Sunday, June 25, 2017

The appeal of Village life

What a difference a day makes.  Friday's trip to Bath really was not very enjoyable simply because Kilim ran abysmally.  Not the end of the world, of course: nobody died, nobody was hurt - and it wasn't even a sign that she will always run that badly, because she should be fitter next time.  But it is depressing having a horse run as badly as she ran.  Compare and contrast, as they say, with our outing to the July Course the following afternoon.  The sun was in the sky, God was in his Heaven, and all was well with the world, largely courtesy of Kryptos running a mighty race on his stable/seasonal debut.  He had been doing his work like a very nice horse, and his bold third place in a decent maiden race suggested that that could be the case.  Very heartening indeed.

So that was our racing week: a slightly disappointing second at Windsor by Hope Is High, a very pleasing third at Newmarket by Kryptos, and two woeful runs (by So Much Water at Windsor and Kilim at Bath).  As is usually the case, things could have been better and could have been worse.  Aside from that, I really enjoyed the television coverage of Royal Ascot.  ITV did a very good job.  The fashion segments were disappointingly unremarkable (mind you, the bar was set impossibly high a few years ago by James Sherwood on the BBC, and even Gok Wan, who was rather engaging on C4's coverage, found him an unfeasibly hard act to follow) and some people were better than others, but overall the show was very good.

Ed Chamberlain seems to be a very good anchorman, finding just the right balance between joviality and seriousness, neither dumbing things down nor making them inaccessibly erudite, neither making the show too basic for the 365-day-a-year addicts nor too baffling for the once-a-year casual viewers.  And that is a very hard balance to achieve.  And some of his side-kicks were superb.  Johnny Murtagh was outstanding, while Jason Weaver is unfailingly good on ITV, just as he is on ATR.  And some of the features were really good: I loved the Mick Channon episodes.  Why go there when it's so good on TV (a question one could ask about most events)?  Why indeed - although there is one part of Ascot which I'd be interested to try one year (although very much doubt whether I ever will).

The part of Ascot which I would love to savour is the newest enclosure, the Village.  I am intrigued by this.  In case you don't know exactly what goes on in the Village, I can tell you (albeit not from first-hand observation).  The Village is situated in the infield, and has Ascot's iconic Grandstand as a backdrop.  It showcases the best of contemporary British summertime, and has a style and tempo of its own.  It is a 'pop-up' summer scene comprising informal boutique dining experiences, innovative bars, and live music throughout the day and into the evening.  The Queen Anne Enclosure dress code applies (not that I know what that is).

A picturesque bandstand surrounded by deck chairs is the centrepiece of the village green, along with two other stages where there is a mix of live brass, jazz and funk throughout the day.  In the evenings, the main stage hosts sets from live bands and DJs (and was headlined on Gold Cup Day by DJ Goldierocks).  From on-the-go stalls to sit-down casual dining, there is a broad food offering.  Cocktails, mocktails and Champagne are served throughout the day including the 2017 Royal Ascot signature cocktail, the Royal Blush.

I doubt I'll ever make it there, but it does sound rather fun.  The more cynical reader might, of course, suspect that I'm not being entirely genuine in my show of enthusiasm, but I am (even if, admittedly, I have been relaying some of the marketing-speak with a face not entirely straight).  I think it really would be rather fun - as long as (a) I could set my habitual allergy to spending money to one side for the day and (b) I didn't have to drive home afterwards.  Realistically, though, I can probably file away my vague plans to visit the Village in the same perennial drawer as my plans to have a runner at the meeting: 'Maybe next year ...'
Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jesus wept

Aaagh.  Frustrating trip to Windsor on Monday.  I'd said in advance that I hate backing up horses because you feel bad if they don't win.  I could have added, only I didn't realise that this would apply, is that I hate having odds-on horses, because then anything other than a win is a disappointment.  So the worst thing to happen is to back up a horse and him/her be odds-on, and not win.  That's what happened at Windsor.  Hope Is High (pictured with Jana in the first two paragraphs, in the Windsor stableyard before the race) went off the 5/6 favourite and finished second.  So I wish that I hadn't run her, and had just waited to run her next week at either Leicester on Tuesday or Yarmouth on Friday.  But one can't turn the clock back - and, of course, if I hadn't run her, I'd have wished that I had, because I would have been looking at the race and thinking, "What was I thinking not running in that?  It would have been a penalty kick!".

