Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Busy birthday boy

Too many days have passed since the last chapter. I've been busy, though, so I do have several flimsy excuses. Busy being a birthday boy yesterday, which as we know can be quite time-consuming, for one day a year at least. And busy on the council too, as you might have read in today's Racing Post, which carries the information that I am now the deputy chairman of Newmarket Town Council's development and planning committee, and also the council's representative on the Hatchfield Farm appeal hearing. That report is quite good as it makes these positions seem less unimportant than they are. Well, I've phrased that wrong: the positions are important, but their holder isn't.

Busy also were the two days when we went to Doncaster. I was pleased there to find a well-maintained track and to salute the new clerk of the course, Jon Pullin, on its state. David Williams would have been a hard act to follow, but I'd say that the racing surface will be safe in the hands of his successor. The trips were pleasant, if unsuccessful. Batgirl's attempt to complete a three-timer proved to be a complete damp squib. I was down at the start with her and, watching the start of the race from behind, I instantly formed the impression that she would run badly: for whatever reason, she came out of the stalls very awkwardly, lurching sideways and taking what seemed like forever to get herself galloping on an even keel. I didn't know the result by the time that I reached the enclosures a few minutes after the race, but I was not at all surprised then to see her having been unsaddled among the also-rans. Still, all that proved was something which we knew already: that to win three races in a row, at any level, is much easier said than done. To pull off a hat-trick, you need more than just a nice horse in good condition being ridden by good jockeys in three seemingly suitable races: you need the luck to have everything go right on three consecutive occasions, and that is a lot to ask. (Those who respect our language will be relieved to note that I didn't use the phrase "a big ask" in that sentence). I should emphasise, of course, that it certainly wasn't Pat Cosgrave's fault that she jumped awkwardly. These things happen, and it is worth pointing out that Pat's services were extremely satisfactory, despite the result. He showed enough common sense and sympathy not to be hard on the filly once it became clear that she was struggling in the final 300m, and what was most impressive was that, when I eventually reappeared, he was making his way as slowly as possible back to the weighing room. He had already given Tony and his father a very full and helpful post-race de-briefing and he was obviously under some sort of pressure for time as he had a ride in the next race, but he was clearly lingering as long as possible in the hope of catching me so that he could give me a full report too. That showed a level of professionalism and courtesy which is the exception rather than the rule. Saturday's outing was less eventful, even if no more successful: it would have been unrealistic to expect more than a midfield placing from First Pressing on her first run for more than a year and bearing in mind her relative inexperience and immaturity, but she and Hannah both acquitted themselves with credit and did enough to suggest that they should each have a bright future ahead of them.

On the subject of jockeys' professionalism, we should not conclude any review of last weekend's racing without mentioning the Derby, the finish of which was, of course, both rendered more exciting and, to a certain extent, spoiled by the unprofessionalism of the winning rider. Barzalona's antics did, of course, provide an extra thrill for the audience, especially as it was far from clear to spectators that his horse had actually gained the victory about which he was gloating. And for that gloating I suppose RFC will be very grateful. But it is hard to understand why Andre Fabre, who doesn't generally appear to suffer fools, is prepared to tolerate such tom-foolery, particularly on a horse who had so much in hand that he would have won pretty much however had ridden him. Halla Bek and Philip Robinson demonstrated five years ago that the fact that a horse is coming with a wet sail and seemingly set for victory in the Derby a few strides before the line does not guarantee victory if the jockey does something which might distract the horse. The answer to the question of whether Barzalona's actions would have done anything to increase his mount's chance of winning the race has to be 'absolutely not'; while the answer to the question of whether the actions might have increased the chance, however slightly, of victory being jeopardized has to be 'Yes'. Under the circumstances, why give oneself a chance of throwing away a seemingly certain victory, even if only a 1% chance, when there is no possible benefit in doing so? Amazingly reckless. I would imagine that Andre Fabre will currently be making it his business to make sure that his talented young rider (pictured demonstrating that he is one of the few riders who fit Maktoum silks and Magnier silks equally easily) is made aware that the guaranteeing of victory is more important than its 'celebration', at least until the race has been won.

The other talking points of the Derby's drama, of course, were the roles played by the most unlikely pair of co-stars, Her Majesty and Kieren Fallon. It is sad that Carlton House, whose run confirmed that he is a colt of the highest class and a very brave one too, was not able to provide the Queen with victory, but really the writing had been on the wall when he had sustained his injury the previous weekend. We just have to hope that he was not too sore after the race and that his exertions won't prove to have prevented him from fulfilling his potential later in the year. As regards the Native Khan saga, the whole sorry story was a mess from start to finish. None of the key players in it emerge with any credit - and that includes Kieren's legal advisors, who should never have let him sign a contract with such terms in the first place. The only people who have come out of it well are Eddie Ahern and Johnny Murtagh. The former, of course, earlier this year was engaged to ride Ed Dunlop's horses (with the exception of Snow Fairy on the occasions when Ryan Moore would be available) this season, only to find two weeks after the agreement had been reached that the terms of his job were being retrospectively altered and that it would not now include the mount on Native Khan. He bore this reverse with admirable stoicism - just as Johnny Murtagh (pictured at Doncaster on Friday evening a few hours after his Oaks victory) too kept his head down last week when Native Khan's connections were acting as if having him in the saddle instead of Kieren was a hindrance to the horse's chances, which of course was far from the case. He just kept himself to himself and got on with doing his job well, just as he had done the previous day when stealing the Oaks on the William Haggas-trained outsider Dancing Rain. Another true professional.

Next stop Yarmouth, where Hotfoot should be one of the major chances in the mile maiden handicap this afternon. Let's hope for the best.


Wayward Lad said...

I cannot agree with you more on the Native Khan jockey saga. Some people have ego's bigger than their wallets.

Nathan said...

A belated happy birthday John!
I have a confession to make though...
Today i spent an hour chasing storms across Manchester, determined to photograph the lightning and beat you to possibly the only weather photo yet to feature in this wonderful blog (other than the rarity of nature which is Thundersnow i should add). It was a wonderfully ferocious storm with riotous thunder, electrifying lightning and rather large hail stones. Alas; i failed to capture the prize snap and ended up very wet. However; i had a wonderful school boy like adventure :-)
Oh John... what has become of me.

p.s. All the best to everyone connected with Hotfoot at Yarmouth this afternoon.

John Berry said...

Thanks Nathan. Taking a picture of lightning (leaving aside cheating by filming the sky in a storm and then taking one frame of the film and claiming it as a photograph) has to be the photographic holy grail.

Nathan said...

I took A LOT of photographs John; but it wasn't to be my day or my storm. Till next time we meet head on Mother Nature...