Monday, August 21, 2017

Hope Is High - but when is it ever not?

More busy days, including today.  However, I should just put fingertips to keyboard before I turn in simply because the next two days will see us on the road again, to Brighton tomorrow and to Bath on Wednesday.  We shall, presumably, have an outsider tomorrow when Kilim (pictured in the final photograph, after exercise today) runs at Brighton, and then on Wednesday I guess that Hope Is High is likely to be close to favourite (yet again!).  We have got to the stage where I'll believe Kilim winning a race when I see it - but at the same time I've been waiting all year to take her to Brighton to see what happens, and she's on bottom weight in an unremarkable race.  So one would hope that she might be competitive.

Hope Is High, by contrast, will carry a huge weight (9:12, compared to the 8:01 on Kilim's back).  That will include a 6lb penalty for her wide-margin victory at Yarmouth last Wednesday.  I would guess (we shall know tomorrow) that her rating will rise by roughly 6lb for that win, maybe a pound more, so there is no significant advantage or disadvantage about backing up under a penalty.  I have, though, decided to do so.  She is clearly in great heart, and it is a suitable race.  (Most of the low-grade handicaps from August onwards are 3yo+ rather than 4yo+, and the horses aged four and above seem rarely to win the 3yo+ races - so this one, like the Yarmouth race a 4yo+ contest, looks appealing).

However, at least as pertinent is that it is a qualifier for a valuable staying-series final at Bath in mid-September.  Hope is already qualified for that, courtesy of having run in one qualifier.  However, she only finished third in that, thus earning not a huge amount of qualifying points.  For the final, the elimination process will not be done, as is usually the case, from the bottom of the weights upwards; rather, the horses who have accrued the most points in the qualifiers will get first priority, and then on downwards.  One can only speculate whether the race will be oversubscribed or not, and if so by how many.

However, the race is abnormally valuable by the standards of middle-of-the-road horses (as most of the competitors are likely to be) so one might guess that plenty of people are likely to want to run their horses in it.  It certainly appeals as perhaps a very nice option for Hope.  Therefore it makes sense to give ourselves another opportunity to collect some qualifying points and thus move her up the order for getting a start in the final.  Let's hope, therefore, that she will indeed earn some points in Wednesday's race, beyond merely collecting the obligatory one point for taking part (unplaced) in a qualifier.  As ever, we shall travel in hope but without exalted expectations.
Saturday, August 19, 2017

Getting by with a little help from my friends

Nothing really to report tonight, but there's no harm in knocking off a quick chapter of the blog anyway.  More storms overnight, but today has been (almost) rain-free, warm enough (after a chilly start) and with some sunshine, albeit also with too strong a wind.  We had a straightforward morning in the stable, aided by some help from our friend Kiersten Duke (home from Australia for a short visit, and pictured here walking down the side of Long Hill this morning on a two-year-old filly by Motivator) and from John Egan, who kindly worked a very nice Cityscape two-year-old colt, for whom it is still early days but who is at least now (almost) ready to gallop.  Since then I have watched plenty of racing on TV, which is the perfect way to spend any Saturday afternoon (unless one is actually at the races).

I was encouraged to hear James Willoughby on RUK pointing out the extent to which our rules and their implementation currently work against the principles of fair play.  (The catalyst for these observations was the finish of the Geoffrey Freer Stakes, in which the winning jockey knowingly took the ground of the strong-finishing runner-up, thus making sure that the runner-up could not catch him, while knowing that he ran no risk of demotion despite what one could justifiably describe as the unfairness of his tactics).

Regular readers of this blog will know that the daily, unnecessary and unjustifiably ever-tolerated interference in British racing is a bee in my bonnet.  It was good to be reminded that the same bee is buzzing around in James' bonnet too.  On the same RUK coverage of Newbury I was pleased later in the afternoon to see Georgia Cox ride a winner on Squats for her boss William Haggas.  That was good to see, just as it was good to hear James observe before the race that her 5lb claim is a free 5lb, on the basis that she already rides as well as many senior jockeys.  Anyone can point out that Ryan Moore is a very good jockey; punditry that highlights the less celebrated assets is more useful.

Georgia won't be claiming 5lb when she rides tomorrow because she can ride at whatever weight she likes on the horses because it will be trackwork rather than race-riding: William apparently does not need her to ride out tomorrow (one of her regular rides, Theydon Grey, is running at York in the week so presumably will be exercising tomorrow, but Georgia only rides him in his races, not his homework, because William's wife Maureen always rides him in the mornings) so she's coming in here to ride two lots rather than lying idle on a Sunday morning.  That attitude is excellent and illustrates why she is one of our best and most successful apprentices.

