Sunday, September 24, 2006

Brave Brief's no-brainer and the Ascot One

Who can we add to the list of heroes this week? Well, eagle-eyed Racing Post readers will have noted in the Chatroom that I've put forward the achievement of 10-year-old Common Grounds stallion Henry Hall (grandson of Kris) in running 56.01 to break the track record at Redcar on his 105th start, which speaks volumes for the horsemanship of Nigel and Kim Tinkler, plus their team. But of course, from our point of view, the week's true hero is (drumroll), um, Brief Goodbye (again). Friday's win was wonderful.

Gemma had told us that Brief remained in flying form, and in the parade ring he looked great, so I was bold enough to send Micky out with the opinion that the horse was in as good shape as he'd been in all year. Past years have seen Brief having gone off the boil by mid-September, but this year he's been so durable. Part of this can be attributed to maturity, part to Gemma's kind riding of him in the mornings and part also to Micky's riding of him on the track, because Micky really has got him believing that racing is easy. He just rides him with so much confidence, never asks him for more than he's ready to give and the horse responds by doing what one does when one's got complete confidence that one's in safe hands: his very best. Brief travelled so sweetly through the race and almost seemed to know where the post was, leaning in on his rivals in the final strides and sticking his neck out just to be in front right on the line. It was just very, very moving to see a horse so relishing his job. A theory often put forward by pundits - and it's disappointing that James Willoughby in particular espouses this, because he's our most sensible writer - is that what separates the best horses from the rest is their genuineness, but this horse is one of many to disprove that theory: there are wonderfully tough, genuine and consistent horses racing at all levels of the sport, the only difference being that the best of them have the natural ability to get from A to B in about 95% (or it could be 94%, or even 96%) of the time that the worst can manage. Anyway, in our minds Brief's a champion and we couldn't be more proud of him. Whether he runs again this year depends on how long the tracks remain relatively dry, but I'm sure that, after the day Joe, Iris and I had at Haydock on Friday, they'll agree with me in saying that Brief has already provided more than his share of excitement and emotion for one autumn.

Chester on Saturday was a less special day. Everything seemed in Jack's favour bar the draw (16 of 16, although there duly turned out to be now-obligatory three scratchings) but fortunately Antony's research unveiled a plan which gave him a fighting chance of negating the disadvantage of the 'coffin box'. Jeepstar in 11 was sure to lead, so Jack could start fast and tack across to sit in behind him - there were only three horses between him and Jeepstar (one of the scratchings was drawn wide) and none looked like going forward, so we would be set up, either to sit covered up immediately behind Jeepstar or, if the pace was frenetic, a few lengths behind him. For once I was confident that I'd got this across to our hoop, so imagine my horror when Jeepstar went straight into a three-lengths lead on the rail, at only an even tempo - and we were right at the back about five wide. Being the widest runner throughout we never even got any cover! Going onto the second circuit with a mile to go we just went even wider in trying to move forward, but of course we couldn't move forward as the leaders were quickening in front of us, and we were going farther than them anyway. About seven furlongs from home I remarked to Emma that we would have to have about a stone in hand to have any chance from where we were and, unsurprisingly, we didn't. Jeepstar nearly won, though, just getting run down in the final furlong, finishing second to the horse from stall two, with the horse drawn one finishing third. The favourite was drawn next to us in fifteen; like Jack, he raced in rear and wide throughout, and he finished last, two places behind Jack (I wonder if his connections hadn't done their homework, or if their hoop just failed to carry out the plan). Ah well ...

