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Wrap up warm it will be a stormy day

Friday, 20 October 2017

"How much has to be explored and discarded before reaching the naked flesh of feeling."

Claude Debussy.

Walking to the start of the canter

It’s a damp morning once again with the wind starting to strengthen. We have had everybody in, other than a holiday maker, and we also had an amateur rider turn up so I have managed to get on well. We had two lots of fast work with two-year-old fillies’ Across The Flat on the turf which has been very informative. It looks like we have got a good bunch of horses with ability, but whom, although able to run now, will be much better with time and patience.

Ness Of Brodgar

We have no runners this weekend but will have several next week. It is the Champions Day tomorrow at Ascot with the ground good to soft at present. Any more rain will see it go soft and the wind is set to increase as well. If you are going and are interested in the racing, rather than the other attractions, you will need a good coat that is both waterproof and windproof. I see that Ulysees is not running in the Champions Stakes and is being kept for the Breeders Cup. Horses are not machines and with so much racing at this time of year, they cannot have two hard races in close proximity, so I would think that decision looks the right one. I hope it all goes well and it will be interesting viewing, starting at 1.25 with every race on ITV. That in itself will be fascinating to see the viewing figures afterwards.

Exercise over and making way back to yard

There is a new initiative and race day procedure that has just come into use, one that checks on horses that are bad movers. Often horses are a bit stiff and not the best of movers, certainly like some of us as we get older. In the past these horses have been withdrawn at the start by vets who know nothing of their history and of frustrated trainers. Coneygree would be the most high profile horse this has happened to. He finished up winning the Gold Cup itself 3 ½ months afterwards. The positon now is that a vet will come to the yard and access any problem horses with their gaits and if everybody is happy, they will be allowed to run with no withdrawing on racedays. This is a most sensible initiative, but I am not sure if there is going to be a charge for this procedure. Knowing the BHA I would think there will be, but it is still a good idea.

Garrison Law in the yard for the first time

Recently there has been a couple of finishes where the winner has been overturned for causing interference. I think at long last stewards may be waking up to the fact that the ‘winner at all cost’ tactics that the jockeys have known they can pursue without losing the race, is starting to be reversed. This is a good outcome and will certainly concentrate the rider’s minds when making manoeuvres, and in tight finishes. We want to see the best horse win every time, not a miscarriage of justice.

Phil on Friday

Talking last week about weight, and how winners of some major handicaps had sometimes been set to carry as little as four stone, I was reminded of one of my father’s old sayings: An ounce on the foot is worth a pound on the back. And the clerk of the scales doesn’t weigh horseshoes …!

He’d have known. He was a farrier for nearly 60 years, following his father before him, his grandfather before him, and goodness knows how many more generations before that.

My father would often tell me stories about the man I came to regard as my ‘legendary’ great-grandfather. The family called him The Old Gent, and he shod horses for a nearby trainer who had a massive and loyal following among the locals.

There was a bookmaker in the village of Weedon, where The Old Gent had his forge. Street-corner betting was illegal of course, but no-one really cared, and when the trainer had runners and the village was ‘on’ to a man the bookmaker would call on The Old Gent to discuss the horses’ chances.

Usually the information would be something like, ‘Not much hope. He’s had me fit ordinary work shoes’. So the bookmaker would stand all bets and not ‘lay them off’.

Then there was a horse called The Druce Machine …

Five times the message ‘Not much hope’ passed between farrier and bookmaker. Five times it lost. On the sixth occasion The Old Gent revealed he had put exceptionally light shoes on The Druce Machine at the trainer’s bidding. The faithful piled in as usual and several members of the Green family were on for half-a-crown apiece. The bookmaker, surprisingly innocent for someone in his profession, reckoned he knew better though. ‘It’s a useless creature’, he told The Old Gent, or words to that effect. ‘Just look at its form’. He stood every penny himself.

Well, you can guess the rest. The Druce Machine must have thought he was running in ballet slippers and duly hacked up, at an enormous price, at Leicester. The village celebrated a local winner – so did the trainer and all his merry men.

The bookmaker? Well, he just about managed to settle this time but was virtually bankrupt and went out of business almost immediately afterwards. He was a broken man, in just about every sense.