Monday, May 28, 2012

Perfect weather, for now

Mondays and Tuesdays are very busy days for me: over and above the usual stable duties, I have my two weekly deadlines (for my Winning Post column and my Stallion of the Week 'grey panel' on Thoroughbredinternet looming on Tuesday evening.  So there's plenty to be done indoors as well as out - which is rather a shame, as the weather is so glorious that it's a shame to be indoors at all.  However, after such a wonderful weekend of weather, it would be wrong not to make a record of its delights on this blog.

I'm fairly easily pleased, with certain things, if they happen, more or less guaranteeing that I'll be happy with the day, whatever else does or doesn't take place.  One of these things, of course, is if Gus (pictured this morning, out in his preferred position at the top of the yard in the unbroken sunshine, and then taking a short break indoors from his sentry duty to rest from the heat - and farther down, camouflaged amongst the cow-parsley on Saturday morning, with his friend Natagora at the very bottom giving her verdict on the ennervating nature of the lovely weather) has enjoyed the day (and that's good because he enjoys pretty much every day); another of them is if the weather is good (which happens less often).  So great weather, such as we have had the past three days, is just terrific: I love it, and Gus loves it too, which makes it even better.

We'll have to savour this weather while we can because, predictably,it is not going to hang around for long.  It's only a week since we were complaining about how cold it was, but already we appear to be on the last day of this idyllic period.  Today we've got a daytime high of 27 and an overnight low of 12, which are figures to savour, but I see that on Friday (Oaks Day) we are forecast a daytime high of 13 and an overnight low of six.  As it was as high as 17 by 8.00 this morning, you can see that we are about to head very much in the wrong direction.  But these past few days, as this picture of Karma Chameleon rolling in the paddock yesterday evening shows, have been perfect.

Saturday morning also produced some beautiful views.  I made a rare foray onto the Limekilns on Saturday morning.  There had been a mass of horses on there earlier, but by the time that our couple of horses (Ethics Girl and Grand Liaison) got on there just after 7.00, there were only two other horses: a pair of trained by Michael Stoute, with Ryan Moore riding a chestnut horse whose name I don't know, in company with a bay whose name again I don't know.  They used a different strip of ground to the one which we were on, but we still got some splendid views even so, as these next two shots of them confirm (with some more of the stable's horses shown in the subsequent photograph, seen between Kadouchski's ears on top of Long Hill later in the morning).  I doubt that we'll be using the Limekilns much, as when the ground's on the firm side I prefer the Al Bahathri (which we used the following lot) but on this occasion the wet weather was still a recent enough memory for me to be happy that there would be a lovely surface for us to use, which indeed there was.

We don't have any entries this week, which isn't a bad thing as I'm terribly behind with my admin, so I hope that that can be partially rectified if I can have a few afternoons in the office, which doesn't happen if I have to head away.  And, of course, on Thursday evening (Sandown), Friday and Saturday there will be great racing to watch on the TV.  There was good racing this past weekend too and I have come up with my nomination for Ride of the Week: Silvestre De Sousa on Lovely Pass at Lingfield on Saturday evening.  Now this provides some food for thought.  I am really enjoying using Twitter (as @JohnWathenBerry) and I tweeted my opinion after the race (which this filly won, but only thanks to some terrific riding by SDS - as well as thanks to her massive natural ability, of course) because I've never seen a horse race as greenly and still win, which she only did thanks to receiving some outstanding help from her rider.  Anyway, this nomination almost immediately evinced from a couple of other Twitter-users the opinion that such an honour should go instead to Cathy Gannon for winning on Cut The Cackle at Yarmouth the previous afternoon.

Now, I am one of Cathy's biggest fans, as you can probably tell from reading this blog, as well as from the fact that we use her often in races.  But, even so, I can't get caught up in the mania of that ride, which has been singled out for praise because Cathy managed to win on the horse despite losing an iron coming out of the stalls.  For sure it was good that she could regain the iron (20 seconds or so later) and still manage to help the horse to win the race, but overall I'd be more likely to single out for special praise rides where the jockey doesn't lose an iron, rather than one where he or she does.  The modern trend of riding just with the toe in the strirrup does not do any harm, I suppose, as long as one is able to keep one's feet in the irons, but if one loses an iron - whether or not one then falls off - one is opening oneself up to the suggestion that one had invited disaster.

When I was still at school studying for my A-levels, I was lucky enough to spend a week or so during the holidays in the stable (Linkslade, just out of Lambourn on the Wantage road) of Stan Mellor, who remains one of the racing world's greatest horsemen.  I had been brought up in a Pony Club and hunting, rather than racing, environment, so rode with the ball of my foot in the stirrup, which is more secure than today's toes-in fashion, but less secure than the traditional racing method of putting the full foot in the iron.

On my first lot, as we were walking around the indoor ride waiting for the boss to appear, the head lad (Eric Wheeler, who subsequently started training, which he still does very well, albeit with only a very small string) called to me, "For God's sake put your full foot in the stirrup - the guv'nor will go mad if he sees you riding like that!".  So I did so, and still do so now.  That was excellent advice 29 years ago, and I'd say that it would be excellent advice today.  I know that the toe-in-iron method has its advocates - and that 99% of Flat jockeys, and even a large proportion of jumps hoops, ride that way now, which is unthinkable from only a few years ago - but it used to be unthinkable that a jockey could fall off on the Flat, or even just lose an iron, whereas nowadays that is not an uncommon event, even amongst good jockeys.  Anyway, that's the thought for the day, with question for the day being, "Progress?".

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