was sure that the track would be very wet; so I re-routed her to Pontefract tomorrow, in the probably vain hope that the ground might be less testing there.  She has never given us a clue as to how she will cope with soft ground as she has never even cantered, never mind galloped, on it.  But Ethics Girl was hopeless in the wet, and this filly is quite like her, notwithstanding that she is a different colour.  So she might struggle tomorrow; but the race is only six furlongs so it won't exhaust her.  And we've got to start somewhere, so it'll be good to do so in a suitable race where Josephine, who came in last weekend to ride her, can ride.

We then have Roy going to Kempton on Tuesday, which should be fun.  He's been on the go all year, but he's working with great zest at present even so (in fact, he's working better now than he was before his last race, at Brighton) and I hope will run well.  He has never won away from Brighton and the pattern of the average race at Kempton probably is not his ideal scenario; but he's going nicely and it's worth taking a chance at a course where he has previously been placed.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  John Egan can't make it but we'll have a good replacement: the under-rated Saleem Golam, who has already worn his silks once this year (on Roy's half-brother So Much Water at Windsor in May).  (And it is another of his half-siblings, White Valiant, who illustrates this paragraph, in a photograph taken yesterday on the Al Bahathri.)

Then we should have a third runner this week: Cottesloe at Ludlow on Thursday.  That's another trip that I'm looking forward to.  He ran adequately on his jumps debut at Hexham last month, even if his jumping was more novicey than I had expected.  He has schooled very well under Jack Quinlan since then (as you can see in this photograph, taken yesterday up at the Links) so I hope that that was just first-night nerves on his part, and that he will jump more fluently this week.  He is certainly capable of doing so.  If he does so, he ought to run very well.  Fingers crossed, as ever.
Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gender bias? What gender bias?

Gee, I was depressed by the time that I had reached the end of Steve Dennis' column in the Racing Post today, the column focussing on the supposed difficulties faced by female jockeys who try to enjoy a successful career.  Josephine Gordon was the case-study; and if she were less sensible than she is, she might have been tempted just to pack it in now.  But, happily, she isn't less sensible than she is (tautology, I know) and I'm sure that this scare-mongering won't put her off.  In fact, I know it won't, not least because I have noted that she tweeted in response, "For this I'm going to prove you wrong."  (By being successful in future years).  Good on 'er.

I know that we've been through this previously, but there's no harm in re-covering old ground in this instance.  It's too easy to label the struggles of young female jockeys on chauvinism.  Too easy, and too inaccurate.  The simple answer is that it is tough for all apprentices to graduate to the fore of the senior ranks, male or female.  We're told that Hayley found it tough to get to the top, but she didn't fall far short of it, riding two Group One winners, one Grade One winner and many hundreds of winners at lesser grades.  What is less frequently mentioned is that she has done/did far better than the apprentice with whom she shared the title, Saleem Golam.  I'd be surprised if Sal has ever ridden in a Group One race (or Group Two or Three for that matter) never mind won one.  And it's certainly not for lack of ability or industry on his part.  If chauvinism were the significant factor which we are told that it is, it would be have been Hayley, rather than Sal, whose career stalled over the past decade.

Last year we saw four apprentices, three male and one female, fighting out the apprentices' championship for most of the season, with Tom Marquand coming out best.  All four have found things tougher this year, and it's not a gender-related thing at all: it's just what happens, simply because jockeying is so very, very competitive.  Tom - who is the model apprentice, a top-class rider who works hard and conducts himself impeccably - has had a less good year in 2016 than he had in 2015.  Jack Garrity is getting far fewer rides and winners.  Ditto Cam Hardie.  And Sammi-Jo Bell has been off for the second half of the season because of a bad injury sustained in a pre-race fall at Carlisle, but she wasn't getting a massive amount rides prior to that.

