Thursday, August 9, 2018
There is no doubt Tuesday was special for us. For the first time since I began training we enjoyed a treble, with Hellovaqueen, Ellen Gates and Jashma all winning. However, this was a week in which I was equally struck by horses who lost as much as horses who won.
It may sound like an obvious thing to say, but most of the horses I put in a race I think have a chance. There is always the odd case when it's hard to envisage a horse going close, but I would say 70 per cent of my runners go the races with me believing they have decent prospects. That is borne out by statistics, as around 45 per cent of our runners this year have finished either first, second or third.
When I expect a horse to win who then doesn't, the feeling is horrendous. As a jockey I was quite relaxed about defeat. I handle such times much worse as a trainer. I'm certainly not one to go shouting and screaming at the jockey, or anyone else for that matter, but I do need five minutes to myself.
Perhaps this is because I'm a bit of a perfectionist. When things don't work out I start asking myself what I did wrong or what I missed. Invariably the first person I blame is me.
Sometimes I have the intelligence to realise horses are horses, not machines. On occasions they just run badly, for whatever reason. Normally I'm willing to put a line through the effort. You don't always need to go searching for a scientific reason for a poor performance. Sometimes they just run bad.
Even so, the initial reaction to a defeat can be one of dejection. I briefly felt a bit like that at Ffos Las on Tuesday. I thought Scat King, the two-year-old we ran in the novice race, would finish third or fourth. He finished only fifth. That bothered me.
Much more enjoyable was the race that followed next on the card, in which we had the first and third.
Hellovaqueen winning the maiden on her first run for the yard, and also racing for the first time since April 2017, was a complete surprise.
Since moving to Weathercock House she has been going out each morning with a much bigger string of horses than she was previously used to, which is something that often causes a horse to struggle.
It can all be a bit much for horses who find themselves in new and busier surroundings. That was the case with this filly. She found it difficult to adjust mentally. She used to stop at the bottom of the gallops. In fact, in order to keep her mind right we hadn't been galloping her at all, so I was hoping for no more on Tuesday than that she would be fit enough to beat some of her rivals.
Understandably, therefore, her victory came as a huge shock. It was a great result for us, but I actually got just as much pleasure from Carricklane finishing third in the same race. That was also her first run in over a year following a knee operation. It was a reminder there can be pleasure in defeat.
That was also the case at Sandown on Wednesday. Winter Light running second on debut for Cheveley Park Stud at Sandown gave me as much satisfaction as the three Ffos Las winners combined. I was taking a chance starting her out over five furlongs, as that definitely isn't her trip, but she ran a lovely race, staying on strongly through the closing stages.
Her promising display underlines the extent to which two-year-olds can be baffling animals.
Dandy Lad went to the track first time out off a very similar preparation to Winter Light's, yet he ran appallingly in both his opening two races. He was beaten a total of 38 lengths but was then a close second as a 66-1 shot on his third start. I've no idea why there was such a sudden and striking change.
I was fortunate on Tuesday that Dave Barrett, who has a share in Carricklane, flew me to the track, just as he flew me around the country when helping me become champion jockey. Having him and some other genuine friends there made the day at Ffos Las even more enjoyable.
Also enjoyable was the evening. There was a great buzz around the yard when I got back. Normally we're mad busy trying to get all the jobs done. This time we were able to open some champagne and thank the staff for their incredible hard work. It was every bit as much their first treble as it was mine.
It was good to see Frankie Dettori's Newmarket suspension reduced from ten days to six, although even that was too much. It wasn't good to read about an aspect of what took place in his Disciplinary Panel hearing.
The three panel members were shown numerous repeats of the Duchess of Cambridge Stakes incident. The vast majority of those were done with the action slowed right down. I hate that.
By presenting a case of interference in super slow motion you completely distort what happened on the day. Crucially, you misrepresent what the jockeys concerned would have been experiencing at the time.
