Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Farewell to a great man

Our extended dry spell continues which is lovely, even if bad news for anyone wanting to run soft-ground horses. I read recently that we have had 7mm of rain in the past two months (while our average for any two months selected at random would be about 110mm) - and if that figure of 7mm is inaccurate, I'd say that it is more likely to be too high than too low. However, I'm certainly not complaining, even if I am starting to blanche at the thought of how high hay prices will rise if we don't get some rain soon to make some grass grow (and if we don't then subsequently get some more dry weather to allow the hay to be cut, dried and collected). Other than as regards the effect which it has on the price of feedstuffs, though, for those training horses the drawback of an extended dry spell tends to be greatly overstated, certainly as far as Flat racing is concerned: very few trainers do not have access to an all-weather gallop which makes dry conditions irrelevant, and the tracks are all (bar Bath) watered to a greater or a lesser extent. Of course the tracks are still going to be on the fast side in dry weather, but for the vast majority of Flat horses, certainly the sound ones, that shouldn't be too much of an issue, even if it's not so funny if one is trying to run steeplechasers. I see that two of the three declared runners in a steeplechase at Plumpton over Easter were taken out because of "unsuitable ground", while three of the four intended runners in a steeplechase at Kelso today were absentees, I presume on account of the ground conditions, leaving the trainer who held his nerve the longest to enjoy the luxury of a walkover. It says something that, once two had come out today, there was still a third who decided that not running was preferable to running in a two-horse race. But if the ground is that firm it is understandable: 'better to be safe than sorry' tends to be a wise maxim in virtually all situations.

Leaving the (generally exaggerated in a country where proper droughts are virtually unheard of) supposed drawbacks to this lovely weather aside, it is just great to be enjoying such lovely conditions. As the photographs (which were all taken this morning) adorning the first paragraph of this chapter show, one advantage of the current conditions is that everywhere looks really lovely (and green, bearing in mind how dry it has been - but then we are still in spring, rather than summer). And, of course, any outdoor/quasi-agricultural job is far more pleasant in every respect if it isn't cold, isn't raining and isn't muddy underfoot. It isn't as hot as it was with the winds coming from the east currently rather than from the more usual west (which makes Frankel's performance on Saturday all the more meritorious, as he was galloping unsheltered into a fairly stiff headwind throughout the race) and with the clear skies it has been cold enough the past couple of nights for us to have a significant ground frost (as the first photograph in this paragraph, taken this morning between Kadouchski's ears from the top of Bury Hill, shows, with the frost only disappearing slowly once the sun has been on it for a while) - but the light is really lovely, both in the mornings as the previous photographs show and in the evenings as is shown by the next couple of shots, taken looking out over our field as the sun sinks behind Baker's Row. There's still plenty of light there while Batgirl pokes her head around from behind the bush to let me know that she's ready to come in, but Kadouchski must have been at the back of the queue as he's standing and waiting patiently as dusk falls.

Kadouchski will have to miss his afternoon in the field tomorrow as we're taking him down to Goodwood. It'll be a competitive race, which one would expect in a handicap at a very good racecourse, but he's well and so must have some sort of chance - even if he is but one of many horses in the race to have a chance. (Hannah, incidentally, will ride him, which might make it easier for him as he'll have 7lb less to carry and, while Goodwood might be a tricky track for an inexperienced rider, she is doing really well and he is unlikely to fail for lack of help from the saddle). One would also say that Alcalde (pictured enjoying the freedom of the stable with Ex Con a couple of weeks ago - and there is, of course, even less grass on the 'lawn' now than there was then) should also be one of many chances in his race when he runs at Aintree the following evening: as jumping declarations aren't taken until the day before the race, we don't yet know the field, but it's fair to assume that there will be a lot of runners, many of whom will have decent credentials. So again we should go there happy that he is well and happy that he should run well - but, of course, racing is a competitive sport, so even if all the horses in a race run well, one is still only going to find one of them winning the race. And, of course, it's at the end of a long season for him and, while I think that he's still in good form, I could be wrong: after all, I'm sure that if Paul Nicholls and Tom George had suspected that Kauto Star and Nacarat were as 'over the top' as they proved to be today, they wouldn't have sent them to Punchestown. While Kadouchski and Alcalde seem well, incidentally, Gus is, if possible, thriving even more - and therein lies the problem. 19 days ago he weighed 7.7 kilos, while yesterday he weighed 10.95 kilos: a 40% increase in weight in two and a half weeks. That's grand, of course - but I don't want him to keep growing! I want him to remain a puppy forever - and I suspect that he'd be quite happy to be able to fit into this basket indefinitely.

Finally, I can't end this chapter without paying tribute to one of Britain's best trainers and one of Britain's nicest men who died on Monday evening: David Chapman. There isn't really a great deal one can add to Tom O'Ryan's predictably excellent tribute in today's Racing Post. David was never in line to be champion trainer, but you would be hard pressed to name a better trainer, nor a nicer man. If I were to compile a list of my racing heroes, he would have been right up at the top, and so I used to cherish every quiet, friendly greeting I would receive from him at the races - and he was a man who had a friendly word for everyone. Happily, he remained a racecourse regular after handing over the training license to his grand-daughter Ruth, and I particularly remember finding him and another retired genius, Peter Easterby, sheltering in the same saddling box on a cold, wet summer's afternoon at Redcar a couple of years ago. It gave me such pleasure to see those two retired master-trainers together, and I greatly enjoyed telling them how much I would love to be able to tap into the collective wisdom of their gathering. Because I admired David so much, I always enjoyed keeping an eye on his horses - and because his horses were so admirable, my admiration for him continued to grow. Soba, Chaplin's Club, Tempering and Quito would be my favourites from among his charges, and you would have to put Glencroft right up there in the pantheon too. Yesterday was indeed a sad day for racing - but, if one can take some comfort, it is somehow good to know that David spent the afternoon and evening with his horses, went indoors and just died - ideally we wouldn't have a last hour, but we'll all have to have one sooner or later, so I'm very glad that he spent his last hour happily and with his horses. I don't think that, when the time comes, any of us can ask for more than that, really.


racingfan said...

A great blog as always John, your blog is something I look forward to and the photos of the horses are great as well.

Best of luck for the next few days runners.

Kauto Star didnt perform which was a little disappointing, but as you know better than me, they arent machines.

Keep up the informative and interesting blogs,



Alan Taylor said...

Come in from the cold11
Congratulations Councillor Berry.
It will be warmer discussing events in the council chamber than standing outside. I am sure the meetings will be all the better and more lively together with your two new racing councillors. What next Lord Mayor of Newmarket.