Monday, March 01, 2021

Surprising


I hadn't been planning to write a chapter of this blog tonight, both because I rarely do so on a Monday as Monday is generally my busiest day of the week (and this week is no exception) and because the Gordon Elliott debacle - and one could hardly write a chapter today without mentioning that - is a subject which is not going to be short of words written on it.  However, one could look at it the other way and say that, if one writes a 'news and views' (as our daily offering in primary school was called) blog, then it would be remiss not to make a contribution to the mountain of words which is being created.  On Twitter today I was asked for my views on Gordon Elliott's behaviour, which I gave, so I might as well repeat them here.


Anyone whose life revolves around livestock becomes inured to death to some degree.  That includes me, but I'm still hit for six whenever we have an accident, fatal or otherwise.  I'm surprised that any horse-lover could be as inured to it to the degree which that picture suggests.  Regarding the way forward, this has already done huge damage to British racing.  Considerably more damage would be done were Gordon Elliott to have runners at Cheltenham or Aintree etc.  I very much hope that that doesn't happen.  The message must be clear: such callousness has no place in racing.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Promising


We haven't had any runners for something like three weeks, which is my excuse for not having put anything on here for a while, but we have one tomorrow (Cloudy Rose at Chelmsford -  I think that she was our last one and she made her debut early this month) so I had better put finger to keyboard.  She ran a nice race first time and I hope that she'll run a nice race again.  I always assume that we won't have a winner when we go to Chelmsford, even when the horse looks to have a decent chance on form, so I think that it's a fair assumption that she won't win.  (But one never knows ...!)


As long as she doesn't blot her copy-book, it should be a pleasant trip.  I like Chelmsford, the people there are always friendly and, while the weather can be terrible (as we have discovered at least a couple of times this past winter) it should be very nice tomorrow as it's really coming good (relatively speaking, compared to what we have had over the past few months).  We're still in February so the fact that the place is drying up appreciably and it's much less cold than it was is great.  All the photographs in this chapter were taken this morning (when we had a decent frost at the outset) so you'll see what I mean.


While we're here, we might just continue to expand our local overview.  I think that a small amount of weeks ago I mentioned how nice it was firstly to see Gabriele Malune and then to see him riding out, finally after his bad injuries sustained in a fall at Yarmouth last summer.  The icing on the cake of that observation was that he rode a winner for his boss Amy Murphy the other day, which might even have been on his first ride back.  To continue this theme, Jimmy Quinn has reappeared in Marco Botti's string (after his bad fall in Kryptos' race at Wolverhampton on Boxing Day) and Liam Jones in William Haggas' (after sustaining really bad injuries at Chelmsford in 2019), both of whom were sights for sore eyes.  Let's hope that we can soon be remarking on good post-scripts for them too once they are back race-riding.


To return to our observations of local apprentices, we have another very good one to add to the list.  Mark Crehan has transferred to George Boughey from Richard Hannon and has made a really good start for his new boss, the combination having produced three winners already, most recently at Southwell last night.  He rides very well indeed.  As does, clearly, an apprentice with Mark Johnston who has won on his first two rides, Jonny Peate, and who qualifies for our list as he comes from round here.  Jonny's great start further strengthens the invariably strong apprentice line-up in Mark Johnston's stable, which already has Andrew Breslin and Oliver Stammers, who is extremely impressive and is now, I'm pleased to say, enjoying some better luck after a run of bad injuries.


Jonny's parents Ed and Tanya have a pre-training yard just outside Brinkley and I'd guess that Jonny will have been as much raised to be a top horseman as he is bred to be one.  Tanya, an extremely good rider, was formerly a leading point-to-point rider in this area, most obviously winning stacks of point-to-points on Fort Hall who, if my memory serves me right, was trained by Lucy Wadham before Lucy had a license to train under rules.  I'd seen Jonny ride his first winner and didn't make the connection, but then worked it out after he took his record to two-from-two when winning on a horse for Robert Cowell last week.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Another world (but the same one really)


It's been a week of proper cold winter weather.  We had an amount of snow at the start of the week which has gradually diminished during the times when the sun has fallen on it, but it's hardly got above zero at any time so bits of snow have lingered in the shade.  And at times the wind has made it seem a lot colder (even colder) than it is.  We're currently frozen solid.  But surely this is the tail-end of winter?  It's been going on for long enough, hasn't it?  The problem is that I've been thinking that ever since New Year and I've been continually wrong.  However, the forecast is good for the second half of next week, so that's promising.  Whatever - I'll be right eventually!


