Friday, May 22, 2020

Everybody hurts some time - don't let yourself go

Thank you again for the feedback after the last chapter.  And Neil Kearns (once again) has raised an interesting point.  Field-size limits?  We seem to have been told that when racing resumes, the field-size limits will be 12 because that is what has been agreed with the authorities to ensure that there isn't too much breaching of social-distancing rules when the horses are down at the start and being loaded into the stalls.  That's fair enough - but where does this leave us with the big races?  We must hope that this limit of 12 doesn't last too long as, while some big races have small fields, that doesn't always happen, and it would be a shame to have very good horses eliminated from Group One races.  (We are, as previously discussed, going to have very good horses eliminated from Ascot's feature two-year-old races, but that's Ascot's choice).

As regards those Ascot races, I probably took too long in the previous chapter to make my point.  My point being that this whole 'Royal Ascot has to be run in June' thing (leaving aside that the meeting won't be 'Royal' this year whenever it's run) seems to be based on the incorrect assumption that the Ascot June Meeting has to be a duplication of the previous year's meeting, and that running the meeting but deferring some of the races until the following month isn't an option.  The point which I was making was that, of course, it is very much an option.  If it wasn't, Ascot would never have evolved.  The Oatlands Stakes would still be the feature of the meeting (which would still be run in August).

In fact, the one complaint most people would make about Ascot in recent years is that they keep tinkering with it.  When I was younger, I could recite the programme for each of the four days off pat.  And that was good.  The programme was fixed, the same six races in the same order every day for years on end.  It was reassuring.  But more recently it seems always to change one year to the next.  I think that there has even been a race which has been both introduced and jettisoned (a seven-furlong handicap - Balmoral Handicap, maybe?) within a matter of years.  And yet now, the first time that there actually has been a need to tinker, we find that the programme has suddenly become sacrosanct: if a race was run last year, it has to be run the next - no ifs or buts.  As regards keeping it the same as last year, by the way, it's maybe worth pointing out that the absurdity of making, as seems likely to happen, the three-year-olds in the Queen's Vase runners tackle the 2800m first-up didn't happen last year or any other year!

The other thing that keeps me scratching my head is this thing of whether there can be 'foreign runners' (whatever that means).  Of course there can!  There has been free movement of horses and truck drivers all year.  Broodmares have been moving freely between Ireland, GB and France throughout the spring.  If connections of a horse trained in Ireland, GB or France want their horse to run in one of the other countries, they can transfer the horse to a trainer in that country.  They only need to have the horse dropped off with the trainer a day or two before the race, and the horse can then be picked up and brought home the day after the race.  It's a subject that isn't even worth discussing.

Of course, if they want the horse to run under the current trainer, that could be more problematic.  But, really, there's no need for that.  Irish-trained runners in Britain will be restricted to stables who can spare their staff for more than two weeks, bearing in mind that personnel (bar truck drivers) arriving in Ireland have to self-isolate for two weeks (which in this case means on their return).  And the same thing will happen with personnel arriving in Britain from France (bar truck drivers - and COVID-19 researchers and workers of seasonal agricultural workers, not those categories apply here) if our stunningly non-proactive government ever gets round to implementing its mooted but still long-overdue plans for self-overseen quarantine for arrivals.

Michael O'Leary has apparently said that it shouldn't take place so that, over and above our government's inertia, will probably guarantee that it never happens (particularly if the Weatherspoons man holds the same opinion).  However, the news today confirms that it is meant to start 'next month' (whatever that means).  There was initially a suggestion that arrivals from Ireland and France would be exempt, but now it seems that only arrivals from Ireland will be exempt, with the rule applying to all arrivals from France bar truck drivers and COVID-19 workers/researchers and seasonal agricultural workers.

So that (if the rule, which should have come in in March, is ever implemented) would rule out French-trained runners here, and make it impractical for British trainers to run horses in France unless they are prepared to have their staff off work for two weeks afterwards.  But, as I say, there really is no need even to be discussing this subject because there is an obvious get-out in the form of the horses to joining (temporarily) the team of a trainer in the country in which they are to run.

See what I did there?  I said that the subject isn't worth discussing, so devoted three paragraphs to discussing it.  But I won't compound the error by making it four.  Instead, I'll just mention the ROA elections.  They are looming.  (I don't think that they've been yet).  I always used to think that, as I'm a member of the NTF, there wasn't a lot of point in my joining another 'union', so I was not a member.  But I did join a few years ago.  However, during the time in which I was a member, something happened which made me despairingly conclude that the upper reaches of its hierarchy were detached from what I regarded as the realities of ownership as they (the realities) are for people who don't race high-class horses.  So I didn't renew my subscription.

However, three people whom I know, like and respect are standing for the ROA Council.  (Well, there are could well be more than three people whom I know, like and respect standing for the Council, but I haven't looked at the full list of candidates, so I'm only talking about the three whose canditatures have appeared on my radar).  These three people - Sam Hoskins, Graham Triefus and Don Clark - would all make excellent people to be fighting the corner for the country's ownership base (in fact, I think that Sam already is, because I think he is already a Council member and is up for re-election) so I think that I'd probably have to review my previous decision and re-join if they were to be elected.

