Sunday, October 15, 2017

No one spoke and no one smiled - there were too many spaces in the line

Tragically, yesterday won't be remembered as the day on which Aidan O'Brien trained the first four home in the Dewhurst, nor the day on which U S Navy Flag became the first colt since Diesis in 1981 to complete the Middle Park / Dewhurst double, an achievement which prior to Diesis had proved elusive since the great half-brothers Bayardo and Lemburg had managed it in consecutive years, 1908 and '09.  That's what we should have been able to remember the day for - but, tragically, the fates decreed that all else was overshadowed by the death of Ken Dooley in the stableyard at Kempton Park.

It's easy to get to know the staff at Coombelands because it's long been a stable, firstly under Guy Harwood and more recently under his daughter Amanda Perrett, where the roster doesn't change very much year to year.  You see the same familiar, friendly, reassuringly competent faces with the horses at the races year after year, because it's clearly a friendly, close-knit community where good people go to work and where good people remain.  I didn't know Ken beyond the occasional passing "Hello" in the racecourse stables, but that was enough to know that he was one of the very high-calibre people who kept Coombelands ticking along in its happy, close-knit, reliable, friendly way.

Death is all around us.  Even within our own little racing family we have lost several good people to terminal illness in recent weeks, all gone too soon and all leaving our little world poorer and sadder for their absence.  And we'll all be following in their footsteps, probably sooner rather than later.  That's life, I'm afraid.  That's death.  But when death appears out of nowhere so very suddenly, unexpectedly and shockingly - even though we know that we do a dangerous job which can kill us any day, although obviously we make sure to keep any such thoughts hidden deep in the back of our minds as otherwise we'd never get on a horse, or even, as yesterday has reminded us, do anything with them - it seems doubly tragic.  Trebly tragic.  Whatever.

You didn't have to know Ken Dooley to know that tragedy has struck with shocking suddenness, leaving a gaping hole in the fabric of our racing family.  You didn't have to know him to find tears running down your cheeks as the news sank in.  But however many tears the rest of us have shed, those closest to him - his family, his friends, his colleagues - will have shed more.  All we can do is offer our condolences to those who will be mourning him the most.  The racing world has lost another good man, and many have lost a dear friend.  Carpe diem.
Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Stranger Song

The Racing Post and the BHA seem both to be getting their teeth into the practices of the sales-ring.  It's not immediately obvious why the BHA has decided to go down this road because I find it almost impossible to believe that it will manage to achieve anything, or even that it will end up feeling that opening this can of worms was either time or money well spent.  It's easier to understand why the Racing Post has taken up the cause, although there's only so much mileage in supposedly investigative journalism unless it gets beyond the quicksand of mostly unnamed sources and unsubstantiated reports of misdeeds by anonymous perpetrators.  Maybe we shall get beyond this current stage.  I hope so, but I won't hold my breath.

I have filled most roles within racing at some stage or another.  I've been involved in sales as both buyer and vendor (the former role much more frequently than the latter) but I'm neither an expert nor a frequent participant in the bloodstock trading world.  So I'm very much sitting on the sidelines on this one.  It will be interesting to see what comes up.  But I can say that in my very few forays into vending I have never been approached with any propositions about a get-rich-quick-at-others'-expense scheme.  And I would hope that it goes without saying that any time that I have been a purchaser, either for myself or on someone else's behalf (for doing which role I have never charged a commission), that I have never made any attempts to instigate any such manoeuvre.

It's rare for me to sell a horse.  In recent years I have been the vendor of a couple of weanlings at Arqana's December Sale in Deauville, with the foals being prepared and sold on my behalf by Gwenael and Lucie Monneraye of Lamotteraye.  I attended neither sale (in fact, I had seen neither foal, which is a disgraceful thing for a breeder to say) but no reports of any approaches to cut any deals ever reached me.  (Remarkably, both foals, who were both subsequently resold, have ended up in England: the three-year-old Rock On Dandy is trained by Harry Dunlop, while the as-yet-unraced two-year-old is with Alan King).

