Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Don't whinge!

As I feared, our plans for world domination this week didn't get as far as the starting gate.  Our four runners were whittled down to two fairly quickly.  Of the four, one (Eljaytee, who ran a nice race at Windsor last night) was making his debut in a maiden race and couldn't be considered a realistic chance.  The other three, though, all looked to have some sort of chance of getting us off the mark for the year.  However, the three became one.  Das Kapital's trip to Chepstow today was scrapped yesterday morning when Chepstow was abandoned because of water-logging; and then a couple of hours later Turn Of Phrase's trip to Bath tomorrow was aborted as she was eliminated.

More evidence to refute the supposed problem of small fields.  Her race had a safety factor of 14; 29 horses were declared.  Even if it had been divided, there would still have been an elimination.  It's amazing that there's so much racing and yet so few options in Class Six races, nearly all of which are over-subscribed.  I don't know when there'll be another race which I regard as being as suitable for her as I feel that tomorrow's one would have been.  I'll enter her for one race next week and one the week after that, but they're both at a different distance (12 furlongs rather than 10).  Oh yes, the further brahma - the one handicapper who is able to run (Cloudy Rose at Bath tomorrow) has drawn 12 or 12.  You couldn't write it!

On a broader topic, I'm just going to touch upon the Baffert thing.  What's been annoying me is the line of whingeing which says that 'there was such a small amount of betamethasone detected that that could not be performance-enhancing, so what's the problem?'.  Well, I'll outline what the problem is.  Injecting a horse's joints with an anti-inflammatory / analgesic is performance-enhancing.  People wouldn't do it otherwise.  And I'll explain why it's performance-enhancing.

You'll probably have heard someone telling you that it's great when a horse has a good appetite (is 'a good doer') as then you can work him harder and he'll get stronger and fitter.  Well, that's true, but in general isn't really relevant.  The limiting factor as to how much work you can give a horse is rarely the energy levels which he gets from his food; far more frequently it is his fragility, the fact that if he does too much one or more of his parts will be damaged.  Horses are very fragile, far more so than humans (mainly because the forces going through their body are something like 14 to 16 times more than a human has to cope with, on the basis that the horse goes twice as fast and weighs maybe seven or eight times more, force being mass times velocity) and so you can't train them nearly as hard as humans can train.

Bill O'Gorman once summed up the skills of a trainer to me very neatly, "It's simple: you just have to get the horse fit without hurting him, and then place him in the right races."  That's the key: you have get the horse fit without hurting him.  That's the skill of a trainer (and it's impossible to get it right all of the time).  Now, leaving aside the fact that working and racing him on a pain-killer is ethically unacceptable as you're taking away the horse's ability to make his own judgement about how safe it is for him to do the work and thus making it more dangerous for him, that's the main problem: take away the pain from a horse's joint and you can train and race him harder (in the short-term, anyway, until he breaks down) so that he will improve because you can give him more work than you would be able to do without the pain-killer, because he doesn't realise that you're hurting him and thus he won't object.  And this extra work makes him stronger and fitter.

In an ideal world, anti-inflammatory joint injections would not be permitted at all.  Plenty of trainers don't use them anyway because of the ethical objection outlined above. I don't, and I know that Gay Kelleway doesn't either, for the same reason.  (This came out one Sunday a few years ago when we happened both to be pundits on the Sunday Forum on ATR, and the subject came up).  However, they are permitted, presumably because it would be so hard to police a total ban.  But what can be policed is that there should be no trace of them in the horse's system on race-day.  If you find a trace, even a tiny trace, of them in the horse's system, then the horse has been trained on betamethasone - and, if he is a horse who would otherwise be struggling to cope with the workload, he is a stronger and fitter horse than he would otherwise have been, for the reason outlined above.