That work ethic is also particularly appreciated as far as I am concerned as there are a few horses whom I would like to get worked tomorrow (I try not to ask whichever member of staff is working the Sunday to ride out, as they work hard enough without making their Sundays any busier than they need to be) and I don't have unlimited time as I will need to be away by 9.15 to head over to the ATR studio in Milton Keynes for the Sunday Forum.  But if I canter Hope Is High, and then Georgia and I gallop firstly Sussex Girl and Roy Rocket, and then White Valiant (seen in the final two photographs having a very successful schooling session on Friday morning at the Links from Jack Quinlan, who is another always ready to offer much appreciated assistance) and Kilim, I'll be able to get all the horses fed and those which need to be worked worked in time.  It will be a busy day, but it's better to be busy than bored.
Friday, August 18, 2017

Tonight will be fine

It's been a very good week for us with our two runners.  Salisbury was good.  It's generally a lovely racecourse to visit; even better if one's horse runs well.  Kryptos ran very well.  For most of the race I thought that he was going to win, but through the final 300m it gradually became clear that he wasn't going to be able to reel in the leader Surrey Hope, the mount of Ryan Moore.  He's still very unseasoned, physically and mentally, and it was no disgrace that he couldn't quite get himself organised well enough to win.  Particularly as the winner is a very nice horse and was ridden by Ryan Moore, who is always hard to overhaul on a leader.  Ryan never goes too hard too soon, but always manages to save a bit for the end - as the other jockeys found when he landed a mighty victory on Eminent at Deauville on Tuesday.

So Kryptos was good.  And then Hope Is High was even better.  (Which isn't strictly true.  He was beaten a neck off 84 while she won by seven lengths off 59, which clearly means that his performance was markedly superior).  Common sense said that she ought to win as she had been a 'certainty beaten' in a very similar race over course and distance 16 days previously.  But, of course, luckless losers don't always become winners next time.  However, this time, aided by a typcially perfect Silvestre De Sousa ride, the theory did indeed become the practice, for once.  So straightforward!

On the previous occasion, the Julia Feilden-trained Best Example had finished just over two lengths and one place behind her, giving her 6lb.  It seemed fair to estimate that Hope's mishap coming out of the stalls might have cost her about five lengths.  This time Best Example was again giving her 6lb (Hope had gone up 3lb in the ratings, but Best Example no longer had a 3lb-claimer on board) so it was fair to suggest that Hope ought, if the theory held true, to beat Best Estimate by about seven lengths.  So what happened?  Hope won, Best Example was second, and the margin was seven lengths!  Even accustomed as we are to how consistent genuine horses can be, this was truly remarkable.  Maximum plaudits to both horses.

So that was lovely.  We'd had rain overnight and through the morning (as had Yarmouth, 8mm of it, which meant that we were racing on perfect ground, which is always a pleasure) but it turned out to be a gloriously sunny, very warm evening.  Conditions were idyllic, just right for a wonderful evening of racing.  10 out of 10 for Hope; 10 out of 10 for Silvestre; 10 out of 10 for every aspect of Yarmouth Racecourse (including its ground and weather) and all involved in its running.  And it gives me (nearly) as much pleasure to say that today as it did to be there last night.

So what's been happening in the wider world?  I see that Adam Carter has been found guilty in that long-running BHA enquiry, but that John Wainwright was inevitably exonerated.  Why do I say inevitably?  Do I know that he was innocent?  Of course not!  I have no idea whether he was innocent or guilty.  But I do know, if the Racing Post reports of the hearing were accurate, that the BHA's barrister made such a poor job of presenting his case that the case was doomed to failure.  One might say that if the BHA had to resort to making the idiotic 'he was using an "out-of-sorts" jockey, therefore he didn't want to win' line of reasoning a plank of its prosecution, then it clearly had so little on which to base the case that John must surely be innocent.

However, however weak one's case, one wouldn't stoop to using such nonsense if one had any common sense as it just makes one's case look weak, whether it is weak or not.  The key to pushing one's cause if one's case is weak is to conceal just how weak it is, rather than to emphasise (one could even say exaggerate) its weakness.  The pushing of this line of supposed logic didn't actually tell us that the BHA's case was weak; it just told us that it was being incompetently put.  And if you put your case incompetently, you're going to lose irrespective of its merit.