The one time I have been a vendor of a horse of any significance was at Tattersalls' July Sale in 2003.  Three years previously I had bought a yearling filly, a great grand-daughter of the top-class filly and influential broodmare Sorbus, by Desert Sun ex Pirie by Green Dancer at Fairyhouse for 9,000 euros (which equated to many fewer pounds then than nowadays).  I named her A Fortunate Life, after A. B. Facey's wonderful memoirs (which you should read if you are unfortunate enough not to have done so yet).  That name proved optimistic.  Come the early summer of 2006 she was an unraced four-year-old, owned by me.  Her galloping, on the rare occasions when it happened, was not too bad, but she had very weak knees it was an uphill struggle to get her to a point where she would be simultaneously fit enough and sound enough to race.  I was inching closer and I hadn't given up the struggle, but I definitely wasn't there yet.

Outside events took over, however.  When I'd bought her, the catalogue had listed that Pirie had a colt foal by Danehill Dancer.  That's the nice thing about buying lesser female members of very good families: you always have your Premium Bond there in the background, once in a while able to give you a dividend.  This foal ended up being called Decado and going into training with David Wachman, owned by Mr and Mrs O'Flynn.  He must have been a nice yearling because he fetched 110,000 euros at Goffs' Orby Sale in 2004, but he was an even better racehorse. 

In November 2005 Decado, having finished fourth of 30 on debut at the Curragh the previous month, won an 18-runner two-year-olds' maiden race at Leopardstown.  In April 2006 he won the Loughbrown Stakes (Listed) at the Curragh first-up by four lengths.  On 1st May 2006 he won the Group Three Tetrarch Stakes at the Curragh by three and a half lengths.  On 27th May 2006 he finished third of 11 in the Group One Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh behind Araafa and the last-start 2,000 Guineas winner George Washington.  It was a no-brainer to give up the struggle to get A Fortunate Life ready to race after her half-brother (well, more than half-brother as both came from the Danzig sire-line) had just been placed in a Classic, and instead enter her in Tattersalls' July Sale.

I didn't sell her myself, deciding instead to hand over the responsibility to Chris Murray and Nicky Howarth (now Murray) of Whitwell Bloodstock.  I thought that, under the circumstances, she would be under-sold if sold for less than 30,000 guineas, so that was her reserve.  That was also the figure for which she sold.  The purchaser, unsurprisingly, was Old Carhue Stud, which property (in Cork I believe, although I could be wrong) had been bought by Mr and Mrs O'Flynn who were getting into breeding.  In advance they were obvious candidates to buy her.  I suspect that if I had put a higher reserve on her, then they would still have bought her, but at that higher price.  But I am happy with the reserve which I chose: that was a fair price for her at the time, fair to both vendor and purchaser.

And what shenanigans went on?  None whatsoever, as far as I am aware.  Chris and Nicky had told me beforehand that the Old Carhue Stud manager had come to inspect her, so it was no surprise that he was the successful bidder.  But there was no mention of any attempt to commence negotiations outside and in advance of the sales-ring.  There was a post-script.  Having received a good price for the filly, I felt that it might be the friendly and decent thing to send a case of wine each to Mr O'Flynn and the stud manager (whose name I can't remember).  So I did so, sending them to Old Carhue Stud with a note which I imagine said something like, "Good luck with A Fortunate Life.  Best wishes, John Berry".

I received no feedback from this gift.  A year or so later I happened to see the stud manager so, as much to satisfy my curiosity about whether the wine had ever arrived as anything else, I mentioned that I had sent some wine to the stud and asked if it had arrived.  He confirmed that it had done so.  Whether the case intended for Mr O'Flynn reached its intended recipient I have no way of knowing.  I did get the impression that the recipients of my largesse were considerably less impressed by my generosity than I was - but, if asked to provide evidence of pressure to provide 'luck money', then I'm sorry to have to disappoint.  I can be of no use to the prosecution on this one.

