Friday, January 18, 2019

Nothing else really matters

We had a disappointing trip to Kempton on Tuesday (ie three days ago) but that's not the end of the world.  It would be a miracle if that were to prove to be our only disappointment of the year.  Solitary Sister ran a very moderate race, but she seemed clearly to be unsuited by the right-handed track, so we'll go back to Chelmsford a week tomorrow (I hope) and I'd hope that she can resume racing satisfactorily there/then.  She seems to have come out of the race in good shape, and can be seen in the next couple of paragraphs coming off the canter along the side of the Heath (yesterday) and cantering up Long Hill (today).

The last time I ran a horse who, to my eyes, was as unsuited by the direction was Kadouchski (who, we learned, needed to go right-handed) at Chelmsford on 25th of September 2008, when he finished a distant sixteenth of 16.  He had finished fourth of 12 at Kempton on his previous run and, reverting to his preferred way of going, he then won his next two races, at Leicester and Sandown.  Too much, I suppose, to hope that the same formula can work again this time, but one can dream!  (For the next eight days, anyway).

It turned out that 5.45 at Kempton was a great time and place to be racing as we had an uninterrupted drive down there and an uninterrupted drive home.  Still, that's no guarantee that lightning would strike as perfectly if we were to repeat the exercise.  The other way in which it was perfect timing was that the 'meaningful vote' (whatever that means) was taking place in the House of Commons as we were driving home.  I found a talk-radio station which was covering it (very well) and it was enthralling.

It was very clement at Kempton, but we've had a very wet day since then (Wednesday), a very cold day with no frost but a biting northerly wind (yesterday) and a hard frost (this morning) since then.  We are, though, in the middle of January so that's only to be expected.  However, whatever is or isn't happening in Westminster and in the skies, politics and weather don't usually kill you.  Overshadowing everything else in the racing world has been the tragic death of Natasha Galpin (and her mount) in a fall in Iain Jardine's string.  As we are unfortunate enough to know, this is the worst thing that can happen in a stable.  By comparison, nothing else really matters.  May she rest in peace, and we sent our condolences to her family and friends.
Monday, January 14, 2019


Third chapter of the year, and tomorrow we'll have our second runner of 2018.  Konigin was the first when finishing third at Chelmsford 11 days ago, and Solitary Sister (pictured here walking across the Severals the other day behind Dervish) will be the second at Kempton tomorrow evening.  She would be very competitive if she chooses, but she's quirky, so I won't count my chickens.  She was very straightforward the first time we ran her (at Chelmsford before Christmas) so that was encouraging, and normal progress would see here thereabouts.  As always, I'll hope for the best but expect nothing.

I haven't written a chapter for nine days, but there's not been much to say.  The main topics in racing, most obviously the staff 'crisis', have been 'done to death' and I've no intention of adding to the overkill.  Even the non-story of Paul and Clare Rooney deciding not to have runners at Cheltenham was given far more attention than it merited.  We all have courses which we try to eschew because we have been unlucky with injuries there in the past.  I have at least two.  Cheltenham isn't one of them, but it would be if I'd been unlucky there.

Talking of Mr and Mrs Rooney, it was so sad to read that their lovely horse Willoughby Court had to be put down.  The story reinforced how very lucky we are that Delatite is still with us.  Reading about Willoughby Court's travails, it would appear that his problem was exactly the same as what happened (completely inexplicably, as there was no mark on his skin anywhere, as with Willoughby Court) to Delatite in October 2017, a couple of weeks after he had won a bumper at Sedgefield.  The credit for the fact that he is both still alive and still seemingly (crossing fingers) a racing prospect rests entirely with the vets at NEH, particularly with the surgeon Fran James.  He has had a very long spell and returned to the stable yesterday.  I took this photograph of him today.  His nickname is 'Del', but it could now be Lazarus.

The one topic which, although it has received plenty of attention, deserves more is the BHA's inexplicable decision to insist that jumpers wear hind plates or shoes when they race.  Funnily enough, I was thinking about this in recent months, and had more or less decided that when I next run a horse in a jumps race on soft or heavy ground and I think that the horse has a chance of winning, I would run the horse without hind shoes.  Arguably the biggest danger facing jumpers is landing awkwardly over a jump and having the hind foot slam into the back of the front tendon, slicing into the tendon.  This usually results in an injury which is life-ending or career-ending.

Plenty of trainers, myself included, run jumpers in front boots so that they have a shield protecting their tendon if this happens.  The last horse I ran in a jumps race without front boots had to be put down after the race because of this (Ngauruhoe at Wetherby on 1st June 2006) and that made me vow never to run a jumper without front boots again.  Since then I have had one who was only slightly injured, but who would have been killed if he had not been wearing boots.  It disappoints me that so many trainers run horses without boots, but I can understand why they don't because they are optional so if one elects to use one, one is not merely decreasing the chance of the horse being fatally injured: one is also decreasing the chance of the horse winning as he is carrying extra weight on his legs.

On good or fast ground it isn't really an issue as the extra weight is very little, only a few ounces.  However, the last time I ran a horse in a jumps race on proper soft ground, I was stunned by how heavy the boots were when I took them off afterwards, simply because of the amount of mud which was attached to them, inside and out.  The horse in question wouldn't have won anyway, but it would have been hard to swallow if she had been beaten only a few lengths.  In the few years since then, I've been intermittently musing what to do the next time I run a jumper on soft or heavy ground and I think that we have a winning chance.