It's like DNA or a finger-print at a crime-scene: you only need to find one small item to know that the person has been there.  It is being (probably wilfully) obtuse to peddle the line of argument that only a tiny amount of betamethasone has been detected and that such a tiny amount can't have had any performance-enhancing effect.  The fact that there is some still in the horse's system shows that he was previously injected with it; and you can be sure that when he was given that injection, he was not given an amount so tiny as to have no effect.  It would be like if a finger-print were found at the scene of the crime and the accused's line of defence was that that's only one finger, and you'd need more than a finger to commit the crime - there's only evidence of one finger, but that's evidence enough to show that the person was there.

It's simple.  If you don't want your horse to test positive to betamethasone, don't have any injected into him.  And if you want to have him injected, have the injection done so far ahead of the race that there's no chance of any traces of the drug still being in the horse's system.  And if you have the injection done close enough to the race for traces still to be there, don't whinge - especially to me!

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Things that really matter

Our trip to Chester on Thursday was pleasant enough (not least because of one of the few lockdown consolations, ie much less traffic than usual) but I didn't enjoy watching Kryptos' race.  I'd feared the worst when we drew 11, and my fears were justified.  The first four were drawn 3-2-1-6.  It's hard to find a right answer from a wide draw there unless they crawl in the early stages (very unlikely) or the race is very solidly run (which wasn't the case here).  You can either go very hard early on and  consequently probably weaken at the end, or start positively and try to slot in / take back from the start (delete as applicable) and then never be involved in the race.  Frustrating, especially in a messy race as this was, and not much fun to watch.  And disappointing when you were thinking that you had a horse ready to run very well.

I must say that I'm at the stage where I could do with a good result as my morale is quite low at the moment.  It's funny how easily swayed is the human mind.  You have something go gloriously right and you think that life is a bowl of cherries; you have a run of setbacks and it's easy to fall into the mindset of thinking that things are never going to go right.  I'm lucky in that I'm fairly mentally resilient and generally quite philosophical but I can see why some people struggle.  The answer is easy enough, really: you just keep on keeping on, keep doing what you believe to be the right thing, and keep working hard.  But the downside to that is that doing that does make you want to feel that you're achieving something.  So a good result at some point in the near future would be very useful.

I'd like to think that we'd have a chance of a welcome good result this week, although it may not work out like that, not least because I suspect that we may end up being able to run only one of the three possible chances.  Eljaytee (on the left as we look at the two horses in this photograph) makes his debut tomorrow at Windsor, but it would be a pleasant surprise to have a debutant win a maiden race as competitive as the one in which he will be running.  We then have, or should have, three handicap runners, all of whom I would hope might have some sort of chance of providing a great boost to the morale.  How many will run, though, remains to be seen.  I will declare three (or, rather, have already declared one and will declare two more) but I fear that that won't yield three runners.

First of these should be Das Kapital at Chepstow on Tuesday.  He's declared.  He needed the race to be divided to get in, but happily it has been divided so he's got in.  That's great.  I earmarked this race, over a course and distance over which he has won and been second, three weeks ago when we were midway through the very dry spell.  I reasoned that in another three weeks the weather would probably have broken and there would be a decent chance of him getting his preferred soft ground.  Two weeks on from that plan being made, the weather did indeed change.  So that's great - except that by now the weather has changed too much and the track is currently water-logged.  There will be an inspection tomorrow (Monday) morning, but more rain is forecast and I'm not hopeful.  It would be annoying if racing is indeed abandoned.

Then we come to Bath on Wednesday.  We entered two horses whom I would not want to run on rock-hard ground, which is what Bath would have been prior to the weather breaking, but Bath too has had plenty of rain, albeit probably less than Chepstow, and the ground shouldn't be far from good.  Possibly on the soft side, possibly on the firm side - but not far from good either way, and that should suit me fine.  Cloudy Rose is sure to get in, but I'm not optimistic about Turn Of Phrase getting in.  It would be disappointing if she doesn't because I'm keen to run her again.  She ran lamentably last time, far worse than I was expecting, but she doesn't overdo herself, and in retrospect I feel I may have been a bit easy on her going into the race.  She's done plenty since then and she's ready to run again, so let's hope that she is allowed to run this week.  I won't hold my breath, though.