Antony took the cock-up very well, and accepted my assurances that I really had explained to the jockey exactly what should be done. And I must add that Stephen Donohoe behaved very well afterwards, doing nothing other than apologise. He didn't try to pretend that there was any other reason for the debacle other than his own failure to execute the tactics. He's a fine rider who, on what I've seen, makes fewer mistakes than most, and the fact that, when for once he does make one, he knows without being told that he's done so and doesn't try to shift the blame, speaks very well for his future. Self-criticism and honesty are two traits that one likes to see in a jockey, and he's shown that he has both. Compare and contrast his ride and subsequent conduct with Frankie Dettori's on Librettist in the QEII at Ascot five minutes previously - Stephen's ride was no worse than Frankie's, and at it came from barrier 16 at Chester, which means that any cock-up can be forgiven - rather than in a small field round one turn at Ascot; and Stephen didn't try to talk the stewards into giving another (blameless) jockey a 14-day ban to distract attention from his own mistakes.

Oh yes, another hero of the weekend: Seamus Heffernan. He's been very badly treated by the Ascot stewards, but hasn't whinged. I frequently grumble about the stewards' laissez-faire attitude to inconsiderate (good euphemism for dangerously irresponsible) riding - see this year's Queen Anne Stakes - but if this was foul riding then Richard Sims is an avid Sportsman reader.

Or Alastair Down is an avid reader. Which I think is highly unlikely. I don't know if I was more disappointed by the Racing Post's original decision to publish his project assassination of Great Leighs supposedly-soon-to-be-racecourse (if Alastair doesn't want to go there, fair enough, but he doesn't have to use the Racing Post to poison everyone else's minds against the project) or its giving him the last word when I pointed out that we do need either more racecourses or more all-weather racing, because of the ever-increasing wear and tear which the tracks now suffer as the calendar continues to expand. It was even more disappointing that what he came up with was not right of reply to the point, because he didn't refer to my point, but a right of retort to anyone daring to question his judgement or journalist responsibility, by throwing irrelevant personal insults my way. There's no point in my replying, because I guess he'd be given/take the last word however long the debate went on, and there's no point in trying to enter into serious debate with someone who isn't prepared to think about the issues involved. But if he was interested in reading this blog and thinking about the points I made, I'd suggest he does what I did yesterday, which was walk part of the track at Chester. Fortunately Jack appears to have come home unscathed, and possibly I'm too emotionally involved what the equine participants to make an objective assessment of what constitutes an acceptably safe racing surface, but should we be asking horses to race on ground as rough as it is at Chester just now? And the really frightening thing is that there's much worse ground than that elsewhere. If the Heath was that rough nobody would use the grass, but we ask the horses to race on it. What can be done? I don't know - but considering either building more racecourses or having a greater percentage of the racing on the all-weather (however unappealing that sounds) would be a start. At least we've got some pundits prepared to consider the subject - James Willoughby's post Royal-Ascot-At-York comments were particularly memorable, when he compared the euphoria about what a successful Carnival it had been because a grand time was had by all in the champagne bars and the press room (but we don't worry that the track was like the surface of the moon and most of the horses came home sore) to saying that the maiden voyage of the Titanic was a huge success, apart from a small problem with buoyancy.

So where does that leave us? It leaves me girding my loins in preparation for taking Chilly Cracker to Bath tomorrow. Kirsty Milczarek had been due to occupy the hot-seat, but unbelievably her agent, very embarrassedly, told me yesterday that she'd been offered what she, presumably, believed to be a better ride by Bryn Palling, so had decided to switch onto that. When one considers that Henry and Rosemary Moszkowicz had been the only people in Britain to decide they wanted her to ride all their horses, and that they have probably nearly ten horses with three different trainers, this strikes me as a bizarre decision. It isn't primarily an issue of loyalty or ethics; it is one of common sense and educated self-interest. This leaves us with Alan Rutter on Chilly Cracker. I doubt I'd have run Chilly if Alan hadn't been available, because she really isn't a horse to put in a race for inexperienced apprentices, but Alan, in addition to being a really decent lad who deserves support, is a fine, bold and sympathetic horseman whom I'm happy to entrust with a difficult task - and as he's been apprenticed to our neighbour Willie Musson for years, I've had plentiful opportunities to see how nicely he rides. We've had winners with other Musson apprentices (Lisa Jones, Stephen Donohoe) but I've never even given Alan a ride thus far, so I'm very pleased to be putting that omission right tomorrow. I just hope that the mare doesn't hurt him (or me!). She's in great shape and is capable of winning the race if her nerves allow her to do so, but she is difficult and it certainly won't be to Alan's discredit if things don't go well.

