Monday, July 19, 2021

Heat at last

We're having a spell of glorious weather which seems to have come out of nowhere.  We had two runners last week - Dereham at Bath on Tuesday and Turn Of Phrase at Chepstow on Thursday - and it's easy to forget that when we went to Bath it was a relief to get there and find warm weather.  It had been unseasonably chilly when we left Newmarket in the morning and it was fairly chilly when we got home at night, so we really were luxuriating in the 21 degrees or whatever it was at Bath.  And that was only six days ago!  It seems like six weeks ago after the past three days of temperatures here nudging 30 degrees.  Long may this good weather last!

The two runners were both unplaced but neither was beaten very far and both, and each ran respectably.  For both I had a feeling early in the race that it wouldn't be our day.  Both jockeys rode very well and did exactly what I asked them to do, but in each case it was clear that the race was not panning out in a way which would not play to the horse's strength.  But no harm done.  Dereham is one of our two planned runners this week (at Chepstow on Friday night) and I'd hope that he should have a chance there.  Turn Of Phrase may go to Bath next week.

More immediately, we have Hidden Pearl going to Nottingham tomorrow evening.  She's third favourite in an eight-horse race, preferred only by the two last-start winners, and I think that that's fair enough.  Perhaps the best tip is that provided by her 2021 form figures: 6543.  Will she finish second this time?  She might.  We also had Broughtons Mission entered this week, at Catterick on Wednesday.  However, we elected not to run him.  It's very hot at present and that makes race-days harder for the horse.  You'd run if it was clearly the correct race for the horse and the horse was ready to run well, as is the case with Hidden Pearl and Dereham, but in this horse's case it was going to be his first run of 2021 and his first for us, and only the second race of his career, so there's no urgency and it clearly makes sense to wait until next week when it won't be quite so hot (although hopefully it'll still be fairly hot).

Monday, July 12, 2021

Two more good men gone

Our one runner last week gave us at least a week's worth of excitement, Hidden Pearl showing up very well at Doncaster, looking the winner for most of Doncaster's long straight before losing the lead in the closing stages and finishing a close third.  Even during the extended period when she was looking like winning I was thinking that it's a long way home there, so it wasn't too hard to swallow that she did get run down; and she's a long-standing maiden, so we've certainly had plenty of opportunity to become hardened to her not winning.  But it was another very creditable run, so surely she can win something at some point, can't she?  Time and continued trying will tell!

I think that that was the same day that the TDs were looking into the matters raised by Jim Bolger.  I gather that Jim opted not to make an appearance, which was probably wise, but it seems as if there was plenty for the chattering classes (ie you and I, and the rest of us) to digest even so.  I don't know quite what to make of it.  The Racing Post's account of what transpired is not the only account which I have studied as I have been filled in by a couple of Irish people who watched it.  Anyway, with the three reports (of varying levels of sensationalism) I have managed to piece together some sort of understanding.

There is so much about the whole matter which is not clear, including exactly what we are talking about.  I'm assuming that we are referring to anabolic steroids as they're pretty much the only thing which are banned entirely: I think that just about anything else is allowed as long as it (a) is prescribed by a vet, and (b) is not discernible in the horse's system on raceday.  If we are talking about anabolic steroids, I find it hard to believe that anyone is still using them.  I suspect that their use was at one time fairly commonplace but I have assumed that that changed after the BHA discovered in 2013 that a large number of Godolphin horses had been treated with them.  A consequence of that was that the rules were changed so that evidence of treatment with anabolic steroids at any time of his/her life would make a horse permanently ineligible to race.  Since then, I have developed an assumption that their use has become a thing of the past.

If this whole thing is revolving around what used to happen but no longer happens, is it really something to worry about?  It's fair to assume that the use of anabolic steroids on horses quite a long way off racing was fairly widespread at one time, ie it's hard to believe that Godolphin was the only operation using them.  For instance, we know that two Irish vets had between them imported a large amount of Nitrotain.  It is fair to assume that the Nitrotain was destined for a training stable, even if we do not know which stable.  Whoever the trainer was, I'd imagine that he or she feels that he/she has dodged a bullet, and has consequently stopped using the drug; and overall I find it hard to believe that anyone does still use anabolic steroids.

But what I believe isn't really relevant.  I may be right or I may be wrong.  Even if I'm right, there are always going to be plenty of people ready to see reds under the bed.  If I ran Irish racing, I know what I would do to counter their suspicions.  I would get an independently-assessed (maybe on Timeform or Racing Post ratings) list of the 20 best Flat horses in Ireland, 20 best bumper horses, 20 best hurdlers and 20 best steeplechasers.  I would take hair samples from all 80 horses, which would presumably come from a fairly wide range of stables.  I would have the 80 samples rigorously tested for any signs of the horses having received any anabolic steroids at any time in their lives.  And I would make the re

sults, including the horses' identities, public.

