Thursday, August 27, 2015

Great leap forward?

Cottesloe ran well at Newbury on Tuesday evening.  He was untried on wet tracks (despite being a six-year-old who had spent most of his life in Ireland, where it rains pretty much all of the time) but didn't let us down when faced with heavy ground.  He was unlucky enough to run up against a specialist mudlark who had, in a remarkable example of leniency from the handicapper, been dropped from 90 to 78 for two tailed-off runs on unsuitably firm tracks.  Back on the wet ground, she proved to be the certainty that, with hindsight, she clearly was, and she thrashed us, winning eased down by seven lengths.  But he still ran a good, brave race to finish second, bless him, confirming that he is so genuine that he runs well on firm ground, heavy ground and the AW.  A proper trouper.

One thing which we've been doing in the two days since then, aside from getting very wet in the rain which has been continuing intermittently to tumble down, has been starting to get Blue Sea Of Ibrox (who, like Cottesloe, is owned by Stewart Brown) accustomed to the stalls.  She's a seven-year-old who has run 27 times, but she's never run on the Flat so she won't ever have been in stalls previously.  However, in those 27 runs under National Hunt rules (some in bumpers, some over hurdles and some in steeplechases) she has never won a race and has earned BHB ratings of 68 over hurdles and 58 over fences, which is rock-bottom.

Anyway, this very nice mare arrived here at the end of June, having been out of training for five weeks after having been struck into in her most recent race, and we've been getting her going again.  It might seem strange to be thinking of putting her on the Flat bearing in mind that she's been struggling in long-distance jumps races and has an out-and-out National Hunt pedigree (she's by a son of Sadler's Wells that I'd never heard of, out of a mare by Roselier who used to specialise in siring horses who were best suited to four-mile steeplechases in heavy ground) but she's cut no ice over jumps, so there's no harm in giving the Flat a go. After all, the worst that can happen is that she'll run badly, which is what she generally does over jumps anyway.  Hence her doing today what this paragraph's photo shows three unraced two-year-olds (two of which are still here now, ie Tommy on the left and Roy on the right) doing three years ago.

This brings me on to something which has been going through my head since the July Meeting.  That meeting, of course, saw the 50th anniversary of the first race in Britain started from stalls (the Chesterfield Stakes, won by Track Spare, at the July Meeting in 1965 - and it is a nice coincidence that Track Spare features in the pedigree of the star of this year's July Meeting, the July Cup winner Muhaarar).  Anyway, that was seen as a great step forward - but, really, should it have been thus hailed?  Or, put it another way, if we had never used starting stalls up to now, would we be allowed to start using them in this day and age?

My feeling is that we would not be allowed to bring them in, because they are such a backward step as regards safety.  We were told that we had to have them to make racing a more attractive punting proposition - and yet racing has become ever less popular a sport over the 50 years since their introduction.  And in those 50 years, how many serious accidents, to either horses or riders, have they caused?  Hard to know, but it would be a massive amount. The vast majority of the accidents have taken place on the home gallops rather than on the racecourse, but even the statistics for accidents on the racecourse have been worrying enough.

I can recall two fatalities in the stalls in Classics alone (Easter King in the St Leger and Grey Pearl in the 1,000 Guineas, and only five out of the many thousands of races each year are Classics) so God knows how many serious accidents there have been on the racecourse - and, whatever the figure is, you can multiply that figure by many times to come up with the total in practice at home.  As for jockeys - well, it was an ironic antidote to the 'Fifty years ago a great leap forward was taken ...' that another of the events of the July Meeting was the injury to Ryan Moore in the stalls, an injury which looks set to rule him out of action for more than half a year.

By comparison, the starts for jumps races?  Well, other than the occasional horse being kicked, I can't think of the last time there was an accident at a tape or flag start.  And where does that leave us?  Nowhere, really - other than a reflection that it is strange that in what is regarded as an era of progress in 'health and safety', we start our races in a way far more dangerous than that which was previously used in supposedly less enlightened times.  There isn't an answer because realistically the stalls are here to stay.  But would we be allowed to introduce them nowadays if we'd got this far without them?  I very much doubt it.

No comments: