Sunday, June 22, 2014

Royal Ascot reflections

Time to draw breath now after five days of Royal Ascot.  I'm exhausted, and we never even had an entry, never mind a runner.  Think how worn out the competitors must feel!  Highlight of the first day, Tuesday, of course, was the bumper at Stratford, in which Saleal made a very pleasing debut by finishing fourth.  He looked for much of the second half of the race as if he might finish second behind a race-fit dual point-to-point winner, but lack of seasoning just told at the end and fourth it was.

But that was more than good.  It was a very pleasing start to his career.  He has come home in very good shape from the outing, so let's hope that he can give his connections plenty more good days in the future.  If he does, that's entirely down to Hugh (pictured with him above and below, while this paragraph's photograph shows the horse cantering to post with Joe Akehurst, who rode him very nicely, as has always been the case whenever he's ridden for this stable) who tracked him down a year ago and who deserves all the credit for anything which this horse goes on to achieve.

I saw some of the day's Royal Ascot racing on the television when I was at Stratford, and then I viewed the next four days' racing on the television here, enjoying Wednesday and Thursday on RUK and the last two days on Channel Four.  The news of Gok Wan's recruitment by C4 had made it an easy decision for me to opt for RUK, but my friend Liam Casey remarked to me on Thursday evening that Gok Wan was doing well, so I decided to switch sides the next day in the interests of both balance and research - and I'm glad that I did, because C4 put on a very good show, with Gok Wan, much to my surprise, fitting in very well.

I have to admit that my qualms on this subject were the result of the line of thought formerly expressed on the old Guiness ads: "I don't like it because I haven't tried it".  I'd never seen a programme featuring Gok Wan, and I didn't even know what he looked like, never mind what his TV shows are like.  However, I was aware that he presents the type of TV shows which I would never watch in a month of Sundays (are they called 'lifestyle' programmes?) and which are hugely popular with the general public.

And as the most popular programmes (eg East Enders, Coronation Street, Big Brother, X Factor, The Voice, Britain's Got  Talent, Top Gear ...) tend to the worst ones, the presence of any presenter synonymous with popular shows usually guarantees that I won't be watching.  (Mind you, I should point out that I watch so little TV that my not watching a programme means very little as there are so very, very few shows which I do watch).  Anyway, I needn't have feared: the show was very good, and so was Gok Wan.  I'd still have preferred James Sherwood, mind, because his contributions to the BBC's Royal Ascot shows used to be better than merely very good - but, that aside, one couldn't knock Gok.

I only noticed one James Sherwood moment, and it was so mildly done that it was very easy to miss.  Gok was asking a few women about their attire, and after having had one of them run through her garb, he very sweetly asked, "Do you feel that you are wearing the right clothes for Ascot?".  He said this so kindly that one had to be paying very close attention to realise that the answer which he felt ought to be given was ,"No".  The interviewee certainly didn't smell a rat, replying unsuspectingly, "Oh yes, I do ..."; and even then Gok's benevolence never faltered as he gave no hint whatsoever of any dissent on his part.  And all was sweetness and light.

What was less sweet and light was poor  Gai Waterhouse being told that she is Australia's equivalent of Sharon Osborne (another 'celebrity' of whom I've heard but whom I have never knowingly seen).  Gai, of course, is well able to cope with any situation, so she looked no more than slightly non-plussed by this bizarre comparison.  After all, she kept her cool when being attacked by a dalek, or whatever happened during her episode of Dr. Who, so this baffling analogy was unable knock her out of her stride.  However, I'm sure that she might have felt that there could be more suitable ways of introducing her to that small part of the British audience who don't know how she and her family fit into the scene in Sydney - but, by the same token, any other way would have made the interview considerably less funny and infinitely less memorable.

