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Newsletter January 2020

“I have been travelling a fair bit since the our last newsletter. Clodagh and I headed off to the Maldives for our holiday to a tiny island called Laamu and stayed at an amazing Six Senses resort there. I had never been to this part of the world before and wasn’t disappointed! Stunning aquamarine waters and deserted beaches with delicious food this is paradise if you want that totally chilled out holiday to recharge the batteries. We returned last week fully rested and ready to go.

I left for Miami the day after our return to see the Pegasus $3,000,000 race at Gulfstream Park in Miami. I went there with my Saudi Cup Ambassador’s hat on to…

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Mucho Gusto winning the Pegasus in Miami - January 2020

I left for Miami the day after our return to see the Pegasus $3,000,000 race at Gulfstream Park in Miami. I went there with my Saudi Cup Ambassador’s hat on to see trainers who might run their horses in Riyadh at the end of February and of course the winner of the race gets automatic entry into the $20,000,000 Saudi Cup itself. The winner was Mucho Gusto, (recently bought by Prince Faisal bin Khalid of Saudi Arabia) who needed to win to get into the world’s richest race which had attracted an unbelievable array of top talent. He duly won impressively and I headed home greatly relieved that a Saudi owned horse would be lining up in the big race in Riyadh at the end of February.

I had a twenty four hour turnaround before flying to Riyadh for a speedy two day visit to see the turf trials there. It really is extraordinary to think that four months ago there was no turf track at all and now here we were about to witness the first horses to gallop over the lush new grass.

The Riyadh Turf Track - January 2020

Top jockeys, William Buick, Frankie Dettori, James Doyle and Daniel Tudhope were  all there and the Saudi Cup management looked on nervously as they began their gallop. Thankfully the chat from them afterwards was full of praise for the track which was incredibly exciting to hear and a huge relief to all of the management team. This has so far been a fascinating journey and watching all of the various parts of the jigsaw coming together in Riyadh continues to be incredibly exciting. Just a month to go now before the big race!

HRH Prince Bandar with Frankie Dettori, William Buick, James Doyle and Danny Tudhope at the Riyadh New Turf Track - Jan 2020

Shortly before I went away on holiday Frances, Jason, Matt and I headed north to visit our horses there and as always we asked the trainers if they had any youngsters still for sale. We saw a number of very nice two year olds but it was at Kevin Ryan’s yard that we found that humdinger that really quickened the pulse - a son of Kodi Bear that Kevin bought at the Doncaster sales for £52,000. What immediately struck me about him was his powerful physique as well as his easy panther like walk. “I really like him Harry and will stay in for a leg if you buy him” Kevin said which was all I needed to hear and so another two year old joined our team! We still have a couple of shares left and at only £5,950 per share I think he represents terrific value. He has an excellent pedigree and to my eye he looks precocious enough to make into a summer two year old but he also has enough size and scope to train on at three.

The winners have continued to flow with Union and Hijack winning recently and it was also such a joy to see Knighted trained by Kevin Ryan return from injury to run such an encouraging race at Lingfield last week. He looks sure to be back in the winners enclosure again soon.”

Harry Herbert, Chairman

Kodi Bear Colt - Shares Available

We have just two shares left in a lovely two year old colt by first season sire Kodi Bear, pictured below. Please click here for full details.

On The Track - January 2020

While we have been relatively light on runners in January (due to many horses having their flu vaccinations), there was a flurry of activity around the Christmas period with many good results.

If You Say Run and Evander were both in action on Boxing Day, the mare lining up in a Novice Chase at Wincanton and Evander in a Novice Hurdle at Sedgefield. If You Say Run lost her chance of winning by jumping left and gave the race to Jonjo's promising mare O’Neill’s promising mare Annie Mc (to whom she was also giving 5lbs) who has since won again. Our mare will head to a left handed track for her next run! Evander made all and finished strongly to notch up his first victory in Highclere silks. Unfortunately he was far too keen on his next start where he caused his jockey to come off at the first! Luckily no harm done to our horse but poor Ross Turner suffered broken ribs.