My delving into the works of the late Caroline Ramsden seemed to work quite well in the last chapter so I'm going to repeat the dose here.  Mind you, one snippet from Farewell Manchester, her history of Manchester Racecourse (of which her father was Chairman for many years and of whose Committee she was a member for the final couple of decades of its existence) does make me feel slightly uneasy, bearing in mind that we're still only halfway through February: her recollection that in 1929 “from February 12th until March 11th there was no racing in England owing to frost and snow”.  Um - we'll just have to see what's around the corner in the next few weeks of 2021.


But the particular aspect of the book on which I'm going to concentrate in this chapter, and which I hope you might find interesting, is the matter of the declaration of runners.  We all know that having an accurate list of runners in the morning papers (leaving aside that there will always, of course, be non-runners) is a recent phenomenon, and that until the legalisation of off-course betting in the 1950s the newspapers carried merely lists of ‘probable runners’.  What has intrigued me, though, are the details which the book carries of how things had previously happened.

It had seemed fair to assume that previously declarations would have been taken on-course of those horses among the entries whose connections were going to run them.  Surprisingly, it seems that even that was a relatively recent development, as she explains.

“1927 was a notable year in the history of the Turf, chiefly because the Jockey Club indicated that they were about to take steps to obtain legislation for the Totalisator …


“With the advent of the Tote some means had to be devised for obtaining the names of all runners in each race much earlier than had hitherto been the practice, chiefly because the administrative staff needed time to prepare their numbered tickets for selling.  With this object in view the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee, early in 1929, brought in a new rule to the effect that runners in all races must be declared, in writing, three quarters of an hour before the race was due to be run.  This rule came into force on February 1st and, as Manchester was the only meeting scheduled for that date, we had the dubious honour of acting as pioneers.


"No directions were given as to how the rule was to be enforced, and the Manchester executive decided that the best way would be to accept the  declarations at a table in the Weighing Room, where they could be put into trays, one tray for each race.  Everything went smoothly, but during the following weeks other courses tried out a pillar-box system, in which the declarations were ‘posted’ into slots: this resulted in mistakes, owing to trainers, or their representatives, putting the documents into the wrong boxes, and so some of the horses were unable to run, as they were declared for races in which they were not entered.”


Staggering, isn’t it?  The idea was to produce a list of runners much earlier than had hitherto been the practice, so a system for taking declarations three quarters of an hour before the race was introduced!  How last-minute had the confirmation of the composition of the field been previously?  How did they discover who was running prior to this?  By seeing which jockeys weighed out?  By seeing which horses arrived in the parade ring?  Or down at the start?  That was less than a century ago, but it seems like a different world altogether.


To continue the ‘different world’ theme, I particularly enjoyed a story in the book about one of the horses which Sam Pickering (who trained at Kentford, near Newmarket, and whose string included some horses owned by Joseph Ramsden) ran at Manchester at the first meeting which it held subsequent to the First World War, a four-day meeting in the week of Whitsunday in 1919 when “the fields were on the small side owing to firm going, but there were huge crowds each day and some good racing.  Sam Pickering – the Optimist – brought a number of horses, including two for my father, Braida Garth and Shakerley.  They both finished third. 


“One of Sam’s other runners was a horse named Minorette, a three-year-old, which ran in the second race on the Thursday, a mile seller, with only four runners.  Minorette, starting at odds of 13-8-on, won easily by three lengths, and was bought by Sir Delves Broughton for 466 guineas.  Sam had  hoped to buy it in, but Sir Delves was obviously determined, so, rather than pay more than he considered it was worth, he let the animal go.  It was also entered in Irlams-o’-the’-Height Stakes, the last race of the day: only one other runner turned out for this event, so Minorette was saddled again, and again won easily, the credit for its training going, not to Sam, but to Sir Delves’ trainer Farquharson, who had had charge of the horse for less than two hours.  Sam treated the whole affair as a huge joke.”

Lovely, isn’t it?  There’s enough in racing on a day-to-day basis to keep one’s mind fully occupied, but when one delves into the past, there is such a treasure-trove of riches waiting to be discovered.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Lest we forget


The main news story this week appears to be whether people will be able to go on holiday this summer.  (And this follows the recent national debate about whether 'influencers' should be granted 'key worker' status.)  Am I missing something here?  We're heading now swiftly towards 120,000 COVID deaths (and it only seems like yesterday that we passed 100,000) and the main story is about summer holidays?  I know that I'm very fortunate in that my life is largely unaffected by lockdown (I imagine that farmers are the least affected, with those who work in stables or on studs close behind) but, honestly!


