Sunday, November 04, 2018

Don't ride (or medicate) like a dick

It's the most wonderful time of year for following overseas racing.  Yesterday we had Victoria Derby Day at Flemington and (Day Two of) the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.  And on Tuesday we shall have Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington, my one sleepless night of the year as Tony Ennis and I steer the ATR ship through the night, with Chris Hayter producing the show in the gallery.  That's the next best thing to being there, and I've done that every year (with two exceptions) since one (possibly the first?) of Makybe Diva's wins, initially with Dave Compton and then with Matt Chapman and latterly with Enzo.

One year I didn't do it as I was at Flemington (when the Jap horses Delta Blues and Pop Rock ran the quinella) and one year (two or three years ago) ATR didn't have the rights to show it as Eurosport held the exclusive contract to broadcast the meeting internationally.  Anyway, that'll be Monday night / Tuesday morning, and I'm looking forward to it very much.  Derby Day was terrific, and Cup Day will be very good too.  The past few months I've been saying that Britain would finally win the race, but that was largely based on the assumption that Withhold would win, and he's now not running (having bled in the Geelong Cup).  The irony is that the Cup could well stay at home (well, in Australia, if not Victoria) thanks to Youngstar - the irony of which, of course, would be Chris Waller, having imported so many European horses, winning it with an Aus-bred.

The Breeders' Cup was also terrific, even if we now have to add the hand-wringing about the whip (thanks to Christophe Soumillon on Thunder Snow) to the hand-wringing of European horses letting the side down by running on Lasix.  The answer to both is simple: I'd extend the principle which I've been advocating for a while about trainers' use of medication to jockeys' use of the whip.  Basically I feel that the BHA should take the lead from the HKJC, which says that if a trainer is training under an HKJC license, if he runs a horse overseas in a jurisdiction which has a more laissez-faire attitude to drug-use than Hong Kong, he is still not permitted to present his horse on raceday treated with a drug which would be barred on raceday in Hong Kong.

This came about when Rich Tapestry was sent from Hong Kong to California to contest the Grade One Santa Anita Sprint Championship in October 2014.  The trainer was going to adopt the 'When in Rome ..' school of expediency and run the horse on Lasix, but the HKJC said that, as he was training under a license issued by the HKJC, he still had to abide by HKJC rules, and HKJC rules say that a horse can't run on Lasix.  The fact that the Californian Jockey Club, or whatever it is called, allows Lasix was not considered relevant, and the HKJC line was that if a trainer operating under its license presented a horse on raceday treated with Lasix, he would be disciplined the same irrespective of whether the race was in Hong Kong or elsewhere.  (Rich Tapestry won the race Lasix-free, incidentally).

The BHA should do the same.  British trainers (or, I should say, some British trainers) think that this would not be a good idea, their reason being that it might discourage international owners from having their horses trained in the UK if they knew that it would mean that the horses couldn't run on Lasix (or bute) if the trainer ran them in the USA.  I think that this is nonsense.  If you send a horse to Andre Fabre, you do so knowing that the horse will run drug-free if he races him/her in America, and Fabre has never found it hard to attract patrons.

I'd actually look at it the other way: it would be a better international selling point for British racing and British trainers if collectively we developed a reputation for being anti-medication (which is the way that the wind is blowing worldwide, albeit more slowly in some places than others) than doing what we have been doing up to now, ie building up a reputation as hypocrites who pretend to be anti-medication but in reality are only anti-medication wherever it is barred, but jump at the chance to use it when it's allowed.  I don't like that at all.

And, besides, it would make life much easier for the trainer if he didn't have to put himself through the agonising over the dilemma about whether or not to use the Lasix on a trip to the USA (knowing that one ought not to use it, but fearing that one might - and this, of course, is unknowable - be reducing one's chance of winning if one sticks to one's principles) if there was no decision to take.  Not that I'm likely to have to face such a dilemma, but for me having to face such a dilemma would be a major disincentive against running a horse in the USA.

So it would help if the BHA (and HRI and France-Galop) followed the lead of the HKJC as regards trainers' use of drugs.  And subsequent to the disquiet which seems to have been generally felt about Soumillon's ride on Thunder Snow, it would be a good idea if they extended that to jockeys' use of the whip, ie by saying, "If you ride on a license which we have issued, you must ride within the guidelines which accompany the issuing of that license.  If you go overseas and ride somewhere else, if you are riding on our license, if we find that you have breached our guidelines, it won't matter how permissive the authorities are over there, we'll discipline you just the same as we would do if you rode like that here.  If you're riding on a British/Irish/French (delete as applicable) license, you're a British/Irish/French (delete as applicable) jockey even when you're over there, so ride like one - don't ride like a dick.  Or else!".
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

That's good

Our two runners.  Hope was very good at Chelmsford on Monday night, doing everything right at every stage of the race and finishing second behind a nice, progressive young horse, Landue, trained by Marcus Tregoning.  That was a good monkey to get off the back, having a horse finishing in the first three at Chelmsford.  We just need to have one win there now!  Hope's best two runs this season have been her two most recent ones, and she's shown that she can be as effective on the AW as on turf, so it's an easy decision to keep going for the time being.  There's a race at Wolverhampton three weeks tomorrow which ought to suit her.

