Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Talent under our noses

I had an enjoyable evening with 'The Toft' (ie Simon Mapletoft, a very good presenter and very nice man) on At The Races last night, when we were covering the Lingfield evening meeting.  I always enjoy a Lingfield card as, for some reason or other, I always find that there are plenty of interesting competitors there, both equine and human.  One of the best possible trainer/jockey combinations - Chris Dwyer and Josephine Gordon - took the first race, a nursery, and we weren't covering that as it still came under Robert Cooper's afternoon shift with Dale Gibson.  But we had the next six races under our microscopes, and very interesting they were too.

Even though it was relatively mundane racing, there were several very creditable performances by both horses and riders.  Eddie Greatrex and John Fahy both put in particularly well-judged winning rides, while the several faultless losing rides included one by Darryll Holland on his only ride of the night.  "So what?", one might ask.  Well, these observations have been prompted by my having read articles in the past couple of days by seemingly perplexed journalists who find it odd that Gavin Lerena, whose riding during the Shergar Cup was excellent, is staying here for a week and has made himself available for rides without, as yet, having been booked for any.

I'd put it another way.  I find it less surprising that Gavin Lerena has not been in demand than that the likes of those jockeys mentioned above, plus many other excellent but grossly underused riders such as Simon Pearce, Royston Ffrench and Adam Beschizza, receive so few opportunities.  In other words, why would anyone use a good overseas rider who is going to be here for a week and who then won't be available in the future, when one is so spoilt for choice for good riders who are here anyway and who are available all the time?

It would make no more sense than if the newspaper editors were to say to their usual racing correspondents, "Don't worry, we won't want an article from you this week (and we won't pay you) because there's a journo from Seth Efrica here for the week and he writes OK, so we'll use him instead.  We'll probably want an article from you next week, though, so make yourself available then, please, just as long as we don't find another visitor next week whom we would rather use instead.  In that case, we'd probably want you the following week."  Our journos would be horrified if their editors took that approach, yet seem disappointed and perplexed that this is not the approach adopted by owners and trainers here.

My jockeys of choice, as you probably have noticed, are John Egan and Josephine Gordon, and I wouldn't take them off the horses whom they regularly ride irrespective of who was available.  And that's not altruism and decency: it's educated self-interest and common sense.  And if they can't ride, there are umpteen jockeys who in my experience generally give extremely good service and whom I'd regard as obvious stand-ins, such as Silvestre De Sousa, Franny Norton, Jim Crowley, Adam Kirby, George Baker, Darryll Holland, Adam Beschizza, Dan Muscutt, Frankie Dettori, Saleem Golam, Jamie Spencer, Oisin Murphy and Joe Fanning, to name off the top of my head just a few.  Gavin Lerena is clearly an excellent jockey whom I'd happily use on any horse if I were looking for a jockey; but if any of the above were available and could do the weight, why would one look elsewhere?

On another matter, by chance I came upon an interesting book two days ago, 'Royal Ascot' by Dorothy Laird, and it threw further light upon Hope Is High's remarkable forebear Mumtaz Mahal.  'The Flying Filly' won the Queen Mary Stakes, National Breeders' Produce Stakes, Molecomb Stakes and Champagne Stakes as a two-year-old in 1923, and the King George Stakes and Nunthorpe Stakes at three, before going on to be ancestress of umpteen champions, as well as lesser winners including this stable's former and current inhabitants Critical Stage and Hope Is High (who takes centre stage in this chapter's first two paragraphs, while Roy and his siblings So Much Water and White Valiant are much in evidence otherwise).  Mumtaz Mahal's merit, though, didn't just materialize out of thin air: it came from her parents, from whom also (obviously) descend her tribe.  I'd mentioned that her dam Lady Josephine was also a top-class racehorse and winner of one of Royal Ascot's biggest races (although I presume that the Coventry Stakes was run at Newmarket, rather than Ascot, in 1916).

Anyway, what was nice during my initial flicking through of the pages of this book was to discover that Lady Josephine's dam Lady Americus also holds a special position in Royal Ascot history.  At the same Ascot during which Bayardo registered his magnificent Gold Cup victory which is the centrepiece of Peter Corbett's excellent biography of that great horse, Lady Americus put in a memorable performance in the King's Stand Stakes.  A contemporary report of the race is carried in this book: "Americus Girl appeared to have won, and the spectators turned away, but those who glanced at the board were astonished to see that she had been caught".

We know that (inevitably) there were some miscarriages of justice in the pre-photo-finish era simply because judges were (are) normal human beings (ie fallible); and it sounds as if this was probably one of them.  But, anyway, this snippet has really whetted my appetite for reading this book.  I have recently finished Chris McGrath's superb 'Mr Darley's Arabian' and I wholeheartedly recommend it.  Unlike that one, Dorothy Laird's book is not recently published (it was written 41 years ago, in 1975) but I have somehow managed to avoid reading it thus far.  I will shortly enjoy putting that oversight right.

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