Saturday 15 December 2018

Season’s Greetings, Be Generous with your Presents ….. and Even Buy a Foal for Christmas

While thinking about this blog I received two videos, both of which made me smile, but for completely different reasons. One was of Dilly Keane and Fascinating Aida exhorting everyone to enter into the Christmas spirit, but I’m afraid the language used in the second half of the song precludes my beaming it out. You may well be able to track it down though on the web, under Don’t be a **** this Christmas – perish the thought, although I do tend to be of the humbug persuasion.

The Keighley Team in Fine Voice
The second video I received, which I have no qualms about circulating, can be seen by clicking on the YouTube link. As Chairman of the Martin Keighley yard I was almost roped into participating in this, which I’m glad I wasn’t, as it would either have gone viral or been banned. Anyway, all the Keighley team put on their Christmas best, entered into the spirit of it all and are delighted to wish you all a merry Christmas. My wife and I echo the sentiment and hope you have a great run through the festive season into 2019, and may you all have lots of winners. In case you were wondering about the horses’ participation in the sing-song, the animal concerned is the fabulous Champion Court, who is retired at the yard and an excellent schoolmaster for the youngsters, both human and equine. He is famously unflappable and didn’t mind all the endless takes and re-takes of the song. Happy Christmas, Champ.

The main reason though for using this Christmassy theme is to encourage everyone to make the biggest contributions possible into the various Christmas boxes and funds for those in racing. Many stables are having their seasonal parties at the moment and all contributions are very warmly received. Some trainers put the money into the pot to help pay for the events, while others give a cash bonus. In Owners for Owners our policy has always been to make a payment for each member in each horse, and we have done that as usual for Karl Burke, Philip Hobbs, Anthony Honeyball, Martin Keighley and Charlie Longsdon. Over the years we’ve got to know many of the staff who have ridden our horses and it never ceases to amaze us how kind, considerate and conscientious stable staff are. Just think about all the early starts and riding out in atrocious weather, often on fractious horses, and it is really humbling. They are the bedrock of British racing. Many thanks to all of them.

The Three Wise Men Listen In
Finally, and it will come as no surprise, our horse-buying gene has kicked in again, this time with Paul Davis, at Martin Keighley’s. Despite my protestations that I’m taking endless strides towards the poorhouse, the Tattersalls Foal Sale in Ireland persuaded me otherwise and Paul came back with not one, nor two, but three gorgeous foals who are now in the paddocks at Condicote, loving their turnout and their luxury field shelter. This is part of the five-year plan that Paul and I have created to build a really strong base of (hopefully) promising and (certainly) decent value horses for Martin. Paul has decided to go for a stable name theme for each year, and in 2018 it is “herbs”. On the photograph, from left to right, they are called Basil (but definitely not Fawlty), Herbie and Sage. Two are by Sans Frontieres and the other by Califet. Next year the theme may be “Rock Bands of the 1970s”, which is a bit of a give-away on my age. Anyway, tenth shares are available to purchase, and quite a number have already been taken up. If this is of interest to you and your family, please contact me direct. Jack and I have already bought ourselves Christmas presents in all three. Surprise, surprise!

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Saturday 1 December 2018

Nostalgia for Race Names, Whip Bans, Small Fields ….. and Hopefully a Great Win for Ms Parfois

One of the great pleasures of racing is the network of friends and owners who share in all the highs and lows of our sport. This has been made clear to me during this week in the run up to one of my favourite races of the season, the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase over 3m 2f at Newbury this afternoon. The main reason for this is that I know the owner of Ms Parfois, Martyn Chapman, who is a very enthusiastic and generous supporter of Anthony Honeyball’s yard. Indeed, he has adopted many of the principles and approaches of Owners for Owners partnerships for his own syndicates at the yard. I’ve followed Ms Parfois ever since Anthony bought her, and am also a big fan of her sire, Mahler, who seems to produce tough, game and genuine stayers that definitely mature with age. All the conditions look right for this horse at Newbury, and I’ll be absolutely thrilled if she can land a huge prize for connections. There’s another link to this race through one of our owners, Ged Shields, who is involved in a horse with Karl Burke on the Flat and also has a share in Kemboy at Willie Mullins’ yard. This horse is on a really strong upward trajectory at the moment and was 2nd favourite for the Ladbrokes before being scratched due to Storm Diana preventing his coming over to Newbury. The word “gutted” doesn’t begin to describe Ged’s disappointment, and I can only commiserate. Highs and lows, in just one race.

