Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Get thee hence

First of March today which is always quite a nice milestone to reach as one can say that it's the first day of  spring.  I regard December, January and February as winter, with March, April and May being spring.  (Although I am aware that the other way of looking at it sees the three months of spring starting on the vernal equinox, and the three months of summer starting on the longest day).  Whatever, we're now in March, which didn't actually start particularly pleasantly as it rained this morning, which was an unwelcome change after the more pleasant conditions of the past few days, which have begun with frost but then progressed to providing quite a few hours of really glorious sunshine.  As you can see in this chapter.

For once, though, the weather has not been my principal pre-occupation.  Instead, the question has been, 'To run or not to run'.  A few days ago I would have told you that we'd have two runners this week: Indira at Lingfield on Tuesday (ie today) and Cottesloe at Wolverhampton on Wednesday.  However, that plan began to unravel on Sunday.  I had a busy and early start to Sunday: I needed to be finished outside by 9 o'clock as I needed to get on the road over to Milton Keynes for a 'Sunday Form' booking on ATR, and I needed to have ridden three horses, and to have made and distributed all the feeds too.

But the consequent early start actually worked out for the best because it meant that I had ridden Indira well in advance of declaration time for Tuesday's racing.  Which was just as well because, although I was delighted with the quality of Indira's work and rode home thinking that she really would be very hard to beat two days later, when I got home she didn't seem comfortable at all, and that pushed me towards the decision not to run her.  Anyway, I elected not to declare her, which is just as well as I had a blood test taken from her yesterday and her muscle enzyme levels are too high, so she would not have wanted to be running today.  It's only a temporary problem and she'll be right shortly, but not today.

Anyway, come Monday (ie yesterday) morning I declared Cottesloe for Wolverhampton tomorrow.  That's all good, even if one of his stablemates (Indira) had shown signs of a problem the previous day.  Then, blow me, we only had two more horses who looked uncomfortable after their work this morning.  I've had blood tests taken on them both this evening, and I'm expecting to find that they too have elevated muscle enzyme levels.  There is no sign of anything amiss with Cottesloe, but even so it is disconcerting.

You may remember about three years ago Alan King had a period of several weeks in the autumn when pretty much all of his runners ran disappointingly.  Alan reported in retrospect that he was baffled by his run of poor form, but that eventually he found out what the problem was: his horses had all been displaying raised muscle enzyme levels.  Once he had identified the problem he was able to address it, and he soon bounced back to the consistently high level of success which he generally achieves.  Anyway, even though Cottesloe has given me no reason to be concerned on his behalf, if the blood tests for these two more horses today come back unsatisfactory tomorrow morning, common sense says that the prudent course of action would be not to have any runners in the next few days.

So we'll see - but I'm not expecting to be going to the races tomorrow.  It's a common theme that non-runners create dissatisfaction and provide fuel for the conspiracy theorists - but, although, I'm keen to run him tomorrow, it might clearly be the correct decision not to do so.  If there are signs that he may well underperform, I would be doing nobody a favour by running him.  Not the horse, and not any punters.  So we'll see - but what reason I will give for the self-certificate remains to be seen.

It would, of course, have to be a self-certificate, because I can't really ask a vet to say that he's found something wrong with him if he is showing no signs of ill health.  I think that the good old 'self-certificate: other' might be called into play.  But I promise you: this is no plan to defraud the betting public.  It is a plan to minimise the chance of doing a disservice to a lovely horse, and to minimise the chance of making the betting public do their dough on a horse who lets them down by running below form.

So that gives us a little insight into the withdrawal process - which brings us nicely round to the declaration process. One thing that really annoys me is the 're-offering' of races which don't get their quota of declarations.  This is so wrong - and the fact that it's clearly against the spirit of the sport (ie that if declaration time is 10 o'clock, it's 10 o'clock) is the least of my worries.  My main gripe is that if one enters a horse in a race, it's usually because one wants to run the horse in it.  When, four days later, one doesn't declare, it is usually for one of two reasons: either one isn't happy with the horse, or the ground has gone against him.

In either case, one is disappointed to have had to abort the plan to run.  This disappointment is doubled or trebled if one sees the declarations and finds out that the race has attracted a weak field.  So when it has attracted a weak field, it is very galling to have Weatherbys contact you - like Mrs Doyle saying, "Ah gowan,, gowan, gowan, gowan, gowan" -  to ask you to reconsider your decision not to declare.  It is both irritating and bloody irresponsible.  You've regretfully taken the decision not to declare on horse welfare grounds - and then one is asked to reconsider.  It's rarely black-and-white about whether the horse is or isn't fit to run (he usually hasn't broken down or fallen blatantly ill, but rather it is the case that you have vague misgivings about his health or soundness, or about the wisdom of running him on ground that he isn't going to like). 

What re-offering races means is that trainers can be tempted into running horses when their better judgement has told them that they ought not to be running.  This is a welfare issue, and I was reminded of this on Sunday when Mrs Doyle said, "Ah gowan, gowan, gowan, gowan, gowan" to me when I had very regretfully decided not to declare Indira for a race which there had ended up with only four declarations.  As things have turned out, I am totally happy with the decision not to run Indira today, much though it irked me to watch the race with only four runners in it while thinking, "If only ... ".  I'm considerably less happy, though, with the fact that the BHA rules forced Weatherbys to try to tempt me into running a horse who, out of fairness both to the horse and to punters, clearly should not have run.


David Winter said...

What hauntingly beautiful photographs, John.

Brian Jones said...

it would seem you're no Lucinda Russell, John!


The Stewards noted that MISFITS (IRE), trained by Lucinda Russell, was late into the parade ring but having heard from the trainer who stated that she was waiting on the saddle from the jockey who had a ride in the previous race, they took no further action.