Sunday, September 23, 2018

Planning permission

I really enjoyed the Open Day - well, Open Morning - today.  The smaller stables obviously don't get the numbers which the higher-profile operations receive.  (And this morning's bad weather probably kept numbers down across the board anyway).  That, added to the the fact that uncertainty over whether we would be opening meant that we weren't in the brochure, meant that we didn't have a huge attendance.  But that's perfect.  I'd feel uncomfortable if we had so many visitors that some people went away feeling that they hadn't received much of a welcome or sufficient attention.  I'd hope that nobody felt that today.  Everyone who came really seemed to enjoy their visit, and I enjoyed the visits too.  It's always a pleasure to show off the place, and it's particularly good to show it off to people who seem really interested, which was very much the case today.  A very happy day.

Mind you, we were lucky to have any visitors at all!  We have one runner this week (Wasted Sunsets in the 8.30 at Newcastle tomorrow night - I repeat, 8.30 at Newcastle tomorrow night, so it'll seem a long, long, long drive home if she runs badly) so I rode her out this morning before we started to get things organised in advance of our visitors.  It was lucky that I did so because as I rode down Exeter Road, I found that Open Day signs had been put up on gateposts - but not on our gateposts, rather on our neighbour's gateposts.  Unbelievable.  Signs on the wrong property.  Happily, having discovered this, I was able to move the signs and put them where they should have been put.

Mind you, it might have been a boon for the visitors if the signs had been left where they were.  Well, it wouldn't have been, but it would have been if the Open Day had been earlier in the summer because Frankie Dettori was living in the house next door.  That would have been a very pleasant surprise for anyone hoping to run down a lower-tier trainer: to knock on the door and find the world's greatest jockey answering instead!  Frankie was supposedly renting the house for a year while, having sold his previous house, he was having a new house built.  He and his family ended up living there for two and a half years but they've moved on now, so that wouldn't actually have happened.

It was his previous house, not the one next door to us, which featured in one of the best examples of quick racing wit that I have heard.  Frankie rode Tony Fordham's Batgirl for us on a few occasions, including winning on her twice at Yarmouth.  Batgirl could be very difficult at the start, but she knew me well and I knew her well so I used to go down to the start to lead her into the stalls and stand with her while she was waiting for the others to be loaded.  On one occasion, Frankie happened to ride her at Yarmouth only a few days after I had become a Councillor on Newmarket Town Council.  As I was leading Frankie and Batgirl around behind the stalls, I heard an Irish voice (which sounded very like Kieren Fallon's) shout across, "You know he's only riding for you because he wants permission to build a conservatory on the side of his house!".  Very good!
Friday, September 21, 2018

Nomenclature & bibliophilia

Newmarket Open Weekend.  We shall be opening on Sunday.  I had thought that we wouldn't be able to do so, as I was intending to run White Valiant at Plumpton.  However, he isn't running, so we shall open.  White Valiant had to miss Fontwell two weeks ago after he knocked a scab off a cut on his hind leg when schooling two days before the race.  I had thought that he would be fine to run at Plumpton two weeks later, and indeed he is fine: he galloped well this morning.  But that was his first gallop for two weeks.  He had to have too many easy days last week, and we would have been going to Plumpton on too interrupted a preparation.  But Fontwell 13 days later, ie two weeks tomorrow, should be fine. 

The drawback to the Open Day is that the forecast for Sunday is very grim, with solid rain expected throughout the day.  But weather is weather - you can't do anything about it.  It's still the Open Day; the weather can't alter that.  I hope that plenty of people come and enjoy it.  What else is happening?  Well, I've been mulling over a few musings on the topic of heavy-handed stewarding, but I was pleased yesterday to receive news that common sense has been applied to one of the cases which was looking like being dominated by over-zealous officiousness.  So I'll restrict myself now to our antipodean friends, and move off at a tangent from there.

This is one of those things that is so strange, so hard to believe, that I'm almost thinking that I must have dreamt it.  But I didn't (I think).  (I think) it definitely happened.  A man in Australia (I think in Queensland) took a smutty liberty by applying for a name which is the Italian phrase for something rather rude.  Inevitably, whichever steward had to approve or reject the application can't speak bawdy Italian, and the name got through.  Tee hee hee.  What is the upshot?  When the stewards became aware of this little wheeze, became aware that this lewd little joke had slipped through, THEY WARNED OFF THE OWNER FOR 18 MONTHS.  I oughtn't to use bad language on this blog for fear of being warned off for 18 months - but, f*@k me!

