Friday, January 24, 2014

We like Fakenham

Pleasant trip to Fakenham yesterday.  It's generally a pleasant place to be as it's a lovely, friendly, very well-run course in a lovely part of the country; and yesterday it was really nice as, against all odds, the rain stopped for the afternoon and the sun came out, even though it had rained torrentially in the morning and, unbelievably, was starting to rain again as we left.  Despite the misleading and temporary sunshine, though, it was, very tiring for the horses.  There always used to to a few places where one might expect the ground not to be too heavy, but all racecourses race so often nowadays that the turf gets plenty of hammer, and consequently is less able to be resistant to extreme weather; so even the Fakenhams, Tauntons and Ludlows are currently bottomless during this spell of extremely wet weather.  Thus the ground was very, very testing.  It was atrocious on the home turn and very bad on the turn into the back straight, but fortunately in other parts one could pick one's way and race on relatively acceptable going.

But, overall, the ground was very tiring.  And consequently good jockeys came into their own, hence our getting yet another illustration of the skill of William Kennedy.  Of the six races run while we were there, there was a faller at the last in four of them, and that was solely because the horses were so tired.  Watching all the races before ours (we were in the fifth) it was clear that the jockeys in general were putting their horses under too much pressure too early in the race, hence some of the horses being legless on the very bad ground in the uphill final two furlongs.  As Wasabi was having her first hurdle race, and her first race for eight months, she was far from battle-hardened, so it was clearly important that what would be a baptism of fire wouldn't be any more gruelling than it needed to be.

Anyway, she ran a lovely race.  I impressed on William that, while we might as well race prominently, he should chose his own pace in the third quarter of the race, and if the other jockeys were going harder than was wise, he shouldn't be lulled into doing likewise.  Anyway, he was superb.  She was in front going to the third last hurdle, but a grey mare circled the field to take the lead off her, and a few of the others kicked on too.  Consequently, she had dropped back to fifth approaching the second last - but, unlike some of her rivals, was merely tired, rather than exhausted.  She then plugged on back into third place going to the last hurdle, and fortunately was able to muddle her way over it - unlike the grey mare, whom she'd repassed and who fell heavily at the final hurdle, simply because of being so tired.  It looked bad, but happily that mare eventually got up.

So that was a good start to Wasabi's hurdling career, finishing third (and pictured in this paragraph returning to the unsaddling enclosure) behind two more seasoned mares who had both already been placed over hurdles and who had both shown decent winning form on the Flat.  In fact, the runner-up had shown very decent form on the Flat, having finished second in a Listed race last spring before running midfield behind Estimate in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot, the start before Estimate won the Gold Cup.  So that was good - as was the fact that, by and large, she jumped very nicely, and that she showed a good genuine attitude - and, the icing on the cake, she appears to have come out of the race very well.  So we can continue to travel in hope!

With our not winning our race, I was very pleased that the winning trainer/jockey combination was the local team of Noel and Jack Quinlan (pictured here in the winner's enclosure at Stratford a few years ago).  They're both doing very and deservedly well, and it was a particularly good day for Noel's stable yesterday as he trained that 14/1 winner over jumps and a 16/1 winner on the Flat at Southwell, ridden by Paddy Aspell.  I hope that he and some of his owners backed them in a double - while another double which was very pleasing would have been the two Marco Botti employees who saluted the judge at Southwell, Paddy's winner having been preceded by Natalia Gemelova riding a 6/1 winner for John Jenkins earlier in the afternoon.

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