Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nailed it

Eight days since I last posted a chapter here.  Feels like more.  No excuse really: I just couldn't think of anything to say.  It would be overstating things to call it 'writer's block', particularly as I have written several thousand words for other publications in that time.  But there hasn't really been much happening: no horses in this stable entered for races, not much on racing's horizon to catch the eye, inhospitable weather which is either gloriously sunny (for all too few hours) but cold or wet and miserable, and (personally) a feeling of ennui prompted by the fact of the Trump vote completing the second leg of a stunning double, the first leg of which was the decision of a supposed majority (ie around 37% of the electorate, or whatever it was) of the Great British Public to send us down the cul-de-sac of the current on-going (or non-going) 'Brexit' f***up.

Over the past few days I've been getting fed up with reading people's bleating about how unfair it is that Hillary Clinton could have received two million more votes, or whatever it was, more than Trump and not become President.  I have no sympathy with her whatsoever: he shouldn't have got any votes, and if she'd been a halfway decent candidate she'd have received twenty, not two, million more than he did.  In a country as populous as the USA, if she can only poll two million more votes than Donald Trump, then she doesn't deserve to be President.  Ah well, we'll just have to see how things pan out, both here and there, and just live by our usual twin dictums: 'Always expect the unexpected', and 'Expect nothing, so then you won't be disappointed'.

In keeping with the whole big picture of the lunatics having taken over the asylum, I note that the practice of retiring colts to stud at the end of their two-year-old 'career' is gaining further momentum.  How anyone can think that this is a good thing is beyond me.  It is bad for racing if so many of the best two-year-olds aren't in training for a second (never mind third and fourth) season, and it is bad for the the breed if the racecourse is becoming ever less used as a testing ground for potential breeding stock.  "He/she had nothing left to prove" is one of the most disingenuous sayings in the game.  Very, very few horses retire to stud with nothing left to prove (even the most talented horse any of us will ever see, Frankel, didn't retire to stud with nothing left to prove after his three seasons as a racehorse, as he hadn't run in either of Europe's biggest races, the Derby or the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe; had never run shorter than seven furlongs nor longer than an extended ten; had never raced outside England ...).

However, the idea of a horse having demonstrated the full extent of both his qualities and his short-comings by the end of his two-year-old season is simply ludicrous.  Most of these horses are being retired simply because their connections realise that the bare fact of their having won, say, one questionable Group Two race flatters them, and that their remaining in training would only make it plain (well, it already is plain, if one thinks about it, which few seem to do) that they aren't really good enough to become stallions.  Some of them, of course, will go on to be good stallions, just as some of them could have gone on to be good racehorses at the ages of three and beyond: Dark Angel, a terrific horse who would surely have had further years of successful racing in him had his connections wished, can be seen as falling into both categories.  But the fact that the decision to retire Dark Angel to stud so soon has been semi-justified (or totally justified on a purely financial basis) is no justification for extending the trend.

The best letter which I have read in the Racing Post recently was written by Peter Stanley, who bemoaned the damage which is being done to the British thoroughbred by breeders who collectively are having a worryingly large proportion of the British and Irish broodmare herd covered each year by horses who were unproven as racehorses and are unproven as stallions (and who in the main part are likely to turn out mostly to be moderate sires).  Alongside this sorry state of affairs is the reverse of the coin, that very few stallions who have been at stud for a few years and have demonstrated that they do have something to offer to the breed can attract anything like a full book.

I know that one can't blame breeders exclusively as they generally can't afford to run at too great a loss, and it appears to be the case that all too many purchasers prefer to buy yearlings by unproven stallions.  God only knows why this should be, but my take on it is that the buying of horses is the buying (or, rather, the selling, bearing in mind that the majority are knocked down to agents whose principal aim is not necessarily to buy the horse with the best prospects, but the one which he can most easily convince his client is the one which he wants to buy) of, to borrow Che Guevara's phrase from 'Evita', some "impossible dream" - and it is much easier to cling to that impossible dream if the sire of the yearling one is buying has not yet proved that he is not as good a stallion as Galileo or Dubawi (whose yearlings are, of course, unaffordable, despite their quantity).

Anyway, the whole thing is a mess.  And it was good to see as respected a figure as Peter Stanley making that observation.  He put it in a nutshell, saying how ludicrous it is that the coming spring will see this year's Brocklesby winner not merely covering a large book of mares, but doing so at a fee only slightly lower than the fee at which this year's Derby winner will be standing.  One doesn't like to pre-empt events, but I have a depressing premonition too that this year's Brocklesby winner will cover more mares than the Derby winner.  The world, as we know, has gone mad - but we don't expect sanity, so we can't be too disturbed.

While Peter's letter was the best letter which I have read in the Racing Post this month, the best article was written by Steve Dennis.  (The latter part of that sentence is something which I could often say, as Steve regularly writes extremely good features).  The one in question wasn't even the main part of his weekly page.  It was a sidebar, a personal reflection on the life of the recently-deceased Denys Smith, one of the nicest men I have ever met as well as one of the best trainers.  Denys lived both a long life and a good one, at the end of which he was deserving of any amount of fulsome tributes.  You would hope that he will have been accorded an obituary in all the main newspapers, but no epitaph could be finer than the one which Steve wrote for him, perfectly summing up a very, very special man.  If I were both younger and an examiner marking Steve's copy, I would only have needed to use two words: 'Nailed it'.

No comments: