Friday, May 26, 2017

Ruminations during a hot week

It's been a lovely week.  We started off on Sunday with the weather coming good, warming up and drying out from the unseasonably cold, wet spell which we had endured during the previous week.  I'm writing this on a Friday when it's been sunny from the outset and when it has risen from 12 degrees at daybreak to its mid-afternoon high of 25.  Those figures and that sunshine make it hard to remember that only a week ago we were cold and wet.  What a difference a week makes!

The racing has been less good for us than the weather, but that's no disaster when the weather has been so good.  The trip to Brighton on Tuesday with Roy (seen post-race in the first paragraph) was very enjoyable and, while it was a rare occasion for him to fail to find the unsaddling enclosure at his favourite course, his fifth place was OK.  He was racing off a mark 6lb higher than he has ever won off, which for an exposed seven-year-old makes things hard.  And his run was creditable, if non-achieving.  He can go back there three weeks on from that run for a mile-and-a-half handicap, and he ought to run a decent race there again.  And, as usually happens when Roy runs, it was a very pleasant outing.

The trip to Lingfield the following day was less good.  A good journey down there took an hour and three quarters; the trip home took three and a half hours.  But the journey home was not the most frustrating aspect of the day.  That distinction went to Hope Is High's race.  As things turned out, the wide draw did not prove to be a problem for her (seen pre-race in the second paragraph) this time because Josie got her into a lovely position.  She was where she needed to be turning into the straight, having had a straightforward trip up to that point.  However, thereafter things went less smoothly.

She tried to move out shortly after straightening so that she could start to work forward, but the subsequent winner moved over to shunt her back in behind the horse she had been tracking.  No worries: there was a big gap inside that horse (the field having fanned out a bit at the top of the straight) so she switched back in and started to move forward, with plenty of clear space inside her, and the eventual winner going forward at the same time but two horses' widths to her outside.  Things then got worse.  The winner kept drifting left under hard riding, slightly ahead of her but not clear of her, and not clear enough ahead of her for her to pull out and make her challenge to his outer.

So he carried her all the way over to the far rail, probably five or six horses' widths, and then finally shut the gap between himself and the rail through which she kept trying to come.  The door having been shut in her face, Josie had to ease back a bit, which allowed one horse to come past her on the pair's outer to deny her second.  Josie then eased a bit more in the dying strides, the winner being directly in front of her by this time and third place seemingly in the bag - only for another horse to chin her on the line.  Fourth!  Hard to swallow when we would have been second at worst if the jockey on the winner had kept his horse straight and hadn't consistently impeded/intimidated her through the final 300m.

There was clearly going to be a stewards' enquiry - both for the sustained interference caused by the winner and for Josie losing third place for easing up in the final two strides - but I wasn't particularly interested.  In the old days (or in France or the USA) the winner would have been demoted and placed behind us, but even then we would only have been promoted to third.  And at that (ie Class Six) level, (and with a favourite who hadn't been at EW odds) whether you are placed third or fourth isn't fundamentally important.  So I didn't pay it any mind.  I did, though, take enough interest to dig up the stewards' report on the internet the next afternoon - and had almost to rub my eyes in disbelief that the stewards' conclusion had been that no interference had taken place.  Ah well - as they say, it would be a dull world if we all thought the same.

Mind you, I don't think that that was the weirdest piece of stewarding that afternoon.  Back in town in the evening, I bumped into a thoroughly disgruntled Eugene Stamford.  He had run his stalwart The Happy Hammer at Yarmouth, ridden by his daughter Lulu.  She had clearly had a rush of blood to the head in the race, hitting the horse 12 times.  Inevitably she received a suspension (four days) but the surprise was that Eugene was also penalized (very heavily - £650) on the grounds that, when he had given her her instructions, he had not told her to use her whip responsibly and within the rules.

This is ludicrous.  Apparently, any time one uses an apprentice, one has to remind them to ride within the rules.  Any apprentice - not just an inexperienced 7lb-claimer (which Lulu isn't: she claims five pounds, having passed the 20-winner mark) but any apprentice.  This is despite the fact that apprentices are only granted a license after they have been on a course at the British Racing School to be assessed and instructed in their responsibilities as race-riders.  It prompts the thought that, if the BHA thinks that apprentices come away from that course not knowing the whip rules and not knowing that they aren't exempt from them, then either these apprentices should not be licensed or the British Racing School should be relieved of its responsibilities.

I could quarter-understand this if the fine went to the trainer to whom the apprentice is apprenticed, because that trainer is responsible for the apprentice's education and conduct.  In this instance, that would be Michael Bell (because, although Eugene is Lulu's father, she is not apprenticed to him, nor ever has been - she started her apprenticeship with Michael Bell, went away to George Margarson for a while, and is now back with Michael Bell).  But holding Eugene responsible for the fact that someone else's apprentice had a rush of blood to the head and disregarded the tuition which she has received from both the BRS and her boss?

And the size of this fine is absurd, over and above the fact of the fine existing at all.  I don't know what Eugene earns, but it's inconceivable that it could be as much as £100 a day.  At an educated guess, I'd say that a fine of £650 is the equivalent of two weeks' pay.  Just think about that: that's the equivalent of a freelance jockey getting a 14-day suspension.  (For a jockey who works for a trainer, it's the equivalent of a suspension considerably longer even than that because, obviously, he would still have his retainer paid while he is off, or still be paid for riding out during the period).  Compare this against the jockey responsible for the worst piece of dangerous riding I have seen this year (at Lingfield on 26th April) receiving a six-day suspension.  Eugene has received a punishment twice as hefty as that.

Lulu received a four-day suspension for using her whip too frequently - and during those four days she will still, obviously, be paid her wage for working for Michael Bell.  Eugene, for whom she happened to be riding when she broke the rules, is required to work for two weeks without pay because he has failed to prevent her from breaking the rules, despite the fact that he was only third in line for being responsible for her conduct, behind firstly the BRS and secondly her boss, neither of whom is deemed to have any responsibility for her misdemeanour.  Madness, pure madness.  In fairness to the stewards at Yarmouth, I imagine that they were only following the rules laid down by their masters.  Under the circumstances, it's hard to be too concerned about the Lingfield stewards putting an interpretation on the running of Hope Is High's race radically different from the one which I put on it.

Let's see what tomorrow's trip to Goodwood with Parek (Sussex Girl - seen on Wednesday in the sixth and seventh paragraphs) brings.  Nothing too controversial, I hope.  I'd imagine that she'll go off something like a 100/1 shot in a five-horse race.  But she is obliged to run in a third maiden race before she is allowed to run in something more suitable; and I hope that, bearing that in mind, tomorrow's race might be as suitable a maiden as any to contest.  Seven furlongs, which seems a suitable distance for her at this stage - tick.  Not on the AW - tick.  Fast ground - tick.  Not unfeasibly far from home (140 miles or so) - tick.  A small field, which is always an advantage for an inexperienced horse (particularly one who very nearly didn't go into the stalls last time) and which obviously always gives one a chance of finishing in the frame - tick.

And a turning track on which she'll learn more about racing than merely running up a straight - tick.  And two further bonuses.  Competing at one of the loveliest racecourses in the world, where it's always an honour and a pleasure to have a runner - tick.  And being ridden by an excellent jockey who is arguably top of the list of those who 'deserve more chances than they get' (Simon Pearce) - tick.  Let's hope that it turns out to be a satisfactory day.  And let's hope that officialdom and I can see eye to eye, which always helps!

1 comment:

glenn.pennington said...

it's very noticeable how you use the best jocks John - I've long admired Simon Pearce and he doesn't get many outside rides - good luck to him !