That ought to clear up any doubts.  If the 80 samples all came back negative, that would be grand and would surely put any lingering suspicions to bed.  And if any came back positive to anabolic steroids, the horses concerned would be banned for life and their trainers would have the book thrown at them, pour encourager les autres and to show the public that the authorities do indeed take a 'zero tolerance' approach to the matter.  You'd hope that that would clear the matter up altogether, both as regards the drugs' use and as regards people's worries about the way this matter is treated and policed.

Moving to more serious matters, it has been sad to note the passing of two former trainers in the past few days, Eric Eldin and Dick Allan, two very nice men.  I can't really add anything to the obituaries of Eric, especially the excellent one by Alison Hayes in the Newmarket Journal.  He was one of an old-school generation of great Newmarket jockeys, alongside the likes of Lester, Frankie Durr, Greville and Brian Taylor.  And he was then a very good trainer, in Loder Stables (where he had firstly ridden for and then succeeded Doug Smith).  That was next door when I was working in my first job in Newmarket, for Ian Matthews in Southgate Stables in the summer of 1987.

At the time, Allan Mackay was Eric's jockey (and son-in-law) and Jimmy Quinn was his apprentice.  Rather surprisingly, Eric ceased training not long afterwards, but I think that the problems which Allan had with the law at the time took quite a lot of out of him, both mentally/emotionally and probably financially too.  But he certainly didn't disappear off racing's radar and he remained a friendly force for good within the local community for the rest of his life, most obviously by helping in the museum.  A lovely man who will be missed by many.

As I come from the Scottish borders, Dick Allan was on my radar from an early age as he was one of the great characters of racing in the borders.  He was a very good trainer too.  I rarely saw him after he had finished training, although I was delighted to bump into him at Yarmouth (of all places!) a few years ago.  It was when Ian Jardine was still training between Hawick and the Carter Bar and Dick was helping him, which obviously he ceased to do when Ian moved over to Dumfriesshire.  Ian had a runner at Yarmouth, and Dick and Val Renwick had brought the horse (and an accompanying pony) down there.  It was great to see him that day, and I'm only sad that that turned out to be the final time I would do so.  Like Eric, he leaves plenty of people with good memories of him.  They were two good men who had a love of the sport and of its community running through their veins.

To less serious matters, we have two runners this week: Dereham at Bath tomorrow and Turn Of Phrase at Chepstow on Thursday. That'll be two long days, but I'd hope that both horses should run well.  But I won't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Small mercies

As seems to be usual nowadays, I'm starting this chapter with a semi-serious statement of regret that it's been so long since I last wrote anything on here.  I really don't know where the time goes.  It's probably easier in the winter as the shorter days limit the amount of time one can productively and/or pleasantly spend outdoors.  This time of year, the days just seem to disappear.  It was understandable in the first week of blog silence as we had four runners.  Last week we only had one and this week we only have one too.  So I really must write something today, in advance of Hidden Pearl's trip to Doncaster tomorrow.

The week of four runners seems a lifetime ago.  I'll try to remember what they were without looking up.  We had Dear Alix at Hexham on the Sunday.  That was a lovely outing, notwithstanding that it's a long way away, as it was a glorious day at a heavenly racecourse where one had no worries about running in dry conditions as the course had been unbelievably well irrigated.  Alix ran OK, finishing fifth in the bumper.  Brian Hughes was extremely helpful and gave some good advice, saying that the horse is so clearly a proper National Hunt type that we won't see the best of him until he's running over at least two and a half miles, over jumps and on softer ground.  So we'll heed that advice, with his next run pencilled in to be a novice hurdle at some unspecified point of the autumn, maybe in October.

We then had Hidden Pearl running in the Roy Rocket Amateurs' Handicap at Brighton on the Tuesday.  That was a really special day.  Hard to credit that it was (if my memory is correct) only 15 days ago.  It was a wonderful thing for Brighton to do, naming the race in Roy's honour, and it was a really special occasion.  Brighton made a very good job of it and Sky Sports Racing did too.  It was great to have a runner in the race, and particularly good that she ran creditably, for the first time this year running as if she'll benefit from going back up to two miles.  Which is what we'll do tomorrow.

