Monday, September 15, 2014

Riding, good and bad

Time to salute Bernard Llewellyn and his son John, plus Bernard's grandson Jordan Williams.  After Gift Of Silence had finished second at Windsor last month (the first two pictures were taken that evening) Bernard made me an offer for her, having identified her as a suitable horse to give Jordan, who had just turned 16, an introduction to race-riding.  In an ideal world one would never part with a horse, but the reality is that the quickest way to the poor-house for any trainer is owning too great a proportion of the stable.  I owned Gift Of Silence; and the percentage of the string which I own had been creeping up.  So, as the Llewellyns are good people who would take good care of the mare and as they had an excellent reason for wanting her, I accepted the offer - knowing that if she could do well for them, I would be able to rejoice in their success.

Anyway, as you may know, she has run twice for her new connections, ridden by Jordan each time, and has won them both.  She won over 65 for us at Yarmouth last season, and on Friday she topped that, scoring by a short head at Chester over 70, carrying a 6lb penalty for having scored off 64 the previous week.  I've always been proud to say that no horse has improved for leaving this stable, but I don't know that I can say that any more - although I think that the difference which has turned a perennial place-getter into a repeat winner has been Jordan's excellent riding, as well as the selection of type-of-race.

Jordan is very, very good.  In a professional race, there isn't much scope for getting an edge over your rivals, as all the riders are good.  In an amateurs' race, though, the difference between the best riders and the worst is massive, and Jordan has ridden her superbly each time.  She wouldn't have won those two races if I'd still trained her as I wouldn't have run her in them, but I can now see my error.  Amateurs' races tend to be weaker, and are a good opening if one has a good amateur; and, for a horse such as Gift Of Silence who needs to be held up, they can be ideal as the leaders almost invariably go too fast.  However, I'd tried her with an apprentice one time last year and that didn't work out at all: she can be strong, and she went from last to first around the outside in the second furlong, and ever since then I'd only looked at races in which she could be ridden by a senior jockey.  But Jordan has been brilliant on her, and his win on Friday was really, really exciting.  The Llewellyns are some of racing's best people, and it's been lovely that she's won for them.

Mind you, when I say that in normal races there is little scope for getting an edge over one's rivals because all the riders are good, I'm overlooking the fact that good riders don't always ride to their best.  We've read acres of praise of Ryan Moore's so-called act of genius in winning the Irish Champion Stakes on The Grey Gatsby, but did he do anything special?  I'm a massive Ryan Moore fan and this isn't intended as any disparagement at all, but I'm sure that he'd be the first to tell you that all he did in the race was what any competent jockey is meant to do any time he rides: he went at an even pace that his mount would be able to maintain, and didn't go any farther than he had to.  That's not genius: that's just the basics.  It just so happened that he was the only jockey in the race to do that, as all the others - not just Joseph - went too hard, too soon or too wide.   Or two of the three.  Or all three.

Poor Joseph has received a ton of flak for the ride, and it is indeed fair to say that Australia would have won by at least a couple of lengths if given what by any conventional standards would be called a normal ride.  But it's worth pointing out that his ride certainly wasn't the only bad ride in the race, and it certainly wasn't the worst.  Pat Smullen rode Alkasser worse than Joseph rode Australia, and if Joseph had ridden Australia like that he'd have been beaten more than a neck, even if he would not have finished 43 lengths behind the second last horse, as Alkasser did.  The ride on Alkasser guaranteed that he would finish last - but, then again, the horse's form suggested that he was very likely to finish last anyway.  Of course, people notice if you ride an odds-on shot badly, but don't pay any attention if you ride a 150/1 shot badly - but, even so, Joseph must have found it hard to swallow being the sole recipient of criticism after the race.  And this, by the way, isn't a criticism of Pat Smullen, a terrific jockey: I'm sure that he, like the guards at Dachau and Auschwitz, was merely obeying orders.

Continuing the theme of jockey-related observations, I feel slightly uneasy about the fact that Thierry Jarnet riding Treve seems to have brought the Little Englanders out of us.  The British press has had us up in arms about Frankie, who is retained by her owner, not riding the mare.  But what's the big deal?  We haven't lost any sleep at all about the fact that the same situation applies with Toronado, who is invariably ridden by Richard Hughes.  I suppose that we would disapprove of that arrangement were Richard Hannon and Richard Hughes French - but in general we tend to approve when a trainer shows enough loyalty to his/her stable jockey to say that he/she would like the stable jockey to ride, rather than whomever the owner has produced.  We saluted Peter Walwyn when he told Daniel Wildenstein that he could find another trainer if he wasn't prepared to use the stable jockey (Pat Eddery) and I'm sure that if, say, Darley decided to retain, say, Christophe Soumillon to ride all its horses in the various stables, we would salute Mark Johnston, say, if he declared that he would prefer still to use Joe Fanning.

We have a trip north tomorrow: Saleal is set to make his hurdles debut at Sedgefield. It looks a suitable race, so let's hope that he performs creditably.  He should do.  Zarosa (seen yesterday in the final photograph showing that she's in good heart, with Indira, who is entered at Catterick on Saturday, doing likewise in the background) is entered at Pontefract two days later, but that's unlikely to be soft enough for her.  The preceding three photographs were taken on Friday, a beautiful day.

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