Tuesday, April 18, 2017

This and that

On Saturday I enjoyed what I hope will turn out to have been the first of several visits to Brighton for me this year.  Roy's very lightly-raced five-year-old half-sister So Much Water showed a bit of speed in her race, even if she couldn't keep it up for the full distance.  That was promising, and one would like to hope that she might build on that.  It's hard to know what distances might best suit her: I've always thought of her as a middle-distance horse but she's now shown plenty of speed before weakening in both of her runs to date.  If she does turn out to be a middle-distance horse, she should do well, bearing in mind that she has already demonstrated that she can gallop quite fast (albeit, so far, not for the full distance of a race).

Anyway, it was lovely to get her back to the races at last; lovely to see her show some speed; lovely to see her show a really good, positive, enthusiastic attitude before, during and after the race; lovely to be at one of my favourite racecourses on a nice day; and lovely to spend the evening in good company.  The only slight downside was that the ground was firmer than I saw there at any stage last year, but that wasn't the end of the world.  One knew in advance, as it has been so dry for an extended period, that it would be quite firm.  And she seems to have come home unharmed, so the trip should have done her a lot more good than harm.

Aside from that, the two big stories over the past few days have been Gigginstown Stud's decision to run a load of no-hopers in the Irish Grand National to prevent other people from running their horses in the race, and the stunning disregard for biosecurity shown by France-Galop in allowing horses to run from a stable (that of Jean-Claude Rouget) which has just had 57 horses fall sick with a highly infectious and potentially fatal equine herpes virus, two of which have had to be put down.  It was annoying last year when we were shut down for three weeks because a vet incorrectly raised a suspicion that we might have a case of the disease here, the quarantine remaining in place for its standard duration despite the fact that within 24 hours of making this incorrect diagnosis the vet admitted that she had been wrong.

That was very annoying at the time - but, on balance, I'm much happier training horses in a country where the authorities take biosecurity so seriously that they over-react to a misdiagnosis and shut down a stable which clearly hasn't got the disease than in one where the authorities are so lax that they don't take the containment of fatal diseases seriously and allow a stable which definitely does contain one to send its horses out to mingle with the wider horse population.  As far as the Gigginstown thing goes, all it has done is to reinforce my longstanding feeling that National Hunt racing, like nostalgia, ain't what it used to be.

In one sense, all Gigginstown Stud did was try to win the race by playing within the rules.  In that sense, there's no problem, as long as you adhere to the belief (which I don't) that winning is more important than how you play the game.  If the Irish Grand National hadn't been over-subscribed, there would have been no harm in what it did.  But it wasn't: the race was over-subscribed, and horses had to be eliminated.  If all the Gigginstown horses (14 in a field of 30, prior to scratchings) had had some sort of chance, then again it would have been understandable that so many ran.  But that was not the case.  Several horses were badly out of form (including two who had run deplorably in the Grand National nine days previously) and had no realistic chance whatsoever; and there was only one conceivable reason for running such horses, ie preventing other people's horses from getting a start.

Of course Gigginstown was just trying to win the race, but the the difference here was that by running horses such as the out-of-form Rogue Angel (pulled up in the Grand National, pulled up in the Irish Grand National nine days later) and the out-of-form Roi Des Francs (18th in the Grand National, beaten 79 lengths, and pulled up in the Irish National nine days later) the aim seemed not to be to try to win the race with those horses (as these horses had no realistic chance of winning, whether they ran or not) but simply to reduce the number of horses in the race not owned by Gigginstown, and thus increasing the chance of a victory for one of the several realistic Gigginstown chances.

I just think that this is so sad, and so totally against the ethos of what is meant to be a sport - and, just as I'm very glad that I wasn't a trainer having a runner at Chantilly on Sunday when the Rouget horses were running, I'm very glad that I wasn't the trainer of a non-Gigginstown horse who narrowly missed out on getting a run in the race, very probably owned by someone who would have been having his/her only chance of having a runner with a chance in a proper big race.  Is this what the 'sport' has come to, that is acceptable to run no-hopers in a race simply to prevent other people running their horses in the race?

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

agree totally about the french situation but heard the comment somewhere ATR perhaps-dont know if it is true -that Rouget has three separate yards and isolated one from the others if this is true then possibly there is some justification in allowing him to run although even if it is I doubt the staff are not moved between the yards thereby risking cross infection. in a Newmarket scenario should one stable contract a disease then should all within a few mile radius be shut down ? What would you think if that were the case ?
Whatever the truth of this case this reeks of a scenario which requires a pan european set of rules for racing so those visiting any course know that their charges are "safe"

Agree about Gigginstown to whom winning seems the be all and end all - but again I put the responsibility firmly at the feet of the rule makers who allow this to go on - the problem as I see it is when an owner puts his horses with several yards then it is not unreasonable that each of these yards may target a particular race and the owner can end up with several runners - the only solution is to put a numeric maximum on the number of runners an owner can have in a given race say 15 / 20 percent of the maximum race number
I actually feel a far bigger though related issue is the running of pacemakers who are never in a race to try to achieve the best possible placing merely to artificially affect the race speed to the advantage of others and whilst it was not said I did feel that at least a couple of the Gigginstown runners were definitely in that category (and were in the Grand National - Rogue Angel perhaps)
And as this practice is far more prevalent on the flat I feel it is wrong to suggest jump racing is any better or worse in having lost the true meaning of sport - and if one considers the top football sides who sign myriads of of players purely to stop them playing for their rivals then "loan" them out to unheard of foreign outfits one questions if sportsmanship still exists in the UK