Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Completion at last - and thoughts on a bad idea

Great excitement.  We had a jumps runner get round yesterday.  Not much of a hill of beans in the great scheme of things, granted; but good for us, going on our jumping results over the past year.  We had four jumps runners last autumn: Russian Link ran three times and ran well and bravely each time, being placed at Fontwell, Bangor and Fontwell again.  Wasabi did less well.  She did get round at Fakenham, but was a distant last, and the reason for this very poor run became clear when she finally crossed the line, because she had bled.  Anyway, once winter arrived last year we had to get used to non-completion.

Russian Link pulled herself up at Fakenham on the Sunday before Christmas. And then we had to wait nine months until our next jumps runner (we did have one National Hunt, but not jumps, runner in the interim, Near Wild Heaven being unplaced in a bumper at Bangor in March) and this autumn, when we finally did have another couple of runners, we continued the run of non-completion: Tommy bled and was pulled up at Fakenham, and Russian Link pulled herself up at Stratford.  So that was three jumps runners in 12 months, and they all pulled up.  So yesterday - well, Russian Link downed tools again (at Leicester) but fortunately she only did so in the home straight, so she did actually reach the finishing line before she finally ground completely to a halt.

It's very frustrating.  She has a history of downing tools, which is why she went over hurdles in the first place.  Martin Lane summed it up well on her final Flat run: he pushed her for a mile and a half in a two-mile race and she just got farther and farther behind, and then he said that when he finally gave up pushing and sat up on her, she ran on again and passed a couple.  So she went over jumps and ran her heart out on her first three runs.  On her third run I felt really sorry for her as she had put her heart and soul into it, and walked back in as whacked as if she'd just run in the Grand National.  I think that she went home, thought about it, and worked out that, as on the Flat, trying is optional rather than compulsory.  And that's it really.

She does jump very well, and on her resumption at Stratford she had travelled and jumped very nicely until the field headed away from the enclosures midrace, at which point she stopped.  I reckoned that we might have had half a chance over a shorter distance at Leicester because it's a bigger circuit: they only pass the enclosures once, early in the race, so if we could get that out of the way we might be OK.  Daryl Jacob gave her a genuinely lovely ride, doing exactly as asked, and she was travelling really kindly for him. She turned into the straight travelling along very nicely looking a very feasible winner, jumped the third last hurdle - and then downed tools as soon as she had to start working a little bit harder.

Daryl gave the opinion that she would only win a race if she could win it on the bridle, that she went really nicely while it was easy for her, but just put her head up and shortened stride as soon as she had to be asked for a bit extra; and that the more he asked her, the less she did.  Ah well, she's not good enough to be winning with her head in her chest, so I guess that we probably ought to call it a day, and to stop trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. She's a lovely horse who jumps really well and will easily find a good role in life.  I might give her a final try in blinkers, but that would be clutching at straws, so I might just draw stumps straight away.  And I wouldn't knock her for working out that it's easier not to try: it's a sensible conclusion from a horse's point of view, and the only wonder is that more of them don't reach that conclusion more swiftly.  You can see in the first three paragraphs two pictures of her before and one after the race, and I think that you can tell how stress-free and pleasant she finds a day at the races now that she has worked out that it's really just a walk in the park.

So that was that.  But, as I've been very lax in my blogging, I might just touch on another subject before I sign off.  The plight of female jockeys seems to be in the news at present, consequent to Michelle Payne having highlighted the glass ceiling in her speeches and interviews after the Melbourne Cup.  Anyway, the way to break this ceiling is not to give female jockeys an allowance - that would only solidify and strengthen the ceiling.  Female riders already get a 7lb allowance until they have ridden 20 winners; a 5lb allowance thereafter until they have ridden 50 winners; and a 3lb allowance thereafter until they have ridden 95 winners.  (Under National Hunt rules the stages are probably different, but the principle is the same).  Would the female riders' allowance come on top of this?

But that's not really when the female riders struggle.  As regards claimers, it's a total meritocracy.  On the Flat, the female apprentices and the male apprentices both get a go, and the good ones (and, of course, being good at jockeying involves much, much more than merely being a good rider) of each sex progress.  Under National Hunt rules honours are distributed less evenly, but that's simply because there are very, very few female conditionals - but that's a separate issue and I don't know why it is, but I'd be certain that the reason for their scarcity isn't because they don't get an extra allowance.  It's when they become senior jockeys that the problem exists.

