By Tony Stafford
I wish I knew something about computers, specifically mine. Every time over the past week I’ve gone from one “favourite” site to another, the chance increases that some mysterious “add-on” of which I’ve no knowledge, forces the internet to stop working.
At the same time, at least three of my favourites, Paris Turf, France-Galop and Betfair (purely for information the last one – I’ve not had a bet on it for three years) are unrecognisable, and in the case of France-Galop, I cannot even get the entries of races as previously.
Just as well I could when French Fifteen was plying his trade- eventually winning a Group 1 – two seasons ago. I’ll have to ask M. Clement to help me out, as eventually one of Mr T’s three juveniles he has there might be close to a run.
But we soldier on. Had you heard of Flintshire – the horse, not the county – before last night? I admit to his having escaped my attention, and as I was coming back from a scorching day at Newmarket when he won the Grand Prix de Paris so effortlessly at Longchamp on Bastille Day eve, I’ve still not seen him, but they say the Arc is a cinch.
The switch of the Prix du Jockey Club and Grand Prix de Paris distances still irritates me, as the former is a glorified ten-furlong affair while the latter features what’s left after the rigours of Epsom and The Curragh. The French always seem to save something nice. The British and Irish exhaust their resources every spring/ early summer, so that even Ballydoyle were left with just Battle of Marengo, a horse who ran both in the Derby (fourth) and then as a beaten favourite at Ascot to challenge the locals.
Only eight horses started, an abomination, considering there was more than a quarter of a million quid for the winner, and no English-trained horse bothered to turn up. In all €600,000 was available.
I was at Newmarket, as I’ve said, and am ashamed to say I didn’t stop off at the Six Mile Bottom Convenience Store, which again looked temptingly-bright as I drove past twice in the day. William Haggas wasn’t there – no runners – instead being at York on both days. It might seem no hardship for a Yorkshireman who went on to win the big stayers’ race and then to collect 1-2 in the John Smith’s Cup, but it was easy to share his irritation at the continuing ridiculous clash between big weekend meetings.
I pulled up in the car park at the July Course on Friday next to David Oldrey, long time former boss of Race Planning with the old Jockey Club. Oldrey, also a celebrated owner-breeder responded to my enquiry as to how he missed his old job saying: “If I was still doing it, we wouldn’t be here today or tomorrow”.
I sit with Oldrey and Haggas firmly in the traditionalists’ camp. If Newmarket try to tell us that it is preferable for all the big races to be run on the same day, I say “nonsense”. Even Mark Johnston is against the present log-jam, and if you wanted a statistic to prove a point, then a crowd of more than 16,000 for the opening day of the July meeting on Thursday, is an emphatic one.
A reversion to the old Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday date would re-invigorate a mid-week denied any proper action and leave York in the North and Ascot in the South to get their share of the top riders on Friday and Saturday.
The old “vital for the Levy” mantra is wearing thin. Let’s go back to the proper midweek for the Newmarket, York and Chester traditional dates in spring and summer. It would enable more people to see the stars, while family constraints always conflict with racing on Saturdays for many potential racegoers.
While we’re dealing with that, what about the Derby? I’m sure William and David agree with me that the first Wednesday in June would give the race a focus lost since its moving to the weekend. Call me old if you want, you’d be right.
OK, fixture changes might not be easily reversed, but one aspect of racing that gets my goat is the interference rule. William Buick allowed Elusive Kate to drift right across the July course in the Falmouth Stakes, taking the favourite Sky Lantern with her. Whether it made a difference or not, it looked ugly and in France and the US, I’m pretty sure the result would have been turned around.
The Coral-Eclipse where James Doyle brought Al Kazeem home first, not before almost certainly preventing the likely runner-up taking that position by serious interference, cost him a ban, but owner and trainer got no such sanction, and Doyle collects his lavish riding percentage just the same.
At Ascot on Friday, Martin Harley, riding Frankel’s brother Morpheus in a three-year-old handicap, brought his horse through to catch Stableford on the line, winning by a nose.
There was general approval of the jockey’s effort, as he looked in a hopeless place a furlong out. To get to where he was at the finish, though, according to the Racing Post’s close up: “both Private Alexander and Al Mukhdam were knocked out of the race by the winner’s manoeuvre a furlong out”. In the US certainly, he would have been placed behind those two. Here he gets his cash, admittedly with a three-day ban, and connections keep the money. Something’s wrong somewhere. Call me old-fashioned if you want.
Still all’s not lost. England and the referral system can beat the Aussies today and Arsene’s signing a new contract. Talking to Ryan Moore after Cousin Khee found the ground too firm at Newmarket yesterday, he agreed with me that it would great if Suarez signed for the Gunners. Get on for the new season – 12-1’s an insult.