Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ascot looms

I've rather got behind with any post-race thoughts from our recent runners as I've been spending too long away from home. But I'm back at the ranch now - where else when James Sherwood is going to be entertaining the BBC viewers this arvo? - so can catch up on the loose ends. Our two most recent runners both finished behind the place-getters, but in a relatively pleasing way because both were staying on at the finish. In Henry Cecil's outstanding autobiography 'On The Level' (a follow-up to which we are surely due, as it was written about 30 years ago) he relates that he is never too bothered about taking binoculars to the races as he doesn't really mind not seeing what happens in the first half of the race (the book, of course, being written in the pre-closed-circuit-TV era, in which one was reliant on binoculars and/or the jockey's report to know what had happened during the race) because all that he needs to see is whether the horses run on strongly up to the finishing line. So, on that basis, both Batgirl at Yarmouth (pictured under Tom McLaughlin before the race) and Anis Etoile at Doncaster (pictured under Iva after the race) ran satisfactorily. Admittedly, to describe Batgirl's run as satisfactory we do have to overlook the fact that she was outpaced in the first half of the race, but even so her performance wasn't too bad. All we need to do now, of course, is to find races for them where they can run on strongly into first position, rather than into sixth or seventh!

My trip to Yarmouth when Batgirl ran was actually only one of two outings I made to our (fairly) local course last week. I was lucky enough to have two enjoyable days on At The Races last week, the first being on the international review show on the Tuesday and the second being Zoe Bird's side-kick at Yarmouth on the Thursday. I always enjoy the chance to ramble on all afternoon so both slots were enjoyable - for me, if not for the viewers. This was the first time I had worked with Zoe and I very much enjoyed doing so: like all the other ATR presenters alongside whom I have worked, she is very professional, which makes my job a piece of cake. There was some interesting racing both days at Yarmouth, with a little extra bonus for me coming when I was asked by the absent Jeremy Gask to saddle his sprinter Street Power (pictured under Adam Kirby), a task I was more than happy to undertake because I very much admire this lovely horse, who boasts an outstanding wins : runs ratio. He wasn't able to boost further his percentage, but even so he ran a very creditable second behind the progressive young sprinter Deacon Blues, whose stable (that of James Fanshawe) appears to be coming right back into form just in time for Royal Ascot.

With Royal Ascot starting today, we've plenty of great racing to enjoy. I'm spoilt for choice as regards horses to cheer on in the Coventry, with my favourite two-year-old Elzaam being opposed by Samuel Morse (who is in my XII to follow) and Strong Suit, who won Silken Thoughts' race at Newbury. The St. James's Palace and Queen Anne are both vintage editions, while of course we'll have Nicconi (pictured enjoying his breakfast on Sunday) and Gold Trail to support in the King's Stand. They'll both have plenty of supporters from their homeland who have come over here for Royal Ascot, and as usual I've been lucky enough to catch up with some of them. One particularly fortunate meeting was with Mark and Jackie Panizza, whom I met, along with a group of their compatriots, in the Bedford Lodge on Saturday evening. They are from Bunbury in West Australia, where Jackie trains a small string. When it became clear that Jackie would be up for enjoying the Heath on horseback, I signed her up to ride out the next morning and good old Keep Silent gave her a lovely introduction to Newmarket Heath with a canter around Bury Hill all-weather. It was actually a great exercise all round because it gave us a real pre-Ascot taster with some of the American horses passing us by, as well as the Aussie contingent and a few Godolphin horses. As both our mounts were very well-behaved (I was on my hack Ex Con), we were able to enjoy a further bonus, quarter of an hour spent chatting with Gary Portelli as he stood on the side of the Heath waiting for Gold Trail to return from a long trek; both he and David Hayes, whose welcome went well beyond the call of duty when we called into Abingdon Place afterwards, have proved themselves splendid advertisements for the Australian training fraternity while they've been here. I'll be wishing both of them all the best this afternoon as they try to take yet another King's Stand trophy down under. Meanwhile, our best chance of a winner this week probably rests with Ex Con (seen here schooling up at the Links yesterday under William Kennedy). Unsurprisingly, he won't be at Ascot: Worcester tomorrow should be more to his (and my) liking.

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