(And, of course, in effect the man wasn't warned off for naming the horse with an X-rated name: the stewards did that.  Effectively, he was warned off for applying for an X-rated name, which was then approved).  It would have been interesting to know whether he would have been warned off if the steward responsible for approving (or otherwise) the name had been an italophone (is that a word?) and had knocked the name back.  The owner's offence would have been just the same.  Mind-blowing.  (And to move off on my tangent). The timing of this, of course, provides us with a classic example of being overtaken by events because this has all blown up shortly after David Ashforth's new book, 'Fifty Shades of Hay' (which relates various horse naming brahmas) has come out.

I suppose that we shouldn't be too surprised about this draconian punishment.  Our colonial cousins have always had more delicate sensibilities than we have.  We found that out in the '30s when Lord Rosebery's horse The Bastard headed Down Under for stud duties at Lyndhurst Park Stud in Queensland.  He had won the Yorkshire Cup in 1930 and finished third in the Ascot Gold Cup, as well as supposedly setting a world record for a mile and a half when winning at Newmarket's July Course (in a time which, of course, has to be taken with a massive pinch of salt because timing the staying races at Newmarket, where there is no spot from which one can see both the start and the finish of the races, in the pre-CCTV days would have been a very hit-or-miss process).

Anyway, The Bastard was clearly well established in the Form Book as The Bastard - except that the genteel Queenslanders couldn't cope with this, so he became The Buzzard, under which name he topped the General Sires' Premiership in Australia in both 1946/'47 and 1949/'50, as well as siring the Melbourne Cup winners Old Rowley (1940) and Rainbird (1945).  So perhaps this latest crackdown by the Colonial Nomenclature Police shouldn't surprise us too much.  I've named a few horses over the years, but I don't think that I've ever strayed too close to the line which divides the acceptable from the shocking.

The name of which I have been most proud was A Monk Swimming.  I didn't own him, but I came up with the name and his owners (Lawrence Wadey, Bill Benter, Gerry Grimstone, in the guise of the 1997 Partnership) were kind enough to use it.  He was by Among Men out of Sea Magic.  If you haven't read the book this will mean nothing to you, but this is the title of Malachy McCourt's first book of memoirs.  He explained the title as coming from his youth when he and his elder brother Frank were at school in Limerick and were reciting their Hail Marys,  They didn't pick up on the words correctly, and thought that it was, "Blessed art thou a monk swimming".  Which turned out to be very apt for a strictly-raised Irish Catholic who emigrated to New York and found himself adrift in the big, wide, cosmopolitan, multi-faith and faithless ocean of humanity over there.

I was also very pleased with the name which I gave to a horse who ended up never racing, Abetterplacetobe.  He was by Night Shift out of a mare by Blushing John whose name I can't remember.  If you know (and therefore love) 'Greatest Stories Live', you'll appreciate the name.  If you don't, you should make yourself familiar with the album.  (And that's good advice).  In the interim, this should explain things.  This is how Harry Chapin introduced the song at the concert at which the recording of the song which appeared on the album was made: "This is probably the favourite thing of mine, at least to me, that I have written.  It's about a small town upstate New York called Watertown, New York. (Applause) That's more than it deserves.  I spent a week there one afternoon, and I came away with this story, which is a rather strange tale of a little midnight watchman, a rotund waitress, and a girl who picks up one night, and it's called, 'A Better Place To Be'."

There's always plenty in a good name; less so in a couple of the weaker ones which David has highlighted in the Twitter tasters which he has been giving us this week: Gangrene and Dishcloth.  This will be a very good book.  Written by pretty much anyone with a decent sense of humour, it would be good; written by David, London to a brick on that it will be extremely good indeed.  When I'll read it, though, I don't know.  I'm currently in the second half of Nick Godfrey's 'Postcards from the World of Horse Racing - Days out on the Global Racing Road', and loving it. And then I have quite a pile already assembled.

Too many good people have died this year.  The great novelist Philip Kerr died in March of cancer, aged only 62.  He must have used his final months most productively as there are two Bernie Gunther novels which he will have published posthumously.  Remarkable.  Humbling.  The first of these is due to come out on 4th October, and the second one next spring.  Reading those will be a very special, very moving experience.  Additionally,  I have recently discovered that, as well as creating the great Bernie Gunther, he created a character called Scott Manson, who features in three novels: 'January Window', Hand of God' and 'False Nine'.

