Thursday, February 20, 2014


Indira (pictured pre-race with Ross Atkinson)
didn't finish in the frame yesterday - her first time out of the money in five runs - but that was no disgrace as she still ran well, finishing a close sixth, beaten three and a half lengths.  It turned out that I probably had dropped her back too much in distance as she just found some of her rivals a bit too fast for her, but she ran her usual sound and brave race, and kept on strongly to the line.  She can go back up to a mile next time, and I'd hope that she'll run well again then too.  It's always a pleasure to race them when they run well and bravely, and when they're ridden well, as she was again yesterday.

The nice thing about our race was it saw Newmarket's newest trainer Charlie Fellowes having his first runner - and what was even nicer was that that runner, Barbary, won, giving Charlie a dream start to his new career (shown post-race in the third paragraph).  I'm sure that he'll be a good and very successful trainer as he's very sensible, very conscientious, very thorough - and very likeable too, which is always a help.  He's had a very good grounding, having been with James Fanshawe for a few years, and having spent some time down under with the Freedmans before that.  I was delighted to see him have such a great start, and what made this happy occasion even nicer was that Freddy Tylicki, an excellent jockey who became a great addition to Newmarket's riding ranks when moving down here last year - was in the saddle.  I'd imagine that this might prove to have been the first of many winners for this combination.

Although not sunny, it was a mild, dry day, which was given an extra touch of spring by the sight of some yellow daffodils alongside the M25 south of London - a remarkable sight as early in the year as 19th February.  However, when one looked at the grass track it was easy to remember how very, very wet it has been, particularly at Lingfield which has had high rainfall even by England's general standards.  There is a National Hunt meeting scheduled for Lingfield next Wednesday, but the ground is so saturated that I'd imagine that they'll need unbroken drying weather (which seems unlikely) for the next week for that to be feasible.

The ground is in great repair as Lingfield has excellent groundstaff, but it is just completely saturated in places, like a sponge which just can't hold any more water; and the one thing that the groundstaff can't do anything about is how much rain falls from the sky.  In places, walking on the track was like walking on a bog, even to the extent of hearing the air bubbles rising up as you sank into it.
 The final 10m in front of the fences was solid ground - I'm not sure why, but it might just be because the soil has been so reinforced with sand - but you can see here, in front of the second last fence, what I mean.  (And you can see how the strip of ground immediately in front of the fence is so different to the rest of the ground).  It would be unfeasible to race on this ground at present; and a further complicating factor is that the hurdles track is the Flat track, and in an ideal world the next time that this turf was galloped on would be on Derby Trial day in May, as there's be only so much damage that you'd want to do to the ground at present.

So that was yesterday - and today's big news was the decision by Barry Connell not to run The Tullow Tank at Cheltenham.  I'm bowled over by his selflessness: he's put the interests of racing in general ahead of his own interests, sacrificing a chance of owning a Cheltenham winner in favour of saving racing the potential embarrassment of the press coverage and public comments which would inevitably follow were a horse to win at that meeting while his trainer was facing charges of possessing anabolic steriods.  He's a credit to the sport, and if Our Conor were to win the Champion Hurdle for him that would be a very fitting reward for a man who is clearly one of the true gentlemen on the turf.

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