Sunday, May 22, 2011

Seaside sunshine

Our day at Yarmouth on Friday couldn't have been nicer. It's usually a real pleasure to go to Yarmouth; and on days like Friday, when the sun shone for most of the afternoon (other than when I was taking the photographs of Batgirl) and when there wasn't too much of that breeze which often makes it colder on the coast than one might expect, it was just perfect. And the icing of the cake, of course, was too very pleasing runs: a win by Batgirl and a good fifth by Hotfoot (pictured under Richard Mullen down at the start). One might ask why I should be so happy with a fifth place, when ideally one would always like to win. The reason is simple. A trainer would be very stupid if he expected to win every time he saddled a runner. When, like Hotfoot, the runner starts at 22/1, it is common sense that any impartial assessment of the form suggests that the horse is unlikely to be very competitive. So when Hotfoot - who had never previously been placed, who hadn't run since August and who had run very badly on her most recent outing - finished within three lengths of the winner in fifth place, it was clearly a time to be very pleased and encouraged by the run.

And Batgirl's win under Frankie Dettori was, of course, just lovely. Anyone who watched the race on ATR will have worked that out from the excellent coverage which it received: it received more attention than a Group One race on Channel Four! We have Jason Weaver to thank for this as he gave plenty of airplay to the fact that trainer and jockey had been colleagues in Luca Cumani's stable in our younger days in the '80s - a fact of which he was very aware as he too had been our colleague at the time. As I remarked to the Racing Post's reporter Bruce Action Jackson afterwards, it was understandable that Luca had had such a good strike rate in apprentice races at the time, with Frankie and Jason, who subsequently became two of the very few jockeys to have ridden 200 winners in a British season, as first and second apprentice! What made the connection around the win even stronger was that the ride was booked by another former colleague (Ray Cochrane, who was Luca's stable jockey at the time, is now Frankie's agent) while one of Luca's then-head lads, Peter 'Maxi' Taylor, was on duty down at the stalls. As mentioned in the chapter after Batgirl's win on Easter Monday, it has given me a huge amount of pleasure to have him winning for this stable; and it has been lovely to find that he, too, appears to have found such a result extremely pleasing. And, of course, it is always nice to have a brave and genuine horse such as Batgirl running well - and, while a trainer obviously wants to do well for any patron who has demonstrated faith in him by putting a horse into his care, one would be very hard pressed to find someone for whom it is more pleasing to saddle a winner than Tony Fordham, who fits very easily into the list of valued patrons for whom I can genuine say that I have had the pleasure to train. What better way, though, to end the summation of Batgirl's victory than with a brahma? Brahma of the day undoubtedly was provided collectively by the opposing jockeys in her race. When I was leading her and Frankie around down at the start, I was favoured with a few observations on the theme of (bearing in mind that I have just been elected onto Newmarket Town Council), "You know the only reason he is riding for you is that he wants permission to build a conservatory onto his house"!

Leaving aside the pleasure and satisfaction of Batgirl's win and of Hotfoot's good run, it was a lovely afternoon anyway. The weather was perfect, and the afternoon was a perfect illustration of why Yarmouth is such popular racecourse. It is always particularly popular with people from Newmarket: being close to home, it always attracts a lot of horses and people from our town, so it is very much a home from home. On my previous visit, when I had helped Jason with the ATR coverage ten days previously, all the winners had been trained either in Newmarket or very close by (ie by Julia Feilded in Exning or Chris Dwyer between Newmarket and Six Mile Bottom). Friday's card couldn't quite match that record, but even so there was a really local feel to its shape. Kieren Fallon rode three winners, one each for three of the town's stables I particularly like: Mosaicist in the opener for James Fanshawe, the well-named King's Best filly Wallis in the fillies' and mares' mile handicap for Luca Cumani and Torran Sound for James Fanshawe in the concluding staying handicap. (The three winners are pictured after the line, in that order). From the point of view of watching some of the world's best jockeys in action, it was great to see him and Frankie, two of the best jockeys the world has ever seen and two who have ridden umpteen champions in umpteen championship races, not only riding so well largely on middle-of-the-road horses for smaller stables at a relatively humble midweek card, but clearly really enjoying doing so. They have both enjoyed long and hugely successful careers so it would be understandable if they had reached the stage of just going through the motions, particularly at the minor meetings. Far from it: you see a master-class in race-riding pretty much any time you watch either of them in action, with probably the most pertinent lesson being that they are doing it so well because they are enjoying their work. That's a pleasure to behold. Long may it continue.

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