Two more runners the following day with Clondaw Anchor heading to the mud at Chepstow, where having got tired his jumping began to fall away in the closing stages, but nonetheless…

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Two more runners the following day with Clondaw Anchor heading to the mud at Chepstow, where having got tired his jumping began to fall away in the closing stages, but nonetheless ran an excellent race to finish second and demonstrating that he remains on the upgrade. Danse Idol returned to action at Kempton following a short lay off and was a satisfactory third doing her strongest work inside the final furlong. She looks to have a good chance of returning to the winners enclosure soon.

Hijack is rapidly becoming a horse to watch and followed up on his first win at Ludlow back at the same track. He jumped superbly for the most part but hung markedly left having cleared the last to bump into his opponent before going away to win cosily. This did not go unnoticed by the handicapper who duly put the gelding up to a mark of 133. Nicky Henderson will give careful consideration as to where this exciting prospect heads next time. Conceal showed much more promise in very testing conditions at Sedgefield to finish third and will have another run or two in bumpers before the end of the season.

Hijack after winning at Ludlow - 16th January 2020

On the flat - Union showed a good deal of promise on debut at Kempton before winning impressively at Newcastle on January 8th. This colt showed a really smart turn of foot to burst clear and was difficult to pull up after the race! He may well have another run back at Newcastle before having a short break, but at this stage this breeze up purchase is very much going the right way.

Union winning at Newcastle 8th January 2020

It was a particular pleasure to see Knighted back on the track following a long recuperation. While he inevitably tired in the closing stages he will strip much fitter next time and appears to have retained all of his enthusiasm for the game.

Rolf's Ramblings

ORWELL’S DOUBLE UP

George Orwell certainly knew his racing. In chapter one of ‘Coming Up for Air’, set as the Second World War loomed, George Bowling “taking the day off to go and fetch my new false teeth” makes money, £17, by following the betting tenets of a book on Astrology that suggests green is the colour of the day.  Mock not; Sir William Hall-Walker set up what became the Irish National Stud using that same book, which he’d brought back from India. The Racing Post’s positioning of Hall-Walker as the 24th most important influence on breeding in the twentieth century is a gross under-estimate.

“All animals are equal, some animals are more equal than others” is arguably the most famous Orwell quote - he understood the principles of handicapping alright! So the great author…

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“All animals are equal, some animals are more equal than others” is arguably the most famous Orwell quote - he understood the principles of handicapping alright! So the great author would surely be scratching his head as to why Union was not allowed a handicap mark after defeating four others who were given ratings subsequent to their drubbing by the Highclere colt at Newcastle in early January.

I’ve tried pleading; I’ve tried railing with my official handicapper friends over the iniquity of this Rule – not least because it denies options to the better horses, such as Union. Isn’t a pillar of racing, improving the breed? Rubbing it in are examples of recent winners, never sighted in their three races current Rules insist on for a mark, hitherto neglected in the betting and suddenly ‘backed off the boards’, examples include Malmesbury, St Just, Bold Suitor and even an Irish intruder, Pink Jazz at Wolverhampton. From rows of form ‘duck eggs’ connections exploited the system, as they have every right to.

Orwell had the word for ill-thought out Rules: Doublethink.

TIME OUT

A four-day Cheltenham Festival or five? Four day Tests or five? Once upon a time there was Timeless Test cricket – players played til they dropped. The last one was in 1939 in South Africa, abandoned after nine days because, by slogging on, the MCC would have missed the last boat home. Coincidentally our cricket and our racing are battling through turmoil, the one prescribing longer meetings, the other shorter matches. Timeless Cheltenham Festivals anybody?

Ballywood - Cheltenham 14.012.2019

WHITHER THE POINT?

Early in January I attended Larkhill’s Racing Club Point-to-Point “by kind permission of the Royal Artillery Hunt, please keep your dog on a lead.” There were canines of every description - the yeomanry distinguished from the gentry by the latter’s Tweed and green wellies and by their ‘hounds’ - as opposed to the former’s ‘dogs’. Spectators were divided between serried ranks of shooting brakes crammed to the gunnels with wicker baskets of sufficient sustenance to see the party through the nine-race card: and those who queued at the burger stand.