To move my gaze away from my navel to things that really matter (and to highlight the absurdity of worrying about whether a horse will or won't run in or win a race) I'd like briefly to pay tribute to two great racing men who have recently passed away.  I was very saddened to read of the death of Brian Forsey last month.  I only remember the tail-end of Brian's race-riding career (he was 68 when he died, 14 years older than I am) and I seem to recall that he was combining training and riding by the time that I began to follow the sport in 1977.  I only got to know him in the last few years and didn't see him often as he didn't train many runners and neither do I, so there would only be one or two meetings each year (either Flat or National Hunt, and on that subject it's worth mentioning that he was one of the first trainers consistently to use Hollie Doyle whenever he could) at which we both had a runner.

But I always enjoyed the occasions when our orbits did intersect.  I would be delighted any time I looked through the runners at a meeting we were going to and saw that Brian was going to have a runner too, as I knew that I would be guaranteed a friendly greeting and some good conversation.  He was a lovely man, kind, gentle, quiet, unflappable and generally smiling.  Not that I'd given the matter any thought, but I'd just assumed that our paths would be crossing occasionally for many years to come, but cancer can come out of nowhere and clearly it came out of nowhere to claim Brian.  I feel his death sorely and I didn't know him particularly well, so can only offer my sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Since then the death has been reported of Frank Morby.  As with Brian, he was in the latter stages of his riding career by the time that I began to follow the sport, but at the time at which I became addicted Peter Walwyn was the leading trainer in the country and had Pat Eddery as his stable jockey and Frank Morby as his second jockey, so that fact about F. Morby was good enough for me.  The only time our paths crossed was one which he will have forgotten about seconds later but which remains fixed in my mind: I got his autograph one afternoon at Ayr in maybe in 1977 or '78, when he was up there to ride a horse for Peter Walwyn, owned by Lord Howard de Walden (which won - and needless to say I can't remember the horse's name).  It was only a few years after that that he moved to Kenya, but his place in both racing history and my memory is secure.  And from all that I've heard of him, he was as nice a man as you could ever hope to meet.  Again, condolences to his loved ones.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021


Tomorrow will be a day to look forward to: Kryptos runs at Chester.  The form of his first-up run at Nottingham has worked out very well, and you'd hope that he'd have a decent chance tomorrow.  I'm wary of running him on ground significantly firmer than good (because of him previously having had tendon trouble) and I was hoping and thinking that the dry spell would have ended in time to ease the ground there, and that has indeed happened.  But, as always, just when you think everything is running perfectly, something always crops up - and in this case that something cropped up when we were allotted a double-figure draw.  That doesn't make it impossible to win, of course, but it does make it much harder.  Kryptos will do his best, though, and so will Nicola, who has just won the first race of the Carnival, the Lily Agnes Stakes, on the George Boughey-trained Navello.

Aside from that, we seem to have gone straight from early spring to autumn.  We've had a cold, stormy start to May, which isn't very nice, but we'll get to summer eventually, so we won't worry too much about that.  Weather is always the big story in my mind - particularly when, as now, there's quite a lot of it - but really there's only been one story in the past week, ie the Kentucky Derby being won by a colt who cost $1,000 as a yearling.  Isn't that wonderful?  Gives hope to us all.  How on earth a $1,000 yearling (who still wasn't expensive in the greater scheme of things as a ready-to-run two-year-old, when he cost $35,000) found his way to Bob Baffert's barn while still unraced is anyone's guess, but that's by the by.

But the most remarkable thing is that how such a good horse could have cost so little.  Nowadays buying horses has become a profession in itself, with a large body of people doing nothing else other than sifting through the stock in all the sales.  It may possibly be untrue to say that none of them realised Medina Spirit's quality as the person who bought him as a two-year-old may conceivably have done so, but even then there's no guarantee that that was the case.  Instances of people buying a horse for $35,000 while genuinely believing that they are buying the best horse of that generation are rare.  That person might have realised; but nobody else did.  Certainly not the vendor who sold him for $1,000, and certainly not the person who bought him for $1,000 and then sold him for $35,000.  And certainly not all the other people who declined the two opportunities to buy him.  It's heartening, really: we all realise how little we know and that we're just feeling our way in the dark, so it's reassuring to discover that everyone else is also working on nothing more reliable than vague guesswork.