Incidentally, my frugal attempt to bestow luck on those who had bought my filly were not successful.  Intermittently I kept an eye on the Racing Post database to see if I could find any evidence of her breeding career getting off the ground.  For years I found no evidence whatsoever.  In fact, until today I had no evidence of her ever producing anything.  However, on looking her up today, I have found that she has bred a foal.  It's fair to assume that she was covered in the spring of 2007.  I now know that she produced her first foal on 24th February 2013, a colt by Lilbourne Lad.  That's perseverance for you: no foal from a 2007 covering, no foal from a 2008 covering, no foal from a 2009 covering, no foal from a 2010 covering, no foal from a 2011 covering - and still she was covered in 2012.

This colt, bred by Old Carhue Stud, was sold as a yearling at Goffs' Sportsman's Yearling Sale in October 2014 for 13,000 euros. He was then sold at the Goresbridge Breeze-up Sale the following May, bought by Peter and Ross Doyle for 20,000 euros, presumably to go to Sweden.  It's fair to assume that he is a winner, but there is only one run recorded for him on the Racing Post database: second in the Herbert Sachs Memorial Handicap over 1400m at Bro Park on 11th September 2016, owned by Stall Tjader, trained by Patrick Wahl and ridden by Shane Karlsson.

So that's good: this investigation into supposed sales-ring shenanigans is unlikely to achieve much, but it has been the catalyst for my discovering, to my pleasure, that A Fortunate Life (pictured here shortly after arrival in September 2003 with another Desert Sun filly from the same sale, Ngauruhoe, who has the star on her head, who tragically lost her life as a result of striking into herself in a hurdle race at Wetherby on 1st June 2006) did not just fade away into obscurity after I had sold her, but is now the dam of a respectable racehorse.  I am very pleased to have discovered that.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Remember that your right boot goes on your right foot

Our strike rate has diminished further.  Roy's mid-division run at Salisbury seven days ago dragged it down to seven winners from our past 15 runners.  After yesterday's trip to Brighton it has declined further to seven winners from our last 17 runners - but, boy, I was ever so proud of the two fillies who ran yesterday.  The ground (good to soft) was softer than I believe to be ideal for both of them, but they both did their very best.  Parek (Sussex Girl) finished a gutsy third of 12, her first time in the first three and at last starting to build on the promise she's been showing at home; and Kilim finished second of 13, beaten a short head.

That, therefore, was excellent.  As was the fact that each was ridden perfectly by Nicola.  When you finish second by a short head, it's inevitable that you run things through in your mind, trying to work out if you could have won if things had been done differently.  But I can't see that we could have done so.  She was ridden perfectly and just failed; ridden any differently, she'd have been beaten farther.  A quick glance at the weights makes it baffling that she was able to do as well as she did.  She had finished second to yesterday's winner Esspeegee over course and distance on her previous run on 18th September, beaten half a length with Esspeegee giving Kilim 2lb; yesterday it was the same straight forecast, only Kilim beaten less far, with Esspeegee receiving 9lb this time.  She was 11lb worse off with the horse who had beaten her, and she failed by only a short head.  Ten out of ten to Kilim.  Ten out of ten to Nicola.

If you are wondering, by the way, how on earth that turn-around in the weights can have happened, it was because of the claims.  On the previous occasion, in a normal race, Nicola claimed 7lb while Esspeegee was ridden by Jimmy Quinn who obviously claimed nothing.  Yesterday, in a hands-and-heels apprentices' race, Nicola claimed nothing because of having ridden 10 winners, while Esspeegee was ridden by Paul Hainey, who had never ridden a winner and who thus claimed 5lb.  And I should add that, if we couldn't win the race, I was delighted not merely that Alan Bailey's stable won it but also that Paul rode the winner.  He's been working in racing for a long time now, is a very good rider and a thoroughly conscientious, industrious and professional apprentice.  It was a glaring omission that he had never previously been in a position to be able to win a race, so I'm very pleased (leaving aside that, obviously, I'd have preferred Kilim to win) that that has now been put right.