I tend to use the phrase 'It's not a matter of life and death', but COVID is a matter of life and death for the 120,000 and their loved ones.  For anyone fortunate enough not to have been touched by death in the current pandemic, though, it's not a matter of life and death.  The travel industry is a big concern, apparently providing over 900,000 jobs, and commercially the nation's collective holiday plans are a big deal for those people.  But for the rest of us?  A holiday is leisure, it's part of one's social life.  And if one's concern with COVID is that it's interfering with one's social life, then I really feel one is mistaking first-world problems for real ones.  What's brought this on, you might ask?  Well, I've been reading some books written by the late Caroline Ramsden, and some WWII-related observations from her memoirs A View From Primrose Hill have really struck a chord with me.


Miss Ramsden’s family home was in Lancashire, where she grew up before spending her adult life living in Primrose Hill in London.  She and her father loved racing and owned horses over an extended period.  Their horses were trained by Jack Leader in Newmarket and by Tom Walls at Epsom.  One horse who features very strongly in their story was Red Raider, who was owned in partnership by Mr Ramsden and Tom Walls.  After Red Raider had been racing on the Flat, an attempt was made to school him for National Hunt racing, but he could not or would not learn to jump well.  Consequently, as he was a small horse, he was given to Miss Ramsden as a show-hack.  She rode him (side-saddle) very successfully at horse-shows in the summers of 1937 and ’38, doing very well including winning ‘Champion Hack’ at Richmond Royal Horse Show in 1938.  He must clearly have been a horse very close to her heart. 


The details in that previous paragraph are included to provide some context for what is to follow.  The following passages, which I found very moving, thus become self-explanatory.  Miss Ramsden wrote her memoirs in 1984 when she was aged 80, so four decades had passed between the events thus described and her writing about them, and time is a great healer.  Even so, the fact that she was able to write so matter-of-factly about heart-rending events of the utmost sadness is a searing demonstration that life for everyone during the war was, by our current standards, unimaginably difficult.  This provides a timely reminder that what is going on nowadays (for those who don’t die, anyway) really shouldn’t be too difficult to endure.

The first excerpt which I am quoting comes after the declaration of war in September 1939, at which time Miss Ramsden (whose other passion, besides racing, was the theatre) was staying with her father in Lancashire.


‘Would there be air raids immediately?  What would happen to my home in London, and my many friends who lived there?  Would racing be stopped?  Would the theatres be closed?  And, uppermost in our thoughts was my brother, father’s adored only son, who had gone straight from school into the army in 1917, and emerged at the end of the war as a captain, with the Military Cross to his credit.  Now, aged forty, he was over immediate call-up age, but we both knew he would volunteer for active service, which indeed he did.’

We now move on to the following spring.

‘Racing was, of course, considerably curtailed during the war, but Liverpool staged a fixture at the beginning of April, when the Grand National was run.  I had no heart for joining the small party which father assembled at The Woodlands, but I took time off to go there.

‘My brother had rejoined the army and was with his regiment, stationed at Barnard Castle, awaiting instructions to go – anywhere.  He managed to get home for the day of 5 April and met us at Aintree, where he took his children out onto the course and showed them all the famous fences.  After the racing he drove back to Barnard Castle with my sister-in-law, and that was the last we saw of him.  Three days later the Nazis invaded Norway, and he was killed there on St George’s Day.  His death brought an inconsolable grief into father’s life.’

We subsequently move on to further wartime reflections.


‘In 1939 I put Red Raider back into training.  I offered to return him to Tom but his small stable was already overcrowded, and so I sent him to Jack.  He ran four times in 1940 and was only once unplaced.  Bob Lacey rode him in two of his races, one of them being the Earlstown Handicap at Haydock, which he won by a neck from Gordon Richards on Pun Gun, and twelve other runners.  Raider’s starting price was 20-1, and this enabled me to bring off one of the most successful bets of my life.  His race was the second leg of the Tote Double.  There were only seven runners in the first leg, so I took one ticket on each of them, a total expenditure of £3. 10s.  There were three other winning tickets and we each collected £221. 12s.


‘In normal times I would have kept Raider in training as long as he continued to show an aptitude for racing, after which he would have gone into luxurious retirement which was well and truly earned.  But racing was only being allowed to continue in order to keep the thoroughbred breeding industry alive and an eight-year-old gelding, however beautiful, had nothing to contribute to this project.  Thoroughbreds do not take kindly to being turned out in winter, unless they have a warm stable and good food to come in to at night, and Raider’s talent and temperament, unlike Jester’s, were completely unsuited to any sort of domestic chore.  I shudder to think what might have happened had he been harnessed to Jester’s cart!  For some time I dodged the issue but, as the weather turned chilly in the autumn, I made the inevitable decision.