I'm not usually one of these winning-is-all-that-matters people.  For me, any time you run well you can be pleased and proud.  And she did run well.  You always do if you finish second.  And particularly this time as, on form, we couldn't beat the winner Powered anyway.  Two starts back, Powered had finished one place (and a head) in front of us giving us 3lb; this time we had to give Powered 3lb (and would have been giving him 8lb had we had the apprentice whom I'd booked, Jane Elliott who would not have had a claim in the race, rather than the less experienced one whom I chose to replace her, Darragh Keenan who claimed 5lb in the race).  It's just that Powered went into the race a 27-race maiden (notwithstanding that he'd finished in the frame on his last eight runs, including four times finishing second) so everyone, myself included, had stupidly and unwisely assumed that he would again be placed without winning.

Hope Is High is such a trouper because she ran well, honestly and to form despite appearing not to handle some aspect of  the track.  As previously we set out to have her close up all the way, but she came off the bridle going into the bend and looked unbalanced all the way around it, thus losing both her position and her composure, and consequently turning into the straight in a worse position than should have been the case, and not on an even keel.  Impossible to know what caused this, but I'd put my money on it being either the result of her racing right-handed for the first time, or the fact that, while she likes a sound surface, the bend at Windsor has been watered very heavily since the debacle last month when racing was abandoned after a horse sprawled on the turn.  But still she ran to the line dourly and determinedly, bless her.

I felt bad.  I wouldn't have backed her up had this not been an apprentices' race, but would instead just have waited for Leicester eight days later.  But this did look a winnable opportunity - and when you see a winnable opportunity in an apprentices' race on a Sunday, Monday or Tuesday, you pretty much have to run if you have a suitable option the following week as well, because you then have the opportunity to sneak two wins for the price of one, as it were, on account of the fact that you don't pick up a penalty for winning an apprentices' race, so have a week and a half to run again unpenalized.  This was the best plan that this mouse-man could lay, but sadly, of course, it fell at the first hurdle as she didn't win the apprentices' race.  So she's now having the rest of the week off, and we can have another go in another couple of weeks' time, or whenever seems suitable.  No rush this time.

Aside from that, and aside from the fact that So Much Water (pictured in the third paragraph, in the parade ring) ran lamentably later in the card, it was a very pleasant evening at Windsor.  It was a very hot one, but I love hot weather - even if the horses found it a struggle, and So Much Water in particular has done little other than sleep since then (as the fourth photograph, taken the next day, suggests).  And there was good company there too, including some Aussies with whom I'd dined the previous night, who were on a tour taking in Newmarket and Royal Ascot.  I'd spent time with two different groups of touring Aussies over the weekend, which was great: I love this town, and am so proud of it when we find racing people travelling from all corners of the world to see it.  When that happens, it is a pleasure to show it off to them and to help them to savour it.

I had taken one of the groups, the one under the aegis of Bryan Martin, a very nice man who was the recently-retired Greg Miles' predecessor as the race-caller in Melbourne and who will be forever remembered for his spine-tingling "Better Loosen Up wins for Australia" call of the 1990 Japan Cup, out on the Heath on Saturday morning.  It was a truly glorious day, and it worked out very well.  I just took pot luck on whom we would find where and when, but between 6.00 and 8.00 we saw James Fanshawe working some horses on the Limekilns, William Haggas working some on the Al Bahathri, and then David Lanigan, Luca Cumani and Michael Bell working some on the watered gallop next to the racecourse.  The icing on the cake was that we had a good look at everyone's favourite horse, Big Orange (pictured walking around post-work in this paragraph and the next) and the further icing on the cake was his mighty Gold Cup triumph this afternoon.  A further bonus would be if The Tin Man (pictured in the fifth paragraph, pulling up post-work under Tom Queally) whom we saw gallop on the Limekilns could win the Diamond Jubilee on Saturday.