If you'd been watching the racing from Brighton on ATR, you'd have seen me interviewed by Matt Chapman before both races.  Each time on the move.  The first time I was hurrying off to saddle Parek, having not been able to get started early as Nicola had been riding for Brendan Powell in the previous race and being in a hurry as I needed to get off down to the start to lead the filly into the stalls; the second time I had just legged Nicola up onto the only horse still in the parade ring, Kilim only having arrived in there as the last of the others was leaving.  Nicola, having ridden Parek in the previous race, had been the last to weigh out; there were only 30 minutes between races; I saddled Kilim as quickly as I could; I put on Kilim's tongue strap; Abbie led her immediately to the parade ring and (thank God) although late we were just in time to do the obligatory complete circuit and get off down to the start without delaying proceedings, thus ensuring that I wasn't fined for her lateness.

Saddling the horses properly is important.  Getting it right can literally be a matter of life and death (for the jockey).  It isn't something which should be done in a rush.  But it has to be done in a rush when your jockey is in the previous race and there are only 30 minutes between races.  It really bugs me that often you are forced to rush so important a procedure.  But happily all was well that ended well.  What it did mean, though, was that there was no time to give Nicola any instructions before she got on the horse.  When she weighed out, there was no time to discuss the race: I took the saddle off her and headed away.  When Kilim, Abbie and I got into the parade ring, I legged Nicola up immediately and off they went.

In this instance it didn't matter, as I reflected as the pair cantered to the start.  Nicola and I had had a chat after three races had been run and we had both seen how the track was playing out (Nicola's only rides were in races five, six and seven, and our two fillies were running in races six and seven) and we worked out and agreed at that point what each filly wanted to do.  Furthermore, when I was leading her around at the start before Parek's race, we ran through things again, confirming and slightly adjusting our plans on the basis of how races four and five had been run and won.  So it didn't matter that there was no time to give the jockey instructions.

However, on many occasions it would matter.  It would matter a lot.  Yesterday I had a jockey who knows both horses well, had ridden them in previous races, who knows how my mind works, who knows Brighton, and who I was confident would remember every detail of a conversation we had had an hour and a half previously.  But very often none of those situations might pertain, never mind all of them.  And, of course, the one thing which didn't even figure on the radar was my instructing her to adhere to the whip rules.  As she was cantering to post and I was reflecting that there had been no time for a parade-ring discussion of tactics but, thank God, on this occasion there had been no necessity for one, it didn't even cross my mind that I had not had time to discuss the whip rules with her.

And why should that have crossed my mind?  When you use someone else's apprentice (and Nicola is apprenticed to Richard Hughes, not to me) you know that their boss, rather than you, is responsible for their education and conduct.  You also know that, in theory anyway, the BRS has taught them what they need to know, and that the BHA's licensing committee has only given them a license after being satisfied that they do indeed know such things, the correct and permitted use of the whip obviously very much included.  And you also know that the apprentice has a jockey-coach who is keeping them on the right track.  So the last thing you need to do is to check that they know what the whip rules are (and I'm the last person to be qualified to do that as I don't know what they are myself - I don't need to know them as I'm a trainer, not a jockey, so I don't ride in races) and that they know that they aren't exempt from the obligation to adhere to them.  Right?

Wrong.  You might remember the ludicrous situation earlier this year when Eugene Stamford was fined £650 because he had used one of Michael Bell's apprentices (Lulu Stamford, who happens to be Eugene's daughter, but that's irrelevant) and she had broken the rules, and it transpired subsequently that he had not specifically reminded her of her obligation pre-race to abide by the rules.  Madness.  Eugene appealed this fine but his appeal was not successful.  Insane.  After the failed appeal, I consoled myself (and Eugene) with the opinion that, now that this piece of idiocy had come to light, this absurd rule would be removed from the rule book.