If Scott Manson is even half the character that Bernie Gunther is/was, then these will be terrific.  They are on order; while another of his novels, Research (published 2014) arrived yesterday.  Alan Partridge's 'Nomad' is on the side, and I have recently acquired four more racing books (one of which, Henry Custance's memoirs, 'Riding Recollections and Turf Stories', I have read previously when I was lent a copy by Bill O'Gorman) and have one more on the way, all of which are on the list.  That's the thing about life: so many books to read, so little time to read them in.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Good feedback on the last chapter, thank you.  We'll return to that anon.  Tonight, though, we'll just run through the three horses we've run this week, and then touch on one other point.  Sunday's trip to Bath with Hope was good. She finished third of 13 in a very competitive handicap.  It looked to be her best run of the season - although it might not necessarily have been as she was running off her lowest rating of the year, and then Nicola took a free 3lb off too.  The winner won easily, and we never looked like beating the first two; but we ran very well all the same.  She's a lovely horse who always does her best.  We'll keep going with her through the autumn.  It would be lovely if she could win a race this year.  It might happen.

Yesterday was less good.  Sussex Girl was OK.  She had won twice over 10 furlongs last year, but never run over farther.  We took a step into the unknown (by running over a mile and a half) and it didn't work as she weakened in the final 300m.  But she didn't run badly, and she did everything right through the race.  John Egan so often brings out the best in horses.  Das Kapital was disappointing, though.  He came off the bridle very early in the race and then dropped right out.  I had had very slight misgivings on running again on ground faster than good ('good to firm, good in places') but I hadn't expected it to lead to that poor a run.  Hopefully we can see him on soft ground later in the autumn, and hopefully we can see him running considerably better when we do.

Aside from that, one of the most memorable things of the last couple of days was a tweet which caught my attention.  The tweet, by @ThatTimWalker, says, "Why does the BBC keep broadcasting street interviews with people saying 'I don't understand why we don't just come out.' That folk are still saying this shows how hopeless BBC has been at explaining complexities of Brexit. BBC revelling in the ignorance its coverage has caused."  Fair point: surely nobody, whether 'Leave' or 'Remain' could believe that just coming out without trying to negotiate any post-Brexit advantages is the right way to go?  Clearly some do.  Which is mind-blowing.  Depressing.

I feel a bit the same way that That Tim Walker does any time the TBA ad comes on Racing UK.  There have been several occasions when I have felt moved on this blog to point out that, if there are any concerns about the (lack of) size of this country's population of horses-in-training, this isn't caused by a scarcity of living thoroughbreds capable of being trained and raced.  It is because of a scarcity of people willing and able to pay for them to be trained, a scarcity of owners.  (The other (potential) limiting factor on the size of the in-training herd is lack of labour, a problem which will almost certainly intensify if/when 'we just come out', or we come out a bit less haphazardly than that).

There had been too many occasions in the past when figures in positions of authority in British racing had failed to grasp this (to my mind) obvious point.  Happily, I hadn't had to make it for several years, as more recently we had seemed to be being governed by people less disconnected from reality.  However, unfortunately I feel moved to make the point again, following repeated exposure to this TBA ad on RUK which lectures us thus: "We need to encourage more breeders and more horses to be bred in the UK to guarantee the racing product that everyone aspires to."

For God's sake.  The problem is over-production, not under-production; supply exceeding demand, not falling short of it.  Tattersalls held a yearling sale at Ascot last week, and just about every yearling there either was sold below cost of production or was not sold.  The principal victims of this over-production problem are breeders who breed with the aim of selling the offspring as weanlings or yearlings (breeders who are often, and usually misleadingly, referred to as 'commercial breeders') and many of them are TBA members.  It would help them considerably, and make me feel considerably less uneasy, if this ad was warning us against the problem of over-production, rather than telling us that it is such a good thing that it ought to be exacerbated.
Saturday, September 15, 2018

Decline and fall

In my musings in the chapter which I wrote last night about how ludicrous it is for modern-day trainers to whinge about the necessity of using medication to enable horses to race, I pointed out that horses coped with a far more exacting regime in the pre-medication days than would ever be the case nowadays.  I love reading racing history books so am very familiar with the types of schedules which horses used to face in days of yore, but I thought that there's no harm in coming up with a couple of examples to illustrate the point.

