Friday, June 17, 2011

Wathen's theories

This chapter, despite what the title might suggest, doesn't revolve around my views on training, a subject raised by Nathan in a reply to a recent chapter and one on which I said I would ramble at some stage. It merely contains a few more Royal Ascot week ramblings. I've made one visit there this week, even if I was only on course for two races: having dropped Kadouchski at Kempton on Wednesday afternoon, I headed over to Ascot, primarily to catch my first glimpse of a horse whom, when he left Australia, we knew to be a top-class galloper who would be very competitive in Group One weight-for-age company in Europe but who, more recently, has become regarded as the superior second coming of Nijinsky, thanks to the excellent work done by the Coolmore/Ballydoyle PR machine, which must surely have added a million or so to his value simply by prompting the trainer to say the right things at the right time and by persuading the trainer's wife to send out a few carefully-worded and -timed tweets. This campaign has worked a treat, though, because it has ensured that no high-class horse was prepared to take him on in his first couple of European starts - even the reigning Derby and Arc winner was re-routed to avoid him, imagine that! - and the only top-class horses to oppose him at Royal Ascot were inconsistent ones. Anyway, I headed over to Ascot to catch a glimpse of So You Think, and was rewarded by the sight of a beautiful horse. Well, I saw several lovely horses, including the brave Rewilding, whom I have long admired primarily because he is by one of my favourite stallions (Tiger Hill). I admire Rewilding even more now, even though I have to believe that he wasn't the best horse in the race, merely the recipient of a considerably better ride than that given to the best horse. It was such a shame, really, the frustration of which was further intensified by the fact that So You Think's formerly regular rider, Steven Arnold, was present and available; and it is very hard not to conclude that he would have won on the horse, simply because you'd like to think that he would have had the sense to disregard the instructions which led to Ryan Moore riding him so badly. Ryan Moore is a terrific jockey, but one of the reasons why he is a terrific jockey is because he is able to follow instructions (plenty of jockeys aren't!) which is fine - unless the instructions are bad ones. Steven Arnold would have had the advantage of having seen only occasions when Ballydoyle team tactics misfire badly (in the Melbourne Cups) so would know to treat the strategy he was given with a large pinch of salt - plus, as he wouldn't be expecting or hoping to get any more rides from the stable in the future, he would have had no reason to be worried about giving the trainer the impression that he couldn't ride to orders. He'd have just been concerned with winning the race - and riding So You Think (seen perky before the race and understandably tired after it, with Rewilding being pictured following Planteur out beforehand and then coming back in triumph) the way he was ridden clearly did not maximise the chances of that happening. Basically, there is no point in having a pacemaker go unrealistically fast and then sitting close to the pace oneself - a strong pace increases the likelihood of the race being won by one of the horses ridden from the back. If one wants one's horse to race prominently, there's an argument for saying that one might run a pacemaker hoping that that pacemaker can get an easy lead and one's main horse can sit behind him, getting an easy run and all the benefits of not leading (not suffering wind resistance, having the horse relax more for being behind another rather than seeing daylight) - but if one wants one's horse to race prominently, there's no sense at all in making sure that the race is run at an unrealistically fast pace, thus maximising the chances of it being won by a horse coming from the back, and by extension minimizing the chances of it being won by a horse ridden forward (ie by one's own horse). It's not a hard concept to grasp. But, even so, we keep seeing these pacemakers being used counter-productively. Ah well - we're always hearing that the big battallions are such geniuses, so from the battler's point of view it's always refreshing to be reminded that it's not only the little guys who make the cock-ups!

So that was that. And then there was Kempton, where later that day Kadouchski ran another mighty race. He's finished in the first three six times already this year, which is a real tribute to his honesty and durability. Clare Lindop, currently lying second in the jockeys' premiership in Adelaide, is in the UK for 12 days on holiday, and I was so pleased that she was able to ride the horse. She had been going to ride Medicean Man, whom she rode to win a maiden race at Doncaster when she was over here two years ago, for her compatriot Jeremy Gask in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot tomorrow (that's not why she's here - she's on holiday here anyway) but sadly he hasn't got in. It made sense for her to take the ride midweek just to keep her fitness up. (And happily she'll still be able to use the benefit she got from the work-out, as she now rides Ivory Silk for Jeremy at Newmarket tomorrow instead). She gave Kadouchski (seen before, during and after the race) a predictably Australian ground-saving and energy-saving ride, brought him with every chance at the top of the straight, and just found two horses too good. It was actually a very interesting evening of racing all round. As you know, the turf has been fairly firm in a lot of places, while one gets a less variable surface on the Polytrack, which means that these AW meetings can attract a lot of nice horses from good stables. The line-up in the maiden races was no different to what one would find in similar races at Newmarket, while the three-year-old handicap also attracted some decent horses. One in particular whom I very much like was the Luca Cumani-trained Spifer, a horse I enjoy observing on the Heath. He's a very nice horse, but his most easily noted feature is that he's a very pale grey, almost silver. He's very distinctive, but I am sure that anyone who backed him on Wednesday will more likely remember him principally for having been the archetypal certainty beaten. His supporters could have congratulated themselves that the presence of an odds-on favourite (the John Gosden-trained Seelo) made him a backable price (6/1) - so I'm sure that they must have been stunned to see him go through the bulk of a slowly-run race in a position (back and wide) from which it would have been very, very hard to win. He had joined the all-the-way winner Ivan Vasilevich (white bridle - and one of a startlingly high number of jockey changes during the evening, being ridden by Martin Dwyer instead of Shane Kelly) shortly after the line as this photograph shows, but that fact must have been scant consolation for a close-up which read: "Held up last, still there well over 1f out, taken to outer and good progress after, ran on to take 2nd last 100 yds, no chance with winner, do better". Again, it's never a bad thing to receive these reminders that Capt. Cock-up knocks on everyone else's doors from time to time too!

