Friday, February 22, 2013

Bitterly cold half-term

I'm finding this cold weather a real struggle.  I know that in theory we've had significantly colder weeks this year, but the first part of last week and the second part of this week have been the worst.  The first half of last week was just awful with its cold temperatures, biting winds and wet, wet, wet conditions.   Things picked up so that at Southwell on Monday it was almost impossible to believe that it was only five days since they'd raced in the snow; while Tuesday was idyllic, albeit cold.  But since then we've just had the most biting easterly winds and, although it's better than early last week in the sense that it's dry (and even getting massively less wet underfoot) everything is a struggle.

I know that you might look at the picture which adorns the first paragraph (taken two days ago by Daria Jaskiewicz and showing Tommy/Platinum Proof and Many Levels doing their warm-up trot on the Severals prior to heading to canter up Warren Hill) and query whether a frost-free scene can be cold; but, believe me, it is.  An illustration of how draining I've found the conditions has been that we've had Anthony here for a couple of days during his half-term, and each night I've gone to bed before he has - and that's not because he's going to bed late, either.

I hope that he's had a good visit.  He certainly seems to be enjoying the horses more and more all the time, and seemed to enjoy taking the mount of Panto (see photograph in previous paragraph) to give a lead t to Jack Irish for a walk around the stable yard on the first occasion that that horse had ever been ridden.  And he also seemed to enjoy going up to the Heath to watch, either with Emma or with me, as in this photograph when he and Toby Coles enjoyed a brain-storming session on Warren Hill this morning.  You can see them here doing so, and then see them a bit farther down watching Toby's string of four at work.

We haven't just had Anthony here on half-term: Kyran Tompkins has been over in Newmarket from his home near Towcester, doing work experience here. Kyran has featured in previous chapters, so you might gather that we're always delighted to see him here.  He's excellent: very positive, hard-working, polite and enthusiastic. I used to be rather over-protective, bearing in mind that he was already an experienced pony-race rider when he first came here, as regards what I'd put him on to do what, but his riding is improving all the time and I'm more or less happy now to put him on anything, whatever exercise is being done.  You can see him here on Many Levels following Iva and Tommy up Warren Hill AW.

Just to look outside our own little world briefly, I noticed that today's Racing Post contains a feature examining whether AW racing is "fit for purpose".  I imagine that I'd have concluded anyway that reading this would be too much like hard work, but the use of this loathsome piece of 21st century jargon was enough to ensure that these pages would remain unread in my paper.  The comment which I'd make would be that, if the paper is keen to examine whether one type of racecourse is working satisfactorily, they'd be better advised to scrutinize the National Hunt tracks, which are generally in appalling condition, rather than the AW tracks, which are about as safe as one could get.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am not criticizing the teams of groundsmen, nor their overseers, who generally do an extremely good job in very difficult conditions.  But we can't get away from the problem that these tracks nowadays all have far too much racing.  On Monday we took Oscar to Southwell because I thought (and I still think that I was right) that the underfoot conditions were the best that we'd get anywhere - but they were still, by any other standards, very unsatisfactory.  I certainly wouldn't have allowed Oscar to canter on the track if it had been a strip of grass on the Heath and we'd have had an AW alternative to use.  I certainly wasn't expecting him to get injured, any more than Neil Mulholland would have been expecting his horse to break his leg in the back straight in the previous race - but in retrospect one can't be surprised: if the Heath was in that state and a horse was injured on it, one would say that one had got what one had deserved for working him on it.  So why we're worrying about the AW tracks is a complete mystery.

It is actually totally unsurprising that all these courses are getting worse and worse.  The climate is getting ever less conducive to turf husbandry, while the number of racedays each track is hosting each year is going up and up - while the number of races on each raceday seems to have gone up too.  It used to be rare to have a card with more than six races, while now it is rare to have one with fewer than seven.  To put things into context, when I started following racing in the '70s a jockey could be champion with fewer than 100 winners, and Jonjo O'Neill's record-breaking 149 was about as startling as it would be if nowadays AP McCoy were to ride 300.  You'd have to think that in the time the amount of racing must have come close to being doubled - and yet we've only gained one new track (Ffos Las, which I read is, in the opinion of Charlie Longsdon, currently providing ground which isn't even acceptable for the few horses who can handle heavy tracks) while we've lost at least the five (Teeside Park, Nottingham, Windsor, Hereford, Folkestone) which spring immediately to my mind.  But that's OK, apparently: the man responsible for the two most recent closures (ARC Ltd chairman Michael Howard) has just been sent to China to tell them how to run their racing there, so working on the basis that one can make bigger profits by closing the tracks than by maintaining them is clearly the way to go.

By the way, if you're wondering about the final two photographs, this was my way of furthering Jack's education today.  He was broken yesterday, but had a sore foot this morning so couldn't really do a lot more ridden work.  But I didn't want to abandon the project altogether, so Iva sat on him in the box for half an hour while Anthony trotted Panto up and down in front of him.  I think that it worked!

No comments: