Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Autumn, winter, spring - 3 seasons in 4 days

It's good to look back in the previous chapter on those lovely views which we enjoyed on Sunday, particularly because the weather did indeed turn dramatically for the worse on Monday, which was a dismal day.  But the good thing is that, while days as glorious as Sunday don't grow on trees, we've subsequently enjoyed two proper spring days Tuesday and Wednesday (ie yesterday and today).  The drawback, of course, is that at this time of year the days aren't particularly long, and the sun doesn't get very high in the sky, so we don't get a massive amount of drying done during them, irrespective of how nice they are; so a day of rain such as Monday needs about 20 days such as today, rather than just two of them, to have the damage undone.

Still, every little helps, as the ads say, so pleasant conditions such as shown in the first two photographs (taken this morning) are a real bonus in an autumn of dismal weather (which follows a spring and summer of dismal weather).  And, while we're resigned to not seeing dry conditions underfoot until the second quarter of next year, at least we have the consolation on days like these that things aren't at present getting any wetter, even if they're not drying out as one would have liked.

Monday, though, was grim, even if it wasn't actually too bad through the afternoon at Southwell, because nearly all the rain had fallen by that time.  That was, though, not much consolation for Ethics Girl, who found the testing conditions not to her liking.  There are some jumps races which seem to suit Flat-bred horses and some which seem to suit the National Hunt-bred ones; and after the rain had hit the track through the morning, things became quite testing, and this little Flat-bred mare found it all rather too much of a struggle.  Not that she'd admit it, though, as she's as genuine as they come, but it was plain that both the galloping and the jumping were a real effort for her.  I know that I am often critical of the surfaces on which the horses are asked to race (but, by the same token, I also give praise where it's due) but really these shots of the course, taken shortly after her race, are not a pretty sight.

The ground was officially described as "good" at the outset and it was changed to "good to soft" after the fourth race, but really a surface like that shouldn't have the word 'good' applied to it in any way, as there's nothing good about it.  We wouldn't even canter a horse at home on such rough ground, never mind gallop one, so it's rather hard to swallow that we should have to ask them to race on such a surface.  I know that the word 'good' is often the least unsuitable for a track which isn't firmer than 'good' and isn't softer either, but there are some times when a track is described, almost by default, as 'good', when it's nothing of the sort.  Perhaps we ought to think about widening the scope of going descriptions (which has already happened as in recent years we've basically doubled the amount of going options, bearing in mind that nearly everywhere nowadays is ..., ... to ... in places) and perhaps 'bad' could also be used.

I should point out, by the way, that when I do make negative observations on a course's ground, the problem is rarely the fault of the groundsmen, but of those who decide that a track which can comfortably cope with, say, eight racedays a year should host, say, 25.  But that's 'progress' for you.  And the worrying thing is that things are likely only to get worse.  The fixture list continues to expand and, while we need the total number of racecourses to increase hugely if we are to get back to a situation in which each course holds only the number of racedays which our forefathers deemed consistent with the turf not being rendered unsatisfactorily churned up, we are likely to see the number of courses go down, not up.

But don't worry, say Northern/Arena, we can shut a few tracks and transfer the fixtures to the tracks which remain.  As we were reminded at Market Rasen in the summer, rough ground can be fatal; and rough ground is the inevitable consequence of over-use, which itself is the inevitable consequence of courses having their number of fixtures increased.  But I suppose that I shall remain a lone voice crying in the wilderness; and more obvious dangers, such as a couple of horses being killed in the Grand National or at the downhill fence at Cheltenham, will be addressed with vigour, while this far more fundamental and far more dangerous problem continues to get swept under the carpet in the interests of 'modern commercial reality'.

Now, to get back from the theoretical to the practical, we look like having a few runners next week.  Ollie should probably be the first, at Wolverhampton on Monday, and then Roy should be next, at Southwell on Tuesday.  Roy blotted his copybook at Nottingham last time, playing up quite badly in the stalls, earning himself (ie me) a warning from the starter and also destroying what little chance in the race he had by missing the start quite badly, which is often the consequence of a horse being very restive in the stalls.  I'm confident that he won't make the same mistake next time: we put him through the stalls this morning wearing a blindfold, and he was very good, much more relaxed in there.

He's shown here with Iva, walking through the trees on his way to the stalls and then coming out of them and cantering away up the hill.  Blindfolds are so good for horses who are restive in the stalls, as the horse is far less inclined to throw himself about in the gates if he can't see his surroundings; and, more than that, the horse is usually just much more relaxed anyway.  There is a silly rule that horses who wear a blindfold have to be loaded first, which is daft when the horse is wearing the blindfold because he is restive inside the stalls, rather than because he is awkward to load.  Common sense would dictate that a horse who is very easy to load but who plays up once inside and who wears a blindfold to offset this tendency should go in late, rather than early.  But, as with the allocation of the number of racedays to each individual track, ours not to reason why.

So let's hope that Roy behaves well next week, stands in the gates quietly and jumps out on level terms.  It has been brought to my attention, by the way, that there was some suspicion of Roy being a 'non-trier' last week, but that's nonsense.  I've never asked a jockey to do anything other than run as well as he or she can, and I've no intention of starting now.  And the fact that Hannah made up her ground so gradually after missing the start ought to be proof enough of our honesty.  She's been well schooled (I've got to say that as I've schooled her) and knows that, if one's mount misses the start, the best way to counteract the disadvantage is to make up the ground gradually, rather than all at once in the first furlong.

The irony, of course, is that if she'd done what would have minimized her chance of running well, everyone would say how competitively she had ridden.  And again, as she's been well schooled, she knows to go for the whip as a last, rather than a first, resort; so if she'd missed the start but ridden vigorously straightaway and picked up her whip early in the straight, she'd have been complimented on her competitive riding; as it was, she got from A to B as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and I've been asked whether we were trying!  I'd observe out that it's a mad world, but I think that I have already made that plain earlier in the chapter.

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