Looking ahead, it's a case of vague guesswork regarding what I'll be doing next week.  The plan is to have runners on three consecutive days (Eljaytee at Windsor on Monday; Das Kapital at Chepstow on Tuesday; Cloudy Rose and possibly Turn Of Phrase at Bath on Wednesday).  However, one can't make anything other than provisional plans for Tuesday as Das Kapital looks doubtful to get in: rated 55, he has at least 25 horses ahead of him in the ballot order for the 46-65 handicap, which has 37 entries.  There were eleven runners when he won over course and distance (a mile and a half) last summer and 15 runners when he was placed over course and distance in 2019 - and yet the safety factor for Tuesday's race appears to be no higher than ten.  

It's hard to understand why this should be, particularly when the two-mile race (which has a shorter run to a more difficult first bend and whose final 12 furlongs is the full extent of our course) has a safety factor of 13, and the six-furlong and eight-furlong races up the straight have a safety factor of 17.  Strange.  Our only realistic hope of getting in is if the race is divided, which could well happen as, while it is only third preference to be divided, the two races ahead of us in that order of preference don't look likely to have enough declarations to be divided.  So he may or may not get in (thank God for 48-hour declarations as at least we find out two days, rather than one day, before the race whether we're running) and I'm guessing that he will - but, again, it's just guesswork.

By the way, we keep hearing about the supposed problem of small fields.  Well, you wouldn't be aware of any such problem if you were trying to run horses in Class Six races.  (And even Kryptos' race tomorrow, a Class Three contest, had two horses eliminated from it).  Emma had marked down a Class Six race at Salisbury's first meeting which she thought might suit Dereham.  As it turned out, Dereham wasn't ready to run when the race came around, which was mildly disappointing, but the consolation was that he wouldn't have got in anyway.  I didn't look to see how many were declared and how many were eliminated, but there was a full field and the bottom weight was rated something like 10lb higher than Dereham.  So worrying about the so-called problem of small fields isn't at the top of my to-do list.
Sunday, May 02, 2021


This is the weekend of the social media boycott and I can't not talk about that, but we'll get there via Yarmouth last Tuesday.  Cloudy Rose ran a nice race in her first handicap, finishing fourth of five.  The market seemed to reckon that the handicapper had got her wrong by a massive amount: the other four runners were priced between 7/4 and 5/1, while she went off at 66/1.  That's so silly.  No horse should be 66/1 on his/her handicap debut unless the horse is out of the handicap or racing at a distance or on ground that is blatantly wrong, bearing in mind that the handicapper's brief has been to allot a mark which gives the horse a fair chance.  I actually thought she'd been rated a bit too high and she clearly has, but happily not by nearly as great a margin as the betting market seemed to think.

So we move on to the social media boycott.  I'll preface these remarks by saying that it's only social media and therefore by definition it's unimportant, and that it's only for three days.  And I'm sure that those leading on this, ie the BHA, were well-intentioned.  But this is silly and the BHA really should have known better.  And I should emphasise that I understand the rationale, ie that something had to be done to try to steer the social media companies towards doing what they ought to do, ie police their publications to prevent them being used as a conduit for hate and nastiness.

I fully support the FA and the Premier League taking a stand.  Manchester United has 25 million Twitter followers; Liverpool and Arsenal 17 million; Chelsea 16 million; and so on.  If the Premier League and the players boycott social media, it will hit the social media companies hard.  I would imagine that Twitter can charge plenty for an ad (a 'promoted tweet') next to a Manchester United tweet.  Similarly, their doing so might encourage their fans to discourage their friends from being horrid.  One can imagine a conversation along the lines of, "It's because of dickheads like you that our club isn't tweeting.  Remember that tweet you put up a couple of weeks ago...".

