Saturday, October 05, 2013

A good day, with the obligatory brahma

Gus, Russian Link and I all enjoyed our trip to Warwick on Thursday.  Gus' enjoyment goes without saying, but it was great that Russian Link made it clear at every stage that she was happy with her outing.  I hadn't been sure how she would handle a day at the races, but she was excellent.  She walked straight on the horse-box to go there; didn't turn a hair on the journey; looked very content and calm all the while she was waiting for her race; was no more than a bit bouncy in the preliminaries and the stalls; then switched off again really quickly afterwards; travelled home again as well as she'd gone there; ate all her feed that night; and was in great form when I rode her the next morning.

So that was grand.  I wasn't sure how she'd cope with things, but I now have no doubt that she has the temperament to thrive on her racing.  The only slight drawback is that she clearly needs to thrive on it, as the only thing which she did wrong was quite an important one: she didn't gallop fast enough.  Still, it was a much stronger race than she needs to be in; it was only the fourth start of her life and her first start for nearly four months; and asking her to run 3000m first-up probably was setting her a very stiff assignment, even allowing for the fact that she was fit.  Anyway, she didn't cut much ice (notwithstanding that she finished one place behind a Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum-owned and Marco Botti-trained Galileo filly, and one place in front of a Newsells Park Stud-owned and Michael Stoute-trained Galileo filly, which on the face of it isn't too bad) but in every other respect I was delighted with everything which she did, and I continue to be optimistic about her future - hence my enjoying the day as much as she did, and nearly as much as Gus did.

What didn't help me to enjoy the day was the Brahma of the Day: I have never been so surprised to have a horse summoned for a dope test as I was after her race.  We're always told that there aren't so many dope tests taken nowadays, but if I'm any guide the percentage is at an all-time high.  It seems as if we've had more runners dope-tested in the past two years than in the previous ten.  We had two runners this week (Gift Of Silence, 8/1 fourth favourite and finishing unplaced, beaten nine and a half lengths; and Russian Link, 50/1 outsider of the field and finishing second last) and both were dope-tested.  Unbelievable.  Neither horse was a (positive or negative) market mover, nor in any way a notable runner.  Neither ran surprisingly well or surprisingly badly.  Both were tested.

We're having the most unremarkable runners tested.  Earlier this year we had a second favourite finish second with the favourite winning and the third favourite running third (ie the most straightforward result one could get) and the horse was tested.  Unbelievable.  The obvious conclusion is that most runners nowadays are tested.  Unfortunately that isn't the case - and I say unfortunately because the only other explanation is that the authorities regard me as a crook.  So I'll take this opportunity to point out that I'm not (but, then again, one could observe that "'e would say that, wouldn't 'e?").

There might in Russian Link's case (but not in the other cases) be another explanation: I might have unintentionally prompted this wasted and ludicrous test myself.  The thing was that I was aware that were she to win, I'd be called in to the obligatory stewards' enquiry which follows any horse winning a handicap who has never previously been placed.  The problem was that I was leading her up.  This wouldn't usually be an issue, because when one's called to the stewards' room one doesn't have to come immediately, so if one takes the horse away, lets him/her cool off and then shows up in the stewards' room half an hour later, that's fine.  However, this was the last race, so I wouldn't  be popular if I made them wait half an hour for me to favour them with my presence - but I'd be holding the horse, and one can't take horses into the stewards' room.  I was aware that she was very unlikely to win - but any horse can win, so this awkward scenario was a possibility.

Anyway, earlier in the afternoon I spoke to one of the stipendiary stewards, saying, "Re Russian Link in the last, if she wins, which admittedly is very unlikely, you'll want to see me.  The problem is that I'm leading her up.  Anyway, if you do have to end up enquiring into her supposedly improved form, I won't have anything that I can tell you because I didn't train her when she was running previously.  So please may I just point that out now, as my coming to the stewards' room immediately after the race would present practical difficulties, and I'd have nothing to contribute to any enquiry anyway?".

Anyway (predictably) I was told that, in the event of an enquiry, even though I'd have nothing to say, I'd have to turn up in person to say that I'd have nothing to say, rather than have him pass on my observation that I had nothing to say.  Rules are rules, you know.  That's fine - but I just hope that this conversation didn't plant the false suspicion in the official's mind that I was expecting her to make abnormal improvement and that I was very keen to distance myself from it.  I'd made it quite clear (a) that I thought her winning was very unlikely and (b) that I was only trying to get out of attending any possible enquiry because I'd have a horse in my hands and would have to find someone on whom to palm her off for a few minutes.  Still, whatever the reason, this dope-test was a true head-scratcher - and all one can say is that, if the stewards are so diligent in trying to sniff out wrong-doing where none exists (and where there is no evidence to suggest that anything might be amiss) how on earth did they manage to avoid dope-testing the al Zarooni horse who won at the Craven Meeting on a day when circumstantial evidence (ie that he tested positive to anabolic steroids that month - but not that day, simply because he wasn't tested on that day) makes it almost certain that he was under the influence of anabolic steroids  (and who bizarrely still stands as the official winner of that race)?

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