Friday, February 24, 2017

Sitting out the storm

It's been a low-key week here.  I went downstairs to start work on Sunday morning ready to ride out three horses (as is the case in most stables, most horses here aren't ridden on a Sunday: it tends just to be the ones who hold entries during the week or who, for one reason or another, would be better not missing a day's exercise) because we looked set to have three runners during the week: So Much Water, Hymn For The Dudes and Kilim.  As things turned out, by the end of the morning we were down to having only (a maximum of) one runner during the week (Kilim on Saturday) and one of the two sidelined horses didn't even get as far as being tacked up, never mind ridden out.  (Hymn For The Dudes had an elevated temperature; So Much Water did at least gallop that day, but I wasn't happy enough with her afterwards to run her three days later).

So that's it: no runners midweek, and just Kilim set to go to Wolverhampton tomorrow night.  (And that's assuming that nothing goes wrong with her in the next 22 hours, which can't be guaranteed).  (And I think, incidentally, that she'll run well - but I thought that last time, and she finished last).  But such setbacks are nothing unusual.  I know that the racing press seem stunned with surprise whenever a good horse has a setback (Thistlecrack being the latest to have caused the collective jaw to drop) but it happens all the time.  That's racing, as they say; and that really is racing, a sport in which setbacks and disappointments come along far more frequently than triumphs, irrespective of the quality of stock with which and the level at which one is operating.  If at Christmas you were to nominate 10 horses, whether high-class or ordinary, to run on a particular day in March, you would be doing very well (and be extremely lucky) if five of them were fit to run on that date.  But we haven't 'lost' the horses: they'll be right to run at some as-yet-unspecified time in the future.  God willing.

As, touch wood, will be another member of the stable, Kryptos who suffered a twisted gut three weeks ago.  We're always told that a horse can twist his gut by rolling, but I'd never known this happen, and really I thought that it was just an old wives' tale.  However, I now that it isn't, because it has happened.  Strange, but true.  Happily, the skill and dedication of Mark Hillyer and his colleagues at Newmarket Equine Hospital mean that this horse isn't dead, but should be racing in the second half of this year.  But that's what happens: horses have setbacks.  That's three horses from this stable having had setbacks this month: and that's not three out of a hundred, it's three out of 14 - and that's not 14 horses in strong work, that's 14 horses in training in total, including ones who are only walking.  But, of course, they're only ordinary horses, so as far as the wider world is concerned they don't count.  But if a good horse suffers a setback - well, the sky might as well have fallen in.

Aside from that, what's been happening?  More fake news, really.  You'd like to think that the O'Leary Grand National weights outburst was fake news because it's just too depressing if it isn't.  My enjoyment of National Hunt racing in general (and Cheltenham in particular) continues to be lessened by the way in which the Cheltenham Festival is rammed down our throats all the bloody time.  (Think the classic tweet by the seemingly-now-defunct @bettingwa**er, 'Spending more than five minutes discussing the likely outcome of any sporting event') but the other thing which turns me off about it is that, at the top level, National Hunt racing seems nowadays, with a few happy exceptions, to be a game which is played with an ever less sporting ethos.  Even by the modern standards of winning having become more important than how one plays the game, though, this outburst was a shocker - especially as the fact that Michael O'Leary owned the winner last year, so shouldn't really be able to complain that he isn't given a chance.

Less shocking but equally perplexing was the article in the Racing Post the other day in which Native River's owner bemoaned the supposed fact that people keep knocking his horse.  I know that one can become oversensitive to criticism of one's animals (and I'm as guilty as anyone in this respect) but that was just too much of a head-scratcher.  I have never heard or read a single word of criticism of Native River, a terrific horse who has been a ray of joy throughout the current season.  He'd be my Horse of the Season so far, no question about that.  In fact, if anyone underestimates Native River, I would say that it would be his connections: for me, the fact that he isn't entered in the Grand National suggests that they don't realise how good he is, because I would say that he currently is a very rare example of a horse with realistic prospects of matching Golden Miller's thus-far-unique achievement (in 1934) of winning the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season.  Except, of course, that he isn't entered in the latter race.

