Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No harm done

I don't generally like being proved wrong, but yesterday I would love to have been. Ethics Girl is a proper firm ground horse: ideally she wouldn't like it softer than good to firm. On that basis, we'd always eschewed Southwell when picking her AW races, it having been observed that the deep sand there is suitable for horses who can handle wet tracks. However, as the winter season was winding to a close and Ethics was still in good form, it seemed appropriate to let her have a go there just in case we'd been wrong: going for yesterday's race there seemed the least unsuitable of the few available options, with the alternative really being just to send her off for a spell without another race, which seemed a shame with a horse in peak form. She obviously didn't actually need a spell, by the way, but it seemed sensible to give her one at the end of winter as she'd been in work forever, and she's better off having a let-up now to freshen her up for (what we hope will be a nice, warm, dry) summer, rather than continuing to race and reaching the stage where she'd gone off the boil by the time that summer arrived. Anyway, we took her to Southwell yesterday, more in hope than expectation, with the inevitable result that our fears about her ability to wade through deep sand were confirmed. Still, no harm done: she was clearly unable to cope with the surface (which, of course, would have been at its deepest yesterday, as it has been observed that Fibresand gets firmer/less deep when it has rained - and of course we'd had no rain for a couple of weeks) right from the start, so her jockey sensibly did not give her a hard time. That jockey, incidentally, was a new one: Franny Norton had to give up his rides as he was unwell, so Paul Hanagan was kind enough to deputise. Any reigning champion jockey could be forgiven for being a little ho-hum about being called up to deputise for an indisposed colleague on a horse who finishes tailed off in a handicap on the Fibresand, so it was very impressive (but not surprising, because Paul's reputation for unfailing courtesy, professionalism and industry goes before him) to find taking him the ride as seriously as if he were riding an unbeaten leading fancy in a Classic - which, of course, he will be in just over four weeks' time, when he and Wootton Bassett line up for the 2,000 Guineas. We'll be wishing him well when he does.

The nice thing about our race yesterday was that, despite Ethics Girl's total eclipse, Exeter Road still had the winner: Don Cantillon's eight-year-old La Estrella (who is a gelding, despite what his name might seem to imply) further improved his astonishing course record: he has run there five times (four sellers and one 0-95 handicap!) this year for five wins, and his lifetime Southwell total is eight wins for nine runs - but even that latter statistic does him an injustice because his one defeat came when he unseated his rider in a hurdle race there, the eight wins all coming on the Fibresand, on which surface he thus remains unbeaten. Overall, he has won 12 from 20 on the AW, set against only one from 14 on the turf on the Flat. He has also run four times over hurdles, for one win. His record is yet another tribute to the training genius of Don Cantillon, who is as skilled as he is eccentric. A further tribute to Don's skill is the fact that the horse's five wins from five starts this year come after a 23-month absence through tendon trouble. Don (seen leading Dane O'Neill and La Estrella out onto the track yesterday, while the horse is next seen winning the race, partially obscured by the running rail, I'm afraid) had quite a team at Southwell yesterday as he took a couple up there to gallop after racing. It would have been interesting to observe Don's reaction had anyone asked him what they were because one of his peculiarities is his secrecy! Anyway, I'm sure that they performed to his satisfaction, whoever they were - and it might or might not have been coincidence that the two horses he is seen marshalling here before the work-out look to have pretty much identical markings, so even if some tout had managed to find out the names of the horses in the gallop, he still wouldn't have been able to tell which was which!

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