Nick Luck on Sunday should be required viewing every week on Racing UK, writes Tony Stafford. This Sunday the show conveniently wrapped around racing from Hong Kong featuring Graham Cunningham who seems to have settled seamlessly into the racing there after a long career on this side of the pond, in more recent years as a regular on the channel.
In my case, disciplined as ever, I usually miss most of it. Yesterday the first segment included Hugo Palmer, who according to his stable jockey Josephine Gordon, also on the show before her dash to Goodwood, had to attend a party so left precipitously. I didn’t begin watching until after Hugo’s departure unfortunately.
That left Luck, soon, believe it or believe it not, to attain the unimaginable age of 40 with Gordon, tipster Maddy Playle and Hughie Morrison, with emphasis on the last-named’s trials and tribulations with the BHA courtesy the Wolverhampton steroids case.
As both interviewer and interviewee readily attested, the affair could easily have ended with Morrison’s losing his licence under the “strict liability” rule even though almost nobody believed the trainer likely to have been in any way involved in wrong doing.
Morrison believes it was his previously unblemished disciplinary record and the access to (if not ownership of) the excessive funds needed to challenge the BHA’s in his mind dilatory approach to the making available of evidence that ended with a satisfactory if expensive outcome on his part.
He talked about “£5,000 to send a letter and £25,000 to arrange a meeting with a barrister and the BHA”, figures which would take the cost of possible justice “far beyond the reach of most trainers”. Far beyond reason if you ask me.
Hughie, who trains three horses for my boss Raymond Tooth, also readily attested that few owners expect to make anything like a profit from their horses but that they should expect to be treated much better on the racecourse than was previously the case. He says, though, that the situation is improving at a number of courses.
Morrison cited the new facilities for owners at Cheltenham and Newbury – both top notch – but could easily have included Ascot and York at the upper end as similarly exemplary. I was at Haydock on Wednesday and that course provides another enjoyable experience for owners, but the five and a half hour trek back down the 50mph limit blighted M6 was less tolerable.
That was after a disappointing sixth place for Raymond’s and his partners Dilip Sharma and Shahpur Siddiqui’s Laxmi in a fillies’ maiden race over six furlongs. Harry Bentley reported afterwards that she found the going too firm and the trip too short and the fact she did rally late on after getting outpaced seemed to support that opinion.
Laxmi could have run in any number of different types of two-year-old races, being an auction buy (£42,000), and also a product of a stallion (War Command) whose progeny qualify for mid-range median auction races, as well as the now ubiquitous novice contests.
The same cannot be said of all juveniles. In the old days, most races for two-year-olds at this stage of the season were either maidens or winners’ races. This year, the BHA’s race planning division – you know that part of the executive which scheduled afternoon meetings on Saturday at Haydock, Beverley, Catterick and Musselburgh to make it simple for northern trainers and racegoers – have thrown the programme into almost total reverse with previous winners being allowed into most races, both for two and three-year-olds.
Hughie Morrison was more concerned with the older division, complaining that inexperienced, later-developing maidens in their early days are habitually confronted by pattern-class horses totally schooled in racing. He reckoned most novice races for three-year-olds now go to previous winners. He implied that all this is doing is offering additional easy pickings for the most powerful stables – step forward Mr Gosden, and he does!
As an attempt to try to put myself into a trainer’s place, I had a look at the 57 two-year-old races over six furlongs in Volume 2 of the Programme Book for 2018. In order of availability there were 21 novice races, 12 novice auction, nine novice fillies’, five maidens, three each novice median auction and novice filly auction, two for maiden fillies (including Haydock last week) and one each median auction maiden and median auction fillies’ maiden.
The five maiden races were interesting. The first is at York this weekend, a Class 3 that carries a £15,000 prize fund and will therefore be very hard to win. The others are at Brighton, Windsor, with two (in a course series) at Hamilton. In all only nine are confined for maidens out of the 57. For home-breds that didn’t go through a sale to secure a mark for auction races, their opportunities are also limited, in my opinion unnecessarily so.
A few weeks ago I rather unfortunately chose Jeremy Noseda as an example of a small-to-medium size trainer who habitually takes on the big stables with excellent hopes of success. I was pointing to his forthcoming proposed challenge with the high-class, Phoenix Thoroughbreds-owned Gronkowski for the Kentucky Derby, even though news had come out the previous week that his colt had suffered a setback and would miss the race. I missed the news! It needed the better-informed resources of the Editor to prevent total embarrassment in this quarter. For Noseda it could hardly have gone worse in the interim.
Subsequently Phoenix, presumably in a pique that the Derby challenge was off, removed all their horses, including Gronkowski (three for three this year) and Walk in the Sun (two for two), along with 12 others. The latter has joined Martyn Meade, while the useful Lansky has gone to Robert Cowell.
It must have been galling for Noseda to read in the build up to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes from new trainer Chad Brown that Gronkowski came to him in wonderful condition. But that would have been nothing compared to his feelings after Gronkowski came from a long way back on his delayed US debut to get nearest to Justify as that brilliant colt gave Bob Baffert a second Triple Crown in three years following American Pharoah in 2016.
After some quiet times it seemed that 2018 would herald a major revival in Noseda’s fortunes. Understandably, following the removal of pretty much all of his best and certainly most expensive horses, his yard seems almost to have ceased operations with no runner since the unplaced Laughing Stranger at Newmarket on May 17. One can only hope that a mid to late summer surge will be forthcoming.