For those of us with long memories, however, the big race this afternoon will always be known as the Hennessy. When I was in my early years at grammar school in Chester, the Duchess of Westminster used to look after Arkle on the family estate at Eaton Hall. The local newspapers were full of the Arkle story and he put in so many heroic performances, not least winning the Hennessy in 1964 and 1965. When my wife and I lived high on the Woolley Downs near Lambourn, we went to every Hennessy and I can still vividly remember the magnificent Denman’s wins in 2007 and 2009. I must admit to having a nostalgia for these old race names, and even now I refer to the big race at Cheltenham in November as the Mackeson, rather than the Betvictor Gold Cup, as it was this year.

Unfortunately this year’s renewal was marred by the disappointing gamesmanship of Jamie Moore who knowingly broke the whip rule on the super-game Baron Alco. While it was a wonderful performance by the horse, it was dreadful to watch Jamie leathering him into and after the last, for which he rightly received a whip ban. You can’t get away from the fact that this is just professional cheating. The second horse, Frodon, also ran a super race ridden by Bryony Frost. She stayed within the rules, but her gallant mount was beaten two lengths. Surely there has to be a change in the whip rule that allows such blatant cheating to be rewarded. To my mind there are two options available to the BHA. One is massively to increase the punishment of the jockey – how about a month’s ban for the first offence, two months for the second, three for the third, etc.? I’m sure jockeys would soon learn how to count how many times they are allowed to hit a horse. The other option is to reverse the placings, which I think is terribly harsh on the owner of the winner. Much as I admire Jamie Moore as a jockey, he has previous in this area, and on one occasion at the Cheltenham Festival he shrugged off the ban by going on holiday in the Caribbean, paid for by connections. Before leaving this subject, Ms Parfois was involved in a similar episode in last year’s National Hunt Challenge Cup for amateurs at the Cheltenham Festival. The mare was ridden by William Biddick, who stayed within the rules, only to be beaten half a length by another cheating jockey in P.W. Mullins on Rathvinden. It is all most unfair.

A final topical subject is the increasing concern about very small field sizes in certain types of National Hunt races. Throughout the Cheltenham meetings this autumn, novice races in particular have been very poorly supported. As I wrote this blog yesterday, I saw that there are only four runners in a novice chase at Newbury, and that is becoming the norm. One impression I have formed is that we’re clearly in an era of huge concentration of buying power in the hands of a very small number of exceptionally rich owners. Their horses then find their way into an equally small number of yards, where trainers can pick and mix their races to avoid their top horses competing against each other. Indeed, it has been notable particularly with the runners from Gordon Elliott’s yard that he is increasingly sending horses over to the UK and closing down competition because smaller British trainers don’t want their horses racing against his firepower.

This situation is demotivating a lot of what I call the grassroots owners. There is an increasing feeling that it is becoming impossible to compete, both at the sales and on the track. The owner pool in National Hunt in the UK is declining at a faster rate than that on the Flat. Overall, covering both codes, 11% of owners leave the sport every year but there is only a 9% new intake. It seems likely that this worrying pattern will continue, partly because of economic uncertainty but also because of the demographics of the NH owner base. Here is a scary statistic to conclude this blog – there are now more National Hunt owners aged over 80 than under 40. I’m sure all of them remember fondly their Mackesons and Hennessys.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.