Thursday, January 09, 2020

Scratching the surface

2020 is now well under way so it's time that I wrote a chapter on this blog.  It's so well under way that we've now reached the stage where, once again, dawn breaks at the same time that it did on the shortest day of the year, nearly three weeks ago!  That continues to baffle me, even though I have had it explained to me a few times.  Today is 18 minutes longer than the shortest day, which is fine - except that all 18 minutes come at the end of the day.  Sunset on the shortest day was at 3.46, while today it was at 4.04; whereas dawn broke both on the solstice and again today at 8.04.  A week ago it broke at 8.06.  So odd.

What's also odd is that our first runner of the year will be on Saturday and it will be a horse who, on the face of it, should not be running in the race.  Times have changed, and sellers are no longer the lowest grade of race.  Basically, our prize money has got so bad at the lower levels that a half-decent horse and a horse with no ability are both worth roughly the same (ie nothing) which means that in sellers (run at weight-for-age plus penalties, as opposed to selling handicaps) horses down the bottom of the ratings' table are meeting the better horses in the race on stones', rather than pounds', worse terms than they would in a handicap.

But, oddly, I'm running Heaven Up Here in a seller, notwithstanding that the form-book and the ratings-list will tell you that she has no chance.  But I'm happy to be there for a variety of reasons.  Firstly, sellers tend to get smaller fields so it was safe to plan for this race on the assumption that she would get a run, which wouldn't have been the case had I been aiming her for a Class Six handicap.  Secondly, notwithstanding that she's a five-year-old now, she still has a lot to learn about racing (having only run four times, always badly, and not since 2018) and it'll be better for her to run in a relatively small field rather than the full field which a Class Six handicap would inevitably attract.

Thirdly, I tend to take official ratings in a sellers with a pinch of salt.  As a general rule, the higher-rated horses are usually horses whose rating is unrealistically high.  If you had a horse rated, say, 70 and he was actually willing and capable of running to a mark close to 70, you'd run him in a handicap rather than a seller, wouldn't you?  I know I would.  Anyway, we'll see what happens on Saturday.  Logic says that it will be a low-key start to 2020, and very possibly a dispiriting one.  But I've had this race in mind for her for a couple of months and I'm looking forward to running her in it.  It's such a long time since she's run and she's a lot less immature than she was when she last ran, so we'll travel hopefully until such time as the arrival convinces us otherwise.

It's clearly the silly season if I'm getting excited about running a no-hoper in a seller, but that's fine: it's the silly season anyway.  But you've heard more than enough about one of its chapters, so don't expect me to be pontificating about the pros and cons of the Cheltenham Festival being extended to a fifth day; or about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's plans for their future, come to that.  These are topics on which Private Eye would publish deliberately inconsequential articles under the byline 'Phil Space'.  The Unibet blog's coverage of the likelihood or otherwise of Altior running in a Unibet-sponsored race on Saturday is another instance where I'm keen not to add noticeably to the already-far-too-big pile of words already spouted.

But I will just say that I was slightly taken aback by the BHA's weird press release yesterday which refers to a trainer's "obligation under the rules to immediately scratch a horse if, at any time between closing and the deadline for declarations, the trainer becomes aware that the horse is not going to run."  Did you know about this obligation?  I didn't.  I've certainly never done it.  In fact, it's very rare to see any trainer ever doing it.  This makes no sense at all.  If you have decided not to run, you just don't declare when the time comes; if you decide that you are indeed going to run, you do declare. Seemples.

If it was a case that you scratch once the decision is taken not to run, there would be no point in having declarations (other than on race-day, which are a necessary way of confirming that the horse has arrived at the track).  You wouldn't need to declare: the list of runners would just be the entrants who still hadn't been scratched by 10.00 in the morning two days before the race (or one day before the race if it is a non-Grade One National Hunt race).  But that's not the way it works at all.  You have a list of entries.  That basically remains unchanged until the new and shorter list comes out after declaration-time of the horses who have been declared.  There is virtually never a case of a horse being scratched (other than Altior today).  I just don't get it.

The other thing to point out, bearing in mind that my beef used to be with the re-offering of races after declaration time, is that re-offering (which should never have existed but which the BHA liked - and I actually maintain that in practice it does still exist, only, like Alan Partridge's Mini Metro, it has been re-badged) flies totally in the face of this thing about scratching once one decides not to run.  If you don't declare it is because you have decided not to run.  That's all there is to it.  The BHA apparently now maintains that, when races were re-offered, the horses who hadn't been declared - and therefore clearly, according to them, should have been scratched - should all be enticed to run.  Just as well that their trainers hadn't done what they we now find that they were supposed to do!

Oh yes, another silly season topic which I'll avoid (bar mentioning that it would have been better for everyone bar the guilty parties had the answers been supplied, and I'm not worried about them): George McGrath's Christmas Quiz.

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