Not a bit of it, however: in this week's National Trainers' Federation newsletter I read that, "Failure to instruct apprentices and conditionals on use of the whip leaves you open to being found in breach of rule (C) 45.2 and fined £650."  Nuts.  (And that is referring not to occasions when your apprentice for whose conduct you are responsible is riding in a race, but to occasions when you are using someone else's apprentice for whose conduct you are not responsible).  Sheer idiocy.  (But, by the way, don't worry about yesterday.  We're covered.  After the Eugene miscarriage of justice had first blown up, I discussed the matter with Nicola - who, incidentally, confirmed to me that it is virtually unheard of for an apprentice to received a pre-race reminder of the rules which they ought to know anyway - and gave her a permanent instruction that any time she rides for me, she must ride within the rules, as regards the whip and everything else.  So that's fine: we're automatically in the clear, never mind how rushed we are.  But honestly ...).
Thursday, October 05, 2017

Seven out of 14 wasn't bad

Eight days since the last chapter, which again is too poor.  I've left home three times during that period.  On Saturday evening I went to the ATR studio for an enjoyable evening in the company of Kieran O'Sullivan, covering the racing from Chelmsford plus some good sport from the USA, most notably three Grade One races from Belmont Park.  Then the next two trips were both to the races: Sedgefield on Tuesday with Delatite and Salisbury on Wednesday (ie yesterday) with Roy.  Roy ran adequately on unfamiliarly soft ground to finish halfway down the field, which was OK; while the trip to  Sedgefield was simply terrific as Delatite won.

Gee, this win had been a long time in the expectation.  Just over 15 years, I suppose.  I bought his dam, a filly by Desert Story from the Ela-Mana-Mou mare Elba, as a yearling at Fairyhouse in September 2002 for 7,000 euros.  She descends from the great champion NZ filly and racemare La Mer, by Copenhagen, who was brought from her homeland to Ireland by the late Captain Tim Rogers of Airlie Stud, supposedly I believe to return to New Zealand eventually, except that she never did go home.  You still get good horses coming from her tribe, a recent example being Nahrain.

I was told that there was a tradition of giving Napoleonic names (eg Elba) to La Mer's descendants.  I don't know why, as Copenhagen was the Duke of Wellington's horse, not Napoleon's.  (Napoleon rode Marengo).  Anyway, as the filly was by Desert Story, the obvious Napoleonic option (to me, anyway) was Desiree, ie the romantic novel written by Annemarie Selinko about Desiree Clary, who apparently was Napoleon's first love and who ended up marrying one of his generals and becoming Queen of Sweden.  You might have noticed that Kirsten Rausing is also familiar with the tale as she too has used this story as inspiration for horses' names.

Desiree spent part of her racing career (such as it was) running in my colours, and part running in the colours of Dave and Lorraine Thompson who took an involvement.  She didn't cut much ice.  She did finish second at 50/1 in a regional race over a mile and a half at Beverley; and was actually unlucky that day, getting a dream run round but then being boxed in until it was just too late to catch another 50/1 shot.  She was only lightly raced as she was very hard to get/keep right.  She even had one run over hurdles, ridden by Vince Slattery at Leicester, but was hopelessly tailed off.  But she was a real dear, and she was the horse who was able to persuade Emma to have a few rides on the Heath.  Anyway, out of sentiment, Emma took her over as a breeding prospect when her racing 'career' had finally ground to a halt.

For years Desiree's breeding career seemed likely to be no more productive than her racing career had been.  She bred a few foals, none of whom had any aptitude for racing whatsoever.  One of them (Oscar Bernadotte - he's in the book too, Desiree's son) managed one run, but he was hopelessly tailed off (ridden by William Kennedy in a bumper at Southwell) and wasn't able to manage a second appearance, even though we kept trying for another couple of years to get him both fit enough and sound enough simultaneously to run again.  And then came Delatite, who is a massive tribute to his young sire Schiaparelli because, from this seemingly hopeless broodmare, he has managed to produce a good horse.

Delatite really is a lovely horse.  He ran three times last season.  Ran a nice race first time at Huntingdon on Boxing Day, finishing midfield and thus just managing to make his debut before turning five.  He ran a good second at Towcester on his second outing, but was disappointing next time at the same course when only fourth of six, ruining whatever chance he had by pulling much too hard.  My idea was to put him away, let him (we hoped) develop a bit more while he had it easy during the late spring and early summer, and then be ready to have his fourth and final (horses are only allowed to run in four bumpers, Championship bumpers excluded) bumper run early in the autumn when the National Hunt races are generally not too competitive.

