Friday, April 29, 2016

Four out of four ain't bad

We (ie the training community) have been having a bit of a debate in Newmarket about which parts of the Heath should be the recipients of the most investment.  Warren Hill is, for reasons which escape me, the most popular area.  (We basically never use it other than for getting young horses going, teaching them how to canter.  It's perfect for that because it's short, uphill, straight and railed in.  But for general training it holds no appeal for me because it's only very short.  And it's very busy).  But, anyway, Warren Hill is the most popular area, so consequently it is the busiest.

One consequence of Warren Hill's inexplicable popularity is that everyone seems to want to be stabled within easy range of it.  Training property prices on this side of town are much higher (I say 'this side of town' because, although we are within the town and therefore on neither side, we're closer to the Warren Hill training grounds than to the Racecourse Side ones) and every stable is full, whereas on Hamilton Road the stables are worth less and some of them are empty.  And, because of the strength of the myth of Warren Hill, it is seemingly easier for trainers to attract the patronage of the big spenders if they are on Bury Side.

Anyway, the two opposing schools of thought are (1) that as Warren Hill is the busiest area, that is where the money should be spent on schemes - a third all-weather strip running up the hill, perhaps - to alleviate the pressure and (2) that as Racecourse Side is disadvantaged by its distance from the supposedly essential Warren Hill, that is where the money should be spent, to try to even things up for the trainers over there, and to try to make more people want to own or train horses on that side (which would then be another way of alleviating the pressure on Warren Hill.

But, of course, the whole thing is nonsense, based on a fallacy.  The fallacy is that you have to work your horses up and down Warren Hill like robots to be successful.  The fact that the trainers who are seemingly the most successful do this adds fuel to the myth, when of course the key to their success is not that they use Warren Hill as opposed to, say, Long Hill (or Side Hill, Bury Hill, Railway Land, Hamilton Hill, Southfields, the Cambridge Road ...) but that they have an overwhelming advantage as regards the quantity and quality of horses under their care.

The whole thing becomes so silly because, bizarrely, the handful of really big strings who might have, say, 50 horses out at one time tend all to arrive at the bottom of Warren Hill at roughly the same time - and then, rather than send their horses up together, make them canter spaced out maybe 100m apart, or in groups of two or three 100m or so apart.  But the myth feeds on itself, Warren Hill remains the place to go because it's the place to go, and a couple of times a morning there is a 15-minute period when it is pandemonium.  Hence the cry to upgrade the facilities even more, to ease the pressure on it (which would attract even more horses there, which would cause further congestion, which would require a further upgrading of the facilities, which would attract even more horses, which would lead to even more congestion, which would ...).

Of course, what is almost invariably overlooked in the deification of the great god Warren Hill is the fact that the most successful trainers in the town never take their horses anywhere near it.  When I say 'the most successful trainers in the town', I am not, of course, referring to the trainers who achieve the greatest quantity and quality of success, which is how most people look at it.  I am meaning the most trainers who achieve the greatest quantity and quality of success in comparison to the number and cost of horses in their care.

On this basis, which is surely the best way of judging various trainers' achievements rather than merely compiling a list of the trainers who are regularly sent the greatest numbers of the most expensive and best-bred horses, the most successful trainers in town (and, in the case of one of them, just outside it, in Exning) are, in no particular order, Chris Dwyer, Stuart Williams, Michael Wigham, Julia Fielden, Phil McEntee and Alan Bailey.  The two common denominators between them is that they all train on the other side of town and they almost never exercise a horse up Warren Hill.  In fact, Chris Dwyer hardly ever exercises his horses anywhere other than the much-maligned Hamilton Hill.

What's brought this on, one might ask, other, of course, than the on-going 'debate' within our ranks?  Well, today is only 29th April, but already we have identified the outright winner of Trainer of the Year.  It is a certainty, of course, that he won't win the award, in just the same way that it is a certainty that he should.  Yesterday, Chris Dwyer ran four horses: Suqoor (whom Chris bought last autumn as a two-year-old for 2,500 gns, the horse having previously been sold as yearling for 49,000 gns), Bailey's Mirage, Saved My Bacon and Foie Gras.  All four horses won (two at Lingfield in the afternoon, two at Chelmsford in the evening), all ridden by Chris' neighbour Silvestre De Sousa (who rode five winners yesterday, none of which victories count in the jockey's championship, for reasons which no sane man could justify).  Training, with or without Warren Hill, does not come any better than that.

The weather remains fairly unpleasant and we are still a long way from anything even remotely resembling pleasant early summer conditions, but you wouldn't guess that from these photographs, simply because we've had a couple of really splendid (if cold, and if followed by rain) mornings.  But they've looked glorious.  And Roy (seen in the previous paragraph, after the race) ran a very satisfactory first-up fourth at Brighton on Tuesday.  And I hope that we shall have Indira going to Bath on Monday with a decent chance, and Roy's four-year-old half-sister So Much Water (seen here) finally making her long-awaited debut at Windsor the same day.  So that's all good, despite the frost, rain, hail, sleet and wind.

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