Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend reflections

I really enjoyed our trip to Sandown yesterday. In advance of the weekend, I'd expended quite a bit of nervous energy worrying about which of our entries (Rhythm Stick at Sandown yesterday and Ethic Girl at Goodwood today, ie Sunday) should run. Rhythm Stick doesn't want fast ground but she does. Anyway, I think I got it right. I declared Rhythm Stick and the ground at Sandown turned out to be good, which was fine (and this photograph, taken today, suggests that has indeed taken no harm from the race); and I didn't declare Ethics Girl, a decision which I'm now sure too was correct. Mind you, early yesterday afternoon I was suffering from grave misgivings in that latter respect. I'd have loved to run Ethics Girl; and yesterday morning the ground at Goodwood had been upgraded to good to soft, good in places - and when we arrived at Sandown we found lovely weather down there. Of course, this got me thinking that maybe the forecast rain would be missing Goodwood too and that Sunday would end up with perfect ground on the Sussex Downs - but happily (for me, anyway) when I watched a race on TV from Goodwood, my fears were assuaged: the ground there was as bad as it had been at Randwick the previous weekend, and that really is saying something. It looked very wet, and very, very loose. It would have been in poor condition anyway (when I walked the track there at the end of July I found it to be in bad condition, the loosest ground I've seen on a racecourse this year) and apparently they had torrential rain there yesterday after the first race (causing a downgrade in the track rating to soft, good to soft in places) which guaranteed that conditions there this weekend would not have been suitable for us. So at least I got those decisions right.

Rhythm Stick's race was an interesting one. He's a nice horse who seems to try hard, but he isn't very fast and, as such, he's always seemed likely to find maiden company rather too tough. (One of the paradoxes of British racing, of course, being that, leaving aside Group and Listed races, maiden races are just about the most competitive types of race that there are). But he tried his best and got from A to B as efficiently and quickly as he could, and that's all one can ask. As one would expect from a maiden race at a top track such as Sandown, there were some good horses in opposition, of which I am sure that the winner Conduct (pictured) will prove to have been the stand-out. He's a lovely-looking grey colt trained by Sir Michael Stoute. Apparently he looked very good as a two-year-old this time last year but sustained a setback which delayed his debut by twelve months; but, having won impressively first time out yesterday, he can now be expected, I think, to continue to make up for lost time. I took a photograph of him in the stable after the race, saying to his lad Gary Corney that he was the best horse Rhythm Stick would ever run against, and it's very possible that that opinion could turn out to be true. We'll see. The best bred horse Rhythm Stick will ever run against also surely ran in yesterday's race, but as he finished a distance behind the second last horse it's fair to say that his form is unlikely ever to match his lineage. I'm assuming that Arco Felice (pictured) started his career in Aidan O'Brien's stable, but he made his debut yesterday trained by Keith Goldsworthy, having presumably been sold privately. By Giant's Causeway from Better Than Honor, he's a full-brother to last year's Breeders' Cup Marathon winner Man Of Iron and a half-brother to the Belmont Stakes winners Rags To Riches and Jazil and hails from the Best In Show family which has produced the likes of El Gran Senor, Redoute's Choice, Hurricane Sky, Try My Best, Peeping Fawn, Al Maher, Manhattan Rain and Xaar, so on paper it seemed strange that he'd been moved on so early in life (still being aged only three). However, the noise he was making when he walked off the track gave us a clue to that one - but he's with a good trainer and has a great pedigree, so he could end up having the last laugh after all. Time will tell: after all, it is not without precedent for a horse who sounds as if he has a wind problem to show good form.

