Friday, August 12, 2016

It isn't the cough which carries us off, not this time anyway

On what was an absolutely idyllic day of sunshine, this morning I stumbled upon something on Twitter which piqued my interest.  (Nothing unusual there, of course).  I've been trying not to notice such pontification, but it has been impossible recently to avoid punditry in the racing media which centres around speculation about the current supposed sickness of the equine population of Newmarket.  Generalizations are annoying at the best of times, but this generalization is just sheer nonsense.  Which was why I was particularly pleased today to stumble upon some objective evidence to support my contention.

A Lambourn-based trainer (Brendan Powell) happened to include a snapshot of today's 'Hot List' in the Racing Post in a tweet this morning.  As luck would have it, eight of the 15 trainers on the list train their strings on Newmarket Heath.  (I have phrased it thus because one of the trainers is Gay Kelleway, who trains in Exning rather than Newmarket, but she still works her horses on the communal grounds).  I know that there are a lot of trainers (70 or so, I believe) here, but there are several hundred in the country, so having a disproportionately high number of the trainers on the list (more than half) based hereabouts is a pretty strong piece of evidence to suggest that the line of reasoning upon which this punditry is based is flimsy at best.

We're having very few runners at present (one last week, none this week, probably two next week) but this idleness certainly doesn't stem from any ill health in the stable.  We have 14 horses in training here, and that includes ones who are in the very early stages of training, just walking and trotting, who almost certainly won't gallop this year, never mind race.  Of the handful who are reasonably fit and could, in theory anyway, race within the next month, some are totally sound and some, as will be the case in every stable in the country, are bedevilled by a few aches and pains, as happens with all too many racehorses when they have been in strong work and racing for a while.  But no horse here is unwell.

When we do have a horse who is unwell, he/she won't be ridden again until he/she is healthy, which tends to mean a few days off, as a sick horse usually becomes healthy with a few days of complete rest.  I still see strings of horses heading out to exercise from the few stables which are supposedly devastated by sickness, which suggests that the horses aren't ill at all.  Or, rather, the vast majority are not, as those stables seem to be having just about the usual number out on the Heath.  Every trainer in town will be having a good proportion of fit horses at present not running because they have things wrong with them (or, if they do run such horses, having horses running disappointingly) but in the vast majority of cases, in the second half of the season during a very dry period, such horses will be jarring up, not ill.

On a related subject, another similar case of Newmarket trainers being unfairly beaten with a misdirected stick cropped up earlier in the summer.  There was an evening meeting at Windsor where the ground was fairly firm after a spell of hot, dry weather.  Rain started falling just before racing, the bend became slippery, a horse lost his footing in the first race without falling (the winner, funnily enough) and the rest of the card was called off.  That was unfortunate, but nobody's fault.  Anyway, a letter was written to the Racing Post on the following Sunday calling for Windsor to compensate connections of the horses who had travelled to Windsor to run in races which did not take place.

I felt that this request was unreasonably harsh on Windsor, who had been just as unfortunate as the connections of such horses and who would have been an even greater financial loser because of the turn in the weather; but that's by the by.  What caused me to shake my head was that the letter-writer stated boldly and baldly that the charge faced by owners for having a horse taken from Newmarket to Windsor and back would be £500.  Halve that figure and it would still too high, albeit not massively so.  But, really!  We collectively are trying to market ourselves to the racehorse-owning public, so it's hard to swallow misinformation being put out about us, whether that information relates to the charges faced by our owners or the health of our horses.

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