‘Bob Lacey, partner in Raider’s last winning appearance, had all the attributes which go to make a top-class jockey, and, given time, he would undoubtedly have become one.  In his short career he rode a number of winners, the most notable of which was Gyroscope, trained by Jack Leader, in the Cambridgeshire of 1939.  He was killed when the bomber in which he was rear gunner was shot down over Germany, six years later.’


These words have made a big impact on me and I feel that they are worth sharing with a wider audience.  And, since reading them, I have read another of Miss Ramsden's books, Goodbye Manchester, and there's some more about Bob Lacey here, so I'll add them, even if only because in the late '30s he was clearly a big part of the community here, and I'd like to do my bit to keep his memory alive.  Earlier in the book Miss Ramsden explains that the Manchester Committee (of which her father was the Chairman at the time) made sure every season that there was a good trophy for the Manchester Cup (first run in 1816).


'I have no idea what the first cup looked like. I know that in subsequent years it was sometimes made of silver, or silver-gilt, but once my father became connected with the course he took a great pride in the trophy.  Olivant and Botsfords, St. Anne's Square, Manchester, made it for us each year, and it had to be gold.  As the price of gold increased, the size of the cup diminished, but I don't think we ever gave an ugly one; they were always copied from antique designs and mounted on an onyx base.  A great deal of care and thought was expended on their production ...


'In 1940, owing to wartime conditions, racing programmes were subjected to all sorts of sudden and drastic changes.  On May 10th it was announced that all Whit-week racing had been cancelled, but Manchester was allowed to hold a one-day meeting on Saturday the 18th.  The programme did not include the Cup, although one had been made.  My father and I bought it and gave it to Bob Lacey, Jack Leader's promising apprentice, who had had his first winning ride on my father's Spinalot, and had also ridden my first winner, Excelsa.  I have a letter from Bob, dated November 16th, 1940, which begins; 'Thank you very much for the Manchester Cup.  It is simply marvellous and quite the nicest present I have ever had.  It arrived yesterday morning and now stands in front of me.  I am very proud of it.'

'Bob never rode again after that date.  He became an air gunner and wireless operator with Bomber Command, and was killed in a raid over Germany (his thirtieth) on January 19th, 1945.'

Monday, February 08, 2021

How we beat the favourite!


In the last chapter I think I made reference to the fact that having a few runners in fairly quick succession was going to be quite a strain.  So it proved, as the fact that I've gone so long between chapters suggests.  We'd had Turn Of Phrase at Wolverhampton on the Tuesday.  Then we had Das Kapital at Doncaster on the Friday; Big Pete at Lingfield on the Monday; and Cloudy Rose at Kempton on the Wednesday.  That was me on the road four days out of nine, with three days out of six at the end of that. There's always plenty to be done here so I got a bit behind and it's taken me until now, five days after the end of that sequence, to wrap it up on here.  So here goes.


Das Kapital was disappointing, but conditions were very taxing at Doncaster and plenty of others had a disappointing day too.  It would get too complicated to say that Das Kapital didn't handle 'soft' ground so I'm not going to go down that road (bearing in mind that his only win and his best form have come on 'soft' ground) but I'll just leave it by saying that I expect him to do better on a different day.  And we did beat the favourite, which is always good - even if that meant that we finished 12th and the favourite finished 13th, a neck behind us!  I came away reflecting that, of the three runners which we had had coming up, he looked to have the best chance of them, so it didn't well for the rest.


Sure enough, Big Pete ran even worse.  He's very lazy and it's taken ages to get to the point where I was bold enough to run him.  Usually with these very laid-back horses, they generally spark up a bit when you run them, the competition of being in a field of horses generally getting them going.  Generally, but not invariably, as we found out at Lingfield.  He did nothing, and poor William Kennedy had a harder race than he did.  He had stopped blowing by the time that he got back to the racecourse stables, and hardly had a sweat mark on him.  Still, I haven't given up hope that, although he failed to get roused into competitiveness at the first attempt, second time around things might go better.


Happily, the final runner of the sequence, Cloudy Rose, ran a nice race on her debut at Kempton.  One of three ain't bad!  Predictably she wasn't good enough to trouble the principals, but she did everything right before, during and after the race, and showed enough to suggest that she has the aptitude, physical and mental, to develop into the nice handicapper that she is bred to be.  So that was good.  I came home happy from that outing, and I've just about recovered from the busy period - which is just as well, as we have pretty tough winter conditions to battle at present, and that takes it out of you.  We'll try to keep warm and keep safe.