We had Cloudy Rose running at Yarmouth.  There was overnight rain going into the meeting which helped her and she ran a nice race.  Outpaced, she kept on keeping on in the final half-mile to finish a never-nearer and staying-on fourth.  It'll be good to get her up to two miles (from a mile and six).  And it's worth saying that Josephine Gordon's ride was outstandingly good.  The instructions were to keep her as in touch as possible without putting her under so much pressure so far from home that she would weaken at the end; and no one could have done a better job of carrying them out.

And we had Dereham running at Nottingham, when again we found, as with Turn Of Phrase the previous week, that being drawn very wide makes it very hard there.  He is a horse without any early speed so not getting involved in a fruitless battle for a prominent early position seemed a no-brainer,  particularly as it seemed reasonable to expect that the tempo would be solid in a big-field, long-distance apprentice race.  As it turned out, the tempo was extremely solid to the first bend but pedestrian thereafter, and, in a race in which the order hardly changed at any stage, we achieved nothing.  

Still, it didn't do Dereham any harm and we hoped to run again less than two weeks later, except that didn't work out as we were eliminated from Bath today.  (We were the first one out in a race which has three non-runners).  That was irritating, but the silver lining to that cloud was that it saved me a dangerously late night, the race being the penultimate one at a Bath evening  meeting.  We've had one other horse eliminated in the same period, Das Kapital at Chepstow.  That was the last race (at 8.50) of an evening meeting, so had we run I would have been looking at getting to bed around 2.30, which isn't ideal when you've been up at 6.00 that morning and will be up at 6.00 again three and a half hours later.

That was an odd one.  We were the first one out in a race which had a safety factor of 10.  Why only ten?  God only knows.  Das Kapital ran in a 15-runner race over course and distance in 2019.  The safety factor for ten furlongs at Chepstow is 16, and as far as I can see the only difference between the 10-furlong course there and the 12-furlong course is that the 12-furlong course has a longer run to the (same) first bend.  Inexplicable.  Predictably (and it was predictable because the weather forecast was very vague, suggesting that it would either rain heavily the day before the race or stay dry, and there would clearly be non-runners whichever one happened) five of the ten horses who did get a run were scratched, so I had the galling experience of sitting at home watching a five-runner race over Das Kapital's ideal course and distance from which he had been eliminated.  But at least I could to bed immediately after it, rather than the best part of six hours later.  Small mercies.

|Anyway, to revert to the horses who did actually run, we had the one runner  last week: Eljaytee at Bath (at an evening meeting, of course).  That was his third run and I'm coming round to thinking that I might have got him all wrong.  He's not a flashy worker and he'd given the impression that midde distances would be his go.  He'd weakend badly at the end of his first two maiden races over ten furlongs, but fared better over a mile last week, albeit still weakening late on.  Overall it was a step in the right direction.  I'd imagine that we might go shorter still the next time he runs.

In the same period I have also made a welcome (to me, if  not to anyone else) return to Sky Sports Racing, albeit briefly, having last been on the channel for the overnight Melbourne Cup coverage last November.  I was on the Racing Debate, formerly the Sunday Forum, ten days ago.  Which was great - particularly as currently one pontificates from home rather than from a studio a two-hour drive from home.  It was the day after the Irish Derby, so we discussed the case of Havana Lane causing interference on the way to winning narrowly.  This, of course, followed on from Dragon Symbol doing the same at Royal Ascot.  In the latter case the victim of the interference was the runner-up (which wasn't the case at the Curragh) and consequently the first two placings were reversed.

We (racing's chattering classes in general, rather than just Gus and I) have had much discussion on this topic since then, and I feel that most people miss the point.  What is generally concentrated on is the question, "How much ground did the victim lose by being interfered with?" when it is being decided whether or not the winner would have passed the post in front without the inteference taking place.  But that's only half of the matter - and it's nearly always the smaller half too.  (I am, of course, aware that there is no such thing as a smaller half).  

As pertinent, it not more so, is the question, "How much ground did the winner not lose because the jockey allowed him to drift and thus cause the interference, rather than correcting him when he started to drift, interrupting his momentum to keep him straight?".  People, in general, never seem even to consider this aspect, and the answer is generally, "Quite a lot - a length or more".  Because that's why jockeys allow their horses to drift, because correcting and straightening them would completely interrupt their momentum.

That's what would have needed to happen for the interference not to have taken place, so the territorial advantage which the culprit gains by not being corrected should be considered just as much as the territorial disadvantage which the victim suffers from being leant upon and carried slightly off a straight line.  And if both aspects were to be generally taken into account, there would be a lot more demotions than there are currently.  Which would probably be no bad thing, not least from the point of view of those who believe that high standards of riding and/or safety matter.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

And they can put a man on the moon!

