Tuesday, May 10, 2016

All too hard

Running plans for this week have now been firmed up: one runner, Indira at Newmarket on Thursday evening.  That was an easy decision: she's come out of her two wins last week in mighty form so there's no reason not to back her up, so the decision is either to run (unpenalized for her latest win, because it was in an apprentices' race) on Thursday off the same mark off which she won on Saturday (83) or wait a few days and run somewhere else off a mark a few pounds higher.  We've got to run, really, haven't we?

The tipsters will say that we're thrown in, but I won't be going there with exalted expectations.  It'll be a more competitive race than the one that she won on Saturday, plus Newmarket will present a very different test to the ones on which on which she has previously thrived.  I was very happy to go to Chester, feeling very confident that the track would be meat and drink to her on the basis of her having previously won at Catterick, Wolverhampton and Bath (and Ripon, but that's by the by).  Going to Newmarket, though, will be a very different kettle of fish altogether.  She will give it her best shot as always (as will Josephine) but it's far from guaranteed that her best shot will be good enough.  All we can do is hope.

We did, though, have one other entry this week: Hymn For The Dudes at Bath tomorrow.  However, I decided not to declare him.  He ran on a very wet track at Newmarket last summer, and the jockey (John Egan) reported that he was very happy on the ground.  He also ran on a very dry track at Nottingham, and the jockey (Andrew Mullen) reported that he was not happy on the surface.  The ground at Bath at declaration time was "firm" so I found it an easy decision not to declare, even allowing for the fact that the racecourse was forecast to be hit by two bands of rain between then and raceday, each forecast to yield something between 2mm and 10mm of rain.  That, though, is only half the story.

The whole story is that I'm very dubious about this "firm" ground.  It surely has to be "hard".  The first band of rain went over Bath last night, yielding 8mm of rain.  At 9.30 this morning, once the rain had moved on, the track was still "firm".  How on earth can a dry track receive 8mm of rain without the going changing?  The answer is that it can't.  If it was firm after the 8mm, it had to have been firmer than firm before the rain.  The Going Stick reading at declaration time was 12.3.  Literally speaking, this reading clearly isn't off the scale: it's 12.3, which is clearly on the scale.  But metaphorically that's off the scale.  Looking back at Bath's past ratings, once you get up to 9, the ground is firm.  And this is 12.3

The Going Stick has been used since the start of 2007.  In that time, the highest rating recorded is 12.3.  That has been recorded twice: in July 2014, and this week.  Last year, southern England had a heatwave from the middle of June to the last week of July, in which virtually no rain fell anywhere.  On 1st July we hit 36 degrees.  Bath raced towards the end of this period of drought, on 22nd July, and the Going Stick reading was 10.4.  The ground that day was described as "firm", although realistically it had to be hard, bearing in mind that the ground at Bath is never watered.  The reading yesterday morning was 12.3, and we were being asked to believe that the ground was not hard.

One used to see ground described as "hard" fairly often in the summer.  We never see the term now.  In the years 2007 to 2016 inclusive, the unwatered ground at Bath has never been "hard".  Whom are they trying to fool?  I seem to recall that there was a pronouncement a few years ago that National Hunt meetings would be cancelled if the ground was described as "hard".  Maybe there has been a similar edict for Flat racing.  If so, that would have been an over-reaction, as some Flat horses like very firm ground, and trainers use their common sense.  But even if one were in favour of such a ruling, it would actually achieve (less than) nothing if all it means is that (as seems to be the case) the word "hard" is never used, and hard ground is just automatically misdescribed as "firm" ground.

So you can see why it was an easy decision for me not to declare for Bath, particularly as our race was 8pm.  Even if plenty of rain had fallen and the ground had supposedly become goodish by Wednesday morning, the day was forecast to be warm and dryish, so that was a recipe for heading down there to find that the ground was not to our liking by the time that the race was run.  Instead, I have entered Hymn For The Dudes for Redcar on Monday, and will enter him for Lingfield on Tuesday.  And it's possibly worth remarking on the fact that, if (as seems likely) we run at Redcar, we shall be running at an illegal meeting.

When Newcastle was applying for permission to stage floodlit fixtures featuring races no longer than a mile, a generally overlooked rule was dredged up which says that each fixture has to have two races of a mile or farther whose combined distances add up to two and a half mile.  As I love staying races and stayers, I agree that this is an excellent rule, one which really should be retained and enforced.  At Redcar on Monday, the longest race is over 10 furlongs and the second longest is over a mile.  At Ripon on Sunday, the longest race is over 1 mile, 1 furlong and 170 yards, and the second longest race is over a mile and one furlong.

At Catterick later in the week, the longest race is over a mile and a half and the second longest is over seven furlongs.  At Leicester the following week, the longest race is a mile and a quarter and the second longest is a mile, as is the case at Ayr the same day.  Is it really too hard to obey this rule?  And does it matter?  Well, in the greater scheme of things it is probably not that important, other than to those such as myself who believe that middle-distance horses and stayers ought to be encouraged, rather than squeezed out.  And it presumably matters to the racecourses who stage these rule-breaking fixtures, and to the BHA's race-planning department which has given them the green light, bearing in mind that we have observed in the past that the stewards tend to hand out fines for even the most minor of transgressions.

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