The big race on Saturday, however, will be the 4.00 at Newmarket, a mile three-year-olds' maiden race.  Or it will be from my point of view.  Kryptos (seen in the next paragraph, hanging out with Parek, ie Sussex Girl) will have his first run from this stable in that race.  That's nice, and doubly so bearing in mind that he nearly died in the first week of February, surviving a twisted gut only thanks to the expertise of Newmarket Equine Hospital surgeon Mark Hillyer and to the dedicated and skillful care which he received during his week in hospital.  It's great that we have him ready to run so soon after that.  He's a lovely horse and I hope that he will run well, even if winning the race (or being placed in it, come to that) might be easier said than done.

The big race tomorrow, by the way, will be the first race at Bath.  Kilim (seen in the next paragraph, in the field one evening last week with her friend So Much Water) runs.  I'm really looking forward to that.  I gave her the second half of the winter off as AW racing is no good for her: she can pull very hard so needs to be buried away, and the generally false tempo of AW races usually means that horses who need to be ridden like that can't win.  So I put her aside to wait for the turf in the summer; and then when the weather turned so good, I thought that Bath might be a good place to resume as the ground gets hard there in good weather, and consequently the fields get weak.  You never like running a horse on hard ground, but if any horse can cope with it, she should be able to: she's only tiny, both short and slight, and has small feet, and is sound, and is by Dansili whose stock generally go well on firm tracks.  So we'll see what happens.  It'll be good to have her back racing, anyway.

So that's that.  Monday's trip to Windsor was a debacle, but no lives were lost so we won't get too down about it.  I got things wrong, but that's part of being alive.  And, all told, it's been a good week so far: idyllic weather, and wonderful racing to enjoy on the TV from Ascot.  Big Orange's win was a highlight, as was the win of a horse from a small Newmarket stable (the Richard Spencer-trained Rajasingh) in the Coventry Stakes; and as was, funnily enough, the win in the Sandringham Handicap of Con Te Partiro.  It was a joy to see Jamie Spencer ride her so well, and I was very pleased that Wesley Ward has done well.

It is not that I wanted the beaten trainers not to win (in fact, in the King's Stand we had Clive Cox and Sir Mark providing the place-getters behind Lady Aurelia - who is pictured here at the National Stud one afternoon last week - and I would have been very happy indeed if either man had trained the winner) but I wanted Wesley to do well.  As regards the disappointing whingeing (from people who ought to have known better) about the supposed unfairness of Wesley being allowed to work his horses at Ascot and the disappointing prominence which the Racing Post gave to the unsporting utterances of a tiny amount of people, it's probably a case of the least said the better, but I'll just quote a tweet from Jamie Osborne which sums up my feelings exactly.

"Disappointing that 'us Brits' are sounding so chippy towards Wesley Ward.  The aggravated voices are not representative of us all!".  The fact that I was merely one of 41 people to retweet that and merely one of 249 people to 'like' it tells the tale.  So I'm glad that Wesley is having a good Ascot.  'We Brits' owed him that.  (And what we particularly didn't owe him was for one of our number to ride a bicycle into one of his horses.  How the hell did that happen, particularly as I can't see that his horses would have been anywhere other than the National Stud and the Heath, plus the July Course car-park in between them?  As the shortest verse in the Bible says, 'Jesus wept'.)
Monday, June 19, 2017

All roads lead to somewhere near Ascot

All roads lead to the Ascot area.  All roads, of course, lead to Ascot this week, but not for me.  The road for me leads almost there, but we shall stop at this end of Windsor Forest rather than the far end, because my excitement for the week is taking Hope Is High to Windsor tonight to see if she can back up and defy a 6lb penalty for her win on Wednesday.  I don't like backing up recent winners simply because you feel bad if you do so and they don't win - but common sense says we have to give it a go as she is set to go off somewhere around 6/4 favourite in a six-runner race tonight.  She seems to have taken the race really well, so we'd be crazy not to try our luck.

I hope that the one setback so far will prove to have been the only one.  The race is for apprentices who have ridden no more than 25 winners, and we'd have had the most experienced apprentice in the field as Jane Elliott was going to ride.  However, she had a fall at Lingfield on Saturday night and has been stood down for seven days by the doctor.  Darragh Keenan will take her place.  He's less experienced, but he is a very good rider and will claim 5lb (whereas Jane would not have had a claim).  I am sure that he will give her plenty of help.  He rode a winner for his boss John Butler last week, and John doesn't suffer fools so that's good enough for me.

