Wednesday, July 28, 2021


Nine days now between chapters.  Should be better.  Has been worse.  I still don't know where the time goes.  It certainly doesn't, mostly, go with my sleeping.  I seem to be permanently exhausted at present.  But that's better than struggling to fill the days.  We had Turn Of Phrase and Dereham running last week.  Turn Of Phrase ran a very nice race, finishing third, which made for a very pleasant trip to Nottingham. Dereham ran less well, although not badly.  Again we knew our fate a fair way from home when all the runners were still on the bridle.  He has far more stamina than speed, and a sprint home up the straight - even up a long straight as at Chepstow - is never going to bring out the best of him.  And I can't see that he'd be good enough to achieve anything bar being the pacemaker for the others if we set out to make the running.

What was lovely about the trip to Chepstow was that, it being a Friday and my having learned from past experiences that a trip by motorway to a Friday evening meeting at Chepstow in the summer holidays can be painfully slow, I took the scenic route and thus found myself enjoying a very special drive down the Tintern Valley from Monmouth to Chepstow in perfect weather.  It was glorious, easily the most enjoyable drive I have had this year. Those little villages along that road would be lovely places to spend a holiday, although realistically we saw the valley at its best, and if planning a few days in that part of the country one would need luck on one's side to have the blue skies and sunshine which prevailed last week.  

We had five entries this week and I'd usually hope that that would yield five runners, but it's turning out only to be three.  Against my better judgement, I put Turn Of Phrase in a race at Bath on Friday simply because its conditions are tailor-made for her, but within hours common sense kicked in and I reminded myself that she's better with a bit more time between her races than that would have given us.   The other horse who was entered without running was more of a cock-up than that.  I rode three horses on Sunday morning (all of whom were due to run within the next couple of days) and it just happened that the order in which I rode them meant that Eljaytee, who was entered for Yarmouth two days later, was the third of them, pulling out just after ten.  Thus I'd already declared him by that time.

He'd had what looked like a bit of bruising appear on the inside of his near-fore leg a couple of days previously, and I'd assumed that he'd just knocked himself when galloping.  I wasn't concerned.  However, as soon as I set off trotting on him at about 10.10 on Sunday morning, I discovered that he was very slightly lame on that leg, and I really hadn't been expecting him to be.  Ah well, declarations had only closed ten minutes previously, but he clearly needed to a non-runner.  Nobody wants me to be running a lame horse, least of all me (or the horse).  I'd scratched him by 11.00 that morning, still more than 48 hours before the race.  Had he been the first or second horse whom I'd ridden that morning, he wouldn't have been declared, but that was just the way it worked out.  It's hard enough to get three horses ridden by 10 am Monday to Saturday; even more so on a Sunday morning (on top of all the other things which need to be done in the stable) when one likes to snatch an extra half an hour in bed if possible.

So that left Broughtons Mission to run at Lingfield on Monday, Beryl Burton to run at Yarmouth on Tuesday and Cloudy Rose to run at Nottingham on Thursday (tomorrow).  I could hardly have got the first two more wrong.  Broughtons Mission can be extremely headstrong and, although he has been really settled at home recently, I was worried that on the racecourse he might try to do all his running in the first half of the race.  That certainly didn't happen: he was outpaced throughout before staying on well to finish a never-nearer third of 13 at 150/1.  That was great, notwithstanding that he was beaten over 14 lengths, which obviously tempers one's enthusiasm for his achievement.

Continuing to give the impression that I know nothing about the horses whom I train (and in particular about the horses whom I ride every day, as is the case with both Broughtons Mission and Beryl Burton), Beryl Burton also did exactly what I wasn't expecting her to do.  She's quite a buzzy, active horse, but cantering or galloping her is fairly straightforward.  She's certainly not a hard-pulling horse - on her homework she's too green to be that, as she tends to concentrate on anything other than what she is doing - and I feared that, going on how she gallops, she might get a bit behind in the first half of the race just through greenness.  Ha, ha!  What actually happened was that she did what I'd feared that 'Harry' (Broughtons Mission) might do the previous day: she jumped out of the stalls like a rocket, pulled far too hard for the first three furlongs before inevitably weakening very badly  I'd thought that a straight mile might give her time to get organised and work into things in the second half of the race, and exactly the opposite happened.  I can't believe I got her so wrong - and, as I say, that's doubly inexcusable as I ride her every day.  Unbelievable!

Let's hope that I can get things less wrong tomorrow.  Having said that, I am making no predictions about what to expect.  The step up to two miles will suit Cloudy Rose very well, as will (I think) the fact that she's had a month between races.  She seems to be thriving at present.  Set against that are the facts that the ground will be less soft than I'd ideally like, she'll be 3lb out of the handicap, and will probably carry 2lb overweight.  (You might wonder why I'm running in a race in which she will run off a rating 5lb higher than her own one, but there is no choice, bar not running for several weeks.  All the staying handicaps now are for three-year-olds and upwards, and none has an upper rating lower than 65.  So we'd be in a similar boat wherever we ran in the next few weeks.)

Looking at the wider racing world, we have the Racing League beginning tomorrow, but you've already read more than enough about that.  Otherwise, we've seen good results for two good jockeys who work for one of my neighbours, William Haggas.  Howard Cheng rode his first winner of the year last week, winning on Turquoise Kingdom (whose form looks to have improved since Howard has got on him) for Simon and Ed Crisford up the straight on the turf course at Lingfield last week; and Adam Farragher, a very good apprentice who has come over from Ireland, rode his first British winner at Redcar this afternoon, on Sweet Believer for his boss.

Another local rider who should be mentioned in dispatches is Fletcher Yarham, who works for Ed Dunlop, most notably riding John Leeper every morning.  I happened to watch the last race from Redcar this afternoon, a handicap for amateurs who had ridden no more than three winners at the start of this season, and Fletcher was riding in it for Joseph Parr.  He didn't win (his mount Transition finished second) but he looked far more proficient than one would generally expect from someone eligible to ride in such a race.  John Leeper, a headstrong horse who needs a good rider, is clearly in very safe hands when he heads out to Heath each morning.  

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!