Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy horses

The problem with having had the freeze-up so early in the winter is that, now that it's over, one feels as if spring ought to be here. Which, of course, it is not, notwithstanding the fact that the days are certainly getting less short. So I am afraid that we will have a few more weeks of cold, grey wet weather yet, and it'll be a while before we have anything under our feet other than mud. (Unless, of course, we get another freeze-up). I did have a slight change on Monday, though, as I saw a different type of mud: Hugh took Cape Roberto for his first day's hunting (pictured) with the Thurlow, and the evidence of the horse's legs by the time he'd finished is that the mud down in deeper Suffolk is very different to ours. A day's hunting is tiring enough for a horse (and rider) but in those conditions it must be even more tiring simply because of the weight of clay which the horse accumulates. Granted a potter's skills and the availability of a wheel, one could have fashioned the stuff which we scraped off the horse's legs at the end of the day into a fair-sized bowl, mug or vase. All told, though, the day can be described as a huge success: Cape Roberto behaved with commendable professionalism and calmness, acting throughout as though hunting was an everyday experience. He and Hugh both seemed to enjoy themselves very much, and it was lovely to see. What was also good to see was the former John Gosden-trained Taunt, a 17-year-old whose past form includes wins at Epsom and Ascot in 1997. Hunting seems to suit him down to the ground and he - like Cape Roberto, with whom he is pictured here at the meet - gave a splendid advertisement for the ability of racehorses to turn their hand to just about anything.

Similar professionalism and enthusiasm was shown this morning by Alcalde, who is set (fingers crossed and the eliminator permitting) to run at Fakenham on Sunday. Although we already know that Alcalde can jump well, it was good to see him schooling this morning and thus demonstrating that his unhappy experience at Plumpton 24 days ago (when he made a bad and uncharacteristic mistake mid-race, which seemed to frighten him and after which he didn't travel comfortably for the rest of the race) has done nothing to dent his confidence. As had been the case with Kadouchski on Saturday, Alcalde was ridden by Jack Quinlan and jumped firstly in front of, and then alongside, the less experienced Archie Rice, who again was ridden by Paul Moloney. All went very well, and happily Jack managed to avoid the fate which had befallen the last jockey whom I'd watched riding along in front of Paul. If you watched Paul win on the Charlie McBride-trained Extremely So at Leicester yesterday, you'll know what I mean: Robert Thornton was a few lengths in front of him on Invictus between the last two hurdles, seemingly set for victory, and fell off. It was a truly remarkable sight, but really it's something which is going to happen every now and then as a consequence of the modern fashion of jockeys riding with just their toes in the irons, rather than the full foot. Robert's late mentor David Nicholson would have been turning in his grave; I dread to think what his reaction would have been if a jockey had set out to ride for him over jumps with just the toe in the iron, irrespective of whether or not he fell off, but it seems to be considered normal nowadays. It certainly wasn't when I started out and consequently I still ride with my full foot in the stirrup, but I'm in the minority nowadays and even I've got to admit that those who do ride with just their toes in have got very good at doing so. 99.9% of the time.

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