If we say that I'd been waiting since September 2002 for a victory to ensue from my purchase of the yearling who went on to be named Desiree, then the last couple of months have been nothing.  But they have been something: they have been further frustration, further delays.  Delatite was ready to run in August, but then he pulled a shoe off and trod on one of the nails.  Further delay.  Then he was finally ready to run again early in September, but developed ringworm at the eleventh hour (being withdrawn on a self-certificate on the morning of the race when the ringworm appeared, which was very frustrating and annoying - I just thought I'd mention that because if you've read the Racing Post this week you might have gained the impression that trainers enjoy not running horses whom they have declared.  Believe me, on the rare occasions when you declare a horse and then something comes up to prevent him from running, you're so bloody frustrated and disappointed that you could scream).

I then picked out another race for him, but when that came along I wasn't yet satisfied that the ringworm was inactive.  Anyway, this was driving me mad.  The idea had been that we'd run late summer or early autumn, before the racing began to get competitive again.  And we were now getting well into the autumn, into the proper National Hunt season when plenty of nice horses start running again.  Anyway, I saw a race at Sedgefield on 3rd October and that appealed to me.  I always think that inexperience is a disadvantage at Sedgefield - which means that experience must be an advantage.  And Delatite was as experienced as any bumper runner can be.  Furthermore, you generally get truly run races at Sedgefield, which is what you want with a hard-pulling horse.

Anyway, we got to Sedgefield.  Even the previous evening I wasn't convinced that I'd be totally happy with the horse in the morning, and feared that I might have to end up making him a non-runner again.  Which would have been more than frustrating, as the horse's work really had begun to be very good, to the extent that I had rashly described it to Emma in the middle of last week as "outstanding".  (And I am generally very conservative about being positive in advance of races).  As it was, though, I was happy with him when I went to see him at 5.30 on Tuesday morning.  So off we went - and the trip turned out to be more than excellent.

Jack Quinlan has been giving us a lot of help and was consequently first choice to ride, but he was obliged to ride another horse in the race.  William Kennedy, a terrific jockey who was our automatic first choice for years until he became Donald McCain's jockey and thus became a lot less available than he had been previously, and who has been a great friend to all of us, was able to step into the breach, which was wonderful, not least because it turned out that Delatite needed a lot of help from the saddle, and jockeys don't come any better than William.

Even though Delatite won easily, he did a lot wrong in the race.  I'd convinced myself that we wouldn't have a repeat of his last run at Towcester, because he's the easiest horse to ride in the yard at home.  I could gallop him with one hand behind my back.  But once the race got underway, he was again very headstrong.  William was brilliant on him.  After the race it became clear just how well he had ridden because the bit had gone through the horse's mouth.  The horse won easily, but plenty of jockeys wouldn't have won on him simply because they wouldn't have been able to control him.  Ah well - next time (which might be on the Flat, in a 12-furlong maiden race at Pontefract towards the end of this month) I'll put a ring-bit on him, and fingers crossed things will be more straitghtforward.

So that was that.  Any winner is special, but this winner, the first winner ever bred by Emma, was very special indeed.  The Racing Post the next day informed us that it was our seventh winner from our past 14 runners, which perfectly sums up the purple patch we have been lucky enough to have been enjoying over the past few weeks.  We're now down to seven winners from our past 15 runners because Roy was unplaced at Salisbury yesterday, but even that was a respectable run: heavy ground on his first start beyond a mile and a half, bearing in mind that his best form is on very fast ground, wasn't ideal, but he still ran respectably and did his best, finishing no worse than halfway down.

And now the icing on the cake: Nicola's appeal this morning against the 10-day suspension which the Lingfield steward had given her last week was successful.  Common sense had said that it would be a formality because the suspension was unjustifiable, but today's verdict was still a big relief because one can't take anything for granted.  She had been suspended under the rule used to police non-triers for a ride about which I am as sure that she was trying as I am sure that today is Thursday.  The stewards clearly felt that if she had ridden differently she would possibly have finished second rather than fourth - but, fair dinkum, it's just ludicrous to suspend a jockey who you feel could have ridden better, unless you feel that whatever mistakes or wrong decisions were made during the race were made deliberately.  If the stewards were to start doing that, they would be having to hand out suspensions every race.

