Monday, October 12, 2015

They also serve

Newmarket on Saturday was rather fun, and not only for the fact that we saw a potential superstar.  Air Force Blue, winning his third Group One race of the season, looked extremely good in winning the Dewhurst, even if he might have been flattered with his seemingly principal rival Emotionless, who had looked extremely good when winning the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, failing to give his running, finishing last and subsequently being found to have chipped a bone in a knee.  That's sad.  Emotionless is a really lovely horse, but I suppose that he is now unlikely ever to fulfill his potential: by and large it's probably fair to say that once a horse has had knee trouble, he'll always have knee trouble, to a greater or lesser extent.  Air Force Blue, on the other hand, appeals as the likely winner of next year's 2,000 Guineas.

Our main reason for being there, of course, wasn't to hero-worship Air Force Blue, but to run a horse whom we hero-worship even more (ie Tommy) in the opening contest, the Varsity Race.  This was wonderful and it was again a pleasure to be involved with this special event.  And it was a particular pleasure because Tommy did everything right, running well and enjoying himself under a very competent and sensible ride from Lizzy Moore, a veterinary student at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and part of the winning team.  There were nine runners and Tommy finished either fifth or sixth.  (I couldn't see exactly as I was standing about 30 yards after the line).

You'll have to bear with me while I tell you what a success the Varsity Race was.  It was, but you might find others telling you that it was a complete debacle (which it was too).  The first problem was that one of the riders couldn't hold his mount going to post: the horse galloped straight past the mile start and headed farther down the course, and the rider fell off shortly afterwards, after which the horse disappeared off down Choke Jade to the Cesarewitch start.  I believe that the rider (who was on the other team, ie Oxford) might have broken his leg, which was very unfortunate.

But that debacle shouldn't have happened: we already knew that one has to be fairly careful about which horses one runs in races for inexperienced riders.  The second debacle oughtn't to have happened either, but there's probably less that could have been done to prevent it.  Oxford had had one setback when one of their best chances suffered the aforementioned debacle on the way to post and had to be scratched.  It then had a second setback when one of the Cambridge riders jumped off prematurely while the other riders were preparing to line up.  She got maybe a 30-length start on the others and consequently won easily.  It should, of course, have been a false start, but the starter sensibly didn't call one, realising that if he had done the race would have ended up void, as none of the riders would have been able to pull up.

Anyway, it was lovely to be involved in this race, a race which - the debacles notwithstanding - adds a lot to this excellent raceday.  It's important that anyone left cold by it remembers that it is an extra race, and does not detract from the rest of the card: even if one feels that it adds nothing to the card, it can't be said to take anything away from it either.  Also adding to the card while taking nothing away was the parade of retired racehorses before racing, and we can see three of them (Purple Moon, African Story and Prince Bishop - the first-named of the two Godolphin horses carrying saddle cloth number one, and the latter number eight, with Purple Moon number nine) here.

What's worrying for the Dubai International Carnival is that I posted a photo of the two last-named on Twitter, and said that they had won the last two runnings of the Dubai World Cup.  Of course, that is wrong as only one of them won that race, while the other one won one of the other Group One races at the Carnival.  It's worrying for the Dubai Carnival that I made that mistake.  It's doubly worrying for the Dubai Carnival that even now I'm not sure which one of them won the DWC and which merely won one of the other so-called Group Ones (Jebel Hatta?  Round Three of the Al Maktoum Challenge?  Al Fahidi Fort?).  And what's trebly worrying is that, even though I have nearly 7,000 followers on Twitter, nobody has yet pointed out my mistake.

Anyway, that parade was a lovely thing to have on a big raceday, as was the Varsity Race.  On which subject, I'm disappointed to see that Ascot has dropped the apprentices' race from next Saturday's Champions' Day card.  This race was a real highlight of the year for the kids who managed to pick up a ride in it, in the same way that the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle is such a big thing at the Cheltenham Festival.

We're hearing a lot about the problems of retaining staff in racing.  Well, one thing that doesn't help is telling apprentices (most of whom have no realistic chance of graduating to become senior jockeys) that we were in fact wrong to say that they should have a chance to ride on a big raceday.  (On a similar subject - and this is one of my constant bugbears - another thing which doesn't help is telling stable staff that, while jockeys deserve free food in the jockeys' room, they ought to have to pay for their lunch in the canteen.)

It's the little things that count, and the million pounds which are being thrown at the staffing project will be a million pounds wasted while it remains policy to tell the people who work with the horses full-time that they should be put on a lower rung of the ladder than, say, the jockeys.  If a few punters moan that they'd rather not see an apprentices' race on a big card - well, tough sh*t, because it's the bigger picture which matters, and the bigger picture ought to be that the lesser lights are equally important, and that they too also deserve an occasional chance of a bit of glory (or a free lunch, just like the jockeys get, when they're having a long day away from home).  Even John Milton knew that they also serve who only stand and wait.

1 comment:

David Winter said...

I am at one with you on the treatment of stable staff and indeed any staff working with the same aim as the owners of any organization. With all the wasted money washing around the sport at the moment trying to re-invent its former popularity, you would think that looking after apprentices and travelling staff by at least feeding them would be insignificant. These people are the sports life blood and get scant reward for long, arduous, split days in often unpleasant conditions. Sitting in congested traffic late at night, returning from god knows where and bedding down the animal before clocking off themselves sometime after midnight.These guys and girls do it for the love of horses and care for them as much as the trainers. To then send them off roaming the country in charge of expensive horseflesh and expect them to sustain themselves from their meagre salary is mean, insensitive and intolerable. The racecourses are to blame in this instance as the money from viewing rights has increased significantly recently while generally, the outgoing prize money has fallen dramatically [ irrespective of inflation ]. To give one modest hot meal and drink per day in the canteen to all accredited stable staff would not cost fortunes and would make [ as you mention John ]them feel valued. Unless something positive is done, the staffing situation will become extremely difficult as we are to compete with other occupations. The other MAJOR change HAS to be prize money. Everyone harps on about it but nothing seems to change. If a significant uplift can be negotiated then a lot of the difficulties will disappear as the money will filter down through the ranks. Trainers will be able to get a modest return on their efforts, staff will benefit from yard bonus's and owners will become more inclined to invest for another year.