Friday, March 18, 2011

A spring day at Towcester - it's all happening!

I got it right when observing that, however well and well-placed one's charge, it's easier said than done winning a handicap with an exposed horse. Everything was spot-on for Kadouchski yesterday at Towcester: a two-mile handicap hurdle on a right-handed track with a stiff uphill finish, testing ground, horse in great form and perfectly ridden. And he did indeed duly run a stormer, but the exposed handicappers en masse could only follow home the (National Hunt) handicap debutant Valid Point, who had not been sighted in his qualifying novice races. He's rated 83 on the Flat (ie 37 lb higher than Kadouchski) but only 96 (ie 5lb lower than Kadou) over hurdles. So really, in retrospect, a bold second was the best we could have hoped for. But, as we know, when the horse runs well and comes home safely, then we go home happy - which is exactly what happened yesterday. It was a lovely spring day at Towcester, with interesting racing there and great racing from Cheltenham on the TV, so to have a lovely horse run bravely, well and safely was the icing on the cake. As the second photograph shows, he was running against some famous colours too, with the two horses jumping the (second) hurdle in front of him carrying the Calgary Bay and Crackaway Jack colours, while the winner Valid Point, to his outside, was bearing the famous Wally Sturt colours, most notably carried to victory in the Champion Hurdle a decade or two ago by Collier Bay. Valid Point had gone clear by the time they passed me (half a furlong or so from home) on the next circuit, at which stage Kadou was battling it out (pictured) for second with the consistent John Harris-trained Liberty Seeker, ridden by Lucy Wadham's good conditional jockey Matt Crawley.

While for me Kadou's race (which was the feature race on the card) was the most interesting. Viewed objectively, though, one race stood head and shoulders above the others: the 4-runner novice 'chase which followed our race. As luck would have it, Jamie Tidmarsh (who came to the races with Hugh and I) and I watched this race by the last fence, which was turned out to have been a good choice. The race was initially notable for the fact that it contained a horse who was sweating just about the most profusely I've ever seen a horse sweat in a steeplechase. That horse, probably unsurprisingly perhaps, fell early on - as did another horse, meaning that this had become a two-horse race by the time they'd reached halfway. Thus it remained until the last. Then the jockey on the leader, presumably working on the basis that he only had to get over the jump to win, seemingly decided to 'let his mount fiddle' the fence. Well, it didn't quite work out like that because the jockey reined his mount back so much going into the fence that the horse was encouraged to half-refuse and half-stumble through the fence, thus falling. A second later, the other horse, following a few lengths behind, jumped the fence directly behind the fallen horse (as the above picture illustrates) and was thus was so badly baulked by the faller that he unseated his rider. One might say that the horse was effectively brought down in a two-horse race, which isn't really something which ought to happen. I'm sure that both jockeys, if they could have re-wind time and approach the fence differently, would end up negotiating the fence safely, but it's easy (and annoying) to be wise after the event - and basically the debacle was just very unfortunate and a classic illustration that mishaps when they happen (which they do, regularly, to us all) just appear out of nowhere in the blink of an eye. Happily, neither horse nor jockey was injured - but of course, even though there were no fences still to be jumped, neither rider was permitted by the rules to remount! So we had no finishers and thus a void race. While the no-remounting rule is well-intentioned and basically a good idea, you'd have to question whether it should hold true when there are no fences still to be jumped and all the horse has to do to complete the course is to walk up to the line; and you also have to question whether it ought to apply for horses which haven't fallen, as was the case with the horse who came over the fence second. There even seemed to be some confusion about whether a horse could be remounted and then complete the course after being examined by a vet - this did actually happen to the horse who had been the leader (pictured awaiting the arrival of the vet, with Britain's best racecourse doctor, Philip Pritchard, standing by, having checked on the welfare of the riders), but it turned out that this had been done in vain. Mind you, even if that had been permissable, I still don't know that that horse would/should have been adjudged the winner because the rider remounted half a furlong farther up the track than he came off. And we'd thought that Sunday's Binocular debacle would be the clear-cut winner of Debacle of the Week!

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