Friday, March 10, 2017

Once more unto the breach

Probably the longest gap I've ever left it between chapters: two weeks.  Feels like longer, funnily enough.  Don't know what I've been doing, because I haven't achieved much / anything (delete as applicable) in that fortnight.  We had one runner: Kilim was fourth at Wolverhampton (seen here, and then a few days later in the next paragraph, at home with Blakeney).  She's her own worst enemy.  That was her best run yet (albeit off her lowest mark, which rather undermines any such boast) as she was only beaten a length and a half, but it's taking her forever to learn to race properly.  She's like Roy: he never won until he was five, not only because it took him that long to strengthen up but also because he just did (and still does, really, if left to his own devices) so much wrong.

She's the same: she wants to do all her running in the first half of the race.  She's finally beginning to learn that that's not the way to do it, and it was very pleasing at last to see her running on to finish close-up.  But, gee - she's still hard work!  Franny Norton, as you'd expect, rode her absolutely perfectly, but even for a rider of his skill she was difficult, pulling much too hard.  She has to have a fair bit of ability (and stamina) to finish the race off so well after over-racing so badly, so if she does ever learn to do things right, she ought to do well.  Still, we seem to be going the right way - and, if she's on Roy's time-table, she's still got about 14 months to go before we need things to fall into place!  We'll see what happens when she runs next (eight days from now).  Looking farther ahead, I would imagine that we might be choosing the Roy option of going to Brighton (a great place to run a hard-pulling horse, as Roy's record suggests) once the turf racing has resumed.

Other than that?  Well, I put a lot of creative energy and emotion into paying tribute to the late, great Brian Proctor in an essay which I posted on Facebook.  I was thinking of putting it up as a chapter on this blog, but didn't.  What I might do is to put up a tribute which I paid to him and to another good man who has died recently, John Powney.  This appears in this week's Al Adiyat, the weekly racing magazine in Dubai to which I contribute a weekly column, and I can't see any harm in its being re-used.  But not today.  We've probably got enough ground to cover in tidying up other loose ends.

We might just touch upon the nonsense of the idea of 'city racing', ie running races through the streets of London.  (If this means nothing to you, don't worry; and don't try to rectify the omission because even by mentioning its (im)possibility in passing, I have given the concept more respect than it deserves).  It's just that the fact that time and money is being wasted into looking into this farce is another sad indication of the problems which we face from within rather than from without.  And we had another such reminder on Wednesday evening.

There were some races which I wanted to watch at Kempton on Wednesday night, so I turned on RUK, albeit with trepidation.  My fear was that the presenters would not realise that anyone who was watching that channel at that time would be doing so because they were interested in the racing which it was supposed to be covering; and that they might not realise that it's probably a good idea to conceal that they weren't actually that interested in the evening's sport, but would much rather be talking amongst themselves about - yes, you've guessed it - the Great God, The Cheltenham Festival.  Predictably, the horses were walking around behind the stalls and the pundits, seemingly having forgotten that their microphones were live, were amusing themselves with Cheltenham reflections.

Happily - and to their credit, because all too often RUK goes through the whole show in similar vein - they pulled themselves together after that race and devoted the next inter-race period to subjects related to the matter in hand.  Prompted by recollections of the former Tom George-trained Sun Alliance Hurdle winner Galileo (Pol), mattters moved on to Galileo, who is never out of place when one is discussing racing.  This gave Dave Yates the opportunity to drop a bombshell into the conversation: last year he met a(n unidentified) senior figure in the management of Epsom racecourse, and it became clear that this man had never heard of Galileo.

For crying out loud!  Not only is Galileo a Derby winner (2001) but he has sired three Derby winners (New Approach 2008, Ruler Of The World 2013 and Australia 2014).  He didn't sire the winner last year but sired the placegetters (US Army Ranger, 2nd; Idaho, 3rd) and also had Deauville, Ulysses, and Port Douglas in the race.  As Dave pointed out, if you had been hired to (co-)manage Epsom, in the unlikely event of your having no knowledge of the sport, you really ought to learn even a smattering about the subject - and you would be hard pressed to learn anything about the Derby without the name 'Galileo' appearing on your radar.  You'd have hoped that anyone involved with the management of Epsom would at least go to the races on Derby Day - and it would be very hard to do so without hearing about Galileo at some point.

Dave's bombshell made it a little bit easier to see how the management of Jockey Club Racecourses could consider that closing Kempton is a good thing.  I know that the way of the modern world is to have commercial enterprises run not by people who understand or are interested in the subject, but by people who have a 'commercial background' (whatever that is - presumably a degree in business management from a breeze-block university, and a reputation for being able to 'take tough decisions').  But really - what is the use of having key components of the sport run by people who have no interest in the sport?  It's not the lack of knowledge that's worrying: it's the lack of interest, of enthusiasm, of passion.  It would be impossible to have any interest at all in racing (or Epsom) and not have heard of Galileo.  So, I suppose, we shouldn't be too surprised if our overlords seem totally unable to understand the importance of that over which they have temporary stewardship.

On another matter, there was a BHA 'Roadshow' in Newmarket last week.  I probably ought to have gone, but it was in the morning; and I generally spend the mornings riding out unless it is not feasible.  It would have been stretching things to use the Roadshow as an excuse to take half the morning off, so I didn't go.  Instead, I quizzed one of my fellow trainers who had been there, making sure to pick one of the sensible ones.  I'd already had a report on the show from Emma (who was on the panel) so I had a rough idea whom to ask and whom not to ask - well, I actually only needed to know who had been there to have the answers to that one.

This observer's overview was that the first session was devoted to telling us of a strategy for 'growth' which might see another 500 horses in training, while the second session was devoted to discussing a supposed chronic shortage of stable staff; that the third session saw George McGrath, the boss of the National Association of Stable Staff, explain that the main goal is for staff to have a full two-day weekend off (ie all day Saturday and all day Sunday) two weekends out of three, while the fourth session was a lecture on why we will be having more evening meetings on Saturdays ...  In other words, the conclusion was that if one picked any problem at random, we would devote half our attention to solving it and half to exacerbating it.

But that's enough negativity.  Sure, we have big problems - but, then, who doesn't?  No doubt our sport will continue to stumble along indefinitely - even if, sadly, it appears that it will be stumbling along with both Dandy Nicholls and Adrian Maguire missing from the training ranks.  That's both sad and worrying: if horsemen of that calibre can't make it pay, what chance is there for any of us?  But there are positives, not least that we seem to have a pillar of common sense (Nick Rust) at the head of the BHA.  That's got to help.

On other matters, I'll be taking Hymn For The Dudes to Chelmsford tomorrow evening and then going to the Racing Centre in Newmarket on Sunday evening to sit on a panel at a 'Cheltenham Preview'.  I am not expecting to tip any winners, but I will try not to bore the audience too much.  Even allowing for my belief that spending more than five minutes discussing the likely outcome of any sporting event is not a good idea, this should be good fun for all present because Derek Thompson is the compere, and he is good at making things enjoyable.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

John reference my handicapping point take a look at the final race tomorrow at Cheltenham and of the six runners "raised" in the weights five are Irish and the sole English raised horse is up 1 pound compared to a maximum of 10 on one of the Irish runners . Is this remotely fair or I am just misreading things ? - for balance one Irish runner is off his correct weight
And whilst we are at it why has Smith raised every horse in the Ultima Handicap Chase - I am guessing yet again it is to do with getting horses in the handicap .
something is going on and to me it stinks