It would be like suspending footballers for shots which hit the post or cross-bar, or which go wide of the goal or over the top.  Suspending cricketers for bowling wides, dropping catches or missing the stumps.  Or even just for getting out.  That's sport: it's split-second decisions while doing something which is difficult.  Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't.  God only knows what made the stewards at Lingfield think that it was sensible and correct to hand out a 10-day suspension for what could at worst be described as an innocent mistake.  But happily we don't need to worry about it now: common sense has prevailed and the BHA appeals body has done what it can to right their wrong.  And we don't need to worry about who will ride Kilim at Brighton on Tuesday either.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

A couple of weeks ago my father sent me a cutting from the Telegraph, an article by Marcus Armytage looking at the BHA's Stewarding Review which apparently is in the process of phasing out amateur stewards.  My father was a steward for many years (at Kelso, Carlisle and Hamilton in the '70s when he lived in Scotland; in later years at Exeter and Taunton until he was obliged to stand down when reaching the age of 70 nine years ago) and he feels that this is not a good thing.  I cannot speak from first-hand experience as our paths never crossed disciplinarily (in fact, had I been called in at a meeting at which he had been stewarding, he would have stood himself down for that enquiry) but my guess is that he was a very good steward.

He grew up with horses and racing, rode several winners over jumps as an amateur and trained several as a permit-holder, and is a Classic-winning breeder; he has a logical mind, a keen sense of right and wrong, and a precise, exact way of looking at things and of interpreting regulations.  Nowadays there are probably fewer people in subsequent generations as well qualified and as willing to do the job without pay as he and many of his contemporaries were.  Whether that's a factor I don't know.  But, whatever the reasons, it seems as if amateur stewards are being phased out.  I don't have a strong view on this, feeling that I don't really mind who the stewards are as long as they do the job well - although I do have serious reservations about any plan to implement a new system which will definitely cost more than its predecessor but is unlikely to be any more effective or just.

So I'm fairly ambivalent about the BHA's Stewarding Review.  Or I was until yesterday.  Now I'm all for a stewarding review, if it can mean that miscarriages of justice such as took place at Lingfield yesterday will become a thing of the past.  We all complain about stewards' decisions, but by and large they are generally verdicts where the areas are grey, rather than black and white, and where the case could have been argued sensibly either way.  There are very few instances where clear-cut mistakes are made.  The decision to open an enquiry after the 'Weighed In' had been given at Ascot a few years ago was a major blunder, which justifiably saw the BHA taken to court by Geoff Banks.  (I have, incidentally, seen no evidence to suggest that the blame here lay with the amateur stewards, or that the debacle would not have occurred if only the stipendiary stewards had been in action.)

Earlier this year a Godolphin jockey (I think it was William Buick, but it might have been James Doyle) riding for John Gosden was given a suspension at Chelmsford on grounds so flimsy that, when he appealed, the BHA did not contest the appeal, so that the overturning of the ban was a formality.  But serious blunders like this or the Ascot thing are rare.  Unfortunately we saw another debacle at Lingfield yesterday, and the sport's participants deserve better than to have justice administered as unjustifiably as it was yesterday.  I don't think that I can sum it up better than Richard Hughes, who described himself as being "disgusted" and observed of the decision that "it's an abuse of power and it's wrong".

In short, Nicola Currie, who is apprenticed to Richard and who has ridden a large proportion of our runners and winners in recent months, rode Tojosimbre for her boss in the two-mile handicap.  It was the horse's first try at two miles and she was instructed to drop him out, get him to relax and to take her time.  She did this very well, other than making one mistake.  Lingfield AW is a terrible place for horses meeting bad luck in running.  When she came round the top bend, we can say (with the benefit of hindsight) that she should have pulled wide to get a clear run to make up ground up the outside as the field came up the side of the track.  She didn't: she elected to stay in, hoping for a gap to appear.  It took forever for that to happen, while the leading pack skipped clear, so by the time that one did, the principals were far in front of her and she couldn't make up enough of the ground in time.

