Saturday, November 24, 2012

That was the (stormy, sodden) week that was

It hasn't just been a stormy week; it's been a busy one too.  We've actually got off relatively lightly here with the storms.  Although Huntingdon racecourse (whose meeting today has obviously been abandoned) is only 30 miles away and it's under water, we're 'only' absolutely saturated.  And we've been absolutely saturated for weeks anyway.  We don't have significantly more standing water on the property than we've had for quite a while.  Compare and contrast with the less easterly areas, which have had major floods, and we've got off lightly.  And that's a thought to cherish as we struggle through the mud and hope that our wellingtons don't get sucked off our feet.

First runner of the week was Ollie (pictured above and here) at Wolverhampton on Monday.  He finished last, but I don't think that his performance was quite as bad as it sounds: it was a rough race and he was badly hampered on the home turn, after which he was eased down.  So we'll keep him going over the winter, and let's see what happens.  We then moved on to Southwell on Tuesday, where Roy too finished last.  However, it was less easy to excuse his placing, so he can have a break for the winter and wait until he's a bit older before doing anything more.  Older in his head too, I trust, as he was again naughty in the stalls - and in the truck on both the outward and the homeward-bound journeys, which was silly of him.

Just a couple of points upon which to touch before we move on from Roy's outing.  Firstly, I was rather pleased with my going-to-post photograph.  This reminds me of the advice of the Hon. George Lambton: "Keep yourself in the best company and your horses in the worst".  This photograph suggests that, by competing against the Queen and Kirsten Rausing at Southwell in the winter, that I am obeying both parts of the dictum.  Secondly, it might be worth pointing out to those who wrongly felt that Roy was ridden too quietly at Southwell and that we weren't doing our best, that this time we rode him more positively and he ran worse.  If you want to get your horse to under-perform, the way to do it is to make too much use of him; it is not to ride him quietly, eeking out his reserves of energy evenly over the full distance so that he still has something left to give in the final quarter.  Quite why the first method is generally reckoned to be 'putting him in the race' and the second is deemed to be 'riding like a non-trier' is totally beyond me.

Even though Monday and Tuesday saw our runners finish last, compared to Wednesday they can be viewed as a glorious success.  I had minimal expectations as I set off on a wet and gloomy day to Lingfield on Wednesday with Forgiving Light; but even saying that I thought that we would at least get as far as the start, even if the finish seemed less guaranteed to be reached.  As it was, we didn't even get as far as the parade ring.  The rider who had been engaged by Kyran (grandson of Forgiving Light's owner Richard Tompkins) had told me on Sunday that he would be able to do 9 stone; so the fact that the weights had gone up a pound and he only had to do 9 stone 1lb had made this issue even more non-existent in my mind.

Kyran told me early in the afternoon that Dean had gone into the sauna because he still needed to lose a pound, but even that (mis)information didn't get the alarm bells ringing in my head.  Image, therefore, how non-plussed I was to hear half an hour before the race that Dean was trying to weigh out at 9 stone 6lb.  One can't run with more than 3lb overweight, so the horse was scratched.  If Dean had alerted us to the problem half an hour earlier, we could have run as Katie Margarson had been at the track with one of her father's runners; but she'd headed away just before Dean finally decided to drop his bombshell.  No lives were lost and our chance of winning the race wasn't significantly lessened by the horse not running; but Kyran's family had put a lot into having the runner and had been very kind to offer Dean the ride, so it was disappointing, and they really deserved to be treated better than this.  And the real shame was that there would be dozens of keen young amateurs around the country who would have given their eye teeth for the ride, so it was rather a pity that it ended up being given to one who seemingly wasn't that bothered.  Still, there's always a brahma (or another brahma, depending on how one looks at things) and it was good, in the third week of Movember, to bump into an Aussie who answers to the name of either Chopper Read or Jeremy Gask.