Anyway, I had come to the conclusion that I would leave both the boots and the hind shoes off.  If one is leaving the boots off, leaving the hind shoes off too would be pretty much compulsory to my mind, as the combination of no boots plus hind shoes/plates is potentially too lethal for my liking.  (Obviously being bare-foot behind doesn't mean a horse won't strike into himself, but it does mean that the consequent cut would be likely to be significantly less severe).  The ideal ruling would be that boots are compulsory, because then one wouldn't be putting oneself at a disadvantage by using them.  But in the absence of their being compulsory, taking away the option of running the horse bare-foot behind is being unacceptably cavalier with the horses' safety.  We're told that the change in the rules was made after statistical research.  I would be interested to know how many horses running barefoot in a jumps race on soft or heavy ground had slipped up.  My guess is that the number is zero.
Saturday, January 05, 2019

Something to look forward to

We couldn't manage a winner on our first runner of the year, but Konigin ran well again at Chelmsford on Thursday, finishing third.  She's run three times for us and has run well every time, and it would be good to see her win a race; but she's been in work all year and had a busy time through the season before she came here, and all horses need a break at some point.  So it probably makes sense for her to have one now and then get going again for next season, rather than just to carry on racing through the winter only to find that she needs a spell when we want her to be racing on the grass next summer.

We'll have one entry next week, Solitary Sister at Lingfield on Saturday.  But I'd say that there'll be a reasonable chance of her being eliminated then too.  We'll see.  But we're into the new year and most of the horses will be having their work increased week to week over the next month of two, so even if we don't have many runners in the coming weeks, I'd like to hope that there's plenty to look forward to in the coming months.  And hopefully there'll be a few runners in the winter anyway: Solitary Sister, obviously, plus The Rocket Park over hurdles, and Sacred Sprite should be ready to run again later this month; and Dervish should be ready to resume (after something like a 750-day absence) next month. Always good to have 'something to look forward to'.
Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Noo Year

Good feedback from the last chapter, thank you, Neil.  The funny thing is that I don't think that you were disagreeing with me, as you said that you didn't much like the proposed scheme of which I was sceptical.  Plenty of interesting ideas in the plans which you had discussed with Peter Savill - and he would have been a very good person to discuss them with, as he was always very open to innovation.  In a lot of ways he was ahead of his time, and he put his heart and soul into trying to help the sport.  He deserved a lot more support than he ultimately received. 

We didn't end the year with the final runner which I had anticipated because I was obliged to make Sacred Sprite a non-runner on Sunday, so we didn't have our intended trip to Lingfield.  She seemed to have knocked her off-fore fetlock joint and, although she was 100% sound, there was some bruising around it, and it would have been irresponsible to have run her.  Fingers crossed it's only a short-term problem, and the inflammation has now almost all gone so I hope that she'll be back cantering at the start of next week.

There were just three horses whom I made sure did not miss a day over Christmas as they were due to race in the next 10 days, so they were my three lots on Christmas Day and Boxing Day when there really wasn't much action on the Heath.  As it's turned out, only one of them will have ended up running.  As described in the previous paragraph, Sacred Sprite ended up missing her race on Sunday, five days after Christmas; and Solitary Sister won't be running in her intended race at Wolverhampton on Friday (10 days after Christmas) as she's one of TWENTY-ONE horses eliminated from it.  So that just leaves one of the trio running: Konigin at Chelmsford tomorrow night.  Let's hope that she makes things worthwhile.
Thursday, December 27, 2018

For all the shut-down strangers and hot-rod angels rumbling through this promised land

Today I read Tony Morris' column in the January edition of Thoroughbred Owner Breeder, and it reminded me that two of the topics which have been simmering away while I haven't been doing much blogging have been 'street racing' and 'team racing'.  I think that we've touched upon these previously; and regular readers probably could work out that I'm inclined to be sceptical about both.  Tony is such a good writer and, predictably, he has summed up the pros and cons of street racing more succinctly than I could have done.  "So what do we need to recruit more fans to our sport?  We certainly don't need street racing, which will antagonise more people than it will attract".

I couldn't have put it better myself.  I don't know that I'd be as adamant about team racing as Tony is, but even so I feel that he's probably got this one right too.  "If the BHA sanctions the crackpot scheme for a series of team races next summer, it will merely confirm that it has totally lost the plot".  As I understand it, the idea of team racing is that for eight consecutive Thursdays there will be an evening card consisting of very valuable 0-90 handicaps, with the only horses eligible being those previously allocated to a team.

I think that we've covered this previously, but basically if the 12 teams are the 12 biggest stables, or even the 12 biggest owners, then this wouldn't even deserve to get off the drawing board.  I could hardly think of a more divisive move, of a move more likely to cause widespread dissatisfaction, than one which creates a large pool of extra prize money for which one is only eligible if one has one's horse in one of the dozen biggest stables.  Its only hope is to be as inclusive, as regards its spread of stables and owners, as possible - or, alternatively, if each race which is held is mirrored by an identical one open to all qualifying horses who are not a member of one of the teams.

Think that that sounds ludicrous?  Well, no more so (less so, in fact) than the situation which had to be applied when Newmarket wanted to stage a race for grey horses a few years ago (which it has been doing annually ever since then, and which was and is a very good idea).  Unbelievably, our overlords (not the BHA, I would imagine, as this was a while ago - probably the BHB might have been in charge at that time) decided that this would be discriminatory against horses who aren't grey, so what was decided was that, if there was going to be a race for grey horses on the Saturday afternoon, the Friday evening card must contain a race with conditions identical apart from the stipulation that it was for horses registered as being any colour other than grey.

It could work. Couldn't it?  Prize money galore for horses rated up to and including 90.  We could get used to that.  And we'd probably have to get used to seeing horses rated in the low 90s (and high 80s) finishing unplaced in their races shortly before the series starts.