Saturday, July 25, 2015

King George Day reflections

Having put up the medley of pictures which gave a representative illustration of Aaron's time here in the last chapter, it occurred to me that there was one which ought to have been there too.  So it will illustrate the first paragraph of this next chapter.  We only scratched the surface of breaking in a horse, but I hope that I explained the theories to him, and gave him some very brief exposure to the practice of it.  Practice, of course, makes perfect (well, of course, in the real world it doesn't: it makes less imperfect) and he didn't do nearly enough get close to perfection, but he had a taster, and what little I had him doing, he did very well, as I think that this photograph illustrates.

I'll try not to keep doing this, but he's only been gone a day and a bit and there have already been two times when I've said, "Gosh, I wish we had done this when Aaron was here ... ".  But to revert to the real, rather than the hypothetical, world - we had a pleasing trip to the races at Newmarket last night, notwithstanding the fact that it was very wet.  Thankfully it remained reasonably warm, and the rain was never torrential; but the race-meeting did take place roughly halfway through a 24-hour period of more or less incessant rain, during which about one and a half inches of rain fell.  So it certainly wasn't the archetypal Hot July Night (leaving aside that the archetypal Hot July Night is, of course, a Hot August Night).

Anyway, Hymn For The Dudes and Hannah both braved the elements valiantly and uncomplainingly.  And Hymn For The Dudes showed that, largely thanks to the expert tuition which he has received from Hannah over the past 10 months or so, is progressing the right way.  He travelled nicely and ran a nice race, notwithstanding that the rain made the six furlongs a very long six furlongs, which probably counted against him at this early stage of his career.  But he's a nice, honest horse, and he gives everything his best shot.  So I hope that we'll get there eventually with him - and yesterday's run certainly didn't contradict that belief.

So we move on to today (when, as you will see in the fifth photograph, conditions were much more clement) which featured the 'King George' Meeting at Ascot.  I've been to two King George Days (Shergar winning, and Kalaglow beating Assert) and I always love the day.  It's hard to not to feel that Golden Horn would have won with his head in his chest had he taken part; and it's hard not to feel that John Gosden's outspoken criticism of Adam Kirby after Royal Ascot, which surely played a big part in the change in riding arrangements for Postponed, might have proved a factor in Eagle Top (Golden Horn having been scratched) not winning the race.  But, whatever, I was delighted to see Postponed winning the race, and thus adding Britain's premier weight-for-age race to Luca's roll of honour.

I was doubly pleased to see Postponed win because each black-type victory which he has chalked up has given me a bit of pleasure.  One afternoon a couple of years ago I was doing an afternoon stint for At The Races and, the evening racing starting early, we (ie my co-presenter, whoever that was, and I) ended up covering the first race at a Yarmouth evening meeting, before handing over to the evening crew and knocking off.  Anyway, Postponed made a winning debut in said Yarmouth race, after which I was fulsome in my praise of him, saying that he would take the step up to black-type races in his stride.

A couple of days later I bumped into Luca on the Heath, and he remarked, "I hope that that horse turns out to be as good as you seem to think that he will be" in a tone of voice which implied that he would really have preferred it if I hadn't given Postponed such a big wrap on the TV.  With expectation comes pressure, and very often comes disappointment - and I would have felt bad if I had put the pressure of expectation onto Luca with this horse, and the horse hadn't proved up to justifying it.  So when Postponed won his first black-type race at Hamilton I was very pleased; when he won the Group Two Great Voltigeur Stakes last autumn I was even more pleased; and when today he won the best weight-for-age race in the British Isles (and second best in the world) I was very, very pleased indeed.

The other notable aspect of racing at Ascot today was the debacle of whether or not the favourite in the big handicap was a non-runner.  I don't see how this could have come about: common sense says that no horse can be deemed to be a non-runner once the 'Weighed in' signal has been given.  Imagine the stewards telling the Hong Kong Tote that the favourite was a scratching after 'Correct Weight' had been called, and the Tote dividends announced and paid out!  Still, racing jurisdiction can work in mysterious ways, as the Vitor Santos case has reminded us.

When Koreen ran at Chelmsford (pictured in this paragraph, with the previous two and, and the subsequent, pictures, having been taken this week) on the Wednesday of Royal Ascot, there was a horse in the race who was ridden so badly that it seemed very likely that he would have won had he been ridden properly.  He was ridden by V. Santos (7), and the (7), along with the ineptitude of the ride, made me think that this was just some 17-year-old who can't ride.  Not so: he's aged 31, and the stewards have eventually decided that he deliberately made sure that he didn't win, and have given him a 70-day suspension.  If I have read the Racing Post report correctly, he would have received an 84-day suspension, but he pleaded guilty so has had his sentence reduced to reward him for his candour.  How does this work?

The enquiry concluded that the trainer (Robert Stephens) was not in on this, and that Santos had ridden against instructions.  So Santos has, presumably, either done this off his own bat, or has been instructed to do it by someone other than the trainer.  That sounds very like the situation when Eddie Ahern made sure that he didn't win a staying race on the AW on a horse trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam, for which he was disqualified for 10 years.  Vitor Santos has been suspended (not disqualified) for 70 days.  How does this work?  The extremely lenient sentence suggests that he was a pawn rather than the master-mind.  So who was the master-mind?  (Not the trainer, we're told).  It's all so odd.  This poses even more unanswered questions than the Mahmood al Zarooni (non-)investigation.  If anyone has any idea what was going on, please let me know, because, having read the report of the enquiry in the Racing Post, I have no idea whatsoever.

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