Feast or Famine

Feast or Famine

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


This year's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes looks sure to be a great race - and I think it is going to be a particularly great race for the strong stayers.

As I'm writing this, it's not clear quite how soft the ground at Ascot is going to be. However, given the rain they have had, and with the possibility of there being more to come, it looks likely the mud-lovers, or at the very least those horses effective in the mud, are going to be in their element.

It also seems clear that in what looks set to be a true-run race over Ascot's stiff 1m4f, whichever horse wins this King George is going to need to absolutely stay the distance.

The way I read this race, John Gosden is going to train the winner. I can see Enable and Jack Hobbs fighting out the finish up the home straight and, helped by the huge weight concession from him to her, I reckon the filly will come out on top.

I'm not in the least bit surprised Enable's connections have chosen to run her two weeks after her impressive victory in the Irish Oaks.

She had a good break after scoring at Epsom - the gap between the two Oaks is a long one - and she then went around the Curragh more or less on the bridle.

If Taghrooda had not won the King George three years ago I might have been one of those thinking there is a question mark against Enable, on the basis that prior to Taghrooda no three-year-old filly had won the race since Pawneese in 1976. Taghrooda showed it can be done and John clearly believes Enable has what it takes to do it as well. In fact, with Taghrooda having won the race so recently, how could they not run Enable?

It wouldn't worry me at all that Enable was racing in Group 1 company only a fortnight ago. Horses are much tougher than plenty of people seem to think. In years gone by horses used to have to walk to the racecourse. Nowadays we hear complaints if they were delayed by traffic jams on the motorway. It's laughable.

The horse is the hardiest animal you could find. These are creatures who have been designed by nature to carry us as forms of transport and to plough our fields. Seen in that light, it's hardly too much to ask a supremely fit thoroughbred, trained to perfection, to race over 1m4f twice in a fortnight.

As a daughter of Nathaniel, Enable should be perfectly able to handle testing conditions, while we know from the form book Jack Hobbs will love them. He was really impressive on an easy surface at Meydan on World Cup night and with similar conditions to race on he should be able to leave behind his royal meeting performance.

On that occasion he finished a long way behind Highland Reel. The Ballydoyle globetrotter is a fantastic athlete but we know he thrives on fast ground. It's great that connections are letting him try to defend his crown but it's hard to believe he can love soft ground as much as he loves fast ground.

Although Ulysses put up an excellent performance to win the Eclipse, I also fear the ground will be a hindrance to him, not a help, particularly over the longer King George trip. The two combined might find him out.

Even if it does not, Jim Crowley will need to play him very late, although that, in theory, should be easier to do at Ascot that at Sandown, where the many ridges can make a jockey's life difficult.

Owners deserve better than three tiny prawns

We have more runners at Windsor than anywhere else. On Monday night I was once again left to wonder why. The treatment of owners there should be the cause of embarrassment to the racecourse and the sport.

Most people involved in ownership know they probably won't ever again see the money they fork out on their horses. When they go racing with a runner they invariably won't win. The very most they are going to get, and the very least they should be entitled to expect, is a good day or night out. I'm afraid at Windsor they don't really get it.

At Windsor you have to leave the owners' and trainers' bar to go to another to room in order to pick up your box of so-called food. How Windsor can think the offering it provides owners is up to scratch is beyond me. In fact, the fare they serve up provides an example of the very worst ways in which owners are treated in Britain. It is a disgrace.

I took a picture of the packed dinner they were giving out on Monday. The two bread rolls did not tear. They broke. Honestly, they were as hard as a couple of my golf balls. There were three tiny prawns in a seafood sauce, some bits of salad and a portion of rotten coleslaw, plus a few other similarly unappetising items.

People who see me eating ice cream at Windsor every Monday night must think I have an addiction. The truth is, ice cream is just about the only thing that's edible there.

It's not only the food that proves a letdown. Just when an owner needs a drink, either for the purposes of celebration or commiseration, you end up having to go through the painful experience of watching kids trying to pull warm pints behind the bar.

When I was riding the Professional Jockeys Association carried out surveys on the food we received in weighing rooms. The Racehorse Owners Association should do the same.

The ROA ought maybe to organise a form of action. In the circumstances it would be merited, because if the owners did not provide the horses, Windsor would not be able to put on a show, one that invariably attract big crowds, presumably spending big money.

You would expect top racecourses like Ascot and Sandown to look after owners superbly - and those two very much do. However, there are also racecourse at a similar level to Windsor that do well, including racecourses owned, like Windsor, by Arc. Owners get lovely fish and chips at Bath, while Lingfield provides a very tasty carvery. Away from the Arc tracks, Kempton also works hard to look after owners at the quiet all-weather meetings.

I'm not saying owners should be given gourmet, out-of-this-world food. I just think they shouldn't be fed really poor quality stuff in a dingy little room, which is what happens at Windsor.

I am genuinely flabbergasted Windsor and those other racecourses that treat owners so shabbily believe what they are doing right now is good enough. It really is not.

Three evening chances for Weathercock House

Like all trainers, it's Saturday afternoon runners I'm most after but this weekend it's on Saturday night we're concentrating.

Among our runners is Leapt. He will be e getting 1m6f and testing ground together for the first time and that should make the handicap he runs in at Lingfield (6.00) right up his street. As a son of Nathaniel he is going to love the ground.

I could say something very similar about Waterville Dancer, another son of Nathaniel who will be running over 1m6f on an easy surface, in his case at Salisbury (7.45). With going descriptions having started to include the word soft, nice staying horses like these two should start coming to the fore.

Back at Lingfield we have Ragstone View (7.00), who was only just touched off at Chepstow earlier this month but has a realistic chance of getting off the mark this time.

Shock and sadness at Yarborough's death

The whole sport was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of stalls handler Stephen Yarborough at Haydock last Friday.

Since Stephen's death there has been much talk of the enormous camaraderie that exists not only between the jockeys and the handlers but also among the handlers. When one of the lads gets a kick down at the start you see that very clearly. These are guys who travel around the country together. Not surprisingly they form extremely close bonds.

When I was riding one of the first sounds I often heard when arriving at the start of the race was the handlers' laughter. How very different the atmosphere must have been at the meetings staged last Friday evening and Saturday.

Like everyone else in racing, I send my very best wishes to Stephen's family.

Knowing he was killed in a freak accident that didn't even involve a horse must make his loss especially hard to take. Hopefully the huge support and sympathy that has been expressed will have helped them