Friday, January 15, 2016

Reds under the bed

Good points from Neil Kearns and David Winter after the last chapter, thank you.  The thing about the dearth of horses available to run on the AW at present is that it demonstrates the point: our pool of domestic horses is dwindling.  I expect that most of the trainers who train for the domestic ownership base would say the same as I would say: we would love to be having more runners, but the horses and their owners aren't there.  Nobody is sitting around saying, "There are good opportunities to run horses and we have horses who can run, but we just won't bother running them".

And that's why people complain about prize money levels: because they do not provide (and have not been providing) significant encouragement for people to have horses in training.  But there's plenty of money for pretty much everything else, including drug-testing.  It's frightening even to think how many millions of pounds the BHA spends each year on drug-testing.  Thanks to Godolphin having had all those horses test positive for anabolic steroids a couple of years ago, a whole new chapter of testing was opened up at massive cost; and now it seems that there is another 'reds-under-the-bed' crusade, ie to root out putative (ie non-existent) abusers of sodium bicarbonate.

The anti-anabolic crusade is an odd one.  I think that it is now the case that if a horse is imported from a country which has not signed up to some protocol which supposedly guarantees that the horse will be free from steroids, then he has to be tested on arrival.  Each test costs £425 + VAT (as I discovered as that was the bill which I received for Koreen's test when he arrived from Italy this autumn).  If the horse is a 'temporary import' (ie is going to race here and then go home) the BHA pays; if he is a 'permanent import', then the connections pay.  So when Koreen came over in the summer the BHA paid the bill; when he came over again in the autumn, I paid.  That's £850 + VAT of testing for merely one horse in one year.  Had he ever been tested on a racecourse (which he hasn't, but easily could have been) then the cost of testing this one horse last year would have been in four figures.

Now the anabolic threat isn't our only worry, it appears.  We're on the hunt for the mystery abusers of bicarbonate of soda.  Basically, bicarbonate of soda isn't a drug.  It can't be: it's a standard cooking ingredient.  (Mind you, so are chocolate and coffee, and they are supposedly drugs, for horses if not humans).  It does nothing.  However, it is alkaline, and large quantities put in the stomach within a short period can supposedly alter the ph of the blood for a short while, which in the short term can supposedly delay the onset of lactic acid build-up in the muscles, and hence delay the onset of tiredness.

Hence the racing authorities correctly decided that it would be against the rules to run a horse with abnormally high concentrations of sodium bicarbonate in his blood, such concentrations which could only result from a lot of the stuff having been tubed into his stomach within a few hours of the race.  So it isn't against the rules to have sodium bicarbonate in the horse's system, but it is against the rules to have abnormal amounts of it in his system, not least because the only way of getting it up to those levels is by tubing him on race-morning - and sticking a tube (or a needle, come to that) into a horse on race-day is against the rules.

Anyway, this isn't really an issue which needs to be addressed in the  UK.  Until fairly recently it was a fairly widespread practice to do this in Australia because there was a widespread belief that (a) you would be left behind by the other cheats if you didn't do it and (b) the racing authorities would turn a blind eye to it (and there is a mass of anecdotal evidence to substantiate this widespread belief).  However, that's changed, and the racing authorities there no longer turn blind eyes to things, as the mass of on-going cobalt charges confirm.

RVL stewards even supposedly took to following trainers' trucks to the races to see if they would pull over onto the side of the road a few miles before the racecourse, and would then, if they did, knock on the door to see what was going on inside.  And now, you'd hope, 'milkshaking' is not an issue over there.  However, I think that things are even healthier over here because I don't think that it has ever been an issue here, or ever will be - not that you'd know it from the fact that the James Tate-trained Crack Shot (and, apparently all the other horses in the race) were blood-tested 40 minutes before a race at Chelmsford last week.  It seems fair to assume that bi-carb levels were what were being investigated because I can't see why else the test would be done at that precise time, other than to test for bi-carb levels (which would have dropped to normal by the time that the race had been run).

