Thursday, October 5, 2017
When the Racing Post spoke to me at Lingfield I said I was disgusted by the penalty imposed on Nicola. I remain every bit as disgusted now.
For those who missed the story, Nicola was suspended after the stewards found her guilty of "failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to obtain the best possible placing". The truth is she most definitely wanted to obtain the best possible placing but was unable to do so as a result of making a mistake.
The stewards noted Nicola's mount, Tojosimbre, who I train, was settled towards the rear of the field in the 2m handicap and passed horses down the side of the track before running on strongly in the home straight to finish fourth, beaten five and a quarter lengths.
Let me make clear I agree with the stewards that Tojosimbre should have finished closer. Indeed, he ought to have been second to what was an extremely easy winner of the race.
He was not helped by being hampered just as the contest was starting to take shape, but Nicola freely admitted during the post-race inquiry that, with hindsight, she had let the field get too far away from her before asking Tojosimbre for an effort.
In part, a significant degree of fault lay at my door because I instructed Nicola to ride the horse cold until the five pole. The outcome was Nicola rode an ill-judged race. The stewards saw that, racegoers and punters will have seen that and I saw that.
There was no attempt on her part or mine to deceive anyone and this was certainly not a stopping ride, although some might wrongly - and damagingly for all those connected to the horse - have inferred from the stewards' decision that it had been. In fact, I'm very lucky I have understanding owners. What if those owners hadn't been understanding and deduced from the suspension we were up to no good?
In effect, Nicola has been severely punished for making a mistake.
We all make mistakes. I know when I was riding I made plenty of them. How often, however, are jockeys banned for that reason? I'm sure Ryan Moore, the best of the best, will tell you there are races he should have won this season but did not because he made a wrong decision somewhere in the race.
Ryan was not, though, penalised for those mistakes. In contrast, a young apprentice, seeking to build her career in the sport, has been penalised.
Jockeys improve with age and experience. The longer I rode the better I became, right into the years when I was crowned champion. By that stage I was also riding almost entirely on instinct. That's what senior professionals do.
I never consciously thought about whether or not I should pull my whip through to the other hand, nor could I have subsequently explained to you why I did so. I just did it. I never consciously thought about whether or not to take a gap. I just took it. That's because a rider with considerable experience does things almost solely on an inner instinct.
In contrast, apprentices do not ride on instinct, nor could they at such an early stage of their careers. They take a second or two to process decisions in their mind. There was at one point a gap Nicola could have taken but in the time it took her to think about whether or not to take it, the gap had gone - and so, too, had Tojosimbre's chance of finishing closer than he eventually did.
This is where she got it wrong, just as a footballer who misses a penalty gets it wrong. Yet whereas the footballer has time to mull over whether to aim left or right, Nicola faced a split-second judgement, one that, as an apprentice, she was always in danger of judging wrongly.
Another of our apprentices, Finley Marsh, made mistakes of his own on Tojosimbre on the horse's previous start at Brighton. Most people would acknowledge Finley has been one of the riding finds of the season but as a jockey learning his trade he is more liable to get things wrong than fellow members of the weighing room who have been plying that trade for many years. That's why apprentices claim 7lb or less.
Some of my anger is based on the fact I know how much Nicola wants to be a successful jockey.
This is her fifth year with a licence. It was only in her fourth year she rode her first winner. Due to an enormous amount of hard work she has started to make significant progress, riding eight winners in 2017, including three on John Berry's excellent handicapper Kryptos, one of them at the St Leger meeting.
She has finally started to get going but has now had her confidence dented by a suspension that did not need to be handed out.
Nicola comes into the yard at 5.30am every day. She is always asking me questions and is desperate to learn. She has come on in leaps and bounds.
The BHA, together with the Professional Jockeys Association, regularly states it wants to improve the quality of the young jockeys entering the sport. However, officials representing the BHA have done just the opposite in this instance. After leaving the stewards' room on Tuesday, Nicola rang me in tears. I could understand why.
Finley was recently due to have six rides at Yarmouth. It then transpired he was supposed to attend an apprentices' course in Newmarket that day but had forgotten about it.
That was Finley's fault, but it was still disappointing when the authorities told us take Finley off his Yarmouth mounts so that he could go to the racing school. We were never going to permit that to happen because the best place for Finley to learn is on the racecourse. We pleaded with them to change their minds. Luckily, they saw sense.
I want to make clear I have genuine respect for racecourse stewards. They give up their time for nothing and serve the sport admirably. Perhaps on this occasion they were advised badly - I wasn't present for their deliberations, so I don't know - but they undoubtedly came to a bad decision on many levels.
I hope when Nicola's appeal is heard by the BHA's disciplinary panel, there is recognition of that.
Enable is set to start a red-hot favourite for the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe but she deserves to and I expect her to win.
Ever since she powered to victory in the Oaks she has looked the best of this season's three-year-olds.
She goes into the Arc having won four Group 1 races on the bounce, in one of which she thrashed older opponents, including her main market rival on Sunday, Ulysses.
She has won on the sort of ground she will encounter at Chantilly, she will have been freshened up since winning at York and tactically she is adaptable. That final point is particularly important.
At York Frankie made the running. If need be he can do so again this time. That's a huge thing for a jockey to know. If the pace is too quick Enable can be dropped in a little but if the pace starts to slacken the filly can be pushed forward and her stamina exploited, particularly up Chantilly's home straight, which can sometimes seem never-ending.
This is set to be a gruelling race and I just don't think it will allow Ulysses to show his very best form.
He is an excellent colt, one who was particularly impressive when winning the Juddmonte International, but he was beaten fair and square by Enable at Ascot and conditions are going to be very similar again at Chantilly. I don't believe racing over 1m4f at Del Mar next month would in any way hinder him but this is going to be an altogether different sort of test.
Winter, who, like Enable, has been magnificent all year, is a super addition to the Arc, and it's fascinating Ryan is riding her, as opposed to Capri or Order Of St George, but she has been mopping up over 1m and 1m2f, whereas Enable is proven over the Arc distance.
I think Enable is now about to prove herself the undoubted horse of the year in Europe.