Friday, September 02, 2016

Three out of five ain't bad

I see that I made it into the Racing Post yesterday during a discussion on breast-girths.  Julia Feilden had seen a horse lose his rider in a race at Hamilton because of a slipping saddle, and tweeted that breast-girths ought to be compulsory.  I don't actually agree because there are occasions when one is better off without them, but in the vast majority of cases they either do a massive amount of good or have no effect, positive or negative at all.  We came close to seeing an extreme example of the the cost of not using one in the Dubai World Cup, when it was more by luck than judgement that Art Sherman's decision not to use one on California Chrome didn't result in the horse giving his jockey a fall instead of winning a $10 million race.  And one could name umpteen instances where their absence has had catastrophic consequences.

We live in the age of micro-legislation, and we in racing are no different from those who live in other parts of modern society in that we are surrounded by red-tape, much of it pointless and some of it counter-productive.  The mire of so-called Heath & Safety regulations through which we wade, many of them just plain daft, is so deep that I am surprised that breast-girths aren't included in them.  What further complicates the issue is that far too many trainers in Britain far less keen to use them than they ought to be.  They really should be used far more commonly in this country than they are, notwithstanding that I would resist it being compulsory to use one, not least because in general I would prefer to see our mountain of regulation decreased rather than increased.

One rule which I would like to see brought in, though, would be that it be compulsory for horses running in jumps races to wear boots on their front legs to provide protection for their tendons in case, as happens not infrequently, they strike into themselves with their hind hooves on landing over a jump.  Too many horses racing without them have suffered serious, often career-ending or even fatal, injuries because of their absence, but still they remain absent from so many stables' kitbags.  Jack Quinlan schooled Cottesloe over 'hurdles' yesterday, and you can see (in the first three paragraphs) that the horse was, of course, thus equipped for the session.  And he will be too when he runs over hurdles, which I hope will happen shortly.

What I would also like to see is that it be compulsory for the jumps in so-called hurdle races to be hurdles, rather than what I would describe as hurdle-sized mini steeplechase fences.  This is not a scientific study, but it has been my observation that the latter jumps cause far more falls, and in particular far more heavy falls, than hurdles.  I hate them, and try not to run horses in races which feature them.  That stance rules a few courses out, and I suspect that if I trained in Ireland I would find an even greater number of courses off limits.  I had been intending to enter Cottesloe for Uttoxeter next week, but have discovered that, starting at this forthcoming meeting, that course will be using these more dangerous (in my opinion) jumps instead of hurdles.  So I suspect that we might be going to Hexham in 14 days' time instead.

To illustrate my point, it is worth correcting a myth which has embedded itself securely in the general consciousness.  Hurdle races on the AW no longer take place because, we are told, their attrition rate was too high.  That is not true.  In fact, the opposite is true.  When hurdle races (ie races in which the horses had to jump hurdles) were run on the  AW, the complaint one heard was that the hurdles (which were a sort of mechanical hurdle because, obviously, one couldn't hammer them into the ground as one does with normal hurdles on turf) were too easy to jump and could be knocked down too easily, and that it was very rare to see a horse fall.

As a result of the complaints that the jumps were too easy to jump and/or knock down, hurdle races on the AW were ditched, to be replaced instead by races called hurdle races in which the obstacles were like the ones we see now, ie these hurdle-sized mini steeplechase fences.  These caused far too many falls, including far too many fatal falls, and led to the misconception that hurdle racing on the AW was unacceptably dangerous.  Anyway, those jumps which led to the scrapping of AW jumps racing are now commonly being used on the grass in what are incorrectly described as hurdle races.  I know that plenty of people are happy to run horses in races erroneously described as hurdle races which feature such jumps, but I am not.  In fact, I don't even enjoy watching such races, as the horses generally look so uncomfortable jumping these obstacles, even when they don't fall.

To move from the serious to the silly, one topic upon which we touched on the Sunday Forum on Sunday was the £15,000 fine handed out to Godolphin for a breach of the sponsorship code on Oaks Day.  We only moved on to this in the closing minutes of the programme, and the only comment for which we had time was Peter Thomas' sensible and valid observation that it was both surprising and disappointing that Godolphin, who are generally notable for doings correctly, had been so discourteous to the sponsors as to refuse to carry the Investec logo and to insist instead on bearing their own Emirates branding, in contravention both of the rules and of common courtesy.

Anyway, I had my own wise crack up my sleeve.  It is still there, so I might as well take it out now.   Basically, Investec have 'sole branding rights' at the Derby meeting, so other sponsorship arrangements have to take a back seat in those two days there.  The Emirates logo is embroidered onto the Godolphin silks, so an official taped over it before William Buick went out to the paddock for the Oaks; and an official told the Godolphin filly's lad not to wear the usual Godolphin / Emirates jacket but to wear an Investec jacket which he provided instead.  For reasons known only to himself - as the late, great Tom Jones might have suggested, perhaps he had eaten a bad lobster - John Ferguson apparently told William to remove the masking tape from his silks, and apparently told the lad not to wear the Investec jacket but to wear the Godolphin one instead.  Why he should have done this, other than the bad lobster theory, is inexplicable, as John is an intelligent man, and a well-mannered one too.

But what really got me thinking was the £15,000 fine.  Where does this figure come from? Does it make sense?  Or, looked at another way, what figure would make sense?  For anyone else, £15,000 would be a massive punishment, but to Godolphin it is like a farthing's damages.  What would be a suitable fine?  £1?  £10,000,000?  I don't know.  But what we do know, apparently, is that this figure falls within the guidelines, which give a minimum figure (which I don't know) and a maximum figure of £25,000.  Aside from telling one's jockey to display a rude message, this was about as serious an offence as one could get for this kind of thing.  It wasn't an oversight; it was just extremely rude and extremely disrespectful to the sponsors.  Godolphin really should have known better - and, I'd suggest, would have done in the days when Simon Crisford's steadying hand was on the tiller.

Anyway, what has tickled me is how my mind ties this in with a tweet which I read a couple of weeks ago.  The tweeter displayed a page from, I presume, Trip Advisor which gave comments and ratings (out of five) for a pub.  One man called Terry had given the pub three stars out of five, beside a comment which, as accurately as I can recall, said, "A friend of mine was murdered in this pub, hacked to death in front of his wife and people.  Not for me".  Anyway, the tweeter's accompanying comment was, "I spend far too much time wondering what would have to happen in a pub for Terry to give it no stars".  Anyway, subsequent to this bizarre case, I have been spending far too much time wondering what one would have to do to be given the maximum fine for a breach of the sponsorship code.

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