I have recently read Bill O'Gorman's latest book, 'A Land Of Lost Content - Some History Of Racing'.  There are some cracking examples in that, including one which has put me right on one piece of racing history, because this corrects a misconception which I have passed on all to often.  I had previously swallowed and repeated the widely-held belief that when Lord George Bentinck's colt Elis travelled from Goodwood to Doncaster in a horse-draw cart to win the St Leger in 1836, he became the first winner to travel by 'horse-box'.  That, apparently is not so, as Bill relates:-

"The Lincolnshire Ox painted by Stubbs stood 6 feet 4 inches high and weighed 2,880 pounds.  In 1790 he was transported to London for by means of a "machine" drawn by eight horses, and a similar bullock van brought Royal Sovereign from Worcestershire to win the Newmarket St. Leger in 1816.  In 1836 Lord George Bentinck repeated the experiment when Elis was rushed from Goodwood to win the St. Leger, covering 80 miles per day in a specially designed van drawn by relays of post horses."

How about these for one showing up how easy today's horses have things?  "In 1830 Priam and trainer Will Chifney left Newmarket on the Friday week before the Derby.  They travelled 21 miles to Newport on the first day, reached Epping on the second day and gave a press conference in Sloane Square on the Sunday.  The horse was at Epsom quite comfortably a week before the race.  He won in good style after surviving 23 false starts.  Trainer J. G. Lyall in his autobiography records the last forced march by a racehorse about a century later.  His mare Cabbage happened to win at Chester when a coal strike stopped all trains, and her lad alternately led and rode her 150 miles home.  The five-day march had no apparent ill effects and she won again a few days later."

Or this?  "In 1839 the famous "lazy" Lanercost won the Ayr Gold Cup for Malton trainer William l'Anson.  He walked to Catterick, where they tried Easingwold with him for the St. Leger, and walked on to Doncaster.  There he won a race and finished second to the St. Leger winner in the Cup.  The following week he was second twice at Liverpool.  He sailed to Glasgow and won twice at the Caledonian Hunt meeting at Cupar on October 1st.  Going by van to Kelso, he won the Berwickshire Gold Cup on the 15th.  On the 17th he won the Gold Cup and another race at Dumfries.

"L'Anson was known as a hard taskmaster, and this cross-border skirmishing seemingly took so little out of Lanercost that his trainer thought a raid deep into enemy territory for the first Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket on the 28th was indicated.  Travelling night and day in a van meant that Lanercost, who always suffered greatly with his feet anyway, arrived at Newmarket so sore all over that he could scarcely move.  The old-fashioned remedy of piling on clothing to sweat out the stiffness apparently worked.  "He almost jumped through Boyce's and Rogers's window" in the High Street on his way to the course and beat a field of thirty-three."

I am currently reading Nick Godfrey's latest book, 'Postcards from the World of Horse Racing - Days Out on the Global Racing Road'.  It's a great read, both entertaining and informative, and containing some great postcards.  In the postcard from Baden Baden, Nick mentions the feat of the great Kincsem (winner of 54 of her 54 races) in winning the Grosser Preis three times, 1877 to '79.  The second of those three victories represented the third leg of a mighty international treble.  At the start of August she won the Goodwood Cup (then arguably the biggest race in England).  (And that was at a time when Goodwood was hard enough to reach even from London, never mind from Budapest).

She then headed by boat to Deauville where she won the Grand Prix de Deauville (then arguably the biggest race in France) towards the end of the month.  She then crossed the full width of France (by train, presumably) and into Germany to win the Grosser Preis von Baden (then as now Germany's biggest race) early in September.  Just the travelling between the races represented a tough schedule, never mind the races themselves.  And all without Regumate, anabolic steroids, cortico-steroids, Lasix, bute of any other supposedly-important infernal potions anywhere on the radar.  How have we (trainers and breeders - and I'm both!) gone so badly wrong?
Friday, September 14, 2018

Hope and caution

Life goes on, for those still alive, anyway.  And in our case that means going to Bath on Sunday and to Yarmouth on Tuesday, but almost certainly not to Brighton on Monday.  I covered Bath in a chapter earlier in the week.  We have scraped into the Bath Stayers' Series Final by the skin of our teeth as we qualified with zero qualification points, having not run in a qualifier (and only being qualified because we were entered in one which was abandoned).  Fortunately there were only 17 entries (well, 18, of which one wasn't qualified) and we were one of only two who hadn't run in a qualifier.  Funnily enough, these two (Hope Is High and Innoko) finished first and second in the Final last year.

Innoko and Hope Is High obviously would have been the first two to be eliminated were eliminations required.  As it has turned out, though, only 14 of the 17 were declared, and the safety factor is 14.  So no eliminations were needed.  Hope doesn't go into the race with the string of wins which she had next to her name 12 months ago, but the handicapper has given her a bit of a chance and she will run off a 3lb lower rating than last year - well, one could say that in practice that's 6lb, because Nicola will ride, claiming three.  Obviously we won't head down there with expectation (not that I ever head anywhere with expectation) but we can head with some sort of hope.