Josie will naturally find it harder to get rides when she has no claim.  But all apprentices coming out of their time are in the same boat, male or female.  And it won't be an insurmountable problem for her: as long as she continues to ride as well as she has been riding all year (which she will) and continues to work as hard as she has always worked (which she will) she will have a good race-riding career for as long as she wants one.  She has had to beat an outstanding crop of apprentices to become Champion Apprentice (think Tom Marquand, Kieren Shoemark, Louis Steward, Dan Muscutt, Edward Greatrex, Kevin Stott, Marc Monaghan, Hector Crouch, Shelley Birkett, Georgia Cox, Clifford Lee, Adam McNamara, Michael Murphy, Rob Hornby, Charlie Bennett, Aaron Jones, George Wood, Young Nephew Cobley an' all) and if there were a significant gender bias among the significant majority of owners and trainers, she would not be about to be crowned Champion Apprentice, however well she were riding and however hard she were working.  Simple as that.

There is one, and only one, area in which female jockeys are going to be at a disadvantage to their male counterparts.  This, of course, is the elephant in the room, the elephant whom Steve elected not to mention in his dissertation, just as it is never mentioned any other time the topic is aired in the press: nearly all of the most talented horses in Great Britain, all several thousand of them, are owned by Muslims.  It might be that I have totally misunderstood the way the world works, but I would be very surprised to see a female jockey appointed to a senior position among the riding ranks of a Muslim racing operation, irrespective of how well qualified for job she might be.  Which means that female jockeys don't ride in big races very often.

I have been amusing myself in recent weeks when Godolphin has had runners by trying to guess which jockey will ride them.  It's harder than you think: you'd think that as the team retains two jockeys (William Buick and James Doyle) you'd be able to narrow it down to two on most occasions, but that isn't the case.  When William rides it's easy enough, but otherwise - close to impossible.  Frankie Dettori and Silvestre De Sousa have both figuratively knocked me out of the Placepot in recent days, while I wouldn't have picked William Carson riding the winner of a 10-runner Group Three race at Newmarket on Cesarewitch Day (ie when there were, presumably, at least 36 jockeys there) in the royal blue in a month of Sundays.  However, I am doing quite well as I get it right once in a while: but if I were picking female jockeys, I think that my strike rate would be 0% and set to remain thus indefinitely.

The other area in which female jockeys are at a disadvantage to their male counterparts as regards forgeing a long-term career as a successful jockey is, predictably, another one which is never even mentioned in earnest press dissections of the topic: parenthood.  Many adults, male or female, aspire to have children.  In practice, particularly if they wish to have several children, this is an either/or situation for female jockeys; for male jockeys it is not even a factor.  Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore have about a dozen children each (slight exaggeration, but only slight) and as such they would now be ex-jockeys were they female.

For a female jockey, having several children basically means taking breaks from riding totalling several years, and no jockey's career, male or female, could recover from such an interruption.  (Other than Charlie Smirke or Lester Piggott, of course.)  For a male jockey, having several children does not interrupt the career at all, even though in recent years some of the less committed jockeys have (disappointingly) elected not to ride on the day on which their wife is giving birth (as long as it's a day of lower-grade racing!).  A few years ago Paul Moloney was booked to ride an outsider for us in a novices' hurdle at Newbury on the Friday of the Hennessy Meeting, but (understandably) stood himself down because his wife was having a baby.  That was fair enough - but I did idle away a few minutes by speculating about whether Paul would have attended the birth had it been 24 hours later (when he was due to ride, and did ride, a fancied runner for Peter Bowen in the Hennessy).  Having mulled it over, I plumped for guessing that he would not have seen it.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sunshine, a heroine and a hero

It's getting colder and we're definitely in autumn now rather than in an Indian summer; but one can have lovely pleasant days in autumn, and happily we've been having some of those.  We've had some truly glorious mornings (most notably Sunday morning, as one can see here, mostly through Roy's ears) and some warm sunny days, such as today when I think we got up to 16 degrees.  So that's good.  No doubt there will be some grim weather awaiting us over the next few months; but we've had a good summer from July onwards and it's still pleasant enough now.  So we'll have no grounds for complaints. Winter definitely isn't here yet - it's when winter begins in August, as can happen, that one has cause for complaint.

