Thursday, October 12, 2017
When 48-hour declarations came into force we were told they would bring about a significant increase in prize-money. When I look at the races my horses are contesting I don't see that increase, so I would be one of those who would say go back to 24-hour declarations and see a reduction in the number of non-runners.
I write that now because this was the week in which the BHA released tables showing individual trainers' percentage of non runners to declarations. I was quite high up the table at ten per cent but I'm certain I've done nothing wrong.
All too often racecourses manage to get the word good into a going description when plenty of those who race on it would raise eyebrows.
You often declare a horse with doubts about the ground and then find there is rain in between declarations and the race itself. What are you supposed to do? In those circumstances you are, of course, going to take the horse out - if not you are causing considerable expense to your owner simply to run down the field.
It's also true people don't want to run from a bad draw. Everyone knows there is a draw bias in favour of those close to the rail on the all-weather tracks. That increases the number of non-runners. If, however, the surface closest to the rail was harrowed a bit deeper, it would eradicate the bias
Has the BHA ever suggested that to racecourses, instead of blaming trainers?
The problem is much greatest with lower-grade horses, which explains why many of the sport's most powerful trainers have such small non-runner percentages. It is far easier to plot the campaign of a good horse than a bad one. For the good ones the races practically find themselves.
We have a mare, One Big Surprise, who is a useful handicapper rated 73. Over the last 13 months she has been a non-runner five times, but on each occasion it was due to the ground being good to soft. We've ad quite a wet summer and this is a filly who neesd firm ground. I declared her for those races hoping rain would not come or a wet track would dry out. For her to have a real chance of winning everything has to be in her favour. That means we do duck and dive with her a bit, for which I make no apology.
Another of our horses, Barye, is better on the all-weather than turf. However, there is not a single race for a month I can run him in on the the sand as he is too highly rated. That means I have to enter him on turf, on which he also has a lower rating, and hope the ground doesn't get too soft. If it does, I have to take him out. I can't say to his owner: "We're not going to make any entries this month, so don't worry about paying the training fees."
The key point to make in this debate is trainers want to win races.
No trainer with any sort of brain will take a horse out of a race if he thinks that horse would win. We're all working our butts off to win races.
Surely it is therefore better for punters that a horse who the trainer feels has no chance of winning is taken out of the equation? No one wants to back a loser. No one wants to train a loser, either. I've often had discussions with clerks, everyone knows a draw bias on the all-weather tracks. If they dug the inside deeper it would eradicate the drsw bias and prevent horses from being packwe up like sardines. racecourses….
The yearling sales can be mad. This week's Tattersalls Book 1 Sale was madness on a mighty scale.
Horses have been expensive to buy all year. This week, perhaps not surprisingly given the prestige of the sale, they were more expensive than ever.
If you are not linked to one of the sport's major operations, a sale such as Book 1 can be pretty disheartening. You spend days moving your eyes from one gorgeous horse to the next, knowing they are nearly all out of your price range. It's like being a kid in a candy shop and being told you can only look at the sweets.
I did manage to buy three horses, a Dark Angel colt for 100,000gns, a Dutch Art filly for 40,000gns and a War Command colt for 30,000gns. All three were bought entirely on spec - which is very worrying for me! For the moment I own them, so I doubt I'll sleep much until they are sold. They represented very good value, particularly due to the £25,000 Book 1 Bonus, while added to Plus 10 money, means a maiden winner can earn the guts of £40,000.
One highlight for me was seeing Sky Lantern's Dubawi son, a big, strong horse, walking around the ring while the bids for him went up to 2,000,000gns. At a time like that it's nice to know you have been part of the story. I remember his mother as a yearling. I also have vivid memories of her winning first time out, when I wasn't actually too impressed. I soon became a big fan.
The Sky Lantern colt was part of one of the big week's stories, given he was the produce of a Godolphin sire who was bought by Coolmore. During the week, Godolphin bought horses by Coolmore sires, underlining that what the Racing Post recently referred to as "the Cold War" is over.
For many in the bloodstock industry, this development will have come as an enormous relief. For those selling the horses it's great news, as it is for the auction houses. For people like me it's not so wonderful.
There used to be plenty of chances during next week's Book 2 sale to pick up animals by stallions such as Coolmore's Mastercraftsman or Zoffany for a decent price. That's because a big chunk of the buying market wasn't interested in buying them.
That has changed, so the prices for those horses will go up as well. As a result, next week isn't going to be easy.
I wrote last week about how strongly I fancied Enable to win the Arc. Under a wise and safe ride from Frankie she was once again brilliant.
Everyone is now very keen she continues to race at four. Undoubtedly in that group will be John Gosden. It's easy to understand why.
Horses get better as they get older. They cannot possibly be fully developed at the age of two. That's why they get so many chips and cracks
Physically they become bigger and stronger. They carry on growing. You wouldn't expect a jumper to peak until the age of seven. Whether a horse is a jumper or races on the Flat he or she is still a thoroughbred. We're talking about members of the same breed. Just because they do their racing at Newmarket or Pontefract, as opposed to Cheltenham or Kelso, they can't be that different - and they're not.
Consider a horse like Take Cover, who is still winning quality races at the age of ten. Moreover, he is all about speed, even as a veteran.
At Kempton this week a 100-1 nine-year-old jumper made a winning debut on the Flat. He wasn't only older, he was also stronger and more mature. Horses like that simply know more about how to race and at Kempton those factors came together and led to such a big shock being sprung.
When we get to the horses-in-training sale in a few weeks time you'll be able to buy 80-rated four-year-olds for as little as £15,000 or £20,000. A yearling with a relatively unexciting pedigree would regularly sell for twice that money and, in all probability, fall a long way short of reaching a mark of 80. It is, though, undoubtedly true that it would be so much easier to sell the yearling - and for much more money - than the older horse who has proved he is sound and has plenty of ability.
None of this makes sense - and yet it does, not least because if that yearling wins a race at two there will be loads of people immediately trying to buy him off the owner.
Older horses are warriors who can keep a yard going, but prize-money for their races is generally wholly inadequate. What we need are incentives to buy those horses, perhaps through more series of races with finals attached to them, or a greater number of the high-value claimers I've extolled in this column so regularly over the years.
I'm not holding my breath, but something needs to be done.
I was delighted the BHA's disciplinary panel upheld the appeal lodged by our apprentice Nicola Currie over the ten-day suspension she received at Lingfield last week.
As I wrote in the column last week, I felt Nicola had been very badly treated. I was upset because I know how hard she works and how she hadn't deserved to be banned.
When riding Tojosimbre at Lingfield Nicola made a mistake. The racecourse stewards made a mistake. We all make mistakes. Now, we can move on.