Friday, June 06, 2014


I'm ashamed to say that I haven't written a chapter of this blog since last weekend, which is poor.  I can assure you that I haven't just been standing idle, but - but that's no excuse really.  The weather has been a major topic as usual, and we've had more rain; but just now it's rather pleasant, as this chapter's last three photographs, taken this morning, suggest.  The first three were taken on Sunday, another nice day, but the ones in the middle (of Russian Link and Joe Akehurst) sum up the middle of the week.

The weather has been dominating running plans, too, as well as dominating my thoughts and writings (as always).  What was really annoying was that there was a very weak race at Chepstow on Monday on a very wet track - but I wasn't happy with Zarosa, so she wasn't able to run in it.  If she hadn't run in the race on unsuitably fast ground at Newcastle not long before that ...; but one can drive oneself mad by berating oneself for not having had the wisdom of hindsight in advance.  Still, all might come right in the end - and the end could be in the near future as she's entered in a race at Nottingham on Thursday, where the track is currently wet.

Today, of course, has been lovely, and you don't need many lovely days in June to turn a wet track into a very dry one - but there's no guarantee that the next few days will be as lovely as today has been.  (In fact, they are forecast to be considerably less lovely; but that, of course, probably means nothing).  However, we've got two stayers entered next week (Zarosa and Ethics Girl) and their ground preferences are polar opposites, so we might get things right for one horse, at least.  But even that can't be taken for granted.  Ethics Girl was declared for Catterick today, but the inch of rain which fell in the hours after declaration time on Wednesday put paid to that challenge (which was a shame, as the race looked ideal in every respect other than the ground on which it was run).

I can't, though, move off the subject of ground without going back to Haydock, metaphorically rather than literally, of course.  In a recent chapter I touched on how totally Haydock had failed in its attempt to help people to know what ground to expect.  After the meeting in question (the Temple Stakes meeting) the clerk of the course was quoted as having said something so bizarre that I just assumed that I must have been hallucinating when I had believed that I had read it.  I consequently banished his words and the topic from my mind.

Anyway, the gist of it was that when a clerk of the course is issuing a going report in advance of a meeting, he is not relaying what the ground is at the time; he is passing on his  best guess of how the jockeys in the first race on raceday will describe the ground after they have ridden on it.  WTF??  Surely the Haydock clerk is the only person in the country who subscribes to this line of thinking?  Surely every other clerk of the course just gives a report of how the ground is at the time, and surely every trainer accepts that that is what he has done, and then studies the weather forecast to try to work out how the ground is likely to change between then and the time of their race?

Anyway, having been so stunned by the Haydock clerk's pronouncement, I just assumed that I'd misread it, and moved on - until I read in the Racing Post on Sunday a letter from Nick Williams, a very sensible trainer, in which he wrote, "In Talk of the Tracks last Sunday I read about the going debacle at the two-day Temple Stakes meeting at Haydock, with its host of non-runners, and could not believe the words of clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright.  Surely all the betting public, owners and trainers want to know is what the ground is at a particular time, not what the clerk thinks the jockeys are going to call it after the first race.  Tellwright's attitude and subsequent comments are a disgrace."

I found it reassuring to discover that, if I had indeed been hallucinating, then I was in good company, because then clearly Nick Williams must have been hallucinating too.

To change the subject and to end on the most downbeat of notes, options for being in good company are less in the future than they have been in the past, subsequent to one of the nicest men in the game, John Hills, losing the unwinnable fight.  I didn't know John well, but I felt that I did: he was the kindest, friendliest man one could ever meet, and it was always a pleasure to bump into him and be greeted with much more genuine warmth than one deserved.

I remember one time I was unwise enough to go to a Goffs/DBS function at a very smart London night-club, only to realise on arrival that I was like a fish out of water in such an environment - except that, thank God, one of the other guests was John Hills, whose natural kindness was such that, on seeing an acquaintance looking like a little boy lost, he immediately came over to chat to me to make me feel at home, when his time would clearly have been better and more enjoyably spent talking to pretty much anyone else in the room.  People blessed with such innate kindness don't grow on trees - hence it is very, very hard to try to grasp how it is that fate can decree that such a lovely man can be made to leave us a few decades too soon.  The word 'tragedy' is grossly overused - but the death of John Hills really is a tragedy.  There is no doubt that, on leaving this earth, he has headed upwards rather than downwards, and we can only pray that he can rest in peace up there.

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