Sunday, May 01, 2011

Guineas weekend

One of the (few) advantages of paying the exorbitant cost of a trainer's license is that one gets in to the races for free, even when one hasn't got a runner. In theory, this is a great perk, but in practice it's no big deal: I, in common with (I suspect) the majority of trainers, don't really like going to the races when we haven't got a runner, simply because one tends to be far more interested in one's own horses than in other people's, so the choice of spending the day at home with one's own charges or taking the trouble to go away to see other people's is generally a very easy decision. Made even easier by the fact that, on average, I'd go to the races maybe 80 times a year with our own horses, and 80 days at the races a year is quite a lot, particularly for someone like me who doesn't like leaving home at the best of times. However, when there's a horse such as Frankel racing within cycling distance of home and one will have to pay for neither petrol nor admission to see him in his full majesty - well, being at the Rowley Mile yesterday was a no-brainer! We see the horse reasonably often at exercise on the Heath - but the only way really to assess (and, in Frankel's case, admire) a horse properly is to see him walking around a racecourse parade ring, in peak fitness and turned out at his best alongside a bunch of his peers, all of whom are also in peak fitness and turned out to look their smartest. It was thus great to admire and assess Frankel, clearly the most muscular of the bunch, beforehand - and even greater to be standing out the front of the grandstand when he ran his rivals ragged, to be among the thousands who clapped him home from then 300m mark when what was so thrilling was not a hard-fought finish, but a virtuoso display of galloping from a master of the art. It really was a really special sporting moment. Under normal circumstances, the hard-fought victory in the Jockey Club Stakes 40 minutes earlier of the splendid James Given-trained Dandino (pictured returning to scale), typically well ridden by his regular jockey Paul Mulrennan, would have been the highlight of the day, but yesterday Frankel's victory gallop overshadowed all else.

I got further value from my trainer's badge today by attending the 1,000 Guineas and, while it didn't provide the special thrill that yesterday's Classic had done, it was a competitive race featuring a bunch of really nice fillies. A big-race victory for Godolphin is generally something in which to rejoice: Sheikh Mohammed's commitment to the sport, as regards both money and enthusiasm, is so whole-hearted and so long-standing that it would be a mean-spirited man indeed who begrudged him success. With Godolphin's colours on the winner Blue Bunting, Derek Smith's on the second and Sheikh Hamdan's on the third, it definitely wasn't a case of David beating Goliath as the race was dominated by the big battalions - but yesterday's 2,000 Guineas, with both Godolphin runners plus the sole Ballydoyle representative all finishing hopelessly tailed off, reminded us that even the biggest of the Goliaths can't take anything for granted. So it was really nice to see Blue Bunting pass the post in front on a beautifully sunny May afternoon. Yesterday Frankel, today Frankie, tomorrow ... ? Well, tomorrow we have the lovely So You Think making his European debut at the Curragh. I won't be watching that race in person, I'm afraid, but you can guarantee that I'll be in front of a television screen showing At The Races when it happens.

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