Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The view on Christmas Eve

I was asked on Saturday evening if we'd had a good season, and my reply went thus: "Well, we should have three more runners this year, so we can either look at that either as three opportunities to make our meagre tally of winners slightly less meagre or as a maximum of three more disappointments."  Well, since then we have had two of those three runners.  We haven't, I'm afraid to say, been able to make the tally any less meagre, but we've only had one further disappointment.  That came from Russian Link, who pulled herself up at Fakenham on Sunday.  Dear little Senator Matt, though, put in a much more spirited performance at Kempton (where he is pictured in the first two photographs) the next day, so that at least allowed us to come home happy.

Russian Link's (non-)performance was embarrassingly tame and massively disappointing, but at least it wasn't a total bolt from the blue, as she had also downed tools on the two occasions I had run her on the AW last winter.  I'd thought and hoped, though, that she had grown out of such feeble behaviour, as she had run her heart out on her first three hurdle races this autumn.  On Sunday, though, dropping back to what proved to be a very fast-run two miles, she decided more or less from the outset that this was too much like hard work.  Ah well - at least she took nothing out of herself so can maybe run again this year (I've entered her for Doncaster on Monday, back over two and a half miles and back in mares-only company) so perhaps we might still have time to get our three more disappointments after all.

Senator Matt, though, was a model pupil at the races, as he has been at home all autumn  He's been a late developer and had proved nowhere near mature enough to run on his previous go in training (with my friend Jeremy Gask) but we've had it easy as he was midway through his four-year-old year by the time that he arrived here, so he's been strong enough to thrive on his work this time around.  And he's been a delight to have around the place these past five months.  I'd been thinking that, having a four-year-old make his debut less than a fortnight short of his fifth birthday, we might be taking things eye-catchingly slowly; but when the race came along it proved that we were being far from tardy, as there was an unraced 10-year-old (who, apparently, had only been named a couple of weeks previously) in the field.  And what was nice was that both horses showed enough to say that the wait might eventually prove worthwhile.

Those outings, and a couple of trips up to the stud to take horses off for a spell, behind us, we're now pulling up the drawbridge for a day or two for Christmas.  I'd like to think that this will give me a few spare minutes at some point to go off at a few tangents on this blog, but in practice it probably won't as there'll still be plenty of work to do in the yard, plenty of horses to be ridden (and plenty of food to be eaten, wine to be drunk, books to be read and TV to be watched).  But I can't help scratching my head in bemusement at the topicality of the announcement of Qatar's £25 million sponsorship of Glorious Goodwood, which was extremely well timed for me as my columns this week in both Winning Post (Aus) and Al Adiyat (UAE), each written a couple of days before the announcement of the sponsorship), both ruminate on the either/or choice faced by Britain's racing authorities, ie either to direct funds towards persuading an international elite to run their best horses in Britain's top races or to try to arrest the on-going withering of grass-roots domestic ownership.  Sadly, there doesn't seem to be enough money in the kitty to do both.

These musings had been prompted by my reading of continued hand-wringing about the supposed problem of small fields.  (I write 'supposed' because, of course, if I am writing in my roles as trainer and owner, small fields are not a problem.  The problem for owners and trainers is big fields, because then one gets eliminations, which are one of the biggest bugbears of those trying to race horses.  And, of course, races are generally harder to win - on the occasions when one isn't eliminated - if one has seven opponents rather than 17).  Anyway, we constantly hear nowadays about the 'problem' of small fields; including from the BHA, which strikes me as ironic because small fields are an inevitable consequence of current official policies.

As Julian Muscat pointed out in the Racing Post, there are 1,600 fewer horses in training than there were in 2008, but 650 more races.  If these 1,600 missing horses had each run an average of five times a year, then that would be 8,000 fewer runs.  If the average field-size is eight runners, that would be 1,000 fewer races required to keep things as they were, not 650 more; if the average is 10 runners, that would be 800 fewer races required, not 650 more.  Furthermore, bearing in mind that in recent years annual prize money has risen by £10,000,000 but minimum values have stagnated (because, over and above a greater number of races being staged, any extra money goes into the top races which only a handful of owners contest, rather than into the run-of-the-mill races in which the bulk of British owners compete).  The choice is either to encourage the international elite or to encourage grass-roots domestic ownership, and a consequence of choosing the former will inevitably be a proliferation of small fields, especially with an expanded racing programme.

So you can see why the announcement of £25 million of extra prize money, all going to Glorious Goodwood, managed to bring an ironic smile to my face.  Still, I'm doing what I can to keep the BHA in the style to which it is accustomed, as I was reminded today by a letter which I received from it, sent by its secretariat at Weatherbys.  The annual re-registration of my colours (royal blue, dark blue cap) will be effected on 1st January, at a cost of £62.90 (inc. VAT).  That's nice - and as I first registered my colours in 1985 and they have been re-registered every year since then, it's good to be reminded of what a good contribution we all make towards keeping our leaders and their functionaries off the streets.

That thought, though, was not the full extent of the brahma.  My attention was drawn a few weeks ago to an offer in a shop which had an item priced at £9.99, with the further inducement that one could buy "two for £20".  The brahma is that I think that the BHA's offer regarding colours' registration can better that.  It is £62.90 for a year, but one can bulk-buy, at a cost of £629 for 10 years' registration, or £1,258 for 20 years.  You might point out that that is not as bad an offer as the one in that shop because, although neither provides a discount for bulk-buying, at least the BHA don't put the price per unit up for bulk-buyers.  However, I don't think that it's that simple: as anyone accustomed to calculating odds (ie all racing folk) will appreciate, there is a good chance of one not living long enough to get full value from the full term of one's registration; so, while there is no chance of one paying less per unit for bulk-buying, one could very easily end up paying (significantly) more.  There isn't anything in the small print about partial refunds being made to those who do not survive the duration - and, even if there was, I'm not sure that the deceased owner would be in a position to collect the refund.

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