Yet Point-to-Points exist as ecumenical entertainment. It has always relied on a voluntary workforce with the added ‘muscle’ of the Army on the ranges of Salisbury Plain. There was a downside a few years ago at Larkhill as the sadly missed Mackenzie & Selby Pointing Annual observed: “It was a pity that the finest loos on the Point-to-Point circuit were obliterated when the Gunners used them for target practice”. Relief; they have been rebuilt.

The principal race, the Red Mills Open, was won by the ten-year-old former Cheltenham Foxhunter runner-up Shantou Flyer. The bucolic, antique players (human and equine) of yore are long gone; competition is of a different (higher) order from the times when M&S produced their freewheeling and often scabrous chronicle of the Pointing year which both amused and infuriated all who cherished their amateur sport:

New House: “After the race he smashed into a sports car, jumped a stone wall and fell into a pond. Does not impress.”
Labyrinth: “Wears a mass of severe tack (all ineffective) and is highly dangerous.”
Melancholy Rose: “Has plenty of ability but the antithesis of her most courageous dam, and always doing her utmost to stop. Ruining the sport for others and should be retired.”
Centurian: “Has the speed of a hundred year old”.

Knickers: “Never looked like coming down.”

Scally Beau: “Putting a bolting mare to Scallywag was the sort of breeding experiment which invites disaster.”
Thomas Crown: “May have trouble staying, although it could be just the veteran rider running out of puff.”

The demise of such contestants has seen reductions in numbers. Hunter certificates (evidence that competitors have “hunted regularly and fairly”) are in seemingly irresistible decline. Never more popular in terms of audiences at the ‘glitzier’ meetings, the extent of Pointing’s jeopardy is exemplified on Spring Bank Holidays when meetings abound but the ground has firmed up, winter horses are off games – on holiday or damaged - and walkovers are commonplace. The horde of runners at the Larkhill meeting was a beacon; but the season is depleted.

There are in excess of 160 scheduled fixtures this season - in the past there were well over two hundred designed to support the local Hunt.  The banning of hunting in 2004 looked to resolve, dismally, questions of which activity, race or chase, should take precedence. It didn’t and Pointing and hunting of sorts have survived. But comparisons with Ireland where soul searching over the morality of hunting didn’t arise, are invalid: an Irish Point-to-Point has for long been the qualifying lap for the Sales ring, the protagonists more often than not having only remote connections with farming and hunting.

The Irish turned Pointing into a showroom – and a right good job they have made of it, people paying huge sums for their nascent jumpers. We can’t compete with the Irish model: one day we may see another Richard Johnson whose ‘nursery’ was the domestic Pointing field; but less likely is another from the source, See More Business, the 1999 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero.

The real killer is the cost of staging a Point-to-Point which went from being a fun day to celebrate the end of the hunting season - shoulders were rubbed and diverse hounds and dogs allowed the odd sniff. The sport is now bled by insurance, health and safety - ambulances (air and terrestrial), all the paraphernalia, bar photo finishes (thankfully no VAR) of racing under Rules.

Costs aren’t related to prize money and the Larkhill Open was worth all of £200 to the winner. Devotees and zealots will make a stand to maintain one the last bastions of the sporting amateur ethos. But it was born and sustained by farmers breeding horses - and children to ride them (or the other way round). Now agents with no connection with the soil as such, have taken over cultivation of the land and though not necessarily sterile themselves, the toilers are remote control tractors and space age combine harvesters. (No let nobody suggest racing them).

Point-to-Pointing was conceived to raise money to maintain local packs of foxhounds, harriers, staghounds, basset hounds, otter hounds and drag hounds. What its supporters need to appreciate is that ‘Antis’ are not just on the side of the fox or the stag, the otter or indeed the badger and, to be fair, certainly aren’t out to wipe out horses and hounds – they are against all forms of human interaction with animals. Welfare is not the issue: they would ban donkeys from Blackpool beach; send giraffes back to Africa. Appeasement with those opposed  to racing horses will not suffice.

The Hunt’s tannoy exhorts our continued support of the chase and of country ways: the words are blown away across Salisbury Plain by the unremitting gale. The sound of the hunting horn seems more baleful than before. The Last Post? Time for the whole sport to make a stand.