Just while we're on the subject of recommendations, I was thinking about the breeze-up situation the other day and how badly the would-be vendors have been hit by the problems stemming from COVID-19.  It was very good to hear on Luck On Sunday that Tattersalls look to have a plan in hand to hold a sale, so hopefully there can be some trade before too long.  It's obviously difficult, but if it's held in England (which at first glance wouldn't be the obvious thing as most of the horses are currently in Ireland) at least people can get here from all parts of the British Isles; and the Irish vendors won't mind being without their staff for two weeks afterwards (assuming they have sold the horses, that is).  I suppose the only question is where people will stay while they are here, but that probably won't be insoluble.

I don't follow the breeze-up trade closely, but I believe that it has been the case that there are now very few GB-based vendors.  One who has recently joined that particular fold is Mark Grant, who has, of course, been a stalwart of the National Hunt riding ranks since coming over from Ireland, where I seem to recall he rode for David Wachman, 15 years ago or so.  It has turned out to have been a terrible time to become a breeze-up trader/vendor (at least people who have been doing it a while have had a chance to build up a bank to tide them through the lean times, ie the present) but I was having a look at his website the other day and was very impressed by the photographs and films of the horses on it.

It's not going to be easy trying to sell any horses at present, but he certainly looks to have some well-educated, nice horses, so I'll be keeping my fingers crossed he can weather the storm.  (And this recommendation is not based on personal acquaintance - I've never met Mark, but he's clearly bringing a wealth of experience into this new venture and, under normal circumstances, you would say that it would be certain to go well for him).  In these difficult times, one can't help but wish him well.  (The horses are on, by the way). 

Finally, the saddest news of the week is the death of Mick Curran, whose face anyone who follows the sport will know because if you have seen any photographs of Golden Horn or Kingman in a winner's enclosure - and we have all seen plenty of those - you'll have seen Mick's smiling face there by the horse's side.  Mick's fate is a salutary reminder that one never knows what is around the corner: it now seems a lifetime ago that he was looking after and riding the best horses in John Gosden's stable, and seemingly loving every minute of his life, but it was only half a decade ago.

I got on very well with Mick, particularly after we discovered that we both come from the same part of the world.  He was from Galashiels and I'm from between Hawick and Galashiels; and when I told him that, his reply was, "I started with Harry Bell".  I can see the wry grin on his face and hear the tone in his voice when he said those words, because he knew that I would know exactly what kind of introduction to working life that would have entailed.  (Harry Bell trained near Denholm, about four miles from where I grew up).

If the name doesn't mean anything to you, I can't enlighten you by equating him to a current trainer because there is no trainer nowadays quite like Harry Bell (and, for the avoidance of doubt, there are very few horsemen as skilled as he was - check out his record in the Scottish National) who really was a character from a bygone age and a legend in his own lifetime.  He had his ways of doing things; and if you'd had a grounding in his stable, you'd have thought that you'd be ready for anything.  And you'd definitely be more than qualified to look after the best horses in the world.

Sadly, it appears that that grounding didn't make Mick (seen on/with Golden Horn in the final three photographs, the last two taken in Clarehaven after Golden Horn and Jack Hobbs had finished first and second in the previous day's Derby) ready for the setbacks which have clearly come his way over the past three or four years.  I was very surprised when I heard that he'd left John Gosden's stable, and the last time I saw him he was riding out for Robyn Brisland in Hamilton Road.  We'd bump into each other regularly in Hamilton Road and exchange cheery greetings - Mick's life clearly was not going in the right direction, but he was still smiling - but that didn't last long and I hadn't seen him since then.

I wish Mick could know how many people are really, really sad to have heard the news.  I don't know whether an appreciation of how much he was liked and respected would have helped him.  Possibly not, because he must have known anyway.  If people feel that they can't cope, it can take a lot more than that to change their minds.  But the key thing is to remember that help is always there - and not just the good wishes of people who like you, but people whose professional skill is helping those in need.  This chapter has contained a few suggestions already, but the most important tip I can ever give is that, if you work in racing or have done so, Racing Welfare is always there for you.  Help is available on 0800 6300 443 (and the call is free) at any time of the day or night, and calling that number is always a better option than the alternative.

1 comment:

neil kearns said...

The Ascot two year old races will be very interesting at most a horse could with a lot of luck/planning have had two runs and most will only have one , all seasoned watchers know that a majority of stables runners take a massive leap forward from race one to two . How on earth can Ascot eliminate any horse from any stable on the basis of one run ? And are they going to "favour" certain trainers or owners in the selection process ?
The programme and the supporting comments are so vague as to suggest there will be a lot of unhappy bunnies out there come declaration time .
Ascot would do themselves a massive favour if they said horse must run in first five of a race to be even allowed an entry , I would be livid if my star beast was ballotted out after a decent debut in favour of an unraced animal from any source even HRH