Friday, January 21, 2011

A night at the races

I'm not sure how we should say that the pendulum (definitely only one of them swinging there, so we don't have to worry about the plural) swung at Kempton on Wednesday because Ethics Girl ran awfully well but even so had nothing to show for it. Rab Havlin, as we've come to expect, rode her a treat, but through no fault of his own he found that one of his fellow jockeys failed to keep his mount straight; and Ethics Girl was consequently checked at the furlong pole when coming to challenge. She thus finished fifth, beaten about three lengths, but she wouldn't have been far away with a clear run. She's such a dear horse, ever so genuine; and, once again, I brought her home full of pride. Similarly proud, I expect, must have been James Evans, trainer of the winner Phoenix Flight. This horse had been second to her at Wolverhampton three weeks previously. He was 2lb better off this time (but even so still burdened by top weight of ten stone) and I think that we can thus say that the two horses ran almost to the ounce, meaning that he must be every bit as honest and reliable as she is. I can genuinely say that it was the case that, as we couldn't win, I was really pleased that he did.

One result which gave me less pleasure, though, was the demotion of Our Kes earlier in the evening. I wouldn't say for certain that Our Kes is the whitest horse in Newmarket, but I certainly can't think of one as white as she is, let alone one whiter. She's been gracing the Heath for years now, mostly under the care of Paul Howling but now in Jane Chapple-Hyam's string, since Paul's relinquishing of his license and his transfer of his charges and his staff to Jane's stable. You can pick Our Kes out a mile away. She's a 9-year-old mare by Revoque and is as honest as the day is long (even in summer when the days are long). She's won 10 of her 89 starts (some of which, bizarrely, have come in America, I have just discovered on checking her statistics, including an unplaced effort in the Grade Three La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2005). She looked set to win her eleventh race on Wednesday evening: Jimmy Quinn brought her with a cool and seemingly well-timed run to put her nose, so it appeared, in front right on the line, only for firstly a dead-heat to be called (with the third a short-head away) and then secondly for her to be demoted to second. To rub further salt into the wound, the horse from whom she passed the post inseparable, Carter, who was racing under a 6lb penalty, has won by five lengths or so tonight, only two days later, at Wolverhampton under a 12-lb penalty. I'd have liked to have seen Our Kes have at least a share of victory, and thus complete a running double for Jane and Jimmy, who had won half an hour earlier with another Paul Howling evacuee, the redoubtable Gallantry (another 9-year-old, with career statistics of 95-11-11-4). I know that these aren't great horses, but in their own way they are true heroes and the absolute salt of the racing earth. I know that many people look down on middle-of-the-road handicappers running on the AW, but if you can't watch horses like these and be filled with admiration, then you don't deserve to be call yourself a racegoer. The horse whom Hannah rode, Woodsley House in the first race, is almost similarly seasoned, even if he is a comparatively lightly-raced 9-year-old, having run only 46 times. However, as he ran in a Group race as a two-year-old and as his travels took him to Hong Kong in 2006 (where he raced unsuccessfully for Makybe Diva's trainer David Hall as Avoidance Of Doubt and went amiss) it's a miracle that he's still in training; less surprising, though, that he seems out of love with racing and unlikely to bounce back to form in the immediate future. Still, he and Hannah got round safely together on Wednesday - as this final photograph taken after the race proves, with the horse being led by her father Richard - and no harm was done.

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