Oh, and a couple of points of house-keeping from previous blogging. Firstly, many thanks to Monstarex for the good oil on the Cullinan. The Diktat filly's name just has to revolve around that. Let's hope we have indeed unearthed a jewel. I've certainly been pleased with the Diktats since her arrival: Dixie Belle's Group Three win at Newbury was followed by a two-year-old colt winning a Listed race in France for Fabre. The filly is now accustomed to a saddle but hasn't been ridden yet. She's done well physically since she got here - Emma and I are both sure she's grown - and mentally she's a real spunk. Many thanks to John Nelligan for organising her syndication, and many thanks to the crew who have come on board. Please excuse my tardiness in getting paperwork organised; that shall fall into place shortly. Let's hope we can all meet up at The Curragh at the end of August for a tilt at the Tattersalls Sales Race with her.

And one final thing - re KYWC's question about Brief as a potential jumper - it's a fair point, and I'm sure that many would think I'm missing a trick in not putting him forward as such, but I don't think he'd relish the role as much as he does as a flatter. Two reasons, really: 2000m seems to suit him ideally and I don't see him running out two miles, with or without hurdles, and he has a scampery flat horse's action rather than a running cheetah's jumper's action. Which may or may not be bollocks. Plus I'm possibly over-protective of the little horse, but his confidence is sky-high just now and he's doing fine just the way he is, so I wouldn't want to risk spoiling things by setting him a task at which he wouldn't shine and which he wouldn't enjoy. I know one doesn't want to die wondering - but as regards Brief as a jumper I'm not wondering: he'd probably win a low-grade novice hurdle if one tried, but I'm pretty confident he wouldn't be as good over jumps as he is on the flat. And I think he'd have a good chance of hurting himself. So, to me, it's what Luca Cumani would call a 'no-brainer'.


westtip said...

Wath, have you never heard the phrase 'little and often'?

gerrysfanclub said...

Have my requists for gerry pics fallen on deaf ears? Where can I get a tape of his town plate ride?

D.D. Fan Club said...


I have noticed,especially on photos on the Racing Post website, that the use of breast plates(breast girths) has become common practice in GB. Whats the reason for this change?.Is it now commonly seen on the training grounds also?

alamshar2 said...

I think I can answer all the above queries.

Firstly - Westtip - Little? never be surprised by the blogmeister using 2,000 words when 120 would have sufficed. Any often? No chance - too busy reading Catherine Hudson's column in Winning Post.

Secondly - gerrysfanclub - Film of this year's Town Plate will be shown ad nauseam on the big screen in 'Heaven' on October 10th. 9.30 pm onwards. Close-up, slo-mo footage of Gerry's valet in action is included. What sort of action that is nobody seems to know.

Thirdly - club - I think Mark Johnston's invariable application of a breast-girth has persuaded a lot of people that it has to be a good thing. My own view is that I was loathe to use one unless I thought there was a likelihood of saddle slipping. Two reasons: jockeys don't weigh out with them so they're extra weight, and worries about constricting the breathing if they're put on too tight or become too tight as the saddle moves. However that second worry has been addressed (and the first has to a large extent) by the fact that now we can buy ones which are 100% very narrow elastic, so they don't weigh much and aren't going to be a solid constriction on the chest. Surprisingly, they're still rarely seen on Newmarket Heath.

D.D. Fan Club said...


Here in Aust/NZ, jockeys do weigh out with breast girths which could be a reason why they are available light and narrow.I have tried to have a rider use a chamois in the past but they also have to weigh out with it and not like them.