Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas passed

Ah well, that's another Christmas passed. I hope that it passed pleasantly for you, although I won't ask as I'm sure that you are already hearing the question, "Did you have a good Christmas?" more frequently than you'd like. While clearly plenty of people have had a lousy time because of the weather, we've got off very lightly: the extremely rough weather which has caused such havoc for so many unfortunate people around the country hasn't been too extreme here. Our storms have been restricted to the night-times and, while we have had some very rough nights, the days have been relatively benign; and even the nights haven't caused the damage which other parts of the country have had to endure.

Yesterday, Christmas Day, was really rather pleasant, as you can see through Indira's ears in the previous paragraph and through Russian Link's ears in this one. In fact, yesterday morning I noticed an even more telling sign of the fact that the weather really has been (relatively speaking) kind to us recently: there are some daffodil shoots (seen in the third paragraph) poking their heads out of the soil at the bottom of the yard and, while they'll surely regret their precocity once the colder weather arrives and presumably they are still a long way off becoming flowers, the fact that there's any sign of them at all shows how clemently 2013 has been ending. Give it another week and we'll start to see what 2014 has in store.

In the interim, though, we have plenty of good races to watch, including the ones this afternoon on Channel Four. Disappointing field for the Feltham Novices' Chase, but. Hard to see that there is the paucity of talented novice chasers in Britain that this would imply, so why there were no horses with particularly good form in the race is not clear. It is, though, an illustration of the problems which jumps racing faces, although thankfully on this occasion the other two Grade One races are so interesting (even if the fascinating Christmas Hurdle lacks the depth one might have wishes) that we can overlook this blip.

By the way, I should correct my statement in a previous paragraph that the racing schedule favours unexposed horses other than in Grade One company: in National Hunt racing, such horses are favoured even in a high proportion of the Grade Ones, bearing in mind that (I would guess) more than half of the Grade One races are such that horses render themselves ineligible by doing well (ie are restricted to novices). Again, this is something that possibly isn't ideal from the point of view of making sure that the big races are contested by horses with whom the audience is familiar. There isn't a single Group One race on the Flat for which horses become ineligible by doing well; they do so by getting older, but not by doing well. For sure, novice races are a major part of the racing programme, including at the highest level; but we seem nowadays to have more and more Grade One novice races, and fewer and fewer races for seasoned horses promoted as the big occasions.

By the way, the fourth illustration in this chapter is of a chicken who has been surviving in and around Rayes Lane for a few weeks, presumably living off the semi-digested oats in the droppings on the ground, and whom I was pleased to see on Christmas morning.

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