It is, of course, hard for all good apprentices to continue to compete when they lose their claim, male or female.  For every female rider who finds it tough at that stage, there are plenty of Saleem Golams, Stevie Donohoes, Danny Tudhopes (don't forget how long he spent in the wilderness before being rediscovered), Adam Beschizzas, Jason Harts, Robert Tarts, John Fahys, Nicky Mackays, Kieran O'Neills, or Cam Hardies.  All excellent riders, all thoroughly diligent professionals.  Itr's tough, but there's always a living to be made at the lower levels for good jockeys of both sexes.  But breaking into the top levels is hard.  It's hard for anyone, but I think that it probably is harder for female riders.  You could go on all night trying to work out why, but it's probably a factor on the Flat the fact that nearly all the good horses are owned by people in whose cultures it is not the norm to give important roles to women.

Anyway, if we are trying to help female riders to break into the higher levels, the one thing we must not do is to give them an allowance for being female.  In vague terms that would only be seen as giving official endorsement to some idea that they aren't as good; and in particular terms it would ensure that they more or less never rode in big races.  It is a given in racing that allowances can't be claimed in the biggest races.  It would make a nonsense of the Derby and other championship races if the horses carried different weights depending on who rode them - that just isn't going to happen.  And that's why apprentices only very rarely ride in Group races: we become accustomed to the fact that so-and-so apprentice claims a however-many-pounds allowance, so if he can't claim it, our horse is carrying overweight.

If we have a 3lb claimer on a horse with 8:08 in a race in which he is allowed to claim and the lightest he can do is 8:08 (ie what the horse ought to be carrying) then officially that horse carries 3lb overweight.  If we have a 5lb claimer on our horse weighted on 8:08 and he can only do 8:07, ie one pound less than the horse has been allocated, then the horse isn't allowed to run because he would be carrying so much overweight, despite the fact that he would actually be carrying less weight than the handicapper has given him.

So if we give female riders an allowance, every time they rode in a race in which allowances can't be claimed (ie in exactly the type of races in which we are most concerned about helping them) their mounts would be seen as carrying overweight.  If they struggle to get rides in big races as things are, does anyone really believe that it would be easier for them to get rides in such races if in the eyes of the world they would automatically be putting up overweight in them?  And to think that this idea is even being taken seriously enough to be discussed!  (And I don't just mean by me: I'm criticising it, but others seem to take it seriously).

I hope that you like these final four photographs, by the way.  I had to dig into the archives to find some pictures of Michelle, which seemed to be a suitable way of illustrating the article, and I duly found one of her on one of Colin Little's horses at Caulfield early in 2009 and then three on Newmarket Heath later that year - and in the couple taken in Luca's string the stable was clearly acting as the Australian embassy that day, because you'll see her alongside Kathy O'Hara and Brad Rawiller.  But in doing my digging I came up with a lovely sequence of four shots of a sunrise in the Victorian High Country and then one of a sunset in the same part of the world. and these are better being up on the blog than languishing out of sight in the archives.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

your comments on the female jockey issue are spot on (as usual) however your piece does ignore the one important issue that should be addressed and won't and that is of far too many rides going to a very select group of jockeys who are perceived at any one time as being "the best" normally these jockeys have got there by being flavour of the month with the press of the day - the difference between the prevailing genius and the rest is probably never more than a couple of lengths absolute maximum and that prevailing ground distance way race is run etc has every bit as much bearing on the result as the man in the plate - look at the dreadful rides given by all in the Arc (full of the great and good) with the exception of Dettori and a couple of others who understood the race pace
in particular one despairs of the number of times when a "top" jockey gets on a ride in a race because he is "a top jockey" and the owners feel he will somehow galvanise Dobbin into becoming Pegasus so some guy or girl misses out on a riding fee having previously put hard work into getting a relationship with the horse involved and will almost certainly give it a better ride than the alleged superstar , time after time a horse will rise through the ranks on the back of the efforts of the trainer and various jockeys/apprentices of varying skill levels only when getting their chance at the top level to be average to poorly ridden by someone parachuted in for the day
If it were me I would put a total limit on the number of rides a jockey could have over a season say 650 the top boys would still get the rides in the top races but the rest would get more opportunities at the lower levels and an opportunity to enhance their skill and graduate into the flavour of the month it is noticeable that when Dettori/Godolphin were at the height of their powers LD was not chasing every ride going and saving himself for the big days
One possible way of spreading the rides around is to only allow retained jockeys to ride for their retained stable in listed and group races - it won't happen but it doesn't mean it isn't worth considering

One other point which is slightly related when is someone going to tell trainers/jockeys that moaning about lack of pace in a race is not a valid excuse , running from the front and losing is the same result as trying to quicken from behind and losing - if you don't like the way a race is going to be run do something about it don't complain when what you knew was likely to happen , happens