Monday, June 27, 2016
I have learned quickly that as a trainer you sometimes seem to move from one frustration to another. Occasionally, though, it would not be too difficult for racecourses, the governing body and the sport's administrators to make life a little smoother.
Consider, as an example, the build-up to tonight's meeting at Lingfield, at which we have just the one runner, Goodwood Crusader, in the opening novice contest. We would probably have sent more than a single horse had the scheduled turf races not been switched to the Polytrack. The fact those races have been moved is frustrating but perfectly understandable. The way in which they were moved is simply frustrating.
Rewind back a week and Lingfield's entire card was switched from the turf course to the all-weather track after persistent rain left the former, which is so often susceptible to waterlogging, unraceable. The decision was announced on the Wednesday, which meant a new card was programmed and fresh entries were made.
From last week to this week the weather has not exactly been consistently spectacular in the south of England and on Wednesday the Lingfield turf course was reported to be heavy and waterlogged in places with further rain in the potential forecast. For that reason, it seemed obvious to us here that the four Lingfield turf contests that had been due to open the card - and in which we had three entries - could be vulnerable.
As such we made two calls to Lingfield mid-morning on Wednesday. The first call went unanswered, as did the second, so a message was left with the request that someone phoned the office of Richard Hughes. We rang when we did as we wanted to know if it was worth us making entries for Castle Talbot and Wahaab - both of whom were in tonight's 0-65 7f handicap - at Brighton and Chepstow on Tuesday. Castle Talbot is rated 61 on turf but only 55 on the all-weather, so I would not want to run him in 0-65 event in those circumstances.
Given it costs money to put horses in races you never want to make entries on your owners' behalf unnecessarily but, having not heard anything from Lingfield, we took the prudent approach and selected new races for the two horses.
Had 23mm of rain not fallen on Wednesday night a transfer might not have been necessary. However, I don't really understand why someone at Lingfield, the BHA or Weatherbys could not three days ago have alerted us to the possibility of this happening.
There is something else I don't understand. At 8am on Thursday our stable jockey Shane Kelly's agent rang me to say the Lingfield turf races were being moved to the all-weather. That was around 45 minutes before we received official confirmation of the news from Weatherbys. It was only at 8.53am that the Weatherbys-run BHA "racing admin" website announced the news. How was a jockeys' agent in a position to tell us so far in advance of the racecourse, the BHA or Weatherbys?
I have no doubt the job of a clerk of the course is a difficult one and pleasing all of the people all of the time must be nigh on impossible. I reckon most trainers want no more than to be kept fully and honestly in the loop. Some clerks are very good at doing this. Others are not. All too often you see going reports that have not been updated for days.
The good news is the "racing admin" website, which all racing professionals will know well, is being revamped, something that is long overdue. I'm not Bill Gates but I can see the service we currently have to put up with is about ten years behind the times. Something that looks better, works better and is more user friendly will be well received by all those who depend on it on a daily basis.
I had very few chances to ride for Henry Candy in my career. That was my loss for he is a trainer of immense patience and understanding, as he showed once again when sending out Twilight Son to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
What had seemed to be a lame effort first time out this season did not discourage Henry, who had aimed Twilight Son at Royal Ascot and delivered him there in peak form.
There was one interesting, and nowadays unusual, aspect to the Diamond Jubilee. Only ten horses were declared to run and only nine actually took part following the defection of Jungle Cat. Some will argue that a field that by modern standards was small for a Group 1 sprint was disappointing. I take a very different view.
Once upon a time the showpiece sprints were, in numerical terms, all contested by the sort of fields would expect to see in most Group 1 races staged over longer distances. The increase in field sizes seemed to coincide with a reduction in the overall quality of our elite sprinters. For quite a few years the top sprinters were, as a bunch, extremely ordinary. It's lovely to see handicappers rising through the ranks but the major sprints started to be made up of little else other than upgraded handicappers.
The Diamond Jubilee turnout might well simply have been a blip, given 17 horses ran in the King's Stand Stakes earlier in the week. However, I hope that is not the case. An excessive number of Group 1 races over 5f and 6f have been ruined by draw bias. The outcome of too many races has been determined by where horses are drawn relative to each other, as opposed to how talented horses are relative to each other. That's a bad thing. You don't want to see lucky Group 1 winners who might then become stallions when really they ought not.
In future, I would be hopeful the improvements made to the three-year-olds' sprinting programme, most visibly through the creation of the Commonwealth Cup, will help to further improve the quality of our sprinting crops. Giving speedy three-year-olds greater chances to compete against their own age group at Pattern level was absolutely the right thing to do. It happens with three-year-old milers, middle-distance performers and stayers, so why not sprinters?
For that reason, it was pleasing to see both Royal Ascot Group 1 sprints won by four-year-olds. The first four home in the King's Stand are all aged four and three of them - the winner Profitable, the third Goken and the fourth Jungle Cat - had competed in the inaugural Commonwealth Cup.
That surely has to be a positive sign.