Anyway, to revert to Royal Ascot. Even though I've had three winners in my XII To Follow (Canford Cliffs, Frankel and Fame And Glory), the result which has given me most pleasure was the victory of the Hughie Morrison-trained Sagramor in the Britannia Handicap. His owner/breeders seem a great bunch of people and just the sort of connections whom one loves to see taste big-race glory, but I was principally happy to see Nicky Mackay salute the judge. As you might have gathered, I take the view that the battlers are just as important in racing's overall picture as the more obvious players. And Nicky really has been a battler. He was a successful apprentice with Luca, but he went through a period after his apprenticeship when he could hardly get a ride. He understandably left Luca's stable as he was getting nothing there, and found that he was getting even less as a freelance. Anyway, he took a job riding out for John Gosden a year or two ago - and that has been the best thing that he ever did. He's now one of a batch of jockeys in the stable who are all given rides (along with Rab Havlin and Saleem Golam) - and now that he is seen to be riding, and riding winners, for a leading trainer, he gets rides from other people as well. He'd ridden a winner at Brighton on Tuesday evening for David Elsworth, while the valuable handicap win he'd had on Sagramor at Haydock last month had been his biggest success for years. He rode a winner at Royal Ascot for Michael Stoute in one of the handicaps when he was a boom apprentice, and gave a memorably emotional interview afterwards - but in recent years that had seemed a very long time ago. So it was lovely to see him ride his winner yesterday, to see his true joy and his almost equally emotional post-race interview - and especially to see that he remains invariably the thoroughly decent person he's always been, as the entire interview was spent in a from-the-heart recitation of thanks, starting with, "I'd like to thank Mr Morrison, and the person who rides this horse at home and the people who look after him in the stable". There'll be bigger wins at Ascot this week, but none more richly deserved.

I suppose that I should have backed Sagramor on my tried and tested 'Back the first jockey you see' theory. We had Clare staying here and John Gosden kindly made her welcome to ride out there yesterday morning. I dropped her off in his yard at 6.00 and then found Nicky (pictured three horses behind Clare, alongside Marc Halford, during first lot yesterday) on his way in as I was on my way out. Predictably the worth of this tip didn't become clear to me until after the race - but then I'm always at my wisest after the event. Which brings us on nicely to one of the disappointments of the week: the eclipse of Pyman's Theory in the Norfolk Stakes. I would have liked to have seen her salute for her part-owner Matt Williams so it was disappointing that she did not fare well - and it was also disappointing to read the story behind her nomenclature. With a name like that, there had to be a story - and the Racing Post duly carried the information that its tipster James Pyman has a theory that Exceed And Excel two-year-olds run particularly well at Ascot. But is this a theory? I can't see that it is. Isn't a theory the product of the analysis of a set of factors, the proof of which may be provided by the predicted consequences of these factors subsequently materializing? Just to observe that Exceed And Excel sires a lot of juvenile winners at Ascot isn't a theory; it's an observation. It would be a theory if one analysed the sire's strengths and weaknesses in advance and came up with the prediction that for whatever reason he would be likely to sire winners at Ascot - and then his winners there prove the theory to be correct. But to say that he has sired a lot of winners at Ascot and therefore is particularly good at siring winners at Ascot is nothing more than an observation. Anyway, I'd have loved to have seen Matt Williams standing in the winner's enclosure after the Norfolk Stakes - especially if he could have been patting a horse named Pyman's Observation at the time.

Anyway, I've got a theory that it's been raining a lot this week. And the consequence of this is that Asterisk (seen recently demonstrating her well-being in the field) can have a run at Newmarket tomorrow afternoon. She ran well on her debut on a heavy track at Leicester last autumn, but did nothing on the AW over the winter. Her most recent run was atrocious, so the alternatives seemed either retirement or waiting for soft turf. And finally soft turf has arrived. So she can run there, more in hope than expectation. Let's hope that she can show some promise - and also let's hope that all can run happily for Iva, who had a long and painful lay-off after her accident at Yarmouth last September, when she broke her left leg very badly in the stalls. She finally got the all-clear to resume race-riding around three weeks ago, so it will be good to see her back in action. Asterisk can't be guaranteed to behave well, so in one sense isn't the perfect mount for a come-back from serious injury - but as long as nothing goes wrong, I believe and hope that it will just be a relief for Iva to resume. She, like Nicky, certainly deserves a bit of luck.


Nathan said...

Hi John, I'd like to wish Iva all the best with her comeback. Hopefully Asterisk will give her a nice ride. Roberto Pegasus looks an intriguing runner; difficult to know what to make of a once raced 5yo entire.


racingfan said...

fantastic piece as always John, I just saw the nicky mackay interview and it showed how much the race meant to him, its always nice when the less well known jockeys pick up a big race,

I think ascot has been fantastic this week with some great performances, I though Frankie was outstanding on rewilding,

Good luck for Asterisk today, will be interesting to see how the horse runs, I think the horse could run well for a lady rider, I think dancing storm is a one to watch in the race.

good luck to Iva and asterisk,

thanks again'


Nathan said...

Nice winner for Clare Lindop at HQ. She is quite clearly quality...