We didn't have a runner on Thursday, but Friday then saw Many Levels heading to Wolverhampton.  Amazingly, after a truly ferocious night of wind and rain, Friday was a very pleasant day: the wind and the clouds disappeared so that we had several hours of warm sunshine in still conditions.  Still, the clues were all around us on the journey across the country: standing water all over the countryside, while the Great Ouse at Huntingdon, which nowadays overspills its banks at some stage every winter, was as overflown as I've ever seen it, as you can see here.  (Only the smaller section on the left is meant to be river, incidentally).

Anyway, Many Levels (seen cantering to post on the far side in the blue and yellow colours) yesterday did take part and didn't finish last.  So those were two massive steps in the right direction, compared to our outings earlier in the week.  He isn't, though, finishing his races off; and again yesterday, after travelling well through the race, he floundered in the final 300m.  Still, he's clearly a nice horse as he's shown that he has a bit of speed in his make-up and a lot of goodness in his nature: he's most wonderfully professional and has the honest, straightforward, unflappable mindset of a good horse.  He's probably just outgrown his strength for the time being so he can go off for a spell now, and I hope that he'll come back next year as a less unfinished article.

Still, even though our participation at Wolverhampton wasn't a highlight (other than by comparison with our participation at other meetings this week) there were still several particularly pleasing results.  The meeting got off to a good start when the first race (the 4.10, which was still just about run in daylight) saw George Margarson's apprentice Jordan Vaughan ride his first winner, which was very good to see as Jordan is an excellent, hard-working, pleasant and decent youngster.  And, if yesterday's ride is anything to go by, he's a very good race-rider too.  The leaders went off far too fast, but Jordan rode very patiently and coolly, bringing his mount through in a well-judged and well-balanced manner.  Good on 'im.

In that race, the leaders didn't just go off too fast: they went off too askew too.  Just watching the race was frightening: after they have run away from the six-furlong start at Wolverhampton, the horses run towards the camera at the end of the backstraight, so one gets a good head-on view of the field in the first couple of furlongs.  Watching this view, I was stunned by how sharply all the runners were veering in towards the rails.  For a few seconds I held my breath, fearing that we were about to see a fall - and, sure enough, we did, Coach Montana (who had been drawn one) being repeatedly slammed against the rail by those on his outside.  More by luck than judgement, Coach Montana (who was wearing blinkers and who must have been terrified) didn't come down, but his rider came off, which was particularly unfortunate as it was Josh Quinn (who is shown here heading out before the race) who was having only his third ride and doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Fortunately Josh was only a bit battered and very shaken, but otherwise fine.  Ditto his mount, who worked his way to the outside and passed the post in front, as you can see here.  But the real surprise came afterwards.  My guess was that there would be at least a month's worth of suspension dished out, spread around several apprentices; it turned out that one lad got a five-day suspension and no one else was penalized.  Ours not to reason why; ours to be unsurprised when the next generation of jockeys has no idea of what is or isn't acceptable riding.

Aside from that race, with its highlight and its lowlight, we had the excellent trainer/apprentice combination of Hans Adielsson and Nicole Nordblad - a pairing I am always very pleased to see and very pleased to do well - combining for another winner; the admirable Ed Vaughan-trained Robin Hood's Bay bouncing back to form with a good win (pictured); the doughty Hernando three-year-old stayer Mutual Regard winning his fourth consecutive race; and, remarkably, a 10-year-old winning his sixth race of the year (the Dansili gelding Daniel Thomas, whose career statistics are 75-10-11-6 and whose 2012 statistics are 17-6-2-1 - and wouldn't you be proud as punch to have bred him, to own him or to train him?).

And, last but not least, we had a really good view of a fox mooching around on the track, minding his own business just up from the seven-furlong start for several minutes until he coolly trotted off to the safety or a nearby hedge when the runners in the 7.10 came stampeding around the corner towards him.  And a final pleasing footnote to this review of an unproductive and stormy week is that Forgiving Light hasn't had a completely wasted time: he headed home today, but not before he and Kyran had had a really good jumping lesson up at the Links in the rain this morning.  I was very pleased with them both; and if Kyran wins a maiden point-to-point on him in a couple of years' time, we can say that today's session played a very small part in the preparation of both of them.

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