That was an enjoyable trip, and being at Catterick yesterday was extremely pleasant too - apart from the time spent watching our race!  We'd been wanting cut in the ground, and the ground was listed as good to soft; but it turned out that it was far too testing for us.  I started to fear the worst when the field split in the first race and the first horse home on the far side finished ten lengths behind the winner, suggesting that conditions were extremely taxing.  Then the 12-furlong handicap was won by an eight-year-old jumper who has won over both hurdles and fences, which also suggested that this was going to be a day when seasoned-ness would be the order of the day, which would rule us out.

By the time that Das Kapital ran, I had braced myself, so it was easy enough to rationalise him finishing tailed off.  Furthermore, it was a case of deja vu.  Indira was a wonderful mare for us, hardly ever running badly.  She did run badly, though, when she ran on this card (in the 12-furlong handicap) three years ago.  In fact, she ran very badly, finishing tailed off on what was the worst run of her life.  And she loved Catterick (which itself was a going to be doubt with Das Kapital) and was in very good form at the time.  It was 'good to soft' that day too, but she couldn't cope with the very holding ground, and he couldn't yesterday either.  Still, no lives were lost.

I haven't, incidentally, passed on the opinion to the stewards that he didn't handle the ground.  I think that we've covered this in at least one previous chapter.  Firstly, it's up to the jockey: all the trainer has done is watch the race, and so has anyone else.  And, secondly and more pertinently, it would just be asking for trouble.  The ground was listed as 'good to soft' which I think would be just about Das Kapital's perfect surface.  It had also been 'good to soft' when he had run a really nice race at Pontefract the previous time.

If I had offered a report that he hadn't handled the ground, it would have been logged as him being unable to handle 'good to soft' ground, which is nonsense.  And would just confuse things, and make me look an idiot, when I go through next year trying to find good to soft ground for him.  I had this first a few years ago when a track was called 'good' because it was neither firm nor soft, but in reality was anything but good ('bad' might have been a better description) as it was a really loose (as one often sees these days).

Anyway, horse didn't run very well, and the jockey opined (and I agreed with him) that the horse had struggled on the really loose ground.  I reported to a steward that the horse hadn't handled, the ground, but he (apologetically and correctly) reported that his recording this explanation would do more harm than good as it would just go down as my saying that the horse wasn't effective on 'good' ground, which would clearly be ludicrous, not least because nearly every horse in training likes good ground.  That's why it's called good!
Sunday, October 28, 2018

Hope

The clocks changed last night, one of the best nights of the year with its extra hour.  Still, the extra hour was needed as the change of the clocks has coincided with the change from unseasonably good weather to conditions more in keeping with the season.  Yesterday was very cold with a biting northerly wind.  But at least it was dry.  We then had 7mm of rain overnight, which made today bleaker, even though it felt less cold as the wind had dropped.  Any, winter it is now, and winter is the time of needing plenty of sleep.

Two runners coming up: Hope Is High at Chelmsford tomorrow and Das Kapital at Catterick on Tuesday.  I'd hope that Hope will have a decent chance, although the AW is a step into the unknown with her (notwithstanding that she did have a run at Newcastle as a three-year-old) while Chelmsford is the bogiest of our bogey courses: I don't think that I've ever trained a runner who finished in the first three there.  Even Indira, who always ran well, was only fifth when we took her to Chelmsford.  So I just assume that we'll be disappointed on the very rare occasions when we venture there.  Still, this unblemised run of unplaced horses has to be broken some time. Doesn't it?

I was sort of working on the assumption that Das Kapital's run at Pontefract six days ago was going to be his last race of the season.  But he ran well enough there to show that he's in very good form; he's come out of the race very well; and this race at Catterick looks very suitable.  So it makes sense to run.  In an ideal world I might have given him slightly longer between races, but this isn't an ideal world and one very rarely has options exactly as one would like them.  Anyway, I'm happy to run, and hoping that he'll run well.  So let's hope that we have two good runs.  We'll see.
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Diminished

Too many tears.  I've been to three funerals this month, all at the West Suffolk Crematorium, and cried at every one.  Three very good people gone, three dear friends.  Cliff Rimmer, Mick O'Shea, Colin Casey.  Most recently, we bade farewell to Colin this afternoon.  Most people who know me will have known Colin; and all people who knew Colin will miss him.  Like Cliff, Colin found the final stages of his life very testing; and like Cliff, he had a long life and a good one, in Colin's case a life lasting more than 89 years, five years longer than Cliff lived.  Mick, even more sadly, didn't make it that far, passing away aged 72 after a long and extremely brave fight against cancer.

