Sunday, November 10, 2013

AW winter season ahead

We haven't had a runner for three or four weeks, so it'll be good to head off to Kempton tomorrow with Russian Link, our first runner of the new AW winter season (which begins tomorrow).  She's eligible for handicaps and is rated 60, but I'm running her in a (median auction) maiden race, which tells you that it's a weak maiden.  There are six runners and it would be disappointing if she doesn't make the frame - the only drawback, of course, being that she looks very unlikely to win, the favourite being predicted to go off at 1/6.  But she'll give it her best shot, and she's well and happy, as you can see here (today).

As you can see from today's photographs, it's been a lovely day.  Fairly cold obviously (but that's what one would expect in the second week of November) but brilliantly sunny.  Not a cloud in the sky at the outset - and, remarkably, it stayed that way all day long, which was really lovely; and doubly so because we've had a week or more in which one band of rain has followed another.  It's been grim - but today was lovely and, while I think that we might get some rain tomorrow, the rest of the week is forecast to be largely dry, which will be a big help.

So we might be rained on at Kempton, but largely we can look forward to the week (and later in the week to running Fen Flyer, whose ears you can see in a few photographs in today's chapter, all taken today).  On the subject of Kempton, it's worth mentioning that, as far as I can see, the levels of prize money offered over the winter at that course, owned by Jockey Club Racecourses, is exactly the same as that on offer at the ARC tracks, which is remarkable as ARC is constantly reviled for its poor prize money.

ARC's prize money is indeed poor, very poor in fact, but it's perhaps worth pointing out that Jockey Club Racecourses appear to offer exactly the same levels (or less, when one bears in mind that Southwell sometimes makes its races slightly more valuable than the norm, presumably because the track, because of its appalling surface, often struggles for runners).  On which subject, it possibly behoves me to make a few comments on the issue of racing on Good Friday.  Basically, I'm surprised that this created the stink that it did.  From the point of view of running a stable, Sunday racing is a far greater inconvenience than racing on weekday Bank Holidays.  As far as I can see, racing on Good Friday is much less of a problem for anyone running a stable than racing on (Easter) Sunday.

Theologically, I think that the same observations apply.  Is racing on the day on which our Lord was crucified any more offensive than racing on the day on which he was resurrected?  I can't see that it is - and, again, we already race on Easter Sunday, without the chattering classes getting too upset about things.  In fact, I'd suggest that, theologically, racing on Good Friday is less of a problem than racing on Easter Sunday.  And, of course, it's worth remembering that any trainer who wishes not to run horses on a Sunday (or on Good Friday) is at liberty to put his principles into practice, as the late and admirable Mikey Heaton-Ellis proved.

As regards those who say that we shouldn't race on Good Friday because the staff have to have one day off - well, words fail me that anyone could make that observation, other than people who have no idea whatsoever about how training stables work.  Days on which the stable does not have a runner are not days off for the staff (more's the pity, one might say!).  One tries to give staff as much time off as is feasible at weekends, but weekdays, at least, are generally normal working days, whether the stable has a runner or not.  In general, on Bank Holidays I don't have anyone (other than myself) working in the afternoon unless we have a runner, but I'd be surprised if there's a single stable in the land which works on the basis of giving the staff the day off on Good Friday.  Having runners on a Sunday is a massive inconvenience as it does mean at least one person working who would otherwise be off, but racing on Good Friday - well, by comparison it's not an issue at all.

I'm glad that the Lesters have come off the list of factors which might influence whether racing takes place on Good Friday.  The racing will be in the afternoon, not the morning, so if any jockey wishes to go to the Lesters and stay over in Birmingham, then he'll have time to get to the races.  And if he doesn't want to go to the races, well, he doesn't have to.  If he wants to get so drunk that he wouldn't be up to riding again the next afternoon (and it would be disappointing if he did) then again he doesn't have to ride.  Because of injury and suspension, no jockey rides every day of the year, so he has plenty of opportunities to get blind drunk and not ride the next day as it is.

Furthermore, I hope that racing on Good Friday won't be used as an excuse not to hold the Lambourn and Middleham Open Days.  Sunday racing was wrongly used as an excuse to terminate the Newmarket Open Day towards the end of the last century, but happily we've seen the light (2012 and onwards) and realised that stables can open on a raceday without things being a problem.  And the idea of upgrading the winter AW programme, putting on more higher-class and better-funded races through the winter, and then having a very valuable raceday in the spring restricted to horses who have run at least three times on the AW over the winter is a very good idea.  It's good for the winter AW programme, and it's good for the people who have horses good enough to contest such races.

So that's that - and I can't, of course, finish this chapter without pointing out (as you'd probably already noticed) that Barry Geraghty fell of Grandouet at the last fence in the novices' chase at Sandown yesterday because he lost his right stirrup a stride after the fence, an unseating which wouldn't have happened if he'd had his full foot in the stirrup.  And this last photograph was taken up at Tattersalls this afternoon, where the Newmarket British Legion held a very moving Remberance Service at which racing's chaplain Rev. Graham Locking (who nowadays is also chaplain to our branch of the British Legion) gave an excellent sermon.  This town and the racing community in general is blessed to have him.  I've heard a rumour that we're to lose him - let's hope that that's not true.

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