Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Windsor reflections, and further Derby debate

Well, yesterday's trip to Windsor really was a pleasure.  When Indira (whose day, from arrival at the races through to relaxing back home in the evening, is shown here) suffered a slight tendon strain last July it was far from certain that she would race again.  As this year was progressing, it was becoming ever more likely that she would, so as we neared her resumption (after a 325-day break) the big day was obviously much anticipated.  Her work was consistently good going into the race, and I was fairly sure that she was ready to run well (which, I should add, goes without saying, because I wouldn't have run her until I thought she was fit enough to run well) but, even so, it was far from guaranteed that that was what she would do.  Particularly when it rained.  We have, as we know, had all too many reasons (and will have many more) to remember that disappointment is a fairly constant companion.

Happily, disappointment was not our companion yesterday.  Indira ran a lovely race, travelling comfortably and kindly throughout before finishing third, unable only in the final furlong to keep tabs on two horses who handle soft ground better than she does.  She has never won off a rating higher than 83, but yesterday was running off 92.  By our standards this is an exalted level of performance.  In fact, one would need to be accustomed to breathing very rarefied air not to regard a creditable run off a rating in the 90s as a decent achievement.  She is a very special mare to everyone involved with her - including, which is lovely, Josephine Gordon, who has by now ridden several horses clearly superior to her, but still sees her as a real favourite - and to have her show that she retains her ability and determination was wonderful.  And the icing on the cake was that her legs were good today and she was 100% sound when she went for a trot this morning.

As I only put up a chapter yesterday, there's not really a lot more to add beyond giving a report from our trip yesterday (unless I broach a new topic, of course, and there are several which could be visited - but I don't have the energy for that).  But what I can do is to expand on yesterday's ramblings.  The Derby.  I've been involved in further discussions on the subject (including at Windsor on ATR with Matt Chapman, once he had finished telling me that Indira was too fat) and I probably ought to add a few observations to the ones which I made yesterday.

I have heard it said that the presence of Diore Lia will make a mockery of the Derby's (supposed) status as the greatest race in the world.  I'd like to say that that isn't true, because in the accepted sense it isn't.  However, it actually is true, but not for the reasons believed by those who maintain that it is true.  Basically, Diore Lia running in the Derby does make a mockery of the race's supposed status as the greatest race in the world solely for the fact that she won't be eliminated.  In other words, it highlights that the race won't be oversubscribed, and it is this dearth of runners which makes the mockery of the race's supposedly hallowed status.  What makes a mockery of the race's supposed status of the greatest race in the world is not that owners of horses not good enough to run in it want to run in it, but that owners of horses good enough to run in it don't.  (And I know that that is a very inelegant sentence, but I hope that you can work out what I am saying).

If we take the races which actually are the greatest races in the world - races such as the Grand National, the Melbourne Cup, the Kentucky Derby, the Golden Slipper - getting a place in the line-up is a massive achievement.  This is not because there is an arbitrary rating which one has to have achieved in order to get a run, but because the race is so great that everyone wants to have a runner in it, so competition to get in is intense.  If there were no safety factor, for the Durrrby, Slipper or Cup, then there would be hundreds of runners every year.  There is invariably a full field, composed entirely of good horses.  Horses of Diore Lia's class have no chance of getting in, not because of any moves by officialdom to keep them out, but because they don't come anywhere near close to getting into the top 20 (or 24, or whatever).

So what's gone wrong with the Derby?  Why aren't the many three-year-old colts superior to Diore Lia running?  What has happened to the principals from the best staying (ie seven furlongs or farther) juvenile races of 2016, eg Chesham Stakes, Superlative Stakes, Vintage Stakes, Washington Singer Stakes, Champagne Stakes, Dewhurst Stakes, Autumn Stakes, Racing Post Trophy, Zetland Stakes?  What about the first three home in the 2,000 Guineas plus the Derby trials at Newmarket, Epsom, Lingfield, Chester, York, Goodwood?  These horses can't all have broken down, can they?  These horses ought all to be running at Epsom, simply because the Derby is the greatest race in the world and these are horses who ought to have some sort of chance in it.  If these horses aren't good enough on the day, their sights can subsequently be lowered.

But their connections can cross that bridge if and when the come to it because, so we're told, there is only one Derby.  So, if you have a horse who is even a semi-realistic chance in the race, you run him.  What Diore Lia's owners are actually doing is reminding us that the Derby is the greatest race in the world, and that there is no greater aspiration than to have a Derby horse.  That isn't making a mockery of the race.  It is everyone else who is doing that.  What does make a mockery of the race is that we have countless owners with horses who are realistic or semi-realistic Derby contenders who don't have enough respect for the race to want to run in it.  Tony Morris pointed this out in his infamous 'Sad, Mad, Bad' article in 1995 when Peter Savill opted not to run Celtic Swing, but we have now become so accustomed to people not holding the Derby in awe that when people own horses who would start hot favourite in the Derby, horses such as Frankel or Churchill, but don't run them, we let it pass unremarked.

Like John McCririck, I don't believe in telling other people what they should be doing, but feel that they should be allowed to make their own decisions uncriticised.  It's up to the people who own the horses who have finished in the frame in the obvious Derby lead-up races of last year and this whether they take their horses to Epsom - just as, in the unlikely event of my ever owning and training a feasible Derby contender, it will be up to me, and nobody else, whether or not I take my horse to Epsom.  To conclude, we are agreed that it is indeed ludicrous that Diore Lia could be running in the Derby - but the blame for that lies neither with her connections nor with the rule-makers, but with the many people who own realistic or semi-realistic Derby contenders but who have chosen not to run them, thus meaning that there is not a full field and that no-hopers such as Diore Lia are not eliminated.  If those people agreed with you and I that the Derby is the greatest race in the world, then she would not be running.  If we wish to criticise anyone (which I don't) then we should criticise the people who don't revere the Derby as much as we do, rather than the people such as Diore Lia's owners who do.

Here endeth the lesson.


neil kearns said...

A question when was a horse last ballotted out of any flat pattern race in the UK ?

I don't know the answer but it must have been a few years ago

And the follow up is why are so few connections willing to enter horses into the higher grade races- this is not just a problem for the Derby but the whole pattern structure

My theory would be that our American and Australian cousins are far less concerned about losing given the upside for winning - over here a horse loses and it seems to go from potential superstar to complete flop - and in terms of potential future careers at stud bombs in value which is just plain stupid .

I also wonder if the attitude of the current handicappers towards horses entering group level races - which seems to be if you enter you must be 100 plus horse - also discourages connections from having a go at the top level

neil kearns said...

1-0 to the control police !!

were i the connections i would put up another 7 lb claimer as a matter of principle

given this when will the BHA stop large connections running pacemakers in their flagship race as they set out with exactly the same chance of winning as Diore Lia and if they don't will they then suspend the jockeys concerned for failing to ride to achieve the best possible placing for their (not the rest of the stables) mounts ??