Friday, September 24, 2010

It ain't broke - yet

One never knows what one's going to receive when the postman delivers. (They rarely knock any more, as the custom of collecting as well as delivering seems long gone, so it's just a case of depositing the load safely). Sometimes one gets a pleasant surprise, sometimes one gets an unpleasant surprise, and sometimes one just gets a surprise. Today was just a surprise: I was slightly taken aback to receive a letter from William Muir offering me the chances to buy shares in some horses he is trying to syndicate. That was enterprising of him, but he might have been wiser to save himself the postage. Much as I like William, I'm happy enough with myself as my trainer; and if I wanted to have someone else training for me, there are plenty of good trainers locally, with Chris Dwyer, Stuart Williams and James Eustace being names of people to whom I'd be more than happy to entrust my animals. We in Newmarket have got think locally at present because if we don't, who will? Certainly not the Racing For Change genii, who've stumbled upon a set of bright ideas, including that holding the Champion Stakes at Newmarket doesn't work, that winning both of Britain's best two-year-old races (the Middle Park and the Dewhurst, a double last achieved by Diesis but more recently almost landed by Three Valleys) is so unexciting a thought that it should be rendered impossible, that trying to entice Britain's best milers to graduate to ten furlongs in the Champion Stakes after our final weight-for-age Group One mile race of the year (the QEII) adds nothing to the competitiveness of British racing, and that we should not learn from the fact that a previous attempt to replicate the success of Royal Ascot in the autumn (with the ill-fated Festival of British Racing in the late '80s, which had bucketfuls of money thrown at it in vain) proved a fruitless task.

I think that I've been very good at holding my peace over the Racing For Change shambles thus far, but I can do so no longer. I was lucky enough to be a guest at a function earlier this year in which the topic of debate was the problems facing British racing. The unanimous consensus was that the problems facing British racing are thus:- (1) that an ever-expanding proportion of the British betting market is going to the exchanges, which proportionally give a much smaller return to racing, (2) that an ever-expanding proportion of the British betting market is going off-shore, which gives no return to racing, and (3) that the bookmakers who remain are encouraging their punters to do an ever-increasing proportion of their betting on other sports, simply because then they don't have to pay any levy. These are the problems. What isn't a problem is racing's popularity, which is currently enormous, or attendance at race-meetings, which is far healthier than one could expect in a country supposedly in the grips of recession and which has a huge racing programme over which to spread the race-going public. So what do we have to cure racing's problems? We have Racing For Change, which does nothing whatsoever to solve racing's problems, but has a massive budget to address the things which currently work very well. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. And, to make matters worse, Racing For Change does not have only a massive budget, but it also has on its side the mantra that "At least we are trying to do something, which is more than can be said for our critics". Well, as one of its critics, I'm trying to do something too: I'm trying to point out that the old adage that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' still exists, and that doing nothing is far, far better than doing something destructive. And doing something destructive, I'm afraid, is what has been done to a race-meeting (Champions' Day) which has been working very, very well. I suppose that they might have ended up replacing it with something which works even better, but I have my doubts - unless they can guarantee a sunny day with temperatures in the 20s in the middle of October and find some good (sorry, popular) bands to play after racing, which seems to work well enough if Ascot wants a good crowd in July or August.

It's hard enough finding good weather in September, never mind October - but we had some earlier this week, with the mercury hitting 24 degress on Wednesday, when the supposed warning of a pink sky in the morning proved merely the fore-runner of a lovely day. That, though, I'm afraid is likely to be our last day in the 20s between now and - when? April? May? Or even June, but that's too depressing a thought. We've had quite a lot of rain today, as apparently has Market Rasen, which is quite a worry as Ex Con, who likes good ground (and who is pictured here keeping his eye in on the AW schooling strip at the Links a couple of days ago under Gerald Tumelty), is due to run there tomorrow. Still, they watered the track yesterday, which suggests either that soft ground isn't a worry or that things have been got badly wrong. At least we're in the first race tomorrow, so we should get the best of the ground, whatever that might actually mean. I won't be there to see conditions for myself as I'll head to Wolverhampton with Alpen Glen; usually I'd invariably go to the jumps meeting if we had runners under both codes, but as I ride Alpen Glen and feel very protective towards her, and because she's as quirky as Ex Con is straightforward, I wouldn't feel very comfortable heading off in another direction while she was going to the races.

I wouldn't have minded being at Wolverhampton last night, because if I had been there I'm sure I'd have backed the last winner. Cotton King (trained by the very promising young trainer Toby Coles, who is indeed as brahmatic as this photograph of him riding out with binoculars slung over his shoulder would suggest) had caught my eye when loose on the Heath on a few occasions, so I kept an eye on him in his maiden races, in which he caught my eye too. After his most recent maiden race, I'd been bold enough to pass on the prediction to a couple of people that he would win his next race, which turned out to be yesterday. At lunchtime yesterday, both people independently told me that the horse had been backed from 16/1 to 6/1 so, as I assumed that the horse was making his way to favouritism, my interest in having a bet lapsed. I did change channels on the TV to watch the race on ATR just after 9.00 last night, by which time his race was underway, so I was able to see him grind his way to a narrow victory under Tom McLaughlin - and you can imagine my consternation to see the result after the race and discover that his SP had been 20/1. That surely was the one that got away!

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