Thursday, February 11, 2016


This is terribly poor.  I last wrote a chapter of this blog on 30th January, and we're now 11th February.  That's probably the longest I've gone between chapters.  All I can say is that I haven't been sitting around doing nothing.  Anyway, plenty's been and gone, but it's a cold night and I'm tired, so I won't bang on for too long now.  But I should just bring us up to date in a fairly minimalist manner.  So we might as well just run through February's runners, of whom Indira at Wolverhampton on Monday 1st February was the first.

Indira (seen in the first five photographs, placed chronologically) ran fairly well, as she pretty much always does.  She had an easy trip through the race on a very windy day, so it was a bit disappointing that she couldn't go on a bit better in the final furlong, because the two horses in front of her (she finished third) had had a tougher time, but she wasn't pulling back any more ground on them late on.  Still, she'd had just over four weeks between races, so that's forgivable - and, anyway, there wasn't really anything to forgive anyway, as her third place represented yet another good run.

Things got worse after that.  We'd run Fen Lady at Southwell the previous week, and when we took Koreen to the same course on Tuesday last week I was thinking that (a) he'd surely have to run better than he did on the very firm surface at Chelmsford the previous time when he'd been disappointing, beaten 17 lengths, and (b) whatever happened, he had to run better than Fen Lady had run the previous week.  I was wrong on both scores: he ran atrociously, finishing 10th of 10, beaten 110 lengths.  You might deduce from that that he broke down, but he didn't: it's just the case that running horses at Southwell can be character-building, as a moderate run tends to be a very, very, very bad run.

Zarosa ran at Towcester two days later, and did nothing to right the ship.  She travelled very nicely through the first half of the race, and jumped well other than shifting out to the right at the third hurdle when she realised that she was going to meet it wrong, and consequently moved out to right herself.  She's clever.  She stays well too, by Flat standards, but at Towcester last week conditions were attritional, and the National Hunt-breds came into their own.  Two and a half miles meant twice up the hill, and that was too much for her (and many of her rivals): she was one of six pulled up on the home turn, and even those who didn't pull up laboured slowly over the final two jumps.

Happily, Cottesloe and Indira reintroduced an element of normality to things.  The former ran well at Lingfield on Saturday (finished fifth, but would probably have been second with a clear run) while Indira ran honourably at Southwell two days ago.  You'd think that I'd be fighting shy of Southwell by now, and I probably am now.  But it made sense to have a go there with Indira at some time.  She'd run there over a mile as a young horse, and that run had persuaded me not to go back as she had struggled that day; but time passes, and you can't help yourself.  She's older now, and the 12 furlongs might be more suitable - and, as they say, you don't want to die wondering (although, as Peter Temple has Jack Irish pose the question in one of his novels, is dying wondering worse than dying not wondering?).

Anyway, if I die tonight, speculating about which horses will or won't go well at Southwell won't be at the forefront of my mind.  One couldn't really say that Indira couldn't handle it, as she ran fairly well to finish fourth.  But I doubt that she enjoyed it much as it was very hard work for her; and it wasn't much fun for her connections either, as it made fairly grim viewing.  It was just a depressing race to watch, ie was a typical Southwell race.  In other words, they went flat out from the start at a pace which, had the race been run anywhere else, would have guaranteed that the horses who raced prominently would finish tailed off and that the back-markers would have dominated; but, as it was, once they'd gone hard for a couple of furlongs and established an order, that order never changed for the rest of the race.  Inexplicable - but I won't be wasting my dwindling energy wondering about it when I shuffle off this mortal coil.

The last word from Southwell should maybe come from Josephine Gordon, who was having what was her first ride for this stable but which, I hope, won't be her last.  She did everything right, and then finally sent me away chuckling with her parting shot, which perfectly summed up what a gruelling race it had been: "If she wasn't fit before this, she will be now".  Very good.  Sadly, the last word of the chapter won't be a subject for mirth, though, because my most lasting memory from the last few runners is being fined £140 at Towcester, and that was something about which it wasn't easy to see the funny side.

Jack Quinlan, our jockey, had a ride in the previous race, so I couldn't get Zarosa's saddle until he had weighed in from that ride and then weighed out for her race.  This meant that I was twiddling my thumbs when I'd rather have been saddling Zarosa, but that couldn't be helped.  As it was, when I finally left the weighing room with her saddle, I looked up at a clock and saw that we were only 15 minutes from post-time, the previous race having been both long and late off.  I'm not very quick at saddling horses at the races: I am at home, when I put the same saddle on the same horse every day, and could do it in seconds with my eyes shut, but at the races it's a all bit different, and takes longer if you are painstaking about making sure that it fits comfortably and securely.