So why do I say that this is not a problem here?  Am I just (as usual) being too naive?  Well, basically, there is no tradition here of breaking the rules on pre-race drug-use being the done thing.  In other words, you can't just do it openly and expect people just to regard your behaviour as unremarkable.  Tubing a horse is a two-man job, and it has to be done within a few hours of the race for the blood's ph still to be significantly altered at race-time.  One would need to be very, very brazen to do it in the racecourse stables (and horses in general in the UK get to the races at least three hours before the race) so it would likely be done on the truck in a lay-by shortly before the arrival at the racecourse.

The majority of trainers in the UK do not go to the races in the truck.  I do, but I've never seen James Tate do so.  Even if he did, he wouldn't be on his own - and he wouldn't want to be on his own were he going to tube a horse in a lay-by as he'd need a second pair of hands.  It would be very, very  remarkable were he to tell his travelling head lad and the horse's lad to stay at home because he was going to take Crack Shot to Chelmsford on his own  So he'd need to be bringing a travelling head lad, or one or more lads, into the secret.  And it would be a very, very big secret.  Word gets out casually - and even if it didn't, there would be the ever-present fear of blackmail at some point in the future were one to enlist a cohort.

I've never heard even a whisper of a horse being 'milkshaked' at or on the way to the races.  I can't see any circumstances under which any trainer in the UK can have been 'milkshaking' his horses, or could be going to do so, in a way in which nobody would get an inkling that it was going on.  The likelihood of Crack Shot having been 'milkshaked' before running at Chelmsford last week?  London to a brick on that he wasn't, and London to a brick on that the massive sums of money which seem to be in the process of being spent to chase this phantom might as well be flushed straight down the lavatory.  So that's fine: British racing is both broke and awash with cash to waste simultaneously.

Speaking of Chelmsford, I was there on the past two days.  Two days ago Cottesloe (seen in first paragraph) lost his record, on his 11th run for us, of having finished in the first four every time that we have run him.  Even so, he still ran very well: although he finished last (of six) he was only beaten just under two and a half lengths.  Koreen (seen in second paragraph) ran significantly less well yesterday on a bitterly cold evening which wouldn't have been too bracing but for the gale-force wind which made a temperature of plus 2 degrees seem like minus 12.  He just ran badly.  The Chelmsford track is very firm at present (whereas six months ago it was very deep) and I think that it might pay to have a try on a more forgiving surface, and possibly over a longer distance too.  It was a disappointing and disheartening trip, but he's sound today (a really lovely day, as you can see from these pictures - cold, but splendid) so it wasn't the end of the world.  Life goes on.

1 comment:

David Winter said...

I know we whinge on about the inexorable decline of the lower and [even] mid level of English racehorse owner, but what can't get my head around is the way the BHA et al are allowing the headlong rush to extinction. These guys [ allegedly ] are not stupid. Most have made a success of past work experiences, have been [ on the most part ] well educated at senior private schools and universities yet year after year idiotic initivies costing Croesus's gold have been allowed to be implemented : and wasted.
British Racing, the new Champions Day, now contested at the fag end of a long season on ground and weather that would best be suited to a three mile five furlong pointer; and so it goes on, and on..
I hear all about the racing calendar and spaces and Europe and the Breeders Cup....but the old Newmarket Champions day worked very well it has been sacrificed for Ascot; pure and simple. By the way, had you not noticed; the same racecourse that is being a dilettante about signing the new agreement of working partners. So, it seems that the facts point to one thing. The Establishment are only really concerned about the top tier and the rest, well, do the best you can folks. Not fair !! they will cry... But show me real FACTS that they are helping to fund the lower tiers, not just giving rhetoric. These gold doubloons they seem to have access to for the myriad "schemes" could be applied in one fell swoop to put at least a 1K for all level 5 and 6 races and then promise to index link it. This wouldn't signify a massive upsurge in ownership but it might a least retain our current clients and tempt a few more. I relate this as a former owner who last won a race at Windsor in June 1998, a two year old conditions stakes, and won £3750.00 and a decent trophy . That's nearly eighteen years ago and I bet you would be lucky to get £2,800 currently. That just about sums up the average owners and trainers situation. Go figure.