Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ups and downs of life and death

"Brief Goodbye, who had gone well fresh in the past, would have delighted connections with his staying-on effort". So says today's Racing Post about Brief's first-up effort at Newbury yesterday, when he finished sixth of fourteen in a very competitive ten furlong handicap. And how right is that comment: we were thrilled! As you will understand, yesterday was a special day, and it turned out to be a very good one. You may have noticed that Brief had a different jockey, because Mickey Fenton understandably felt obliged to go to Nottingham to ride six horses, including one for his Classic winner-supplying patron Pam Sly, rather than go to Newbury to ride only Brief. The excellent Ted Durcan stood in, and as expected rode very nicely. Mickey and Ted are birds of a feather as regards professionalism and helpfulness, so unsurprisingly Mickey had briefed Ted in advance about Brief's preferred way of racing; plus Ted remembered watching the horse win at Haydock last autumn (and I think rode him once, at Ayr, two or three years ago). All I had to do was reiterate that Brief just likes to be left alone to mooch along at the back of the field, and then prefers to make his run in plenty of open space down the middle of the track; obviously there will always be occasions when the tempo of the race will make these tactics the wrong ones, but they are the ones Brief prefers, so there is no point in trying to ride him upside down whatever happens. Brief ran so well in a race in which the leaders got a very easy time of it in front, so his style of racing was hugely disadvantaged. Even so, he came from last place with a great run, which understandably flattened out in the final furlong after he'd worked into fourth position at the furlong pole. Ted was full of enthusiasm and admiration for the horse, and Brief's impressively large fan club on course all went away, as so often previously, just ever so proud of the dear horse.

We also came away having seen a swag of special horses, which one would expect on Greenham Day. The superb Sergeant Cecil, the ultimate Mr Ordinary made good, looks set for another great year after what I'd say was an excellent resumption in the John Porter. The quirky but charismatic Maraahel kept us on our toes again in this race, doing what one would least expect by making all the running to win bravely, just holding off the persistent challenge of his former stable-mate Mighty, who had been sold out of the stable for 8,000 gns last autumn. Had the photo gone the other way, that wouldn't have been a good result for Sir Michael! As it was, he enjoyed yet another successful afternoon, as he completed a double when Red Gala, who will probably turn out to be better than this grade, won our race, beating another potential improver, the massive Luca Cumani-trained five-year-old maiden Samurai Way (a Darshaan half-brother to Catcher In The Rye's dam - and, like Ardross, he has Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Arctique Royale as his second dam). Defeats for Indian Ink and Dutch Art were obviously the big talking points, but I wouldn't write off Indian Ink as a potential Guineas winner - she's a lovely filly, very genuine and talented. It will be very interesting to see what the future holds for the strangely-named filly who beat her (Majestic Roi) in what seemed an excellent performance; ditto for Dutch Art's decisive conqueror Major Cadeaux, who has to run well in the 2,000 Guineas, even if Adagio looks an obvious winner of that race (assuming that Teofilo really does have something amiss, which seems likely). It was just a really good afternoon watching all these lovely horses while waiting for Brief's race (and while keeping an eye on Colin's sobriety), as well as seeing two masterful front-running winning rides by Richard Hughes. The only downer of the day was bumping into Bob Grace, a very nice man who works for Barry Hills and who would rarely miss a meeting at Newbury, and hearing that he had been widowed since I last saw him. His wife, whom I'd met with him at Newbury on previous occasions, didn't work in racing but had her own horse, and this in a freak accident kicked her in the chest last summer as she was loading him into a trailer, killing her instantly by a blow to the heart. Bob, who follows cricket as closely as he follows racing (which really is saying something) was at the Test match at the Oval at the time. Just so very, very sad.

Reverting to happier matters, Friday had been another very pleasant day, and another on which we managed to give Colin an airing. I took him up to Kerry's farm, where he enjoyed a strong cup of tea on a beautiful Norfolk early summer afternoon. Earlier in the day I'd been to Chippenham Lodge Stud to pick up the Polish Precedent yearling filly. I'd only ever been past the property previously, so was really struck by what a paradise it is. The filly has made incredible progress over the winter, getting bigger and a lot stronger, and she really does seem a very exciting prospect now. I saw her dam, who is a lovely mare and due shortly to foal, but the real thrill was seeing a paddock which contained two mares with very young foals. The usual routine on seeing such a sight is that one asks who are the mares are, and then hears two names one's never heard before. In this instance, I was half-expecting to find they were names I was familiar with, but even so I was unprepared for John Steele, the stud groom, to point to the nearest one and say "That's Wannabe Grand and her Pivotal colt who was born last weekend". I so wish I'd had my camera in my pocket! It was such a thrill, just finding myself completely unexpectedly looking at perhaps the best filly Danehill ever sired in the northern hemisphere. The last time I'd seen her was when she ran in Stravinsky's July Cup, and I remember standing with John McNamara down by the bottom end of the parade ring after the race and watching her led away, admiring the disproportionately powerful muscles in her hindquarters. It was a real treat to see her again. Can we unearth one like that? Well, the great thing is that one can't say with certainty that we can't.