So that's been the week of Storm Doris from this perspective.  And this perspective, of course, must always include a weather report, especially in a week which has included plenty of weather.  Monday and Tuesday really were perfect warm spring days.  Wednesday deteriorated sharply as it was partly windy and partly wet.  And then Thursday, the day in which Storm Doris battered Britain, really was grim.  Relatively speaking it wasn't too bad here, but it was bad enough.  At least the worst of the winds were in the afternoon, after we had finished riding out.  Today is grand because the wind has dropped, but it's colder again now than it was.  So spring isn't here yet.  Nor should it be, because it is still only February.

If Storm Doris made life miserable here, it looked worse at Chelmsford.  I was glad that I wasn't there as getting the races run looked to be a grim task for all involved.  Few could have had a more galling day, though, than Chris Dwyer.  He took two horses there.  One ran (unplaced) in the race which was declared void.  (And fair play to Fred Done, incidentally, for paying the prize money to those who would have earned it in that race).  And the second didn't run: Saved My Bacon is a nervous mare who is bad in the starting stalls, so he and her owner decided that it would be reckless to run her in such freakishly high winds when the conditions would have made the likelihood of her getting dangerously worked up in the wind-buffetted stalls too high.

They took this decision reluctantly, having already brought her to the racecourse to run her, but common sense prevailed because one shouldn't be too cavalier with the safety of horse and rider.  It prevailed for Chris, anyway, even if not for the stewards, who fined him £140 for not running her.  (And I believe that Michael Appleby is in the same boat).  Chris is contemplating appealing - but, really, should he have to do so?  Should this fine have been issued in the first place?  I thought that it was usual for a non-runner's fine to be waived if the horse had been brought to the track but then connections subsequently concluded that conditions were not safe for the horse to race.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

can't agree with your comments on the National weights whilst Gigginstown may be whinging as to their chances , there is a serious point here which has been ignored .Phil Smith and his crew seem to have decided that having Irish (and presumably other nations) runners in handicaps has to be stopped , as he seems to find the Irish handicap ratings are to be ignored on virtually every occasion there is an Irish runner in an English handicap the handicappers tinker with the weights (and it is never downwards) diminishing the visitors chances .
Now I heard Smith's explanation on ATR the other day and as a piece of total twaddle it was unsurpassed he gave no concrete explanation as to why this course of action is acceptable other than highlighting an individual horse who had run well in a conditions race as reason to change the ratings of most Irish handicap runners . What he seemed to be saying was his Irish counterpart doesn't know what he is doing - though not using those words - now as an avid fan of Irish racing I would suggest the Irish handicapper has done a far better job over jumps of creating close finishes than Smith does at home - and the Irish team manages to get decent fields which are sadly lacking in the UK particularly on Saturdays (Your Cheltenham point seems to be a major factor in this). I feel this issue needs thorough debate as in my time watching racing I cannot remember a time when all foreign runners seem to be being dissuaded from running in our handicaps .
Back to the National the way the weights come out is frankly farcical it seems the bulk of entries don't begin to show their true colours until after the declaration of weights has taken place - were this still a massive ante post race there would be a reason for declaring so early and not allowing penalties thereafter but it isn't and there is a danger that some of the unique aspects of the big race will be lost as it becomes a virtual level weights event if Smith's desire to have all runners with long handicap weights over 10 stone (which is frankly a ridiculous aim as it actually means nothing) continues , O'Leary may appear to be moaning purely because of self interest but he has a very valid point which is a handicap mark should be the mark a horse runs off not some amended figure to suit a race - and if Smith believes his way is correct then why not take it to its nth degree and have a different handicap mark for each horse over each distance it may race as we all know most horses are better over one trip than another .