So what's been happening?  We're into yearling sale season, but that's not really a factor for most trainers nowadays.  The bulk of the horses are bought by a handful of owners, who do their business through agents.  So the days of a majority of trainers pounding the sales' beat has gone.  This means that we can sit back and take in as much or as little of it as one chooses.  For me the highlight has been Sheikh Mohammed Obaid being under-bidder to his cousin Sheikh Mohammed on the two 2.6 million-guinea joint-sale-topping Dubawi colts.  You would have thought that they might have been able to save the family a couple of million pounds had they been speaking to each other, but I suppose that's families for you.

Otherwise jockeys are in the news.  As the BHB in its (in this instance fairly questionable) wisdom has decided that Doncaster is a second-class racecourse and the Racing Post is a second-class sponsor, the main season bizarrely finishes a week before the final Group One race of the year (the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster) is run, so we're only four days from the end of the riders' championships.  It appears very likely that Jim Crowley will be Champion Jockey, but Silvestre seems not to have given up hope, as his flying to Wolverhampton this evening seems to suggest.  And he's just ridden a winner there, for his staunch patron and friend Chris Dwyer.

The apprentices' title, though, seems to have been sewn up - and, happily, it seems to have been sewn up by Josephine Gordon.  Under normal circumstances I'd have been delighted to see the excellent Tom Marquand take the title for a second time; but obviously I've been rooting for Josie, as she's been riding regularly and excellently for us through the season (and will, I hope, continue to do so for many seasons to come) and will make a thoroughly deserving champion in every respect.  She's ridden a winner at Wolverhampton this evening, which I think takes her tally for the main season to 49 (three of which came on Indira, to whom she is pictured here saying G'day last Saturday morning, and one of which came on Hope Is High) and that seems enough to guarantee her the title, irrespective of whether she does or does not reach the half-century in the next four days.

Otherwise, Graham Lee has been the jockey in the headlines.  He has been a jockey and a human being whom I have admired for many years (not least because we have generally been very lucky when he's ridden for us - he's one of only two jockeys to have scored for us both over jumps and on the Flat) and my admiration of him has climbed higher still this week.  It was funny because I sometimes fail to pay attention to what is going on around me, as was the case in the summer when I remarked to Emma one day that Graham Lee didn't seem to be getting many rides at the time.  Of course I'd failed to take on board that he wasn't riding, and Emma filled me in on the fact that he'd been signed off with an unspecified virus.

Anyway, he's back riding now.  And now he has let the cat out of the bag that his absence had been caused not by a virus but by depression.  Good on 'im.  One piece of advice which I usually give to young people when they set out into the wide world is never to be ashamed to admit that one is a human being, ie that one isn't perfect or infallible, and that one has some or all of the human frailties which make us what we are, ie human beings, not machines.  It is, of course, advice which I find as hard to follow as anyone, because we've been raised not to cry, not to say that we are afraid, not to say that we aren't up to something, not to say that things are all getting a bit much and we can't cope, not to say that we need help.

But failing to acknowledge these things isn't strength; it's stupidity.  There's nothing clever in suffering in silence, in trying to pretend that we are anything other than what we are, in trying to pretend that we aren't human.  It can't have been easy for Graham to speak openly about his depression, but I hope that life will be easier for him now that he has done so.  The respect which his peers hold for him won't have been in any way lessened by the discovery that he is a human being just the same as the rest of us; but it will have been raised to even greater heights by the discovery that he's brave enough to bare his soul to the world.
Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sunny October (so far)

Eight days between chapters.  That isn't good, particularly as I haven't been particularly busy.  When I last wrote, we had two trips to the races ahead of us.  Those two days both came and went uneventfully, Cottesloe at Nottingham and Roy at Brighton both running respectably both not spectacularly, finishing midfield.  My only outing since then was to Milton Keynes on Sunday for the Sunday Forum on ATR.  That too was straightforward.  It turned out that I shed very little light on that afternoon's racing at Chantilly, but that's not the end of the world as I don't think that I'm on the roster for the show because of my tipping skills.  (It is, of course, easier to pinpoint why I'm not on the roster than why I am on it).

