Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Character-building.  Two years ago we had the best season we've ever had.  We had 16 winners, Flat and jumps, in the calendar year, with a Flat season strike rate of 20% and a jumps season strike rate of around 30%.  Last year was good but not quite so sensational.  And this year ... well, it's been character-building.  Just in case anyone gets the wrong idea, I must emphasise that I'm not doing anything any different, not working on different theories, not putting my feet up and taking it easy, not resting on my laurels.

Maybe if I'd been in the early stages of my training career, such as it is, I might have made significant changes over a two-year period, but two years ago was my 17th year doing this job and this year is my 19th, and by this stage you tend to have settled into your routine, formulated your philosophy, found your own way of handling each of the 1,001 dilemmas (dilemmae?) which face the stockman every day.  And I'm certainly not taking it easy: if I'd won the lottery or the Derby I might have eased back a gear, but at this level 16 winners in a year doesn't change things, other than make balancing the books marginally less unfeasible for a short time.

As Stephen Craine memorably remarked on the BBC after enjoying a surprising career highlight in 1992 when winning the King George & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot on St Jovite (thanks to the suspension of Christie Roche and thanks to the perverse Irishness of Jim Bolger, which meant that he had to book an Irish jockey rather than one of the couple of dozen more obvious international options) it's only life-changing to the extent of being "oysters rather than burgers at Galway next week".

Anyway, forgive that ramble.  I'm just making the point that, as they say, that's racing: some you win and some you lose.  You'll have good years, years when you look better than you are and when the world and his wife tells you that you're a genius (and when you've got to make sure that you don't make the mistake of believing them) and you'll have bad years, years when you look worse than you are and when the world and his wife tells you that you're an idiot (and when you've got to make sure that you don't make the mistake of believing them).  That's character-building.

Anyway, we wrote the latest chapter of our less good year yesterday when we took Zarosa to Newcastle.  She showed her best form of last year on very wet ground, which we'd never managed to find for her this year.  She'd run six times in 2013, but never on anything softer than just the dead side of good; and she'd done OK, managing a win, a second and a third from those six runs.  Yesterday was very exciting because she struck a genuinely wet track (despite the fact that the ground had been described as 'good, good to firm in places at declaration time 54 hours before the race) for the first time this year.

As far as I was aware, she was still in good form, despite having been in work for 10 months and despite it being six months since she'd had her first race of the campaign.  Anyway, you've guessed it: I was wrong, and we learned yesterday that she's had enough for the time being.  She was grand beforehand, looking good and seeming very content and relaxed.  She travelled kindly for the first mile of the two-mile race - but then cut out, being the first to come off the bridle and the last to pass the post.  She's fine, can go off for a winter holiday and will come back right as rain in the new year ready for next season - but I'd just rather that we hadn't ended her satisfactory season on such a low note.

Still, there are always good things in any day.  Among yesterday's highlights was a good omen (well, I thought that it was a good omen at the time, although obviously I know different now) just before we left home when a hedgehog shuffled across the grass in the middle of the yard just past Zarosa's pen. Even better was to follow because one of the first people whom I saw at Newcastle was Tom O'Ryan, the first time I'd seen one of the nicest men in the game since he was nearly killed in a freak accident at home in the last week of May.  He was looking a bit frail, but he's clearly on the way back. After that happy meeting, passing the time of day with a good man who's bounced back from death's door, we were ahead for the day whatever happened.

Another highlight was seeing the winning debut of the penultimate foal of one of the loveliest broodmares.  Squeak, formerly of this parish, used to look after a multiple-winning filly, owned by William Haggas' father and called Frog, when he was starting out in Sir Mark Prescott's stable.  Frog has become a terrific broodmare, breeding a stock of lovely horses trained by William, including this year's Doomben Cup winner Beaten Up and also the very good Harris Tweed.  She's always gone to relatively unfashionable stallions, and the latest off the production line is a Sakhee three-year-old called Tweed who made an easy winning debut yesterday in the race before ours.  I enjoyed watching that, and will follow his progress (and he will progress) closely.

Another heartening moment came in the first race.  As in every two-year-old maiden at this time of year, there were some well-credentialled contenders, the most eye-catching of which was a Godolphin colt who had cost $1.2 million as a
yearling.  Equally eye-catching was that George Moore had two runners in the race - one of whom had cost £800 as a yearling and the other of whom had been not sold at 800 gns as a yearling.  Anyway, the Godolphin horse was scratched because of the wet track, George Moore's two ran - and one of them made a really promising debut to finish fourth.  I enjoyed that - and I'd bet London to a brick on that this horse wins more races than the Godolphin non-runner.

We were planning to be off to Wincanton with Ethics Girl tomorrow, but I've had a re-think and she'll stay at home instead.  Whether that means that she, like Zarosa, is finished for the year we'll have to mull over in the next few days, but basically she's now run out of Flat turf options, run out of jumps options (bearing in mind that tomorrow would almost certainly have been her last opportunity until next spring to run on ground that isn't a quagmire) and so only has AW Flat options left.  Whether that's reason enough to remain in work at present we'll have to decide.

As you can see in the later photographs of this chapter, we had a lovely misty-but-brightening start to the day today - and then more bloody rain had overwhelmed us by the time that Fen Flyer and Russian Link headed off to the Al Bahathri at noon.  In the earlier photographs you can see Zarosa twice, her rival/travelling companion Almost Gemini twice (once with Jamie Spencer and once with Tim Phillips) and Tweed once.


Brian Jones said...

Did Zarosa bled in the race (visually) or did you have the vet scope her afterwards and find out, either way hope she is OK and recovers fully.

John Berry said...

Small amount of blood appeared in each nostril about 20 minutes after the race. Not enough to drip off - an amount I could wipe it off with a tissue. She was unperturbed by it and has shown no signs of concern subsequently. Funnily enough, she didn't cough at all, and horses who have bled normally have a few coughs, even if none of the blood has worked its way up into the nostril, simply because of having the fluid in their wind-pipe. She's given no cause for concern in the three days since the race, and is currently looking very at ease with life out in the field at the back here. A good winter holiday and she'll be fully refreshed and ready for next year's action.

John Berry said...

And thank you for your concern, Brian. She'd never done this previously and I'd be surprised if she does it again. In retrospect she'd clearly just had enough for one season - but no significant harm done, thank God.

Brian Jones said...

Thanks for the update and thankfully that doesnt sound to bad. Shame you had the long journey to Newcastle to find out, but I personally 'prefer' a run to be 'too bad to be true' as at least you know something is wrong, as was subsequently proved here. As you say a winters rest, some soft ground next year and back to fight another day.

glenn.pennington said...

Let's face it John, you've lost good horses along the way, and good'uns aren't easy to replace