Other than that?  Well, So Much Water runs later in the card.  She has bounced back from the cut leg which ruled her out of Goodwood ten days ago, so she's ready to run.  And to run well, I hope.  Winning, of course, might be another matter altogether as it looks a fairly strong maiden race.  Still, we'll give it our best shot, as always.  Later in the week Indira is entered at Chelmsford on Thursday but won't run; and Kilim is entered at Bath on Friday and probably will run.  And then this morning I have entered Kryptos for Newmarket on Saturday.  So it should be a busy week, and might be a fun one, even without Ascot.  And, whatever the results, the baking hot weather helps.  We spend all too many weeks cold and/or wet.
Thursday, June 15, 2017

A moment of bliss!

I'll be brief.  Not because I want to be, as I have plenty to say, as always.  But I'll be brief anyway, not for not wanting to bore any readers (boredom coming with the territory of being long-suffering enough to read these musings) but because I am tired, and am short of both sleep and time.  But I just should update the runners' situation.  I think that we left it with So Much Water (pictured in the field on Sunday evening with her friend Kilim) not going to Goodwood.  That was annoying, but no harm was done.  And the small cut on her near hind pastern has healed itself nicely, and I hope that she will run at Windsor on Monday.

This week we were looking at a few potential runners, some but not all of whom have run.  Roy went to Brighton on a lovely day on Monday.  There were only five runners, but all five looked to have a chance, and Roy (pictured with David Egan after the race) was the outsider, primarily because it is plain from a quick perusal of his form that he is badly handicapped at present.  He duly finished fifth of five, which went from seeming likely to seeming inevitable once it became clear that the race was being very slowly run (Tom Queally riding a superb race on the winner, getting away with leading at a very slow tempo, which is bad news when you have a horse who likes to be ridden from the rear).

Two days later (ie Wednesday, ie yesterday) we had Hope Is High entered at Yarmouth and Indira entered at Haydock.  I elected not to run Indira because the ground was very soft a few days before the meeting, and the forecast was for a fair amount of more rain.  In the end, the forecast rain didn't materialise and the ground ended up as no worse than good to soft, but no harm was done and she can go to Chelmsford next week instead for a valuable race which might be just right for her.  We did, though, take Hope Is High to Yarmouth, and ended up having a very happy day in the sunshine there.

Since her win at Bath last summer, Hope Is High hadn't really had much luck.  She'd gone back to Bath and it had rained and rained and rained.  We gave her a run on the AW at Newcastle and (in common with most horses I have trained) she didn't run as well on the AW as on the turf.  We were drawn very wide first up this season, and consequently didn't get the run of the race, finishing fourth.  And then we were carried across the course by the winner at Lingfield and then squeezed up on the rail (the official version was that no interference took place, but that's wrong) and finished fourth, when either first or a close second would have been the fair result.

Yesterday, though, the stars aligned.  She was drawn one in an 11-runner race in which I regarded at least seven of the runners as having very little chance.  Silvestre De Sousa, as he does on every horse he rides, put her in a position from which she could win if good enough; and then gave her every encouragement to go on and win.  And win she did, by two and a half lengths.  Training horses is a joy if you love horses and love riding, but its downside (over and above that it's very hard to earn a living from it unless you are training for extremely wealthy people; and that you have no time off; and for much of the year the weather, notwithstanding that at present the weather is one of the best bits of the job) is that disappointment is your regular companion.

The disappointment does get you down at times - but then that's all forgotten on the infrequent (and they are only so special because they are so infrequent, because there would be nothing special in success if you achieved it every day) occasions when things go right, and you have a winner.  The title of Bill Wightman's biography was spot on: 'Months of misery, moments of bliss'.  Well, it was half right.  'Misery' isn't the right word because you can't be miserable when you live with horses, but 'despair' isn't far away at times.  But the second part is spot-on.  Moments of bliss.  And, thanks to Emma having picked up Hope Is High for 800 gns at Tattersalls last year, and thanks to Jana Trnakova who rides her every day, and thanks to Silvestre De Sousa who rode her so well yesterday, and thanks to the filly herself, we had a moment of bliss yesterday.  That'll keep me going for a while!
Friday, June 09, 2017

Strong and stable?