When interference occurs the horses could be travelling at around 35 miles per hour. Jockeys are forced to make what are literally split-second decisions. They don't have the chance to weigh up the pros and cons of a particular move. Instead, they are required to act on instinct. This can be easily forgotten by those passing judgement on jockeys. They find themselves watching pictures slowed down to such an extent that important decisions are based on the counting of individual strides. That can't be right.
It's all very well saying a horse has moved sideaway across four strides but if those four strides were completed in the blink of an eyelid, as they are in the heat of the moment, four strides is practically a meaningless concept.
Frankie's filly moved to the right, exactly at the point when two horses were moving forward on his inside. For Frankie that was a real slice of bad luck.
He didn't mean to let his filly drift right but you cannot keep horses dead straight. This was an accident, pure and simple. Frankie's record would tell you as much. He is absolutely not a dirty rider, which made the initial ten-day suspension barbaric.
I feel particularly sorry for him because I see jockeys committing professional fouls every day of the week, yet these almost always go unpunished. I know that because I used to commit them.
You let your horse edge across slightly to keep a challenger at bay and then say the horse was hanging. It happens all the time at Sandown, where horses seemingly want to drift to the right as soon as they hit the front. Jockeys will say they did all they could to stop the interference happening when, in reality, they will have knowingly allowed it to occur.
That didn't apply to Frankie at Newmarket. As such, he must feel extremely annoyed.
We faced a tough decision concerning George Of Hearts. We had to choose between Ascot's £150,000 Gigaset International Stakes over 7f and the 1m Porsche Handicap, a race restricted to three-year-old over 1m worth £45,000. After much consideration we opted to stick at a mile,
The International was obviously tempting, as he was a single-figure price in the ante-post betting. Among the factors that swung us against the race are the fact for much of the week it looked like he would have only 7st13lb, which would have made finding a jockey hard, plus the fact three-year-olds do not have a particularly great record in it.
So he will be back over the same course and distance as the Britannia, for which he was sent off 7-1 second-favourite but finished only ninth.
That was a frustrating outcome. The Britannia winner normally comes from well off a scorching pace. We hoped that would happen again. Unfortunately, this was a rare example of a Britannia winner getting away and making all the running at a relatively steady gallop. Jamie Spencer, who was on our lad, rode exactly the same race on Ed Walker's filly Agrotera in the Sandringham the following day and won. That was what was supposed to happen to us but unfortunately they didn't go hard enough in the early stages. It was annoying we didn't get a fair stab at it but if the race was run again tomorrow I would tell Jamie to ride him the same way.
There are still some questions floating around in my head.
One concern is does he truly stay a mile? He didn't quite get home in the Britannia, but we put that down to him having had to make up so much ground just to get as close as he did. At least by running in this race we'll find out for sure if he is fully effective at a mile. We'll also find out if he can run to his best on fast ground. Jamie got off him at Ascot and did say the ground might have been faster than he wants. That's something that has been in the back of my mind as well.
One thing I don't question is this horse's ability. I'm not afraid to say I still think he remains well handicapped off a mark of 92. For that reason alone I feel he must have a great chance.
Crack On Crack On was sent off favourite for the Britannia, so I'm sure his connections are expecting a better run this time. He is bound to be a big danger. I also have to admit I didn't expect this race to be as hot or deep as it is, given Goodwood is next week.
Even so, I'm looking forward to seeing him run. We'll end up knowing more about him after the race than before - and if George can win the race while telling us something, that would be fantastic.
Glorious Goodwood was wonderful for me as a jockey and I'll be chasing a first win at the meeting as a trainer with six or seven runners next week.
Among the horses we'll be sending is Shaybani. He'll run in the 7f nursery on Thursday having followed up his respectable mid-div run in the Coventry with a win at Chepstow. Apex King drops back from a mile to 7f for a handicap on Wednesday and Odyssa will take her place in the 1m fillies' handicap on Tuesday.
There is no better place to have a runner than Goodwood and I love to support this particular meeting but all mine will need all the luck they can get as they only really small chances.