If the Premier League Clubs and the players were to say that they weren't going to post on social media again until the companies had taken action (as opposed to saying that they won't post for three days and then will carry on as before) then the companies would take action very swiftly.  But racing?  Come on.  We don't have anything like that influence.  If the BHA or racecourses, or whoever, stop tweeting, Twitter would hardly notice and would care even less.  It's no skin off Twitter's nose whatsoever.  We're living in Cloud Cuckoo Land if we believe otherwise.  And doing it in support of the Premier League?  Honestly!  The Premier League couldn't care one way or another.  And they wouldn't help us.  They don't even help each other, as the mooted Super League showed.

It also showed that Premier League Clubs don't need PR as that was an appalling PR debacle but won't have stopped anyone from supporting their club - but racing definitely does need PR.  So that's the upside, ie there isn't one.  (And if you still aren't convinced of the pointlessness of racing joining the boycott, this is from The Times yesterday: 'Organisations including the Football Association, the Premier League and the EFL have all announced they are suspending their accounts.  They will be joined by bodies representing rugby, cricket, tennis, cycling, darts and sports broadcasters.'  Darts!  But racing?  Well, we did, but nobody noticed.)  And the downside?  Well, there is one, a big one.

Yesterday was the biggest raceday of Newmarket's year and the biggest raceday of Thirsk's year.  QIPCO and Betfair put a lot into Newmarket's card and Cliff Stud sponsored the whole card at Thirsk.  Today AJN Steelstock sponsored the whole card at Salisbury, and Mansionbet the whole card at Hamilton.  And QIPCO, of course, were very generous at Newmarket again.  We're still in lockdown and people can't go to the races.  It's currently very hard for racecourses to find sponsors as there's nothing in it for the sponsor.  Sponsors can't take their friends - I doubt that they can even go themselves -  and there is no audience at the racecourse to appreciate their generosity.

Just about all the racecourse can offer is that it can use its PR mechanism to give the sponsor as much publicity as possible.  Not this weekend, though, thanks to the bright idea of boycotting social media.  A day before racing, Newmarket had to tell QIPCO, and Thirsk had to tell Cliff Stud, that it had changed its mind about using its principal PR network, ie its social media outlets, to promote the sponsors.  No wonder these sponsors are as peeved as they are.  They deserve better.  It really was not fair on the racecourses to ask them do to this, and all the more so because racing's input into the boycott will achieve nothing.  It's utterly pointless.

And, on the subject of the fact that racing is still behind-closed-doors, there will have been many thousands of racing enthusiasts who would have liked to go to Newmarket or Thirsk, to Salisbury or Hamilton, this weekend.  But they couldn't go because of lockdown.  All that will have been achieved by brow-beating racecourses, plus other organisations and people involved in the sport, into joining the boycott is to make people who are missing their racing feel even more disconnected from the sport than they already do.  I've unwillingly joined the boycott (more or less) because I'm lazy and that's the road of least resistance (and fundamentally it's only social media so isn't important one way or the other) and because these things always cause ill feeling (which, ironically, is what those who have organised racing's participation will claim that they are trying to prevent) but I don't feel comfortable about doing something which I believe to be, to put it kindly, misguided.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Things change, things remain the same

Utterly fruitless trip to Yarmouth in the week with Turn Of Phrase, but no lives were lost.  Her work earlier in the month with Kryptos had been very good and I thought that she was entitled to run very well in that race, but she didn't.  But if I haven't learnt to cope with disappointment by now, I never will.  Hopefully that will prove to have been just a temporary setback. Time will tell.  What was good about the trip, though, was seeing Harry Eustace's first winner.  James was (well, is, except that he is no longer the trainer) everything that a trainer should be, and Harry is very much his father's son.