So what's happening?  Well, very little, really.  The weather remains lovely.  We had one cold night (Monday into Tuesday, I think) which apparently gave us our first ground frost of the autumn, although by the time that I went outside around 6.00 the temperature was merely 4 degrees, and no ice crystals were evident.  A lovely day duly followed, as had been the case the previous day and has been the case today (Wednesday).  So that's straightforward.  I don't need to go anywhere this week, and next week I don't think that I'll be having to go anywhere until Saturday at the earliest - Hope is High is entered at Yarmouth on Monday, but I feel that she has possibly done enough for one year, and we might just send her on her holidays now, while the weather is nice, so that she can have a good break and still be back in training early enough to make a smart start next spring.  (Mice and men can both hope and plan, eh?).

Looking outside this stable, there are plenty of points which one might cover.  Money has been being thrown around at Tattersalls this week as if it were going out of fashion and as if prize money in Britain were ten times higher than it is, but that is of merely academic interest for 98% of the players in this great game, myself included.  It is no surprise to see that Sheikh Mohammed has been easily the biggest buyer because, after all, the supposedly big news story a couple of weeks ago that he was scaling back his operation was never going to fool anyone (bar the news editors gullible enough to waste column inches on it) and least of all me.

Another recent story which has been widely if not well covered has been the removal of the 60 or so Gigginstown Stud horses from Willie Mullins' stable.  The one surprise of this for me was the discovery that Willie Mullins' training fees have been as low as 50 euros a day for the past 10 years, and that they are now going up to merely 55 euros a day.  I would have expected them to be higher than that.  While these are higher than mine (£40 per day) they are very low by the standards of a very popular stable.  (Mine need to be low because this is not a popular stable).  Willie Mullins probably has been making a big profit in recent seasons (which is fair enough because, like Michael O'Leary, he is successful) but that will only have been because his percentage of the string's earnings will have been huge.  Take that away, and 50 euros a day won't have been making him rich.

I lose money on the training (I am lucky enough to be able to make a living from my other work which I can fit in an admittedly very full working life around the training, and I am also lucky enough to have the skills to do a lot of the physical work in the stable myself, which not every trainer can do and which obviously reduces my wage bill significantly) while the majority of trainers earn anything from a negative sum to a basic wage.  It is only a small minority who make a good living or more (a handful, of course, make millions) but in general the elite charge a lot more than Willie Mullins has been charging.

Basically, if an extremely wealthy man who clearly wishes to have horses with Willie Mullins ceases to patronise the stable because 55 euros a day is unacceptably high, then we're all bug**red.  Training horses is labour-intensive, and one needs to be charging a fairly high daily rate simply to be able to pay one's staff an acceptable wage.  As I say, I'm lucky in that I can fill a lot of the roles myself, and can afford to do so without pay because I earn my living from my other work, and am happy never to take a day off; consequently, I can charge less than Willie Mullins charges, and still make an acceptably small loss each year.

But Willie Mullins would need to charge what he charges to be able to pay his staff well.  We are always being told by the media how trainers should be paying their staff more, so I'm surprised that the implications of the Gigginstown Stud decision (ie that, as Gigginstown see things, a trainer charging enough to pay his staff well is unacceptable) have received no comment whatsoever from a press which has otherwise given this story more attention than it deserves.  Not overworking one's staff and paying them well is important (as any Racing Post reader will tell us) and when I digested the Gigginstown Stud / Willie Mullins news, what I took out of it was that one of the wealthiest and most significant owners in the British Isles seems unprepared to pay fees high enough to allow his trainer to pay his staff well without overworking them while making a good living himself.  And I find that worrying and depressing, even if the Racing Post finds that unremarkable.