Monday, July 09, 2018

Once more unto the breach

Once more unto the breach for our stalwarts.  Two runners this week, and they are ... um ... the usual suspects, ie Roy (pictured yesterday in the second last paragraph) at his favourite course Brighton tomorrow and Hope (pictured on Saturday in the third last paragraph) at her favourite course Yarmouth on Wednesday.  It wasn't a completely straightforward decision to run either horse, but I'm happy enough that we're doing so.  Each is in a small field (five in Roy's race, four in Hope's) and, while it's arguably too high a grade for Roy and from a handicapping point of view we ought to be waiting until he is reassessed rather than running with a penalty added on to his new mark (which is higher than the mark he won off last week), he's well, hasn't got another race coming up for a month - and it's a small field at a mile and a half on fast ground at Brighton.  Seemples!

With Hope I'd ideally like the ground to be less firm than this extended very warm and dry period will inevitably have made it.  (The fact that six of the seven races were re-offered after declaration time tells us how firm it is believed that the ground will be, as does the fact that it ended up, even after the re-offering, with only 40 declarations for the seven races).  However, she has good fast-ground form - and again it's a small field on a course and distance which is tailor-made for her.  And she's very well; and Silvestre is available to ride.  So, again, I'm happy that we're running.  And at this time of year one wants to try to make hay, and we haven't got too much else ready to run!

Roy's in good company at having three races in fairly quick succession, thanks to Aidan O'Brien having reminded us with Saxon Warrior and Athena that sound horses can cope with racing more than once a month.  I don't know why the myth that horses need plenty of time between races has come in, but it has had plenty of people who ought to know better swallowing it.  It's different if the horse isn't very sound (or is flattened by unnecessary use of Lasix) and needs time to recover from a race, but for a sound horse it's generally easier for them to race regularly as then they don't have to do much between races.

Go more than, say, two weeks between races, and the horse will have lost the benefit of the previous race and will have to do some solid work to maintain his fitness. You only need to go out to the Heath in the mornings to see how hard some horses are galloped even at this time of year, when they ought to be fit and shouldn't be needing to do anything particularly taxing at home.  In fairness, nobody really questions this logic until one gets to the higher levels, but at that point the received supposed wisdom kicks in that horses can't cope with racing.  And of course it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: once people start believing the publicity, the horses don't run regularly, so can't disprove the fallacy.

So it was good to see Aidan back up two top-class horses last weekend, and see them both run really well.  The record of horses who run twice at the same Royal Ascot, or the same Cheltenham Festival, is excellent - but it happens so rarely nowadays that one can end up forgetting that.  I suppose the problem is that so many horses aren't sound.  I saw a statistic a month or so ago that 29 members of Frankel's first crop were still unraced.  That's shocking.  These horses are now four-year-olds, so the likelihood for the majority is that if they haven't yet raced, they are not going to do so.  Frankel is clearly a very good stallion, and yet even he seemingly has nearly 25% of his offspring not sound enough to race.  That's dreadful - but sadly it's indicative of the modern thoroughbred.

It could, of course, be that some of these horses are sound enough, but just have no ability.  But not many will fall into that category: basically every sound horse can perform to a respectable level, while the ones who can't do anything tend to have things wrong with them holding them back, even if by definition (ie on the basis that they do have some racing) they are sound enough to race.  But that's the modern thoroughbred, sadly.  Whether it is a result of the collective underperformance of the breeding community or the collective underperformance of the training community is another matter - but I'd say that the breeding community is the principal culprit as we do just find that a significant percentage of the horses bred just aren't sound enough.

However, one could fill a whole university thesis on this subject, never mind a handful of paragraphs on the blog.  But the gist of it is that a sound horse shouldn't find that a race takes so long to recover from that he can't run again for several weeks.  And the other gist is that, sadly, finding a sound horse is easier said than done.  Horses such as Roy and Hope, or Saxon Warrior and Athena, who seem able to cope with their racing reasonably well, are fewer and farther between than they ought to be.  So we'll celebrate them while we can - whether they are high-class professionals or middle-of-the-road (or lower) professionals.  And we'll go to Brighton tomorrow with our proper little trouper, and we'll enjoy competing - win, lose or draw.  How we'll run is unknowable, but what we know is that he'll do his best tomorrow.  Yet again.

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