Logic told me time would pass slowly during lock-down. Five weeks in, it’s definitely speeded up, writes Tony Stafford. I spoke to my son twice last week, briefly on Sunday and then again for a few minutes more on Friday and I swore that there could only have been a couple of days between the two contacts.
Twin came around on BBC4 again on Saturday evening in my favourite 9 p.m. international drama slot and will already be finished by next weekend. Thankfully I’ve now joined BBC I-Player so I can have a second look on the confusing bits of that rapidly-evolving and brain-challenging eight-part (two each week) Norwegian epic when I get some time. I was very disappointed that Spiral, a series of series I most wanted to see and that motivated my joining, is not on the list.
The other evening it was still light when the Thursday 8 p.m. clapping reverberated from the flats all around. Racing fans in the UK, denied so much since the shut-down on March 18 and more so in Ireland, will have lost most markedly; along with the mainstream we all are aware of, the accelerating number of evening meetings, many of them over jumps, that bolster the normal spring racing menu have also been cancelled. Just to let you know, the days start getting shorter in nine weeks’ time!
The Racing Post’s online-only newspaper carries the cards, like Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay, that have kept racing going in Florida. Like everyone else, the Post included, I expected the Wesley Ward juveniles on show at Gulfstream on successive early evenings last week to do a Lady Aurelia and blow away the opposition.
But both on Thursday and Friday, first the 30-100 shot Lime, a daughter of Iqbaal, and then Golden Pal, 1-2 (by Uncle Mo), contrived to show the trademark Ward early pace only to succumb in almost identical fashion to a single stronger finisher even though their races were over only four and a half furlongs.
This pair was reportedly among the planned Ward annual contingent for Royal Ascot but first that spectator-free entity needs to be confirmed as does secondly that overseas runners may be accepted if it does. Should they come, I’m sure the traditional fear in which they are held by home trainers may have been a little diluted, although there’s plenty of time for Wesley to build some of that extra physical maturity that his juvenile challengers always seem to display.
I’ve been intrigued by the identity of today’s evening offering at Will Rogers Downs and thought it might justify a little investigating. I wasn’t at all prepared for what I readily discovered on the web. Will Rogers Downs is a gaming (principally, of course) and horse racing venue in Rogers County, close to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is operated by the Cherokee Nation.
That administrative area encompasses 14 counties in North-East Oklahoma and a local population of around 200,000 in one way or another descended mainly from Cherokee and two other Native American tribes.
If that wasn’t unusual enough, the jockeys and trainers will be totally unknown to most of us, unlike the stars who descend on Florida each winter and spring, especially with New York firmly shut down. For the record, Floyd Wethey, Jr. is the top rider so far in 2020 and Scott Young is leading trainer. Tonight’s 10-race card offers one quite valuable prize, a near £25k to the winner fillies and mares race. I won’t put forward a potential winner.
The gaming provides the prizemoney and the track keeps a chunk of all the race wagering. Gaming is also keeping the UK bookmaking companies going, and if the number of advertisements for casino betting that we see in the commercial breaks on most channels nowadays is indicative of betting levels in these odd times, gambling is probably going off the charts.
How the BHA must wish it could get its claws on even a small percentage of that massive cake, not that it would be right to do so (as we saw with the FOBT fiasco). Maybe they should ask Captain Tom to do a sponsored walking-frame-push around the Ascot paddock on his 100th birthday on Thursday next week while singing his chart-topping duet with Michael Ball of You’ll Never Walk Alone? The £23 million (probably more by the time you read this) by which his exploits will be aiding the NHS efforts exceeds the not-insignificant £22 million that the Levy Board is targeting to help racecourses and others through their troubled financial times.
Yesterday we went for a fourth walk of the lockdown, this time forsaking the Olympic Park, for the newly (at Easter) re-opened Victoria Park, which is in the opposite direction. The park had been closed for some time after that initial period when sunbathing and all the other indicators of holidays in good weather in the summertime caused a Government re-think. Everyone was doing the keep-out-of-the-way six-feet walk yesterday; there is no cycling and all the dogs including our Yorkie Josephina were on a lead.
What was obvious, though, was that while the ground is not yet showing any real suggestion of much new growth, the five weeks of drought, following hard on the months of near waterlogging, has already brought great cracks in the turf at some places.
Hughie Morrison has been kindly sending me a brief video every Friday of Ray Tooth’s big homebred and still unraced three-year-old Bogeyman going through his paces. Each week they have been working on the wonderful grass gallops, developed over many years by the Cundell family but now owned and managed by Sir James Dyson.
The Victoria Park phenomenon is extending into Berkshire as the colour of the terrain seems to be lightening week on week. How ironic, with barely a day’s racing after the turn of the year and before Cheltenham being staged on anything but soft or heavy ground, unless we get some rain soon, it will be firm or as near as makes no difference when we resume. Expect to see stand-pipes in the streets by July.
Finally, after hearing that he thinks racing should start as soon as possible – Nick Rust’s line at the weekend too – it was salutary that Mark Johnston has subsequently revealed he is in isolation at home after being quite ill after contracting Covid-19. It must be so frustrating, frightening even, with the Flat season still to start, for Britain’s winning-most trainer that the new norm is so alien. I’m sure that everyone in racing will be wishing Mark, wife Deirdre and their family and staff all the best in the coming trying days.