5 Results Found For: April 2016

24th April 2016

‘BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey said: “The fact that Morning Suit was a colt rather than a filly was picked up on by the vet in the morning when the horse arrived at the course, and media outlets were informed in order that online racecards could be amended.’

Not so. Weatherbys were informed of their error long before the horse left Middleham. Granted, I should probably have noticed that the horse was wrongly described in the Racing Post when looking at the entries and the declarations at the five day and forty-eight hour stages but, as far as we were concerned, there was no doubt that the horse was a colt.

The Racing Post coverage seems to suggest that I was unaware of the sex of an animal in my yard. That, most certainly, is not the case. The horse is a colt, it is described as a colt on its passport, and on the application form for its name, and on every document and data entry that we have.

17th April 2016

When Byres Road ran at Doncaster (see yesterday’s Blethering), he finished last and I was asked if I could explain the poor performance. Yesterday, at Wolverhampton, Ordinal won by seven lengths and my travelling manager Calvin McCormack was asked to explain the apparent improvement in form.

This makes a bit more sense as, theoretically, an unscrupulous trainer could have sought to ensure that the horse did not run on its merits in its first three starts in order to obtain a low handicap rating.

Nonetheless, I told Calvin to tell the stewards (or more likely, his report would be passed via the stewards secretary) that we could not say that it was an improvement in form. That may seem a little ridiculous, especially as the Racing Post reported that ‘his opening mark is clearly not an accurate reflection of his ability’, but I think I can demonstrate that it is far from easy to say that Ordinal needed to improve to win this race. And it would certainly be unreasonable to expect Calvin to be able to properly assess the performance at the time.

Ordinal’s ten opponents had run a total of 71 times and had only achieved one win. That solitary win came from David’s Beauty (5th in this race) way back on the 15th July last year, in a Lingfield Claimer, and yesterday’s race was his tenth start since without winning. And David’s Beauty and Tombe Girl (9th) were the only two horses in the race to have reached the frame on their last outing.

In short, this was a very poor handicap contested, principally, by out-of-form maidens and it is arguable that, if I had run Ordinal in a similar grade of handicap but against horses with good recent form, the result might have been very different.

It will be very interesting to see how the handicapper assesses the performance. They work by choosing a marker horse that they perceive to have run to its best and then adjusting the others’ ratings, up or down, to reflect their finishing position relative to that horse. I wonder what horse they will choose here. None of Ordinal’s opponents have ever succeeded in winning a handicap which might arguably suggest that they are all over-rated rather than that Ordinal is massively under-rated.

So, I think I was right to tell Calvin to say that he could not say whether the performance was an improvement or not. He assures me that that is what he said but the official report states that “The Stewards held an enquiry to consider the apparent improvement in form of the winner, ORDINAL, ridden by Silvestre De Sousa and trained by Mark Johnston, which had never previously been placed. They interviewed the trainer’s representative who stated that the colt appreciated the drop into handicap company.”

16th April 2016

It seems that in racing, more than any other sport, we have come to a position where the public believe that information about the well-being of the participants and/or ‘inside information’ on how they are likely to perform is at least as important as their recent form. It is a very unhealthy state to be in.

Can you imagine a situation where a football manager or coach was asked if one of the players was going to score in a game or how many goals in total the team would score? It would be ridiculous to ask such questions, and if they were answered it would immediately put the game under suspicion as to whether it was fixed, but no more ridiculous than the daily barrage I get from punters on course who ask, ‘will it win?’. And hardly more ridiculous than those questions we get on an almost daily basis from Racing Post journalists who want ‘a line’ on our runners.

So how have we got ourselves into this mess. Of course, the media are partly to blame and there is a new breed of lazy scribes who would rather print opinion from trainers as if it were fact than put the effort into studying the form themselves. But the journalists, along with the public at large, were encouraged to believe in the value of inside information by the very authorities who manage and police the sport.

The BHA are just as likely as the Racing Post to publish misinformation and opinion as if it were fact and are even more likely than the media to misquote trainers, put words into jockeys mouths, or simply invent the ‘facts’.

I have long complained about the BHA instructions requiring trainers to give an explanation for perceived poor performances. Not only is the ruling wrong in principle but the way it is enforced and managed by stipendiary stewards and stewards’ secretaries is appalling.

Surely, before you can give an explanation for a poor performance, you must first establish that it is a poor performance and not the horse’s true form. That isn’t always easy to do and I would argue that, more often than not, the form is correct and shouldn’t be excused. It is virtually impossible to convince the authorities of this and, if they don’t like what you tell them, they will simply say that ‘the trainer could offer no explanation for the horse’s performance’.

A classical example of this occurred when Byres Road ran at Doncaster and finished last of five behind our own Soldier in Action and Juste Pour Nous, beaten 44 lengths. I did not believe this was a ‘poor performance’ and thought it was, quite simply, the horse’s true form – if form on heavy ground (officially described as ‘Soft’ but the race was run 13.25 seconds slow and times on the day ranged from 8.26 seconds slow over 6 furlongs to 14.5 seconds slow over a mile and a half) can ever be considered to be true. When the stipendiary steward enquired about what he and/or the stewards considered to be a poor performance, I told him that I have long been telling the handicappers that it is almost impossible for horses given a rating of 80 or more for performances on the All-Weather to carry that rating over to the turf and I use early season races at Doncaster as the example every time.