You have to feel for the BHA as it doesn't seem to have had much luck with its lawyers.  One didn't have to be a lawyer to realise that Mathew Lohn, on the basis that he intermittently worked for the BHA, was not qualified to be the supposedly independent adjudicator in any case in which the BHA was the prosecutor; you just needed to have a measure of common sense.  The BHA was entitled to feel aggrieved that he didn't point this out when offered the job of adjudicating in the Jim Best matter, and it is now again entitled to feel aggrieved that its barrister has based its case on a line of 'reasoning' so flawed that it doomed the case to failure.

What else has happened?  Well, we had the tragedy of Permian's death, and we have the announcement of plans to reduce the amount of non-runners.  These are connected, aren't they?  As I see it, if you declare a horse, you want to run.  If you then scratch the horse, you generally do so because of one concern: the horse's welfare.  You are either concerned that the ground has become too soft and the horse is likely to labour on it or has become too firm and the horse is unacceptably likely to jar up or worse; or you just are no longer happy that the horse is physically or mentally in a condition to be pitched into a race.

There has been far too much written and said following the death of Permian on what would have been, by British standards, a rock-hard track.  I don't really want to add to the already-excessive pontification on the subject, but I would be interested to know how many of the people who have lambasted Mark Johnston for not being cautious enough, for supposedly being too cavalier with the horse's welfare and for running the horse on an occasion when, with the wisdom of hindsight, we can say that he would have been better off not running, how many of them have on other occasions sounded off about trainers being too cautious, being too concerned with their horses's welfare and being too free to scratch their horses.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We're only making plans for ...

I think that when I last wrote a chapter on this blog, we had just run Parek (Sussex Girl) at Bath and were shortly going to run Roy at Brighton.  Roy did indeed run there last Friday.  I'd been a little uneasy going there, even with a horse who likes the track and likes fast ground, as on TV the ground hadn't looked very nice on the first two days of the Festival, George Hill (the clerk of the course) having found himself in the difficult position of having had plentiful rain forecast but only a minimal amount arriving.  The worst thing (as regards laying himself open to a barrage of criticism) that a clerk of the course can do is to water and then have rain arrive, leaving the ground softer than people want.  The upshot was extremely firm ground for the start of the Festival, and quite rough too as the track has had a lot of racing this summer.

However, George sorted things out very well, watering and putting up a false rail, so the horses ended up racing on a very acceptable surface the day that we were there.  That was good.  So was the race, sort of.  Roy finished last of the five runners but ran well enough.  The three three-year-olds in the race finished first, second and third.  The two older horses finished fourth and fifth.  The three-year-olds have such an advantage in these 3yo+ handicaps.  Not only do the receive a hefty weight-for-age allowance, but they are so much less exposed than their elders, and hence are generally much better handicapped.

The first two home in the race will probably still be well handicapped when their ratings are 10lb higher than they were last week; while Roy, at the age of seven, was 1lb higher than his highest winning mark.  The other older horse in the race, who beat Roy by one and a half lengths for fourth place, won three races last season (one at Windsor, two at Goodwood) and had now dropped back to a mark 2lb lower than the one off which he won at Goodwood at the end of August, and had seemingly been waiting for the fast ground.  In effect, we were dependent on one of our rivals running below form for us to finish anywhere but last.  None of them did (well, the third arguably did, slightly) so fifth of five it was.  But that was OK.

I ought, as I believe most trainers do, to have looked at the updated handicap list as soon as it was released this morning.  However, I didn't: getting the horses worked requires one's full attention.  Well, it requires my full attention anyway, from 5.30 to 12.30.  And then there are always plenty of other things to do.  So I'll finally have a look now (at 7.50 pm) ... You bewdy!  Roy has dropped a pound, and Sussex Girl has dropped 4lb.  That's got to help, both of them.  Both ought to run again around the end of the month, possibly Roy at Epsom on August Bank Holiday Monday and Parek four days later, at Thirsk on 1st September.

More imminently, we have a runner a day on the next two days.  Kryptos goes to Salisbury tomorrow and then Hope Is High back to Yarmouth on Thursday.  Fran Berry on Kryptos, Silvestre De Sousa on Hope.  One would hope that both horses should have a good chance.  I was in two minds whether to declare Hope, but I'm glad that I did.  Of the entries, The Detainee (who had beaten her narrowly last time over course and distance when she did not have luck on her side) looked easily our most daunting potential opponent.  It was an obvious race for him, and unsurprisingly he was jocked up with Trevor Whelan to ride again.

