Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Groundhog summer?

Hard to swallow that we've gone from a very nice day on Sunday to a genuinely lovely one on Monday - and then straight to two shockers Tuesday and Wednesday.  Wet, cold, and worryingly reminiscent of last 'summer' (during pretty much any morning of which these photographs - first and last paragraphs - of today's view on the Heath, with the sky matching Gift Of Silence's coat, could have been taken).  Still, we'll take things one day at a time.  Taking the weather seriously, it does become ever harder to understand why the weather forecasts are so shockingly unhelpful.  Is it really that hard?  It isn't random: it's a regular chain of causes and effects, consequences of observed factors which ought to be predictable.  Not so, it seems.

Anyway, besides plenty of rain, we had a trip to Lingfield to enjoy yesterday.  And the two things weren't unconnected: thanks to the rain, the trip was less enjoyable than it might be.  The rain didn't actually spoil the evening by falling during racing, because thankfully the deluge had ceased by the time that we arrived; but the half-inch which the track had absorbed through the day meant that conditions were very taxing, which duly helped Annia Galeria to run very poorly.  She might not necessarily have run particularly well anyway, but - but she would surely have run at least a bit better on a dry track.  I hope that we'll find out a bit more on a drier surface somewhere in the near future.

We did, though, have a good bonus that evening as the first race featured the debut of the most exciting (on paper, anyway) two-year-old in Europe: Frankel's Oasis Dream half-sister Joyeuse.  That was terrific, particularly as we had Anthony, another massive Frankel fan, with us.  He had the pleasure and honour of shaking hands with Frankel's two riders (his morning partner Shane Featherstonehaugh, who now looks after Joyeuse, and Tom Queally) and also of seeing this attractive immature little filly make a comfortable winning debut.  Amazingly, the Racing Post's SP forecast had not put her in as favourite, but logic said that the only reason she would be running this early in the season would be to get her ready for Royal Ascot; and she duly justified hot favouritism in the style of an Albany Stakes prospect.  It was only a shame that there was such a pathetically small crowd there to enjoy the spectacle of her first public appearance.

By the way, at the bottom of a recent chapter a correspondent asked me my views on the Eddie Ahern debacle.  I replied, and I was subsequently reminded of my reply on Monday evening when we watched the second Clare Balding feature of the long weekend, the show on the Queen and her horses.  If you saw this, you'll have seen that Her Majesty had the winner of a staying race at Newbury in which the leader (a Mick Channon horse, possibly Knox Overstreet) was ridden by an apprentice in exactly the same way as Eddie Ahern rode Judgethemoment.  Eddie, as we know, was disqualified for 10 years; while the apprentice got off scot-free.  How so?

Well, the problem, of course, is that mistakes are made in every race.  If they are innocent mistakes, the blunderers shouldn't be punished.  If they are deliberate mistakes, the culprit should have the book thrown at him (or her).  That is what makes things so hard for the stewards: deciding if the bad ride was deliberate or unintentional.  Clearly the apprentice at Newbury cocked up unintentionally, so it was correct to take no action.  It appears as if there is enough evidence to suggest that Eddie Ahern gave his mount exactly the same ride knowing what he was doing - and, if that is the case, a colossal penalty was obviously justified.  Whether it was the right penalty is a matter of opinion: my view is that a long suspension, whether 10 years or whatever, is enough, and that it's overkill to disqualify the culprit (ie preventing him from setting foot on a racecourse or in a training stable, ie from earning a living in racing in any capacity), over and above banning him from race-riding.  A man has to earn a living somehow, and for some jockeys riding horses is all they know.  My view is that ending a jockey's race-riding career is punishment enough.  But that's by the by.  But, on the main issue, it is difficult for the stewards to determine motivation, because that always is the crux of the matter.  The weird thing is when they can't decide so settle on a compromise (as with Adam Kirby on Piper's Piping earlier this year, or with Paddy Aspell with his stalls' blindfold this week): when the options are either a massive penalty or nothing, and the punishment handed out is neither (in these cases, a week ban for Adam and a £140 fine for Paddy).  How do those ones work?  Ah, the problems of the administration of justice!

The other Clare Balding show, of course, was more brahmatic.  Did you see it, the Emily Davison/Anmer one?  There's a very good review of it ('good' in the sense of perceptive and fair, rather than 'good' in the sense of flattering, which is what people often mean when they tell you that their work has received a good review) by Michael Tanner in today's Racing Post.  It's worth reading, if you've missed it.  Michael Tanner is probably the world's greatest expert on the subject, so it is remarkable that he wasn't involved in the making of the programme.  I made two observations (in three tweets) on Twitter in the programme's aftermath: 'It's inconceivable that she could have successfully targetted any specific horse ...', '... Without commentary she would have had no idea where in the field the horse was positioned', and 'I came away hoping the techs were more help in their many murder cases than they were in the show'.  What I didn't touch upon, though, was the poser of how the hell the Clerk of the Course could have been the one to pocket her scarf, bearing in mind that he'd have been half a mile away when the incident happened and that thousands of people would have walked over the scene by the time that he appeared God knows how many minutes or hours later.  (And not to mention how come the Clerk of the Course wasn't called Dorling).  Anyway, that one conundrum has now bee answered by Michael Tanner.

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