Anyway, when I was only just coming out with the saddle and saw that we were already 15 minutes from post time, I thought, "Shit, I'm in trouble here: these jockeys will be in the parade ring before we are."  That happens to me quite often when we use a jockey engaged in the previous race as I am not slapdash about saddling at the races, but less so on the Flat when the races don't take so long.  (Even on the Flat, though, all other things being equal, I will always pick a jockey who isn't riding in the previous race over one who is, which is a significant factor in jockey selection for me, despite it being a rarely-mentioned factor when people discuss the factors behind the booking of the rider).  But even on the Flat it's not uncommon for our horse to arrive in the parade ring after the horses have started to leave if our jockey has been in the previous race; but that's no big deal, as the minimum requirement is doing merely one lap of the ring, and you just do that and end up the last to leave the ring.

Not at Towcester, though, which is the only track in the country at which horses cannot enter the parade ring once the first one has left.  At some courses the entrance and exit are different (and Towcester used to be one of those, but isn't now) and at some (including currently Towcester) they are the same. Towcester, though, is the only course where the entrance and exit is not only the same but also a long chute which is so narrow that horses cannot safely pass in different directions.  So once the horses have begun to leave and you aren't in the ring, you have to stand at the other end of the chute, watching the horse file past under your nose, preventing you from entering the parade ring.

That's what happened to us.  When the final horse had passed by under our nose, I asked Hannah to lead Zarosa into the ring, but the Clerk of the Course Robert Bellamy appeared and told us to head straight to the track.  I told Robert that I wasn't happy because I'd be fined if I didn't take her into the parade ring, but he didn't relent, and told me that if the stewards were worried about it, he'd tell them that he'd told me not to go into the ring.  Anyway, sure enough I was indeed summoned to the stewards' room afterwards, so I duly trotted along, reflecting that it was so many years since I'd last been summoned to a stewards' enquiry that I couldn't even remember what and when the last occasion had been.

Anyway, I went in there fairly off-handedly.  I wasn't taking things very seriously so I didn't put up much of a defence, because in my mind I hadn't done anything wrong other than (a) not saddle the horse unfeasibly quickly, and (b) do what the Clerk of the Course had told me to do.  When the head steward asked me why I hadn't taken her into the parade ring, I merely said, "Because Robert Bellamy had told me not to do so". When he asked me why Zarosa was late in appearing by the ring, I merely said, "There was no hold-up or anything.  My jockey had been in the previous race and I couldn't get the saddle until he'd weighed out.  When I did finally get the saddle, it was only 15 minutes before the start time of the race, so I knew that I'd be in trouble.  But as regards the saddling procedure, it was all fairly straightforward and there were no hold-ups: it just took as long as it takes".

Anyway, when I left the room so that they could deliberate, it never crossed my mind that I'd be disciplined.  I was wrong, though: when I was summoned back into the room, the chief steward told me that as Zarosa had not gone into the parade ring, the rules of racing obliged him to impose a fine of £140.  OK, fine: che sera, sera.  At that point there was no point in not taking it on the chin.  The verdict had been given, and the only alternative to accepting the punishment was to lodge an appeal, which is expensive and not a sensible option for a £140 fine.  But I did kick myself that I hadn't put up a less half-hearted defence when I'd had the option, but it had just never crossed my mind that the stewards would be so over-zealously officious and mean-spirited as to impose a fine on me.

Well, I told you that I wouldn't end this chapter on a humorous note, but it's turned out that that was wrong, because I am going to do so.  It's always good to end the day with a wry smile, appreciating a good dose of irony - and I was able to do so here.  After I'd left the course musing that I'd just been unlucky to run up against the most over-officious bunch of stewards in the country on a day when our jockey was late in weighing out on the only course in the country where a horse can't enter the parade ring once the field has started to leave it, it transpired that two fancied horses were left at the start of a handicap hurdle, with one of them clearly not remotely in the line when the starter had let them go.  Gee, that stewards' panel would have a field day on that f**k-up, wouldn't they?  They'd throw the book at whomever was responsible for that debacle.  Well, no actually, they didn't.  There was no enquiry.  That's going from one extreme to the other in a very short time as regards zeal and officiousness, I wryly mused to myself that evening.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

£ 140 fine you'd have to win the race to make the day worthwhile - pathetic Towcester land of the jobs worth !!