The best laid plans of Prime Ministers, mice and men.  It turned out that my plan to run So Much Water at Goodwood this evening has ended up showing itself to have been neither strong nor stable.  She has a small cut on the outside of her near hind pastern.  I had a look at it at 6.30 this morning, and it never crossed my mind that it would become an issue.  However, when we prepared to leave at the end of the morning the situation had altered: to my surprise some filling had appeared around it and she was walking uncomfortably on the leg.

One could have hoped that the filling would have dispersed on the journey down there (which it would) and that she'd have been OK to run, but really that would not have been the correct way to proceed.  I am glad that I didn't try that option as she was more sore again on it by evening stables, so I'm at home this evening and so is she.  Still, it'll only take a few days to come right and she should be ready to run again in around a fortnight.  And every cloud has a silver lining: while it was, and is, very annoying, the consolation is that I'll be in bed at a normal time tonight.  I'm still not really back to full strength after the late night at Fontwell on Tuesday, but a good night's sleep tonight should put me right - and ready to go to Brighton on Monday with Roy!

To change the subject and to revert to a subject on which we have touched recently, I did not enjoy watching two more incidents of dangerous riding on Racing UK yesterday evening, one at Sandown and one at Carlisle.  Envoy and Ryan Tate nearly fell at Sandown when Frankie Dettori cut across them onto the inside rail, while Someone Exciting and Lewis Edmunds had an even closer shave at Carlisle when Callum Rodriguez made an even more dangerous manoeuvre across their bows onto the stands' rail.  Both miscreants were found to be guilty of "careless riding", receiving suspensions of four and seven days respectively.

This problem is in danger of getting out of hand, and I only hope that it is addressed by the stewards before, rather than in response to, a fatality.  Calling these incidents 'careless riding' is not a satisfactory euphemism.  This implies that the jockeys  just have a lapse of concentration, possibly even not noticing that the other horse is there.  I just can't believe that that is the case.  I just can't believe that the jockeys are that incompetent, that they go through races half asleep, not paying attention, not aware of what is going on around them.

Race-riding, like soccer, cricket or whatever, is a competitive sport where a level of aggression is essential if one is going to be any good at it.  That's why there are rules, based on safety and fairness, to limit how far the soccer players can push it when they tackle, how far the fast bowlers can push it when they send the ball flying around the batsman's head, and how far the jockeys can push it when they assert their claim as two of them go for the same gap at the same time, or whatever.  The players' duty is to push things as far as the umpires permit - and it's up to the umpires to keep the players' essential competitiveness in check.

This our umpires (stewards) are currently failing to do.  Current practices of stewarding encourage jockeys to ride with insufficient respect for the safety of the other competitors because there is every incentive to go beyond the limit of what is acceptable (because it increases their chance of winning) and very little disincentive (because their mount faces no risk of disqualification, and because in the unlikely event of them receiving a suspension, the suspension is only small).  For the safety of the jockeys, never mind the horses, this matter needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, and the mindset of the riders changed.

As mentioned previously, the current way of thinking is that if the interference does not nearly cause a fall, it is deemed not to exist.  If it nearly causes a fall or does cause one, it is deemed careless.  I don't know how bad it would be, or how many horses would have to fall, or how seriously the jockey would need to be injured (a fractured vertebra clearly not being bad enough) for the riding to be deemed dangerous.  Rory Delargy informs me on Twitter that "in summer 2003 there were 3 cases of "dangerous" riding in a couple of months. Since 2003 there has been just one (horse killed)."

Lynne Jones, mother of the very good apprentice Aaron Jones and thus someone who is obviously keen for race-riding not to be any more dangerous than it has to be, observed yesterday on Twitter (8th June) that there have been "19 Careless Riding decisions in June and we're only on day 8".  Stuart Williams (to whom Aaron is apprenticed) observed on Twitter after the Carlisle incident, "another example of a try to win at all costs ride in the 8.50 at Carlisle and rider very lucky to stay upright; demotion is the only cure ... Racing in the UK has sleepwalked into this being the norm, we are only another race away from a bad accident every day".

We aren't getting strong and stable leadership from Westminster, but please may we have some from High Holborn?