But however long the life has been, however well lived, and however aware we remain that living forever is not an option, the end of a life is still a very, very sad occasion.  And especially if it is the end of a life of a very good person, as all three of them were.  At all three funerals it was a case of remembering the words of John Donne: "Send not to know for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for thee."  All three people were very dear friends to many people, and are very much missed by many.  All three were extremely kind to me over the years.  I was blessed to call them friends.  Mine is one of many lives which has been made better for having known them, and is diminished for saying 'Farewell'.  To use John Donne's words, "Each man's death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind.".  I always say that there are two things which make racing special: the people and the horses.  Colin, like Cliff and Mick, was one of the people who have made our sport so special.  Gone but never forgotten.
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Watching the wheels go round and round

One runner this week and we've had him: Das Kapital went to Pontefract on Monday.  Sussex Girl was meant to go to Yarmouth yesterday, but she was one of 11 horses eliminated from the race.  It's that time of year, when eliminations are plentiful.  It might have seemed strange running a horse rated 50 (Das Kapital) in a maiden race, but he'd run so badly under handicap conditions at Yarmouth that I thought that a maiden race - with a good spread of ability so that, although some of his rivals were clearly going to be significantly better than he is, some looked significantly less good - on a wet track and a big, spacious course ought to enable him to run a race, which hadn't been the case when he'd tailed himself off at Yarmouth.

And that was exactly what happened.  Although the first two favourites, who looked miles clear of the remainder on form, finished miles clear (15 lengths) of the remainder, we ran a nice race to finish fourth, so that was good.  It was a race in which, although it was clearly much harder to win than a full-field handicap, it was probably going to be easier to finish fourth than in a full-field handicap; and that's exactly how it turned out.  Now that he's at last run a proper race, ie travelled smoothly throughout and then finished the race off properly, we might give him another run, in a handicap, before the end of term on 10th November.  There are two options: Catterick six days from now and then Redcar the following week (although he would be out of the handicap at Redcar, which is never ideal).

What else has been happening?  Well, on Saturday we had a perfect illustration of the two-tier state of 21st century racing.  Saturday, of course, was QIPCO Champions' Day at Ascot, with God knows how many millions of pounds up for grabs. The same day there was a yearling sale at Tattersalls in Newmarket.  I'll repeat that: at Tattersalls in Newmarket.  Not at K-Mart or Lidl in Accrington.  (And I only say 'Accrington', I should add lest any residents of Accrington take offence, because of that great ad on the TV when the footballing children say, "Accrington Stanley" ... "Who?" ... "Exactly!").

Anyway, these are the figures for that day's sale (ie Book Four of Tattersalls' October Sale).  103 yearlings offered; 57 sold; average 3,142 guineas; median 2,000 guineas.  I'll repeat that: median 2,000 guineas.  Selling a horse for 5,000 guineas would have got you in the top ten for the day.  And don't be fooled, by the way, into thinking that Book Four (of four) means that these yearlings were the worst being offered that week.  Some of them will be among the worst, of course, just as some of the Book One (in which the average was 271,691 guineas and the median was 167,500 guineas) yearlings will be among the worst.

Three years ago the top price of the whole sale (2.1 million guineas) was paid for a Dubawi filly ex Loveisallyouneed who went to Aidan O'Brien, and who subsequently was retired to stud last autumn unraced.  Think about that for a moment: the most expensive yearling in Europe in 2015 turned out not to be good enough to race.  It is a common misconception to believe that Tattersalls put these yearlings into Book Four because they are the worst ones.  Just a moment's thought tells you, though, that that's a fallacy (a) because nobody, least of all Tattersalls' employees, knows which are going to be the good ones and (b) because a quick flick through the catalogue suggests that Book Four is sorted out by nationality, not prospects.

Look through Book Four, and you'll find that nearly all the yearlings have the (GB) suffix and nearly all the vendors are British. Does that mean that British horses and studs are worse than their Irish counterparts?  Of course it doesn't.  It's just common sense: tell an Irish vendor that his horse is going in Book Four, and he won't come, but will instead take the cheaper option of putting the horse in a sale at home somewhere.  Tell a British vendor that his horse is going in Book Four, and he'll come.  What else would he do?  Where else would he go?  Fairyhouse?  Kildare?  Accrington?

Anyway, you won't see a better illustation of the two-tier state we live in than this juxtaposition of QIPCO Champions' Day and Tattersalls' Book Four.  What I'll do, though, is keep watching RUK to see if they're still showing the TBA ad that has been telling us that we have an under-production problem.  And I'll also hold in my mind the thought that, of the first four home in the biggest of the big races on Saturday, ie the Champion Stakes which was worth something like £1.2 million, three of them were raced by their breeders and only one had gone through a sale.  That one horse (third-placed Subway Dancer) went through a sale in France, at Arqana.  His price?  3,000 euros.