Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I read in today's Racing Post that viewing figures for the BBC's coverage of Royal Ascot were down. I trust that this is not a cause for concern, because I thought that it was a very good show. I didn't actually see that much of it, though, and therein, I feel, lies the problem: Royal Ascot lasts for five long afternoons, and it's asking a lot to find more than a handful of people who have the time to watch television all afternoon for five consecutive afternoons. Furthermore, it is hard to sustain maximum interest in a meeting which lasts for five consecutive afternoons, when there is so much else going on and when the best racing takes place on the first day. In my case, I found the cards (or part of the cards) at Newmarket and Lingfield more engrossing than the action at Ascot on the Saturday, because we had runners at both those meetings while we were not represented at Ascot - and it would be a poor sort of horseman who was more interested in a high-class race in which he had no involvement than in a low-grade event in which he was represented. So I still haven't seen any of Saturday's Ascot races, which is shocking bearing in mind that they included the Golden Jubilee, which was surely as interesting a sprint as one would ever find, particularly from this point of view as it contained several horses whose build-ups we had been following, including the impressive American-trained Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Kinsale King (who finished third and who is pictured here a few days before the race under his brahmatic trainer Carl O'Callaghan).

We'd also had a runner on the Wednesday, Ex Con (pictured in the parade ring before the race) running at Worcester. I think I'd predicted that he'd enjoy that, but I was wrong: for whatever reason, he didn't. He didn't give his running and finished very tired. I haven't offered this up to the BHA as an official excuse for a poor run because I think it's rather too nebulous a statement to be used as a concrete reason reason for under-performance, but I can forgive any jumper for running disappointingly on as perfect a day as last Wednesday was - perfect for humans, that is, but not for horses, because a day of unbroken sunshine with a warm wind makes for ennervating conditions and ground firmer than any jumper should ever be asked to race on, even one like Ex Con who is suited by a fast surface. Summer jumping is, presumably, here to stay, and by and large it does appear to work. However, it is worth reflecting that it is not an ideal sport, any more than summer rugby would be (or, for opposite reasons, would winter tennis or winter cricket). English summers are notoriously variable in the the conditions which they supply, as last Saturday's racing on the July Course on a day which was anything but an idyllic summer's day reminded us, but perfect summer days such as last Wednesday are not ideal for a form of racing in which heavy, bulky horses race over long distances - it looks lovely, as this photograph shows, but the horses probably find it harder than the humans to appreciate the splendour. Where this leads us I don't know, but it is worth thinking about occasionally. Anyway, Ex Con's disappointing run aside, it was a pleasure to be at Worcester - and not least because I was able to enjoy quite a lot of the BBC's Ascot coverage on the television in the canteen, James Sherwood brahmae an' all. As with last year, I can't but chuckle over James Underwood's pertinent reflection that one has to deduce from the BBC's coverage of Royal Ascot that the corporation views the meeting as the white man's Notting Hill Carnival - but the coverage is none the worse for that.

If Ex Con's run at Worcester was disappointing, what can I say about Hotfoot's non-run at Newmarket? I'd have been devastated had I not had a good preparation for it, that preparation being Keep Silent's non-run at Southwell a couple of weeks previously. Again our filly walked straight into her stall, stood there for quite a long time - and then freaked out when spooked by the antics of the miscreants who were behind her refusing to be loaded. Again the trouble was caused by horses who oughtn't to have been there but, unlike at Southwell, there was no point in my getting cross with officialdom; if anyone deserved to incur my wrath, it was the trainers who had sent two unschooled horses down to the start to upset the others. Again it was just so bloody frustrating to take a quiet, well-behaved filly to the races and have her unable to run because of her being frightened by the bad behaviour of other people's horses. Hotfoot isn't always as wet as this photograph (above) of her walking around the parade ring shows, but she is generally as well-behaved as it implies. Very annoying. Kirsty Milczarek, after unsaddling the horse she had ridden for Luca in the race, was kind enough to come over to us to say that we'd just been very unlucky and that it really wasn't our filly's fault; and that is the way I feel, but unfortunately what's done is done and we'll now just have to repair the damage, which obviously includes taking a stalls test, which, assuming she passes, will then get us back to square one of having an unraced horse ready for her debut. Still, at least the rest of the day, including getting from A to B on time on what was quite a tight schedule, ran smoothly enough, with Ethics Girl running adequately first up and Keep Silent putting the Southwell debacle behind her with a well-behaved and adequate display at a pleasantly sunny Lingfield in the evening - even if the handicapper wasn't impressed by her run, dropping her rating from 38 to 36 despite the fact that she met all her rivals on considerably worse terms than she would have done in a handicap and nevertheless managed to beat some of them. That's an odd one, but again there's no point in agonising over it - especially as it's academic anyway as all horses rated below 45 run off 45 in any handicap irrespective of how far below it they are rated!

On a final note, this chapter has to end with salutations to our friend Peter Temple, whose outstanding novel 'Truth' has today won the Miles Franklin Prize. It sometimes seems that most Australians are in the UK at present (another visitor we've had to the town this week has been Cranbourne trainer Nikki Burke, seen here on the Heath yesterday with Lord Huntingdon, enjoying the sunshine which happily has returned to the UK after the unpleasantly unseasonal weekend) but there are some still in their own country; and one of those is Peter, who was in Sydney tonight to receive his award. I've mentioned 'Truth' before on this blog, but it's worth repeating what a tremendous novel it is. I haven't (as far as I know - I don't actually know what the other novels on the short-list were) read the book's rivals for the prize, but even without having done so I can say that 'Truth' deserved to win, because it's hard to believe that any of the others can have been as good. I tend to be wary of literary prizes. With the Booker Prize, it's not a case of having, like England, been taught wisdom by disaster, more that I've been taught wisdom by boredom, that wisdom being never to read any book which has won the Booker Prize. That prize has been on my mind recently, having just finished the massively worthwhile task of working my way through Colin Dexter's 12 Inspector Morse novels. I finished the last one, 'The Remorseful Day' in floods of tears on Sunday, and my copy of that novel has on its cover a quotation from one of its reviewers which poses the rhetorical question, "Why isn't this author ever on the Booker shortlist?". Well, I can answer that question: because he writes books which are a pleasure to read. Peter does the same, and so evidently, unlike the Booker Prize, the Miles Franklin Prize is judged along sound lines - as anyone who reads this year's winner will have the pleasure of discovering. So don't say you haven't been told.


Alan Taylor said...

Hi John,
with reference to horses running on hard going, I may me naive but surely with new technologies horse shoes could be moulded from some type of rubber or similar springy compound.Alternatively a strip of rubber could be inserted between the metal shoe and hoof. Once a mould has been taken of a horses hoof shoes could be purchased "off the shelf" thus reducing farrier costs and expensive electric furnaces used by farriers. No doubt any farriers reading your blog could give their views on the practicallity of the above. I believe anybody being kicked by a horse would prefer the initial contact being rubber rarther than metal. Human athletes have seen huge advances in shoe technology to protect impact injuries. No such advances seem to have been developed by farriers or the racing industry.

John Berry said...

Good idea Alan; one which has already been taken up. They exist and we use them. Generally on horses prone to foot-soreness. They seem to be of minimal benefit in lessening the effects of firm tracks, because the elasticity of the rubber is minimal bearing in mind that it's nailed on tightly anyway and so you can't really get away from the fact that a hell of a force is hitting a very unforgiving surface, but they are of great benefit in preventing shallow feet from being hammered into the ground.