Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Did his job too well?

There was a depressing sign of the times in the Racing Post today.  When I was on the Sunday Forum on Sunday I tried to steer Matt Chapman away from describing anyone as the best jockey.  You can tie yourself up in knots agonising over whether Ryan Moore is better than, say, Richard Hughes or Christophe Soumillon, or whether A P McCoy or Ruby Walsh is superior, or whether John Francome or Richard Dunwoody was the better - but if one does, it's just time wasted.  It's easiest to stick to saying that there is none better than xxx.  With trainers it's even harder to say with certainty that xxx is the best, or better than yyy.

All one can do is to compile a list of trainers who (in your opinion) do the job as well as it can be done.  One can't really say that any one trainer on that list is the best, but one can say about any of them that there is none better.  Anyway, that list in my mind has been reduced by one with the news that Noel Quinlan (pictured talking to Richard Pitman, with his son Jack alongside, in the first paragraph in the winner's enclosure at Stratford in June 2011 after Peader Miguel had won a hurdle race)  has relinquished his license.  It is very depressing that a trainer of Noel's calibre has had to give up the unequal struggle to attract a viable number of paying customers to the stable and to balance the books - particularly as he is a shrewd businessman as well as a top horseman, and is a very hard worker and excellent company to boot.  Probably fair to say that that bell which was tolling today for Noel's training career was tolling to a greater or lesser extent for all of us.

I'd like to move to a happy subject to keep the ying-and-yang theory alive, but I won't because before finding out about Noel's relinquishment I had already decided that I ought to touch upon the BHA's race-planning successes.  If you have been long-suffering enough to read recent previous chapters, you will have gathered that I have been bemused by the fact that we have simultaneously officialdom wringing its hands about the supposed problem of small fields and the fact that we have a racing programme which ensures that a significant portion of the racehorse population (ie lowly-rated older handicappers) can only run far less frequently than their connections would like.  (Leaving aside the option of running horses in woefully unsuitable races - after all, there is rarely a full field in a Group race, so the option always exists of giving one's 47-rated handicapper a run in say, the Coronation Cup - or at level weights against Tryster in the Coral Winter Classic, come to that).

Anyway, I was delighted recently to receive an email from the BHA's race-planning department letting me know that a race had been left aside on 18th April at Nottingham to fill a void.  I naturally wrote back to explain (which I hoped that they would already know) that lowly-rated horses were continually being eliminated even during the winter, and that (as they would already know) there were even fewer openings coming up in the coming weeks.  I suggested that a 46-55 or 46-60 handicap at any distance from a mile to a mile and a half would be oversubscribed and would be greeted with thanks by plenty of people.

Anyway, a couple of days ago I looked on Weatherbys' site to see what had been put in the slot.  Ah, that's good (well, more or less): a mile and six 46-65 handicap.  I could make entries for two horses who are currently very poorly served with racing opportunities, Fen Flyer and Senator Matt.  The likelihood, of course, was that, with the ceiling as high as 65, these two horses, both rated in the 40s, would be eliminated - but at least we had a race in which I could enter them, even if probably not run them.  I duly went to enter them, and - WTF? - the race is for three-year-olds only!

A handicap for lowly rated three-year-olds over 14 furlongs in the middle of April?  Who the hell suggested that?  And, more to the point, who the hell thought that that was a good idea?  It's very debatable whether there should be any three-year-olds' handicaps over that far this early in the season, never mind more of them.  If one of these races exists, one might run a slow three-year-old in it if one really was needy and/or greedy; but nobody, surely, would suggest creating such a race.  Come Derby Day we'll hear plenty of agonising about whether three-year-olds can cope with stepping up to 12 furlongs this early in their careers - and this race is two furlongs farther and seven weeks earlier!  I'll be interested to see how many entries and runners it attracts, but I'd be happy to take short odds about the race being re-opened and/or re-offered.

Anyway, scratching my head at this piece of silliness, while I was on the site I decided to go through the forthcoming meetings again to see if there were any openings for these disenfranchised horses which I might have missed.  Hence my looking at the same day's Thirsk programme - and, b**ger me - is that a brahma?!  You will recall last year that a long-forgotten rule (that each programme should contain two races beyond a mile whose distances add up to at least two and a half miles) was invoked to ensure that an AW track at Newcastle would not be allowed to stage night racing, with there being no plans to install floodlights other than up the straight mile.

Of course, the brahma was that when this rule was dredged up from the mire, it became apparent that everyone had forgotten that it existed - and that everyone included many clerks of the courses and the BHA's race-planning department, it having become commonplace to stage programmes which failed to abide by this rule.  I seem to recall that Kempton, a Jockey Club racecourse, was the course most frequently to honour this rule by the breach rather than the observance, but perhaps I recall incorrectly - and, anyway, the buck stops not with whichever Jockey Club Racecourse employee had been writing the course's programmes, but the the BHA's race-planning department which had been signing these programmes off.

Anyway, the world kept turning and we all took the rule (back) on board.  The rule had clearly been being ignored regularly, but we were wiser now; and illegal meetings would clearly now become a thing of the past.  So - WTF?  It's not merely that that meeting at Thirsk - 10 days hence - has only one race farther than a mile: it has only one race farther than seven furlongs!  There is a handicap at a mile and a half, and then the rest of the card is made up of races at seven furlongs or shorter.  So not only is there only one race farther than a mile, but the total distance of the two longest races on the card is only two miles and three furlongs.  Makes you wonder if Noel's problem was that he did his job too well.

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