The race at Doncaster was a 0-95 handicap but, as it turned out, the top weight only had a rating of 84. Nonetheless, Byres Road was the only horse not to have previously run on turf. He gained his rating of 80 after running in two Maiden Auction races and a Maiden on the All-Weather. That is not to say that I believe he will be any less effective on turf but the Doncaster race was many classes above anything he had contested before. He ran well up to a point, leading for almost seven furlongs, but was the first horse beaten and, after that, his finishing position, in heavy ground, was irrelevant. I told the stipendiary steward all this but it was published on the BHA website that ‘the Stewards considered the running of BYRES ROAD, ridden by Franny Norton and trained by Mark Johnston, which finished unplaced. They noted the trainer could offer no explanation for the colt’s performance.’ Not true. I did offer an explanation but he chose to ignore it and what the public got was neither fact nor my opinion.

As it happens, Byres Road came out 11 days later and finished 2nd beaten ¾ of a length at Ripon in heavy ground. So I was wrong. Well, yes and no. The handicapper, as is so often the case, certainly wasn’t as far out as I had thought and was clearly right to ignore the Doncaster performance. But that does not mean that the horse was suffering from some physical ailment at Doncaster, had put in a poor performance, and had made a miraculous recovery by the time Ripon came around.

Most form students will, understandably, jump to the fact that the Doncaster race was over two furlongs further than Ripon but, interestingly, Byres Road was headed and beaten more than two furlongs out at Doncaster but was apparently struggling early in the race at Ripon and was running on very strongly at the finish.

So, what, with the huge benefit of hindsight, is the explanation? For a start, form on very soft ground is notoriously unreliable, distances are greatly extended, and finishing positions of horses which are the first to throw down the gauntlet and get beaten are irrelevant. These were different races, run at a different pace, and Byres Road didn’t get involved until near the finish at Ripon.

The one thing we know for sure is that the official ‘explanation’ given for Doncaster was not the one I gave. The stewards are misleading the public and, in doing so, are doing more harm than good to the reputation of our sport.

9th April 2016

We are often told that the biggest disincentive to working in racing is the unsociable hours. I’m sure it is true and it is an issue that I am continually trying to solve but maybe we have to accept that it is an inevitable consequence of working in a leisure industry.

Deirdre and I stayed last night in a well known Perthshire hotel and had dinner in their main restaurant. We were served by a very efficient waitress called Lauren. This morning, at breakfast, we were served by the same girl.

Deirdre commented to her about having to work late and start early again and she said, ‘No, I got off early last night at 10 o’clock’. A normal shift would, apparently, end at Midnight (‘usually finished up about half past’, she said) and begin again at 8am.

She gets five and a half hours off in the afternoon and, of course, weekends are the busiest times and it is all hands on deck.


I can’t stop thinking about something Richard Hannon said in a recent Racing Post interview. He said that he spent £12.8M on ‘spec’ at last year’s yearling sales and, just to confirm that it wasn’t a typing error, quipped ‘don’t round it up to thirteen million.

That equates to 100 yearlings at an average of £128,000 each. I wonder, did he buy more than 100 yearlings on ‘spec’ or was he spending more than an average of £128,000. Add to that the homebreds and those that were bought by agents or to order and it tells me that he must have a phenomenal team of two-year-olds.

It seems I did right to get in early before he unleashes that mob.

1st April 2016

It is truly incredible. The group that I used to dub ‘Racing For No Change’ have made one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of thoroughbred racing and breeding. Rod Street, head of the team at Great British Racing, will go down in the history of the thoroughbred alongside the likes of Admiral Rous, Frederico Tesio and, dare I say, Sheikh Mohammed.
He has, with the agreement of all ‘stakeholders’, moved the birthday of all thoroughbred horses in the northern hemisphere from 1st January to the Monday after British Champions Day. This will allow all championships – including jockeys, owners, trainers, sires, and first-season sires – to end on the same day and will, as Rod says, ‘provide a narrative for the sport, a great sponsorship opportunity, and an extra attraction for the thousands of people who attend British Champions Day principally to listen to the music and who hitherto had no interest in the sport’.

It will provide a few minor challenges but the team at Great British Racing are confident that none are insurmountable. It will mean that races like the Racing Post Trophy are now for three-year-olds only but that is surely preferable to having them sit outside some championships as is currently the case.

The breeding industry will, of course, face new challenges as there will now be a distinct advantage to having foals born in November but Rod Street has confirmed that, with the help of the new artificial daylight system perfected and marketed by Irish horsebox driver Sam Murphy, which is already in use in many yards, this is easily achievable. It is rumoured that Mr. Murphy, who must surely have had prior knowledge of the changes, is in talks with the Microsoft Corporation who have expressed a serious interest in his products.

Yearling and foal sales will be able to move to a position earlier in the year allowing vendors to present their stock while they still have their summer coats.

It isn’t yet confirmed but it is assumed that southern hemisphere authorities will move their thoroughbred birthday by approximately two and a half months to maintain the differential.
As with other GBR initiatives, full details will be available through Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.