I was very pleased to see Harry's first winner (Coverham, returning to scale in the second photograph) and very pleased to note that he doubled his tally three days later when Astrogem, one of Mystic Meg's horses who came to the stable when Mark Tompkins retired, won at Doncaster.  The timelessness of that second win is rather nice: Ryan Tate, whose father Jason rode for James for many years, rode him.  I enjoyed seeing an even greater note of continuity the other day when I saw Michael Tebbutt in the string, 30 years on from when he was first riding for James.  (He was James' jockey before Jason).  There's something reassuring in those arrangements, as is the sight of James still riding around with his erstwhile string on his hack - and reassurance never goes amiss.

Aside from Harry, three other new or sort-of-new trainers have got off the mark recently so we're due for another installment of our local overview.  Alice Haynes and Darryll Holland are in the former category,  Sean Woods in the latter.  Sean was a certainty to make a good start, having been so successful when he trained in Lagrange around the turn of the century, having spent so long as a trainer in Hong Kong and having been so thorough in getting his operation together in Shalfleet prior to beginning to have runners.  He's currently two wins from seven runs, 29%.

Talking about percentages, Michael Stoute has had a great start to the season and is currently on figures for 2021 of 11 wins from 41 runs, ie 27%, but I think that Chris Dwyer is still top of the pile. Since resuming training towards the end of last year, he has had 33 runners for 10 wins (provided by seven of the 11 individual horses whom he has run) which equates to 30%.  George Boughey is on 26 wins for the year from 102 runners, again a terrific strike-rate.  (Stuart Williams has had so many winners in recent months that I don't have the energy to calculate his strike-rate.)  We have commented previously on how well Mark Crehan has done since transferring to George and we can make that comment again.  The fact that Mark rode a winner for Juddmonte and Michael Stoute the other day speaks volumes for how well he is going.  And also on local apprentices, how nice it was to see Gavin Ashton get off the mark again since coming back to town (to Roger Varian).

I suppose we can't discuss local apprentices without mentioning Benoit De La Sayette's suspension.  I don't envy the BHA having to decide how to play it with failed drugs tests by participants.  Ideally we as a sport/community should have a zero-tolerance approach to drugs, but set against that is the principle that everyone deserves a second chance.  Particularly young people.  There are no easy answers, and there seem to be no easy answers as to how we can get it across to budding sportspeople that being a professional sportsperson and taking drugs is an 'either/or', but not a 'both', situation.  You'd have hoped that with our jockey-coaching programme in place the message would be getting across, but disappointingly that does not seem to be the case.

The other story on which we ought to touch is the very quiet ride given to the narrowly-beaten Stowell at Lingfield.  The most startling thing about this is how quickly the stewards' inquiry was concluded.  I just don't understand that at all.  Common sense should have dictated that when a horse is ridden like that, consulting with the betting industry to see if there were any identifiable 'unusual betting patterns' and with the exchanges to see whether there had been any noticeable laying of the horse should go without saying.  It just wouldn't have been possible to do that in such a short time.

I would imagine that, had one done so, nothing unusual would have come to light, but that's no reason not to go through the motions.  The only reasons not to do so would be if one had decided what conclusions the inquiry was going to reach before it took place, so that collecting evidence wouldn't achieve anything beyond demonstrating that the job was being taken seriously and that cases involving establishment figures are treated the same as those involving the more minor players.  It might have been more tactful at least to pretend to investigate the matter thoroughly, even if the result was always going to be the same.

Oh yes, and before I finish, we should have one runner this week: Cloudy Rose (the chestnut in the final three photographs) at Yarmouth on Tuesday.  We'll be having a Jason Tate / Ryan Tate moment as David Egan will ride her.  David has obviously ridden for us previously but not since he took his career to the top level by riding the winner of the most valuable race in the world, ie on Mishriff in the Saudi Cup in February.  It'll be great to have him on board and we'll be putting him up on a nice filly, even if she is one who has gone into the handicap rated more highly than I had expected and one whose ability to handle what is likely to be fairly fast ground has yet to be ascertained.