STABLE STAFF STUFFED – BBC SKEWERS RACING

In his ‘Christmas message’ the head of the Stable Staff Association – like most unions, diminishing – ‘distinguished’ himself by accusing trainers of exploiting and abusing staff. George McGrath shared his thoughts to the wider world about the ‘infamous treatment’ of his members in language which didn’t impress their employers. McGrath, once with Richard Hannon and Andrew Balding, is unlikely to find a job in stables again, not even as yard-sweeper (an important occupation).

McGrath omitted the forthcoming Stud & Stable Lads Awards from his black (sic) list. For once the Awards have trumped the BAFTAS – the dramatic arts’ communal slaps on the back. For once a single black employee (ten per cent of the workforce) has been nominated in one of the six Racing categories. No black artists were given similar consideration at the BAFTAS.

McGrath’s climbdown was too late to retrieve the log he had thrown on racing’s pyre: another topic, toast already, is BBC Radio’s treatment of our sport. Their respected Racing Correspondent, Cornelius Lysaght, whose voice is his fortune, has been deemed ‘expendable’ and he is to leave his job after nineteen years (almost thirty all told at the BBC). If the reason behind his departure is indeed ‘ageism’, I defy anyone to guess Lysaght’s.

Yet Radio 4’s Today programme will persist in giving hapless racing tips on the half hour. Every morning, to the amusement of the slot’s studio team, a couple of selections are given as a sop to radio’s famished racing fans. Every December a geekish listener (good on ‘im) gives the year’s profit and loss. Actually there never is a profit and the few minutes the charade is on air are replete with pratfalls and mispronunciations wrapped in feeble humour.  John Humphrys once suggested, “You’d be better putting your money under the mattress”, to which his co-presenter responded “Is Under The Mattress today’s tip?”

The Controller of Radio Sport was brought on to comment on the whole shebang and she airily waved criticism away with: “Oh it’s just a bit of slapstick, nobody takes it seriously” (see next topic on betting). Maybe Lysaght should have sported a red nose and clowned around instead of dispensing the wisdom and insight of his reports. In sorrow he says his departure is “the latest example of what is an increasingly uneasy relationship between racing and the mainstream media.” Aye to that.

SKINNERS

The ticking bomb of debt which gullible and vulnerable punters are allowed, encouraged, to build up with bookmakers is ammunition for ambitious politicians looking for a post-Brexit cause.  Gambling has replaced tobacco as today’s toxic topic. The latest government measure (and it will not be the last) is the banning of betting on credit cards – which will not confound bookmakers who, as ever, remain one jump ahead seizing the simplicity of online betting with its unhindered reach and astronomical profits.

“When the fun stops, stop” is not just a subliminal exhortation to confirmed losers – it contradicts itself (wilfully) as in “if you haven’t ever had a bet you’re missing out on fun” … as you are (I presume) missing out if not dallying with crack cocaine; hilarious.

If you win gambling you will not be amused when your account is closed: lose, then you will inherit ‘sweeteners’ - VIP accounts with free bets, free football tickets, free flights. “When you’re skinning a mug always leave skin to grow, so you can skin him again.”  Not so long ago Hills were offering free binoculars for new accounts.

The bookmakers’ spokesperson (lady) said her members were “incredibly concerned”: shouldn’t that be credibly concerned? She slipped through, unquestioned, that the privileges were “often (just) for high wealth individuals” – with the intention of making them low wealth individuals? I suppose if you’re a  potentate or oligarch you probably have your personal jet (if not airline) and a Premier League footballer hardly needs match tickets.  Binoculars can be useful for bird-watching.

So we’re showered with ever more subtly seductive adverts featuring people within the sport who should know better. Grooming is a word in disrepute. Once applied exclusively to care of horses, now it defines burgeoning enticements to bet: til the kitty is finally emptied. In 2015 the eulogy for Gordon Brown’s government was given, on Parliamentary headed notepaper, by the departing Chief Secretary to the Treasury to his Conservative successor, to wit: “I’m afraid there’s no money left.” Naively the outgoing politico presumed his confession wouldn’t be aired. Nick Rust, departing CEO of the impecunious BHA, please take note.

Out and About with the Highclere Camera - Jan 2020

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