Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The big 'thaw'

When we had our freeze-up over Christmas, the thought occured to me that, rather than hoping for a thaw, I was dreading one. As, of course, we were longing for jumps racing to resume, that thought wasn't really permitted - but now that the thaw has come, my nostalgia for the big freeze is intense. It was never this cold when it was freezing, surely? Today is very cold, very grey, damp so that even when it isn't raining it feels as if it is, a couple of degrees above zero; it feels much colder than it ever did when it was freezing, and the ground is frozen solid with a lot of water lying pretty much everywhere on it. By contrast, conditions on Christmas Day, when the temperature remained pleasantly below zero at all times, were comparatively idyllic, as Kadouchski's festive view over the top of Long Hill and Alcalde's view across the Severals' trotting rings (below) suggest.

The one real cock-up of Christmas, of course, was the absence of racing on Boxing Day. This was a major blunder. The BHA had been very good in the weeks leading up to Christmas in pre-empting bad weather and ensuring that ad hoc AW Flat cards were quickly arranged to try to ensure that we didn't have blank days. Of course, sometimes this didn't work as these last-minute AW cards on occasions fell victim to the weather, but at least the thought was there. Sadly, the system broke down in the run-up to Boxing Day, which I suppose is understandable (but not justifiable) as many workers start to unwind mentally a few days before Christmas and work on the assumption of doing nothing over Christmas. Weatherbys' racing office wasn't taking declarations or entries on either 24th or 25th December, and of course it would have had to open had there been extra fixtures planned at short notice for 26th December. But really that's not much excuse. It was plain for several days leading up to Christmas that the weekend was going to be snow-covered and extremely cold and that the only chance of jumps racing taking place was going to be if the weather forecasts were badly wrong (which, of course, can happen). And what was also known was that the only Flat fixture programmed for Boxing Day was at Wolverhampton, which is the one AW track which can't handle frost and doesn't appear to be able to stage racing when it gets colder than minus 3 or 4. Predictably, the forecasts proved more or less correct and there was no racing at all on Boxing Day, which really wasn't good for 'racing'. I never heard any talk of even the possibility of extra fixtures being put on, so I'd have to say that the BHA got this one badly wrong. In its defence, the picture was clouded by some of the jumps tracks, which were clearly long odds-on not to be able to race, maintaining even up until race-day that they had a good chance of doing so - but common sense should have suggested that these bullish predictions be taken with a pinch of salt. Ah well - it's not the end of the world. But it wasn't very clever, all the same.

What was very clever was the timing of the announcement of the introduction of the new rule which will see jockeys paid half-fees for non-runners. Putting this in the paper a couple of days before Christmas gave it every chance of being passed over without scrutiny, which was very clever timing as it's a bizarre rule which ought to have created quite a stir. How the PJA have pulled this one off is beyond me. All we've heard about all year is how tough things are becoming for owners (which indeed they are) so to find that the year ends with the announcement they are going to have to pay jockeys for not riding their horses is very surprising. Whether this rule should apply in any circumstances is very debatable, but that it seems to be going to apply in all circumstances for any non-runner is remarkable. It appears that the jockey will be paid when the horse is a non-runner because the jockey doesn't turn up and the horse is scratched because there is no suitable jockey at the track to take the ride (which does happen). That is impossible to justify, and it will be pretty hard to swallow when a jockey is paid for not riding a dead horse, which again is sometimes the reason for a scratching. Even paying a jockey not to ride the horse when one has had to scratch because the horse, although still alive, has broken down will stick in the throat. The really clever bit by the PJA is to have passed this one off as a move specifically designed to help battling jockeys. This, of course, is nonsense: as the majority of the rides go to the popular jockeys who get plenty of rides, it stands to reason that the majority of non-runners will be horses due to have been ridden by these jockeys too. There is no reason at all why the battlers will be disproportionately advantaged by this rule. In fact, bearing in mind that it is permissable (for reasons which I still don't understand or condone) to change one's jockey if a better jockey becomes available, one can see a situation whereby Godolphin has two in a race, one ridden by Frankie Dettori and one ridden by Daragh O'Donoghue - or in jumping Nicky Henderson has two in a race, one ridden by Barry Geraghty and one by Andrew Tinkler - and the stable's first string will be scratched, resulting in Dettori or Geraghty replacing O'Donoghue or Tinkler on the second string, who has become the first string by default. So what we'd have then is Geraghty/Dettori being paid the scratching fee for his horse plus the riding fee for Tinkler's/O'Donoghue's horse, and Tinkler/O'Donoghue going home empty-handed. How this rule is reckoned particularly to benefit battling jockeys is a complete mystery to me - and how any body other than the PJA has decided that it should be implemented is similarly baffling. If it was a rule which genuinely did help the battling jockeys, I think that most people would welcome it; but it isn't, and to have got it through under false pretences is rather disingenuous.

Here's my suggestion, then. Charge the owner of a horse half a riding fee for a non-runner and put that money into a fund. If the jockey in question had no more than two rides on that card, his name goes down for a share of the fund. If the jockey had three or more rides on the card, his name isn't logged. At the end of the year, divide the total of money by the number of shares (and bear in mind that a jockey gets one share for each non-runner he has, leaving aside any non-runner when he had more than two rides booked on that card, so that he could end up with numerous shares) and we arrive at a figure per share. The money is then distributed pro rata with each jockey receiving the sum equivalent to the value of the amount of shares which he has accrued. That would be simple, could be easily administered by the PJA and genuinely would specifically help battling jockeys, which is what the PJA professes to be trying to do. But it won't happen because it's too sensible.

Anyway, on a more positive note, one battling jockey who has appeared in this blog recently is Robbie Fitzpatrick (pictured at Lingfield last week). I was, therefore, delighted to see that he got off the mark for his comeback last week on a 66/1 shot for Derek Shaw at Southwell. I enjoyed saluting him on that victory - but I would take even more pleasure in the salutation if I'm able to congratulate another battler, Rab Havlin, after the 2.35 at Wolverhampton tomorrow afternoon (yes, indeed the afternoon, so it will be a rare pleasure to have a runner at Wolverhampton in daylight) in which he rides Ethics Girl. It's a competitive race but, as always, we'll hope for the best.


racingfan said...

good luck for tomorrow john,

lets hope for a good show from ethics girl,

Will you be putting a hopes for 2011 on your blog?



racingfan said...

Well Done to everyone for ethics girl, I thought she ran a cracking race which was also matched by a lovely patient ride by Rab Havlin,

John, do you have any information on Paul Doe he doesnt seem to be getting any rides at the moment?

Happy New Year to everyone at the stables, and I hope 2011 is another succesful year for the stable,

I also think Hannah will be riding a winner in the near future as she looked to keep the horse well balanced in the 2 races she has so far ridden in,

best of luck

Ian (racingfan)