Yesterday's highlight, of course, was the splendid St Leger victory of Arctic Cosmos, who looks a lovely horse. The St Leger usually produces a great race and some lovely stories, and yesterday's edition was no exception. There had already been plenty going on during St Leger meeting, including Harry Findlay's much publicised encounters with Nic Coward and other BHA identities. These have got me thinking. Harry appears to believe that the treatment which he has received from the BHA disciplinary committee has been dictated by the BHA leadership, ie Nic Coward and Paul Roy, but that is at odds with how I've believed that BHA justice runs: I think that the theory is that the disciplinary committee, having been appointed, is autonomous, rather like the courts are autonomous from Parliament. With the courts, there is always leave to appeal to a higher authority and similarly with the disciplinary committee there is leave to appeal to a higher authority, as Harry has done. But that's by the by - the thought which occurred to me is that, if the disciplinary committee was to be doing a bad job, what could be done about it? Would the BHA leadership have the power to disband, discipline or direct it? I don't know. If it has been set up, as I believe it has, to make its judgements independently and is not acting at the behest of the BHA top brass, does anyone have have any power over it? Does anyone know? Harry appears to think that it is a puppet at the hands of the BHA leaders, but is he right?

Moving on to someone else who has exercised the disciplinary committee, I had the great pleasure last week of receiving contact on Facebook from the former jockey Luke Fletcher. Luke, as many of you will remember, was a very good apprentice and then jockey (mainly on the Flat but also over hurdles, I seem to recall, towards the end of his career when his weight was continuing to rise) whose career ended prematurely when he was disqualified, along with Robbie Fitzpatrick and possibly others, for offences whose details I cannot remember. Robbie, who was Mark Polglase's jockey when Luke was the stable's apprentice, was a good jockey and likeable man, but when it became clear that he'd been up to no good it was fairly easy to believe it; Luke's involvement, on the other hand, came as a complete shock. I am aware that one of my many faults is being too ready to see good in people and too slow to see their flaws (although to call this a fault isn't necessarily correct as it is a fault which does harm to nobody, except to me). But, even so, I think that I'm being accurate in saying that Luke, despite what he did wrong, is a very decent man whose past mistakes prove nothing other than the fact that it is easy for good people to be led astray - and I'm sure that if you were to ask James Eustace, the other trainer in Newmarket who used to use Luke regularly, he too would have nothing but good to say about him. Anyway, I'd understandably lost touch with Luke while he was warned off, so it was a genuine pleasure to hear from him again and to learn that he is well (more so than when he was riding, I'd guess, because he used to have to waste very hard) and happy, and still involved with horses.

Finally, I have Stewart Leadley-Brown to thank for some oil about the Hambleton Cup. Apparently, the race is indeed one of the country's most historic as it can be traced back to 1714, when Thirsk's racing took place on Hambleton Hill above the town. (The current racecourse is one of the country's newest, having been built in the 1920s to replace the town's previous course). The earliest references to racing taking place on Hambleton Hill are from 1612. As anyone who has been up Sutton Bank onto the plateau of Hambleton Hill will know, this is a splendid settting. The main feature of the racecourse up there was the winning post, which was a stone obelisk with a sundial on it (which I believe, unlike the old starting post in the field up by the A14 on the way to Cambridge, is sadly no longer in evidence). The Hambleton Cup used to be placed on top of this obelisk. Hambleton Hill is, of course, home to two training stables, currently occupied by Bryan Smart and Kevin Ryan. Former occupants of these stables include Les Eyre, Ben Beasley, Will Pearce, Joe Carr and Sir Noel Murless. So that's a nice bit of history - which makes Ethics Girl's winning of the Cup (not the original, sadly) all the nicer.


Nathan said...

I believe the land was owned by King James the First and racing took place round a large circuit of four miles plus. Here's a website you might like a read of John;
The high moor gallop at Middleham was also a racecourse and dates back to 1739 (from memory), which i think had two circuits and 5f track.

Nathan said...

Just to add; i also seem to remember reading that an act of parliament was once passed stating that racing could only legally take place at three racecourses. Newmarket, York and the other being Hambleton.

John Berry said...

That's really good oil, Nathan. Thank you. I'm going to look up that website now.