Sunday, August 18, 2013

Paradise by the July Course twilight

Went without saying, didn't it?  When we want a racecourse to receive no less rain than is forecast, it receives less.  And when we want one to receive no more than is forecast, it duly receives more, as was the case with Chester yesterday.  Jimmy Savage, one of Michael Stoute's travelling head lads, told me that they'd got there really early, and that the ground had indeed been good when they had got there, but that they'd had enough rain since then to tip it noticeably onto the soft side.  And the final nail went into the coffin 40 minutes before our race when the heavens opened, (although, happily, the rain had stopped before Gus had his course walk after racing, as you can see in the fourth paragraph).  I'm surprised that we'd got as far through the afternoon without rain as we did because as we were driving up the A41 past Whitchurch and on towards Chester (a lovely drive which I always enjoy, as does Gus) one could see some dramatic localized downpours over to the left.  Happily, they managed to avoid Chester for most of the afternoon, but unfortunately not for all of it.

Anyway, the track was terribly loose after this final drenching - which was more than could be said for our clothes as, being saturated, they were far from loose.  So the mare set off into the gloom and struggled.  She was given every help by her jockey Stephen Craine jnr, who had really done his homework, who rode exactly as instructed (although whether the instructions were very good I'm not sure, as I'd possibly under-estimated just how hard it is to overcome is the disadvantage of the widest draw from the mile-and-five start, which of course is also the notoriously biased five-furlong start) and who impressed me hugely.

But that, sadly and predictably, wasn't enough.  The track actually wasn't in bad condition on the straights, but on the bends it was desperately loose, basically in terrible condition.  I hate to criticise any aspect of Chester because it's a terrific racecourse, and really is a model of how things should be done in every respect.  And, in criticising the ground, I'm not in any way criticising the way to track is cared for, because they clearly have a great team of groundsmen who do things really well.

But the problem is that they race a lot (I think that they have something like 18 racedays per year) with each year several of their meetings being on rain-affected going - and, as it's such a narrow track and one on which all the racing is done very close to the rail, the wear and tear is signficant.  In an ideal world, Chester would have two or three meetings a year - and if they did, they'd race on a carpet each time, because they do things so well that if their calendar made the production of perfect ground possible, then that's exactly what they'd produce.  But the ubiquitous problem of our having far too many racedays for the small number of turf tracks that we have clicks into play yet again.

Chester, admittedly, has one great advantage in making itself popular (unlike virtually all other racecourse, it is within walking distance of the centre of a prosperous city) but, even so, such a massive plus couldn't necessarily be guaranteed to be translated into a successful racing operation.  But Chester's management get pretty much everything right, and it's a shining example of making a successful business from treating all one's 'customers' (and that for a racecourse includes both the race-going public and the connections of the horses) really, really well.  And they do the very best that they can with the track too - but you can only do what's possible, and keeping such a narrow, turning track in pristine condition when they race so often just isn't an option.

Newmarket also do a terrific job, and this week they had a bonus which Chester didn't receive: the rain didn't fall during the programme.  I feared the worst on Friday afternoon when the heavens opened at 3.30 and we had a fair dinkum semi-tropical downpour, as you can see in the previous paragraph.  That didn't bode well for the evening meeting that was set to start in a couple of hours - but, remarkably, this storm only lasted about 20 minutes, and by the time that racing started we were settling in for an idyllic summer evening.

I arrived there just before the second last race, a 10-furlong handicap which was won by a John Gosden-trained horse called Nautilus (who is seen in the previous paragraph being eased down after the line by William Buick) who strolled home by 15 lengths, which is a remarkable occurence in a handicap on what was basically good ground. That was a sobering sight and thought, and the evening was, as you can see, idyllic - but that was all just by-the-by in comparison with the main event, which blew me away.

Heading into one's teens and starting to feel the excitement of the fact that it's a big, wide world out there is a mood which one never forgets.  Part of this is the discovery that there's more music out there than can fit on 'Top of the Pops', and the soundtrack of these memories tends to be a playlist compiled from the LPs which were popular at the time.  God knows what today's youngsters will carry in their heads for the rest of their days - but albums such as 'Transformer', 'Hunky Dory', 'Rumours', 'Hotel California' and 'Year Of The Cat' will always be very special to me.

But arguably the most special of all will always be 'Bat Out Of Hell'.  So often over the years I've reflected that it would have been wonderful to have seen/heard Meatloaf in concert, but that of course that was never going to happen.  And then - almost impossible it remains to believe, even now afterwards - he played the July Course on Friday night.  Might have sounded a bit different to how we remember it, but that's incidental.  It would have been worth it if all he'd done had been the 'Paradise by the dashboard light' show; if all he'd done had been the 'Dead ringer for love' routine, or 'You took the words right out of my mouth', or 'Bat out of Hell; itself.  But he didn't - he and his band performed (and that word isn't being used lightly) for an hour and a half, which seemed like twenty minutes.  Shows don't come any better than that.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

Ziggy rather than Hunky Dory for me but the greatest rock album of all time is as you say the Bat had 3 vinyl copies (plus my DJ copy) a cassette for the car and two CD versions the latest of which (bought because its predecessor had worn out) contains the dreaded bonus track of Dead Ringer which great track as it is just isn't in context
Having seen all of the alleged greats of the era in concert barring Mr meat (and Rod but that's along tedious story involving women and what made Milwaukee famous) being able to roll up and see the man and catch some decent racing my envy knows no bounds the Gods obviously decided that Karma meant bad ground at Chester but as someone famously said two out of three ain't bad !!