Monday, April 25, 2011

'Whitbread' Day (courtesy of Bet 365)

Saturday's outing to Sandown did indeed prove to be a pleasure, notwithstanding the fact that Ex Con finished in the second half of the field. He still ran reasonably well, bearing in mind that he was running off his highest ever rating and in arguably the most competitive race he'd ever encountered; and, most importantly, first up from a spell. It has become fashionable in recent years to regard lack of recent racing as an advantage - but, take it from me, in the vast majority of cases it isn't. There are, of course, a handful of horses, usually quite fragile ones, who show their best form when they haven't run for a while. Best Mate came into this category and, even though he was running only a few years ago, he was still campaigned at a time when people regarded his trainer as mad for racing him so sparingly. Now, only a few years on, it has become the norm to give National Hunt horses only very light campaigns with lengthy breaks between their races. My own view is that this has come about because the majority of the best horses are in a handful of stables - well, most of them are in the same stable - and thus such a practice suits the trainer(s) because, if they all ran regularly, they would spend their lives racing against, and mostly being beaten by, their stablemates, which would really piss their owners off. Thus it suits their trainer(s) to race them only rarely, so that the stable doesn't have multiple entries in each high-grade race. And thus this has become the fashion as the myth has grown that infrequent racing is the way to go. Which, of course, generally speaking it isn't - as the results at the last couple of Cheltenham Festivals have demonstrated with, I believe, statistics having been produced in the Racing Post to show that the majority of the fancied runners who have gone more than seven weeks (49 days) since their most recent runs have run below form. And these horses, of course, have been in regular training all the time since their most recent run, just not racing - so you can understand why a National Hunt horse first up from a spell will generally be at a disadvantage against his rivals. In the autumn, of course, it isn't really an issue: in a race like the Hennessy Gold Cup the majority of the field will be tackling the race either first up or second up, so they're pretty much all in the same boat. But come the spring, the seasoned horses have to have an advantage. Saturday's 'Whitbread', a tremendous race (pictured) which it was a pleasure to watch primarily because of the opportunity which it afforded for us to marvel at the skills of Timmy Murphy, was a case in point with the winner having run seven days previously (admittedly losing his rider when hampered after only two miles) and having run at the Cheltenham Festival a month before that.

So that was 'Whitbread Day', a great day out in the sun, made all the better by having Anthony with me. He was ever so pleased to watch AP McCoy ride a winner (on French Opera, pictured here coming back in after the race) having apparently taken him on board as a hero - which is great as you couldn't find a better role model for a youngster to admire. That was great, as was Dick Turpin, and as was the parade of stars before racing - although that would have been even better had it been better publicised. Anthony and I were walking the track before racing when, to my surprise, I heard over the PA a commentary of some horses walking around the parade ring. I picked out the word 'Denman' and so worked out what was going on - so we headed as fast as we could towards the parade ring, there to see eight horses completing their final couple of laps. It was rather frustrating because, although their lads wore armbands with numbers on them, there was no notice to tally the numbers to any horses. There wasn't even any way of knowing which eight horses were there, never mind which was which, because I could find nothing in the racecard to indicate that this parade was taking place, nor who was in it; nor were there any details on the number boards. I know that it sounds rather feeble and that one should be able to pick out the top horses straightaway; and I think that I probably could have done if I had known which eight top horses were there. But as it was a case of guessing which eight horses were likely to be there, and then working out which was which, I ended up still having no idea who some of the horses were. I couldn't see any which looked like Kauto Star, but Denman (pictured) was pretty easy to spot, and I also made educated guesses to identify a feisty Long Run (also pictured, I believe), Master Minded and Ballabriggs. Anyway, that was great, even if not quite as great as I'd like it to have been. And that was just part of a tremendous show which Sandown put on on Saturday, for which they deserve great praise - and they put it on on lovely ground, which was tremendous. In the past week we've been to Towcester and Sandown and found lovely ground at both tracks, despite the recent weather and despite the fact that both tracks took a lot of hammer in the winter. So we know that it producing safe underfoot conditions is possible - so Newbury (whose ground was appalling on my most recent visit) and all the other miscreants, please take note. Let's now hope that we find nice ground at Yarmouth today and at Pontefract on Wednesday for Batgirl and Silken Thoughts.


Nathan said...

I'm amazed Sandown didn't publicise such a parade. Surely this could have drawn in extra racegoers? Talking of Best Mate, i've just finished reading Best Mate Triple Gold (Henrietta Knight). If you know anyone who would like a copy John, then just let me know and i'll forward it on. I'll email you for an address should anyone fancy a read. It is the revised and updated version 2004.

Nathan said...

Congratulations all round to everyone connected with Batgirl :-)

racingfan said...

Well done to everyone concerned with batgirl,very good performance, hoping for the team that its the start of a very good turf flat season.

Good luck for tomorrow.



racingfan said...

Best Mate was one of my favourite horses of all time, loved the way he travelled and jumped, I also rated Jim Culloty highly as well.

John Berry said...

Thank you very much.

Best Mate was a real favourite of mine, too. Unforgivably, I own a copy of Henrietta Knight's book but haven't read it. I must put that omission right.