Sunday, September 11, 2016

Does nostalgia happen more quickly nowadays?

A few things to follow up from the most recent chapters.  I was indeed worrying unduly about the Uttoxeter hurdles.  They are lovely.  They are just normal hurdles, but with padding instead of birch filling.  Kelso is going to have them too.  I note Neil Kearns' comments below the last chapter, but I do still have grave reservations about the hurdle-sized steeplechase fences which are used at Worcester and Southwell, and at some of the lower-grade jumps tracks in Ireland.  I still don't really understand how a race which includes them can be described as a hurdle race, but then I'm often too literal/pedantic.  But the padded hurdles are grand, and I certainly won't be shying away from any courses on their account.

Regarding the quotations which I included in the last chapter, you might have been thinking that the lament about British breeders not producing good stayers and our horses being outscored by the French might have been made in the '70s.  I seem to recall that at least one of Sagaro's Gold Cups featured a French trifecta.  If you had guessed that these comments had been made in the '70s, you wouldn't be totally wrong.  They were indeed made in the '70s - just not the 1970s.  They were made in 1871, following the Gold Cup in which Mortemer had led home his compatriot Verdue.

Regarding the tale of woe about Royal Ascot having lost its class and nowadays lacking the exclusivity of, say, a quarter of a century previously, it might have seemed worth taking a stab at this observation having been made in the '60s, a decade in which society and what one might call 'the old order' underwent massive change.  Again, one wouldn't have been totally wrong, even though the Rolling Stones would not have been anywhere in the writer's mind: these comments appeared in 'The Times' in 1868.

To fast-forward rapidly to the modern(ish) era, I was very interested to see a tweet a couple of days ago which included the front cover and a double-page spread from the racebook of the Sydney Turf Club's meeting at Rosehill on 19th September 1981.  We had yesterday the Kingston Town Stakes at Rosehill, this race being what was the STC Cup, renamed in Kingston Town's honour after he had become the first horse to break through the million-dollar barrier by winning it in 1981.  Anyway, it was widely expected that he would do so that day, so the front of the racebook featured a picture of him accompanied by the text, "Kingston Town ? $1,000,000".

But what was very interesting was the double-page spread of the field for the STC Cup, which had six runners.  It was a weight-for-age race, and Kingston Town must have been considered a certainty.  Going into the race, his earnings were $968,615  (the race carried a first prize of $31,000 plus $800 worth of trophies, so he would just scrape past the milestone if he won) and the second highest earner in the field, Sutimie, had $72,935 to his name.  In their most recent run, in the AJC Chelmsford Stakes at Randwick, Kingston Town had beaten Belmura Lad, with Sutimie fourth of the five runners.

Anyway, that's by the by.  What was interesting was that Kingston Town was a five-year-old carrying 59.5, with Sutimie, a six-year-old, carrying 60 and giving him half a kilo.  This was still in the days, which only ended fairly recently, that four-year-old male horses or geldings always carried 57 (or nine stone in the pre-metric days) in weight-for-age races.  That always made things easy to understand, but obviously the rising sizes of jockeys meant that that system was inevitably and eventually abandoned.  But that got me thinking: five-year-olds receiving half a kilo, or a pound, from six-year-olds?

This is, of course, still very early in the spring, and presumably this concession would have disappeared within a month or two.  And, I'm told, it only applied in races over 2200m or beyond.  But it got me thinking.  In the weight-for-age scale in Europe, horses are deemed to reach maturity at some point in their four-year-old season.  (Maybe even while they are still three if they are running in sprints, but I haven't checked).  The idea of horses being aged five and still receiving an allowance is a new one on me.  But it's probably right, isn't it?  Horses, particularly stayers, ought to continue to improve until they are six or so years old.

We're always told that Admiral Rous' weight-for-age scale has remained largely unchanged since he devised it, but that can't be right.  I've never seen a copy of Admiral Rous' scale.  Do we know if one exists?  If so, where can one see it?  I'm guessing that he had horses maturing much more slowly than they are officially deemed to do nowadays.  Even in the short time that I've been following the sport, there have been alterations, each designed on the basis that horses are maturing more quickly.  When Grundy beat Bustino in the 'King George' in 1975, he was receiving a stone.  When Mtoto beat Unfuwain in the race in 1988, the three-year-old (Unfuwain) was receiving 13lb.  When Highland Reel beat Wings Of Desire in the race this year, the three-year-old (Wings Of Desire) was receiving 12lb.

It is impossible to know, but I feel that the official version that horses are all mature before they turn five is not correct.  Certainly at the level at which I operate, one generally assumes that horses should keep improving until the age of, maybe, six, as long as they don't pick up things wrong with them on the way through.  The problem is, of course, that very, very few don't pick up things wrong with them.  There will, of course, have been studies looking into it, but these studies cannot possibly factor in horses jarring up as they go through their careers, simply because nobody knows bar those closest to the horses (or, in all too many cases, including those closest to the horses!).

Do these studies tell us that horses are indeed maturing more quickly?  Do they tell us that horses are less sound than they used to be?  Or do they just tell us that they are trained less sympathetically than they used to be?  My feeling is that the second and the third options both apply to some extent; but the thing here is that, unlike with the dates of the quotations about breeding for speed and about the vulgarization of Royal Ascot, I don't know the answers.  I actually think that nobody does.  I also don't know what the weather is going to be this week.  I know that, bar yesterday (Saturday) having an overcast and damp day here, last week was lovely.  And I also now that Tuesday is currently forecast here to have a daytime high of 30 and a night-time low of 18, which is a really lovely thought.

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