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.

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