The winner Alternate Route (who bizarrely is entered in a five-furlong handicap at Musselburgh on Sunday, which sets up the possibility of a highly irregular quick-fire double) won with his head in his chest and would have won easily however things had panned out.  Tojosimbre finished fourth, but would probably have finished second (at best) had Nicola not found herself boxed in when she wanted to start going forward.  I was actually disappointed that Tojosimbre didn't finish second anyway: the minor place-getters were out on their feet up the straight, and I was surprised that he didn't sprint up the straight better than he did after having had such a very easy time through the race.

Anyway, Nicola made a mistake.  She chose to stay in at the 900m when she should have pulled out.  That was it.  Plenty of people noticed that she made a mistake, with seemingly all bar the officials appearing to regard it as an innocent mistake.  Bizarrely, the stewards had her in as if she had ridden a 'non-trier' and suspended her for 10 days for 'failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to achieve the best possible placing', which is the code for stopping the horse.  They conceded that she had made a real and substantial effort, but stated (correctly) that she had not made a timely one.  But, what the hell?  She was boxed in, she couldn't go forward when she wanted, and she didn't do that on purpose.

Later in the afternoon, Jamie Spencer rode a 5/2 second favourite (Manangatang) and had no room to go forward all the way up the straight.  Manangatang had a very easy race and finished eighth ("Tracked leaders in 6th, shaken up 3f out, still to make any progress when trapped behind weakening rivals over 1f out, no chance after) and Jamie was never able to make an effort - real, substantial or timely - because he never had room to do so.  Like Nicola, he found himself behind the wrong horses at the wrong time.

But there was never any suggestion that he had stopped the horse, no non-triers' ban.  He was just unlucky.  That's racing.  That's Lingfield AW.  And what is an untimely effort anyway?  If starting your move too late is an untimely effort, surely the same applies with starting your move too early, and that happens in pretty much every race, often several times?  (In fact, one could argue that it happened with the second and third horses in yesterday's race, as the sectional times, which suggest that Tojosimbre received the best-paced ride, confirm).

What annoys me, incidentally, nearly as much as the miscarriage of justice is the line which says, supposedly in defence of Nicola, that's it's understandable that she made a mistake and got herself boxed in (which she did) because she's a 7lb-claimer.  That's just silly.  What's understandable is that she made a mistake and got herself boxed in because she was riding on the AW at Lingfield, on which track the racing (or, to give it its proper title as coined by James Willoughby, the 'equine bingo') is probably more luck-in-running-dependent than at any other track in Britain.

Nobody is saying that it is understandable that Jamie Spencer got boxed in on Manangatang because he is a multiple Group One-winning dual-champion jockey, one of the best jockeys in the world.  I once trained a horse called Critical Stage for the 1997 Partnership.  He finished tailed off at Lingfield two races running, getting hopelessly boxed in and having a ludicrously easy race when he possibly could have won (whereas Tojosimbre definitely could not have won yesterday) two times in a row, ridden by Richard Hughes and Tony Culhane, who were just about the two best jockeys riding in England at the time

Critical Stage finally got a clear round the next two times (at Southwell - we'd had a bellyful of Lingfield's equine bingo by that time) and won fairly easily both times.  But nobody suggested that Richard Hughes or Tony Culhane had stopped the horse, and nobody said that it was understandable that they had got boxed in because they were so inexperienced.  I think that it is London-to-a-brick-on that Nicola's sentence will be quashed on appeal.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the appeal is just a rubber-stamping exercise, as I feel that the BHA may not oppose the appeal.  But that's slim consolation.

Whatever happens in the future, injustice has already been done.  Yesterday can't have been pleasant for her or good for her reputation, and it has already cost her: the stewards (needlessly, as far as I can see) did not let her leave Lingfield for nearly an hour after the race, so she got to Chelmsford ten minutes too late to take the first of her two rides there.  Roll on the Stewarding Review.  It doesn't matter whether stewarding is done by amateurs or professionals, but it needs to be done professionally.  And you don't ensure professional standards merely by paying the stewards, or prevent them merely by not paying them.