Friday, June 17, 2016

Days of a runner-less week

We've ended up not having a runner all week, which isn't very smart.  (Particularly during Royal Ascot week).  Having a runner at Royal Ascot, I hasten to add, was never on the agenda, which is understandable as I had been similarly unrepresented at the Royal Meeting during the previous 21 seasons.  But we did have two entries (well, one this week and one on Sunday, to be correct - but it's just that from a Racing Calendar point of view one develops the incorrect mindset of regarding Sunday as the last, rather than the first, day of the week).  Indira, seen here in the aftermath of yesterday's torrential downpours, was the entrant, at Ayr tonight (Friday) and at Pontefract on Sunday afternoon.

As it turned out, I felt happy to give Ayr a miss as a 750-mile round trip to give weight to two potentially eye-catchingly well-handicapped horses (Fast Pick who beat Indira at Wolverhampton in March and would now be a stone better off, and Odeon who finally has come down a couple of stone in the ratings and who remembered how to win last time out) as well as a few in-form horses didn't seem to make much sense.  So that left us with Pontefract, which had been a nice dream to savour for a few weeks but which was only ever going to be a worthwhile roll of the dice (it's a Listed race, and she isn't really quite that class) if, as often happens at that meeting, the race was going to be run on firm ground.  As has happened, even though Yorkshire has not had anything like the volume of rain endured by more southern parts of the country, the ground is good and the field strong, and she would have been long odds-on to be unplaced had we taken part as probably the lowest-rated runner in an 11-horse field.

So it has ended up that my only outing of the week ('week' used correctly in its Old Testament sense, ie with the seventh day on which the Lord rested after creating the earth being the Jewish Sabbath, ie Saturday) being to Milton Keynes last Sunday for a Sunday forum with Gay Kelleway.  Fortunately Gay was happy to drive (which hadn't been the plan, but the plan was revised, much to my relief, when she saw my old banger drive into her yard) which was great as I didn't feel my best on Sunday morning, having 'celebrated' becoming another decade older the previous night by drinking more than I should and eating and sleeping less than is wise.  Happily, despite feeling less than chipper, I managed to act no less normally than I usually do while we were in the studio, which was good as we had a couple of non-sequiturs to discuss so I needed to be reasonably on the ball.

The first one was Tepin's nasal strip, or lack thereof.  Why are these not permitted in the UK?  I don't really have a view on this one as the thought of my using one has never crossed my mind and is never likely to do so; but, from the point of view of logic, it is impossible to understand why their use is prohibited when horses can race in tongue straps and can race after having had wind operations.  All nasal strips do is (perhaps) help the flow of air down via the nostrils into the horse's lungs, except that they do it less effectively than either a tongue strap (if used on a horse who interferes with his own breathing by getting his tongue up and back in his mouth) or a wind operation, both of which are allowed.  Their prohibition defies all logic.

The second one was the case of the 13-year-old facing disqualification from a race at the Cheltenham Festival for having tested positive to whatever cortisone had been injected into one of his joints (a hock, I believe) a few weeks previously.  That's fairly straightforward, but the strange thing had been that we had been asked to act as if this disqualification will be harsh.  I don't really understand this.  If a horse can't cope with the work he is being given and goes lame, there are two types of anti-inflammatory which one can give a horse to mask the lameness and make him appear sound, if that's the road one chooses to go down.  One is bute and the other is cortisone.  Both are deemed by some people to have some minor secondary healing properties, but with both the principal effect is as an analgesic to make a lame horse look sound.

We are, I believe, united in our condemnation of our transatlantic cousins in allowing their horses to race on bute, yet we seem to find nothing odd in allowing ours to race on cortisone. The thing is that bute's analgesic effect only lasts as long as the drug is detectable in the horse's bloodstream, while the similar effects of cortisone (if it is injected straight into the joint capsule) last considerably longer than the time that its presence is detectable.  One isn't allowed to race while it is detectable in the bloodstream (hence this steeplechaser facing disqualification) but one does not have to wait until its effects have worn off: one is allowed to race as soon as it has become undetectable, even though it is continuing to mask the horse's lameness.

Anyway, what was funny was that, while many high-profile trainers seem to have no ethical objections to training and racing horses on pain-killers (despite the impression that our condemnation of Americans' use of bute on raceday might suggest) I am not one of them.  It had annoyed me that this horse's owner had been reported in the press as saying that all trainers use cortisone widely, because this certainly isn't the case.  Anyway, the brahma was that I had no idea what Gay's stance was, and when the topic came up I observed that I probably wasn't the best person to canvas on the subject as I don't tow the party line on this one.

What was funny was that it then transpired that Gay is an even more committed anti-cortisone evangelist than I am - so a discussion which had started with the anchorman Martin Kelly expecting the panel to join in the chorus saying how harshly this horse's connections are being treated ended up in very different vein.  This came as quite a relief to me as it was good to find that Gay is as disapproving of the practice of masking a horse's lameness so one can run him as I am, as I hadn't really been looking forward to going out on a limb on this one.  One never likes to be the lone voice crying in the wilderness, on the first day of the week, the last day of the week, or any other day of the week.

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