Parek (Sussex Girl) looks to have no chance of getting into her race at Brighton on Monday, but she and Das Kapital are entered for the same race at Yarmouth on Tuesday, and both are intended runners.  The race might be divided (although it looks more likely not to be) which would be nice, but if they have to run against each other, then so be it.  That's never totally satisfactory, but the race will be oversubscribed, so any horse would have 13 rivals whether I run one or two.  In fact, depending on which is the last horse to be eliminated, they could each make it easier for the other to win the race, not harder.

Whatever, it'll be nice to have runners at the Yarmouth September Meeting, which isn't as easy as it used to be as all the low-grade races (bar this one) have been removed from its upgraded programme.  It's always a big occasion in this area, so I'm pleased that we shall be there on one of its days.  Otherwise, what is there to say?  Too much, really, as we have had plenty going on without my paying as much attention as I should have done.  The altrenogest/Regumate thing is one of them.  I had noticed a week or two ago that Racing Victoria had told trainers not to use it and that the trainers were whingeing, but I hadn't gone beyond that.

It actually makes me despair when I hear of trainers whingeing about the prospect of not being able to use a drug, of trainers throwing out the lament of, "How are we to train the horses without this essential aid?".  It's ludicrous, whether it is Australian trainers gnashing their teeth about the supposed essentialness (essentiality?) of Regumate (or, formerly, anabolic steroids), or American trainers making similar assertions regarding Lasix, or bute.  What's wrong with these idiots?  Do they know nothing about horses?  Do they know nothing about the skills of their (our) predecessors.

One only needs to look up the schedules of the horses of yesteryear, the horses of the eras prior to Regumate, anabolic steroids, Lasix or bute being available, to realise that it is perfectly possible to train horses without them.  In fact, one might think that it was easier.  Our predecessors seemed able to race their horses far more rigourously than is now generally considered feasible, so what has gone wrong?  Are trainers nowadays so much less skilled than those of yesteryear?  Or is it that breeders collectively are so inept that they have allowed the breed to deteriorate so markedly that horses just can't cope with the schedules of the past?  Probably both.  But, whichever it is, any trainer who ever whinges that horses can't be trained without any particular drug needs to take a long, hard look at himself/herself.

The other long, hard look will need to be taken by our law-makers.  This observation has been prompted by what has brought Regumate from the recesses to the forefront of my mind, ie an email which I received from the BHA on Tuesday.  Apparently, the Victorian stewards have banned Regumate because it has come to light that it seemingly may well contain a small amount of an anabolic steroid.  ("Altrenogest is commonly referred to by the trade name "Regumate".  It has been reported in international racing jurisdictions that trace elements of the anabolic steroid(s) trenbolone and/or trendione have been detected in products which contain altrenogest.").

What can we deduce from this?  Well, it needs to be established in double-quick time whether Regumate does or does not contain an anabolic steroid.  If it is found that it does, then one of two things will need to be done, bearing in mind that the BHA has made a great play of creating a situation where the thoroughbred is meant to lead an anabolic-free life from the cradle to the grave.  Either Regumate needs to be banned for thoroughbred use, which would bring 'the breeding industry' to a standstill (either because its absence would make the practice of getting large numbers of mares in foal in a short period in the spring much harder, or because its continued use would see every breeder warned off or excluded) or the new rules on anabolic steriods need to be ripped up.

And don't, by the way, think that this isn't an issue because we are only talking about trace elements of an anabolic steroid in the product.  It is enough of an issue for RVL to ban it for use in racehorses.  (But, seemingly, not broodmares, so perhaps Victoria doesn't maintain the same life-time anabolic-free stance that we do).  Sungate, which was being used as a cortico-steroid (and cortico-steroids are legal, notwithstanding that I don't think that they should be) and which caused a mighty furore a few years ago and led to the warning off of Gerard Butler, only contained a very small amount of an anabolic steroid, along with its primary (and legal) ingredients.

Where does this leave us?  Can Regumate be used?  Well, yes - we are told that the BHA published Detection Time is 288 hours (15 days) but it comes with the caveat that, "In light of the international situation, the BHA would strongly advise trainers to be cautious if using altrenogest in racing thoroughbreds."  What does that mean?  Shouldn't trainers be cautious anyway about using any drug in racing thoroughbreds?  I know I am.  Just as all animals are equal but some are more equal than others, I guess that that maybe applies to caution too.