We decided to declare - and I'm glad that we did, now that we find that The Detainee has not been declared.  Set against the pleasant surprise of finding that The Detainee was not in the field was the discovery that we have drawn ten of ten.  Snakes and ladders, swings and roundabouts, as ever! But we'll start worrying about what Yarmouth will bring for this genuine filly, who seemingly finds it very easy to be placed but considerably harder to win, once we have tomorrow's outing out of the way.  Kryptos' work has been very good, but there are some nice horses in opposition and his mark is now 84, so we won't take anything for granted.  As ever, we'll travel full of hope while expecting nothing.
Thursday, August 10, 2017

All men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them

Runners update.  Two runners this week.  Sussex Girl (Parek) at Bath yesterday with Georgia Cox; Roy at Brighton tomorrow with Nicola Currie.  The story of yesterday's trip was the rain.  We had an inch here (yet another inch) yesterday.  I don't know what they had at Bath, but it was probably more than that.  The band of rain was moving across the country, so Bath had its rain earlier, and the one consolation was that it had stopped raining there by the time that racing started (while it rained here right through to nightfall).  If the rain had come before declaration time, I wouldn't have declared - but it was good at declaration time (albeit with rain forecast, but there's rain 3mm and there's rain 60mm, so one doesn't know how much is going to come) so we declared.  And we were declared so we ran.

She actually didn't run too badly, so it would be an over-reaction to say that she didn't handle the ground.  But, even so, I suspect that she will be better on a firm surface.  She hadn't run for three months, had only ever run three times previously, and most of the horses in the race had a bit of form.  So seventh of ten was OK.  The run, and the experience, will have done her good because we're behind schedule with her, and she's ready for racing now and needs racing.  And she was the best down at the start and going into the stalls that I've known her (I generally go down to the start to be with her and lead her in) so all in all that was satisfactory.  Let's hope that it's onwards and upwards.

With Roy (pictured this morning in the third and fourth photographs, keeping himself clean for tomorrow's outing) we're in a different boat.  While we hope that Parek might just be getting her act together and, as they say on TV, taking a step forward, Roy, at the age of seven, has probably gone as far forward as he can.  He is (I hope!) very far from going backwards, but it's hard to say that he's going forward.  He's in extremely good form, and his last two runs (in the past two weeks) have been very good.  But tomorrow it's a three-year-olds-and-upwards handicap, rather than a four-year-olds-and-upwards handicap, so he's an outsider in the betting.  The horses taking a step forward, ie the younger ones, generally hold sway in such races, and tomorrow it looks likely to be the same.  But he'll do his best, as always, and with Roy at Brighton one always has a chance.

Despite what you may have read in yesterday's Racing Post in the preview of the three-day Brighton Festival, Nicola will be on Roy again tomorrow, for the fourth time in a row.  The past three runs have been apprentices' races and, while she's ridden him spot-on every time, he's John Egan's ride any time that John is free.  John was set to be back on tomorrow, but yesterday morning it became apparent that he wouldn't be permitted to go to Brighton on Friday for his three booked rides because Sandown's evening meeting tonight would be his ninth meeting of the week.  The jockey's week runs Saturday to Friday, which is sensible because it means that they can never be caught out by this rule on a Saturday, the most important day of a jockey's week, and that's as many meeting as they are allowed to ride at.

So John will be twiddling his thumbs tomorrow afternoon (well, that's not true because he's a workaholic, so he'll be keeping himself busy somehow or other) and Nicola will be riding Roy. The nine-meetings rule is an unwieldy one.  A meeting is a meeting irrespective of whether it's a mile from home or 300 miles from home; a meeting is a meeting irrespective of whether a jockey has one ride there or six; an evening meeting is a meeting irrespective of whether a jockey drives past it on his way home from the afternoon meeting or whether it's in the opposite direction.

A meeting is a meeting irrespective of whether the jockey drives himself there or is driven and sleeps throughout the journey, or flies.  However, overall the rule has a sound basis, ie making sure that jockeys don't work themselves to exhaustion and either fall asleep behind the wheel or lose concentration in a race because of tiredness.  It's probably just as well that there's no similar restriction on the length of a trainer's working day or working week, otherwise a few of us might have to pack up!  And on that note, I'm off to bed - long and busy day tomorrow (again!).