Or a Karasi would do! Like the Lemon, I really enjoyed Paul Haigh's tribute to his fantastic achievement in Friday's Racing Post. Was Paul prompted by the praise given to the feat on this blog? I don't know. Certainly it is rare for a British journalist to pay attention to what's going on overseas, never mind actually to appreciate the merit therein, but Paul and Nick Godfrey are two of the few who do. Paul might even have read my 'Karasi, Karasi, Karasi' grey panel on (Or my report in Winning Post, which actually is very unlikely).

I'll just finish by boring you with a little tale to illustrate the trials of owning and training horses. Belle Annie, you will have gathered from this site, is an unraced three-year-old daughter of the good American stallion Aptitude (sire of Kentucky Derby hopeful Great Hunter). She's done some good work this spring, which has been pleasantly surprising as she still looks too immature to be up to much. Because of her patent immaturity, I hadn't put her under any pressure, just letting her do a conservative amount of cantering and the occasional unpressured gallop. Unfortunately she seemed a little stiff behind after a gallop a couple of Saturdays ago, and when she went for a trot at the start of the following week this was more noticeable. Carol checked her over and found no pulled muscles, so probing my way in the dark I gave her a few easy days and then let her resume walking, and then trotting. The stiffness returned so, having had a blood test taken which showed her muscle enzymes to be normal (ie she wasn't tying up), I decided that the problem wasn't soft tissue-based, so that a period of rest was advisable. David Dugdale, our vet, confirmed this when summoned for one of his rare visits to the stable, suggesting that, with the evidence pointing towards the start of a bone weakness somewhere at the top of a hind leg or around her pelvic area, a month's inactivity followed by a gradual return to work should see the potential problem eradicated. (I say 'potential problem' because at this early stage of a stress fracture the horse is only lame for very short periods after exercise, so David was actually making the diagnosis on a sound horse). This is, of course, bloody frustrating, but from my point of view it was an easy decision: this was the only logical and sensible course of action. Fortunately the filly is owned by Dave and Carolyn Huelin (well, it actually wouldn't really have mattered who amongst our patrons owned her, because I am very lucky by and large to train only for supportive and understanding owners who appreciate that trying to cut corners with training schedules is usually a false economy, and that horses are fragile flesh and blood who have to be treated gently and patiently) who are thoroughly experienced horse people, very familiar with the highs and lows which horses can give us, and who appreciate that there's no point in trying to swim against the tide. So the filly's having a rest, which is disappointing because it now means that she can't realistically be expected to make her debut until at least August, but that's that. You can understand our frustration and agonising over what to do - but how would you like to be in Jim Bolger's shoes? The reports we've had about Teofilo paint a pretty similar position to this. For us, we've merely got to wait a few months longer, but there's always another maiden race for an unraced horse. But for Bolger, there's only one 2,000 Guineas and only one Triple Crown, and Teofiloes only come along once in a lifetime. If we err on the side of caution, we've just made things take longer than they ought, which is irritating but no worse than that, and certainly better than being insufficiently cautious, which could be catastrophic. But if Jim Bolger errs on the side of caution, he loses the only chance he'll ever have to win the Triple Crown; while if he underestimates the severity of Teofilo's setback he could have another Barbaro on his hands. Would you like to be his his shoes? Call me unambitious if you like, but just now I wouldn't swap places with him for all the tea in china. And to make matters worse, he can't just focus on quietly just trying to get the decision right, because he's got the world's press on his back, you can be sure all trying to second-guess him and then tell him, and everyone else, what he's doing wrong. If one's conscientious, there's pressure enough in trying to get the decisions right for obscure horses in private, but when it's the best horse in Europe, it must be a nightmare when things start going wrong. And one should never underestimate just how badly things can go wrong: one of our neighbours, a very patient and sympathetic trainer, lost three horses last week, which must be about 10% of his string, two of which sustained fatal fractures while working and one of which, a beautiful unraced two-year-old filly, died of pleurisy which just came on out of the blue. This can be a very, very hard game. As I believe I've quoted Sir Mark Prescott in a previous chapter, a happy trainer is a bad trainer.


problemwalrus said...

Your blog is certainly a reminder that with horses anything can go wrong as per Graphic Approach last week.
I am looking forward to the flat season, though somewhat thwarted by Holy Roman Emperor's absence.My particular highlights are Glorious Goodwood and the Ebor meeting.What are others eagerly awaiting?

Young Hustler said...

Im looking forward to seeing a few winners from BHS. Heard straight from the horses mouths' (they shall remain anonymous to ensure decent prices when they run) that this might be sooner rather than later!