Saturday, August 23, 2014

Continuing (more or less) straight on ...

This is very poor: eight days between chapters.  No excuse for that.  So I won't offer one; I'll just carry on where we left off.  Eight days ago we were two days into our five-day sequence of runners.  We weren't going well because we'd kicked off with Wasabi running atrociously at a much-too-wet Chepstow and then Zarosa being scratched from a much-too-dry Nottingham.  After that, the faint-hearted might have drawn stumps for a while.  Giles Bravery and I had travelled down to Chepstow with horses who ran in consecutive races, and we both 'enjoyed' lamentable runs.  Were we daunted?  Well, yes we were; but, even so, we (timidly) headed off together to Ripon on the Saturday, where again we ran in consecutive races.

Thank God we did!  We went from one extreme to the other.  Giles' runner Puzzle Time, a four-year-old daughter of Araafa whom he bought for £500 as a yearling and who has now won four races and who is pictured in the third paragraph, landed a hat-trick by taking the penultimate race at 11/1; and then Indira landed her second victory of the year by taking the last race bravely by a head.  Thursday had been about as dismal an outing as one can get, while this really was terrific.

We had a new jockey for Indira, who is pictured in the first and second paragraphs.  I'd guessed that the previous jockey to have won on her, Robert Winston, would be sure to be at Ripon on Great St. Wilfrid Day, but surprisingly he was at Newmarket.  So Graham Lee got the call-up, which was terrific as he's an outstanding rider, and now ranks as one of only two men to have ridden a winner for this stable both on the Flat and over jumps.  As you'd expect, he rode her really, really well.

It was a chilly, overcast, windy afternoon at Ripon, and there was a strong headwind down the back straight.  Consequently I wanted her to be covered up in the first half of the race - which, from barrier one, meant that, particularly at Ripon where they tend to crowd over onto the far rail, one would run the risk of being boxed in, even in a six-runner race.  But I needn't have worried: Graham was excellent, extricating her in good time and then steering her to a thrilling head victory, which reflected very well on both horse and rider.

Great joy all round, joy which could only have been exceeded if Dream Walker, whom I bred and who features in the fourth and fifth illustrations, had run even better than he did: it was lovely that he ran when I was at the races, and I was very proud to see him finish second under top weight in a big field for a valuable handicap earlier in the afternoon.  He's a terrific horse and it was lovely to see him bounce back to form back on a rain-affected track.  It would be great to see him win another race this season - albeit it would be even greater to see one of his younger half-siblings who live here (Roy and So Much Water, pictured in paragraph six this morning and in paragraph seven earlier in the week) salute the judge!

So that was the third leg of our sequence.  The fourth was a debacle.  I was on ATR's Sunday Forum which was really good, but it did complicate the day.  Largely thanks to the kindness and help of Joe Akehurst and Tim Phillips, it proved feasible to move horse and people around - but, once we'd all reached Southwell by different directions, it became aware that we were on a wild goose chase.  I'd declared on good ground and the ground was still 'good' during Sunday afternoon - except that it wasn't good at all.  Well, it was good in the sense that it was in good condition, which was a big help; but not a big enough help, as I'd have called it 'good to firm' for Flat racing, never mind jumping.

Having walked part of the track, I thought I probably ought to get a second opinion rather than just withdraw her straightaway, so I sought Denis O'Regan, who'd just ridden in a race.  His voice reached me before he appeared around the corner, and the phrase which I caught wasn't encouraging: "Like a road"!  Anyway, his words didn't make me reassess my decision not to run: "It's firm ground.  My horse was fine on it, but he loves fast ground.  But it's firm".  So that was a wasted trip which I could have done without - sentiments, I'm sure, echoed by Rebecca Menzies, who, I believe, also took her mare out of the race because of unsuitable ground after having made the journey to the course for the supposedly good ground.  Still, we live to fight another (less dry) day.

The final round of the sequence was Gift Of Silence at Windsor on Monday.  She ran her usual good race, notching up another minor placing by finishing second, beaten by a better horse.  That, I say slightly sadly, is that, as she now has a new home.  Having noted that she was running in a seller, Bernard Llewellyn and his son John, good people who train in Wales, asked if I'd consider selling her.  She wasn't claimed, and they made me a fair offer.  I'd been pleased that she hadn't been claimed, and to anyone else, and for any other reason, I would have refused the offer.

But I thought it a good thing to let them have her: she'll be in very safe hands and has been bought for the best of reasons, to give Bernard's 16-year-old grandson Jordan some rides in amateur races.  She'll be the perfect horse for him, as she's tough and genuine, and can run frequently, over any distance and on any ground.  She runs well pretty much every time and will win again at some point in her next few races.  Under normal circumstances one would not be pleased to see a horse whom one had just sold (unless one had sold him/her for a fortune) win for the new connections shortly afterwards; but if she does, I'll just feel happy that I've enabled a friend's boy to ride his first winner.  I was sad to wave her goodbye, but it was a good, and the correct, thing to do.  And I'll be cheering her on as she bids to enhance her record which currently stands at one win, five seconds and six thirds from 18 starts.  She's a true trouper.

On the subject of troupers, I'll just end by saying that Indira (12 starts in the past eight months for two wins, two seconds, four thirds and two fourths, and only twice unplaced) was thus described after her last race in the Racing Post: "Indira looked well beforehand and ...".  Why have I mentioned this?  Well, at Newmarket on her previous start 15 days previously when she was beaten a neck, all the RUK pundit could say about her was that she didn't look well "in herself", which seems unlikely if she looked so well 15 days later.  Had that Newmarket observation been true, it would have been worth saying.  But it was nonsense.  She had a few dark patches of sweat on her as she had got quite agitated  in the saddling boxes and it was a very humid evening.  But there's the world of difference between sweating and looking unwell (in our out of oneself).  (And she wasn't sweating as profusely as the unplaced William Haggas-trained odds-on favourite, which the pundit didn't mention).

If I'd been on ATR and got something as wrong as this, which is perfectly possible (although I wouldn't have added the "in herself" bit), I'd laugh about it at my own expense after the race, saying say something like, "God, and to think that I didn't think that she looked very well - got that one wrong, didn't I?".  This guy merely repeated his misinformation afterwards.  I've complained in this blog previously about Tom O'Ryan failing to prevent a side-kick from talking nonsense, and I'm afraid that I'm having to do so again.  Does this matter?  Well, in this instance it doesn't.  But it could do: the racehorse population is a transitory one nowadays, and I've known horses change stables for less than this.  Fair criticism is fine, but misinformed criticism is not helpful - and, believe me, if she had looked unwell at Newmarket that night I'd be the first to tell you, as I'm my own sternest critic.

Finally, the weather update.  It's becoming more autumnal, and we'll be flat getting to 20 degrees again this year, never mind 30.  The nights are getting colder and the dawns chillier, but we're still getting some splendid mornings, as you can see in the final few photographs, all taken over the past few days.  The final one, in this paragraph, is of Indira looking either well or unwell in herself under Hannah on Side Hill on Wednesday morning, four days after her Ripon victory.  She might return to Catterick on Wednesday, by which time Zarosa might have been to Chepstow, where she is declared to run on Monday.

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