Other points of note from Royal Ascot?  Well, the Wesley Ward Show continues to roll, which must be a topic of concern for the BHA.  Having decided to adopt a zero-tolerance policy as regards the use of anabolic steroids, the BHA must be scratching its head about what to do about Wesley's Ward's repeated raids with his precocious two-year-old sprinters, bearing in mind that he is on record as saying that he trains all his horses on clenbuterol.  Clenbuterol, of course, is not an anabolic steroid; but in practice it might as well be regarded as such, because it is generally believed that long-term use of it will confer muscular benefits similar to those which a horse derives from a course of anabolic steroids.  Which is, of course, presumably why Ward's horses receive it.

Does this matter?  Well, I don't know.  One could say that as long as one sticks by the letter of the law, then all's good - and the letter of the law is that, as long as all traces of clenbuterol are out of the horse's system come race day, all is good.  But this is so contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the law that one has got to feel slightly uneasy about the whole situation.  It doesn't affect me at all because (a) I don't, unfortunately, train horses good enough to run in the races which Wesley Ward's charges contest, and (b) I'm not interested in two-year-olds' sprints anyway.  But I do know that if I'd trained the runner-up in the Windsor Castle Stakes, I wouldn't see the funny side of it.

Otherwise, the most bemusing aspect of the week was the pre-Royal Ascot Sale in London on the Monday night, at which horses holding an engagement at Royal Ascot sold for eye-catching sums.  The top lot (at £1,378,000) was Cappella Sansevero, a son of Showcasing who had cost 25,000 gns as a yearling, had won a Listed race in Ireland last month and who held an engagement in the Coventry Stakes the following afternoon, for which he had been put in as the 10/1 joint fifth-favourite.  He went on to run a terrific race in that, finishing second, and his connections can now console themselves with the knowledge that in the early '90s two consecutive Coventry Stakes runners-up (Dr Devious and Generous) went on to win the Derby the following year.

Cappella Sansevero might turn out not to have been too bad a buy, but one, tragically, can't say the same of a horse whom I'd been following.  Case Statement, another Showcasing, was bred by our long-term patrons Henry and Rosemary Moszkowicz, and was sold by them as a foal for 23,000 gns.  He was out of La Gessa, whom I trained to win a 10-furlong claimer at Yarmouth as a three-year-old and a 12-furlong handicap at Warwick at four.  Those wins were particularly sweet as I had trained both of La Gessa's parents (her sire Largesse and her dam En Grisaille, winner of the same claimer at Yarmouth) with all three of those horses having carried the Moszkowicz's colours.

Anyway, I was very pleased when Case Statement won a median auction maiden at Limerick on Derby Day - and surprised to see him entered in the Coventry Stakes after that.  The odds compilers clearly shared my surprise as he was put in the complete outsider at 50/1, but that didn't daunt bidders at the sale, where he fetched £190,800.  The tragic post-script was that he broke a hind leg at halfway in the Coventry Stakes and was put down.  Overall, I'm not sure that I can share the jubilation about the sale - but I'm sure that Phil McEntee would have liked it to have taken place last year when he had Baytown Kestrel, whom he'd bought unbroken at Ascot for a few hundred pounds earlier in the spring and who was being widely touted as a realistic chance in the Queen Mary (in which, inevitably, she ran badly before being dropped to selling/claiming company shortly afterwards).  It's not fanciful to think that she might have fetched a sum similar to that paid for Case Statement - and that really is a frightening thought.

The weather's lovely at present, as you can see.


neil kearns said...

Loving today's photos

Agree - much to my surprise about the Wan one who was surpisingly acceptable thought c4 coverage is on a different planet to the old beeb rubbish and very enjoyable

RP McArdle said...

I'd be interested to know why 2yo sprints dont interest you?

John Berry said...

Two-year-old sprints? Well, it's a bit like asking why the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National are more interesting than juvenile hurdles; why in soccer the World Cup is more interesting than the World Schoolboy Championships; why in athletics the Olympics are more interesting than the World Under-18s Championships; why in tennis Wimbledon is more interesting than Junior Wimbledon. Basically I, along with most sports fans, find adults' sport more interesting than children's sport.