So much for a quiet week.  We had just one runner - Turn Of Phrase at Nottingham on Monday evening - but it doesn't seem as if it's been a quiet week.  But it's been a productive one: I've finally tied up my end-of-year accounts (just over two months after the end of the financial year) and got my 2021/'22 files in order, and I submitted my VAT return yesterday, 12 days before the end of the month, which is very good going for me.  And as for the one runner - well, I wish we'd had none.  Backing Turn Of Phrase up four days after her good second place was a recipe for either her winning or my wishing I hadn't run her.  And she didn't win.  She didn't run badly (7th of 16) and maybe didn't really handle the quick back-up, but overall the most valid lesson was that, as we already knew, it's harder to get a satisfactory position in the race drawn 14 than drawn 3.

So that was the week that was, with Ascot dominating the racing landscape obviously.  For us, though, the focus is now on the new week, starting tomorrow (Sunday).  I'm hoping that we'll have four runners: Dear Alix at Hexham tomorrow, Hidden Pearl at Brighton Tuesday (in the Roy Rocket Amateurs' Handicap Stakes), Dereham at Nottingham on Thursday and Cloudy Rose at Yarmouth on Friday.  I'm exhausted just thinking about it! (Never mind the other three, relatively local, runners: I'm exhausted just thinking about tomorrow.)  What's also been wearing me out has been the Hexham weather-watching.

This wet weather has been purely a south-eastern thing, unfortunately from our Hexham point of view.  I'm hoping that the ground will be no firmer than good tomorrow as Alix is a very big horse, but it's been nerve-wracking just watching the ever-changing weather forecasts.  The lesson learned from all this has been how bad is the standard of forecasting.  Just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about: at declaration time yesterday (Friday) morning, the internet forecast for Hexham on Sunday was a daytime high of 11 degrees and 12mm of rain.  Wonderful!  By teatime, the same weather site had altered its projection for Hexham on Sunday: a daytime high of 14 and zero millimetrs of rain.  And they can put a man on the moon!

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Lazing on a Sunday afternoon

Morning and evening stables aside (obviously) I'm having a very lazy weekend which isn't ideal as there's always a backlog of administration which needs to be attended to, but I'm exhausted.  We have a less busy week ahead as regards runners so I hope that I'll be less tired next weekend than I am this one.  Well, I hope that I'll start it less tired than I started this one but I'm hoping that I'll end it tired as we're hoping to take Dear Alix to Hexham next Sunday.  It's annoying that, having made his debut there on the last day of March, he wasn't able to run again during the cold, wet period which lasted for most of April and May, but he just needed a bit of time to get ready to run again, and was only just coming ready when the good weather reasserted itself.  I'm hopeful that it won't be too hot and dry next weekend in Northumberland and will be watching the long-range forecast on Countryfile this evening with interest.

Between now and then we only have one outing lined up: to Nottingham tomorrow.  I actually declared both of the horses who ran well there on Thursday (ie Turn Of Phrase and Dereham).  I hadn't meant to declare Dereham as he had had a fairly hard race, but just before declaration time it was clear that it was going to be a small field over the same course and distance, so I thought that perhaps we should be in it.  The only hitch was that I like to have the horses checked by a chiropractor after every race, and we weren't due a visit for another couple of hours.  So it was possible that when the chiropractor came at the end of the morning, I might find that either or both of the two horses whom I had just declared might be found to need a bit of work done, which would rule them out of running 48 hours later.

Anyway, the upshot was that Turn Of Phrase was given the thumbs up (which I was expecting and hoping would be the case, having been very happy with her when I'd ridden her) but Dereham was found to have a few muscles a bit tight, so it was a no-brainer immediately to make him a non-runner.  So we'll be off to Nottingham tomorrow evening with Turn Of Phrase only - and that's evening racing, so I'll be bloody tired by the end of tomorrow, so thank God I had an early-Sunday-afternoon sleep in the armchair just now!  She should have an obvious chance, but the much wider draw this time won't help, and we won't have a free 3lb claim this time, Thore Hammer Hansen having been directed to Windsor by his boss.

I know that some people get very hot under the collar about non-runners, but I can't see that I've done anything unacceptable, have I?  We are always encouraged to supply runners for the good of racing (we're always told that small fields are a bane) so I had a choice of not declaring Dereham and guaranteeing that he wouldn't run, or declaring him and giving him a chance of running.  He then became a non-runner so far in advance of the race that his absence won't have inconvenienced anyone doing the form for the race and he hasn't prevented anyone else from running as the small field meant that no horses were eliminated.  I don't like having non-runners and we have very few, but in this case I don't feel guilty about having one of our rare ones.