Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Start of the Flat?

Great excitement.  The new Flat season is finally underway.  Common sense, of course, says that the new season began three months ago today, on 1st January, but a few years ago an edict came out to tell us that the winter racing is not proper racing (ie winners, even black-type winners, in it don't count towards the jockeys' championship) so we should ignore it, and act as if the new season doesn't start until the resumption of grass racing.  And that happened on Saturday, so that's good.  The problem, of course, is that if you blinked, you'd have missed it.  There were three Flat meetings in GB on Saturday, one at Doncaster on turf and two, at Great Leighs and Kempton, on the AW, one seemingly on normal Polytrack and one seemingly on very, very deep sand with atrocious kickback.

The next day, Sunday, of course, saw a new week begin - and this, one would have thought, is obviously the first full week of the turf season.  It contains two - yes, that's not a misprint, TWO - turf Flat fixtures: Doncaster on the Sunday and Musselburgh on the Friday.  Nothing at all on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Saturday.  (Well, there is, of course, racing on those days, but just no Flat turf racing).  I suppose that the answer is that this isn't the first week of the new season, as apparently it begins on 2,000 Guineas Day and ends on Champion Stakes Day.  Sellers on the AW  during that period naturally count, but Group races, eg the Craven Stakes, or the Group One Racing Post Trophy, don't count.  (What we are meant to deduce from this I don't know, other than that GBR is hellbent on pissing off both Doncaster and the Racing Post).

So perhaps I'm unfair to feel that GBR, if they want to do something useful to promote racing as they should be doing, should be rejigging the fixture list to ensure that when turf racing begins for the year, it begins with a roar (ie at least one fixture every day) rather than with a whimper (ie two fixtures a week).  Their answer presumably is that they aren't failing in this duty because the season hasn't yet begun, and won't begin for another month.  The drawback, of course, is that there are quite a lot of people, ie racing's core following, who are interested in racing, and for whom 'The Start of the Flat' genuinely is (or used to be) a big deal, and that Doncaster followed by Folkestone and Leicester et al. early the following week, followed by the Rosebery at Kempton on Easter Saturday followed by Warwick and Yarmouth on Easter Monday followed by the Craven Meeting followed by the Newbury Spring Meeting followed by the Sandown mixed meeting followed by dot, dot, dot, used to be something to quicken the pulse.

That's what pisses me off about GBR: it has an easy stock answer to anyone who opposes its actions, and that answer is the Luddite smear.  It's an easy defence, but it's nonsense.  I'm not a Luddite.  I'm not opposed to change.  Many changes are very good, eg 48-hour declarations, and I'd be strongly in favour of many more, eg overnight declaration of jockeys, so that what appears in the morning paper is what will happen unless it becomes unfeasible, as opposed to the current situation of what appears in the morning paper being likely to happen unless someone feels that a better option has come available overnight.  But I am opposed to change if it's change for the worse: and if anyone feels that the current entry into the new season is more, rather than less, exciting now than it used to be, then they either have a very short memory, or have only been following the sport for such a brief period of time that they don't remember how exciting it used to be.

To more positive subjects, Saturday's racing was very good in that it provided us with a useful reminder of the fact that you can get any horse beaten if you ride him badly enough.  Winning Post's report of the Dubai World Cup sums the California Chrome debacle up well: "One would hope that the basic lessons at jockey school include the guideline that if one is drawn wide with a short run to the first bend and the intention is to lead, one should revert to Plan B (ie dropping back in behind the leaders) rather than keep pushing forward around the outside if there is so much speed on one's inside that one can't get to the front before said bend.  Unfortunately for fans of California Chrome, such a fallback option did not seem to occur to Espinoza ..."

"... Undeterred, Espinoza kept pushing out wide all the way around the first turn.  He finally got to the front as the horses reached the back straight, but his mount had had to work very, very hard to do so ... It speaks volumes for California Chrome's courage that, despite this ill-judged ride, he was still able to finish second, beaten only 2.75 lengths ... Aside from the Dubai World Cup, the other races on the night were by and large won by the best horse, rather than by the horse ridden least badly."

And we can conclude our review of Saturday's racing by moving from jockeys who seemingly (judged on the evidence of one very high-profile 'slaughter' - and I should add that Winning Post's reporter went on to observe that, "Victor Espinoza's uninspired performance on California Chrome was particularly disappointing in light of the fact that earlier in the evening he had given another Californian raider, the Bob Baffert-trained Secret Circle, a copybook ride to win the Dubai Golden Shaheen over 1200m on the dirt") receive more chances than they deserve to those who deserve every opportunity which they receive and (many) more.  John Gosden is admirably old-school (and no doubt GBR regard that as one of the great oxymorons of our time) in his loyalty to the jockeys who ride work for him, as Robert Havlin in particular can testify.  John trained two winners in England on Saturday, one (in a Listed race) at Kempton AW and one at Great |Leighs AW, and I was delighted to note that two of his work-riders/our jockeys (Nicky Mackay and Robert Tart, pictured respectively on Ethics Girl above and on Senator Matt here) rode them.  That made for a very nice start to the Flat.  If indeed it has started.

1 comment:

AlanM said...

Nicely put.Agree with everything in there John but then, as dedicated followers of racing, we are not the people who matter.Like all those businesses who offer the best deals to new customers racing is chasing a market (which may or may not exist). So they need to understand the way racing works, the season starts not when the racing begins but when the powers that be choose. See it's clearly common sense.