4 Results Found For: January 2021

31st January 2021

It is so sad to hear of the death of Paul Haigh and it is a reminder to me of how much I have missed reading his words. I have already seen many tributes to him in which he is described as a ‘great writer’, a ‘wonderful raconteur’, and even  a ‘genius’ but what we must remember is that Paul was recognised as a great racing writer in an era of great racing writers. He stood out from the crowd when there really was a crowd.

I don’t think I ever had the pleasure of meeting any of his family and I wish I had. It would have been good to know him better. What I did know of him, I liked a lot.

25th January 2021

If I could bottle it – whatever it is that is making our horses run so well at present – and sell it, I would. But, unfortunately, there is no magic potion and it is no easier to explain a phenomenally good run of form than it is to explain a string of losers.

Of course the horses are generally well but we are still encountering all the usual winter ailments: coughs and snotty noses; cracked heels from exercising in the wet; ringworm from an influx of new young horses; and so on. We are not doing anything differently.

When we had a run of more than 100 consecutive losers one year and James Willoughby famously commented that ‘there is no such thing as yard form’, he explained our ‘poor’ performance by saying that it was down to the population of horses that we were running at the time and he pointed out that, based on previous form, the vast majority could not be expected to win. There was a lot of truth in that.

If you look at our strike rate at the end of any year you will see that it tends to take quite a dip and that is down to the fact that many horses are rushing to get a run before the end of the year to give them some experience before a winter break or to allow us to fully assess their ability if we, and/or their owners, need to make decisions on whether to keep them into another year. The same applies to many other training yards and Maiden and Novice races, in particular, tend to be big fields and pretty competitive.

Come January, we have the whole year ahead of us and, for most of the horses, there is no pressure or rush to run and we can take our time to select the ideal race. That said, the same again applies to many other yards and so our current run of winners and strike-rate is still quite exceptional.

With a week to go we have already passed our best ever total for January and our 18 winners have come at an incredible strike-rate of 45%. Even more amazing, I would say, is the fact that 17 individuals from 31 to run have won. That, 55%, winners-runners is the sort of figure we might just aspire to at the end of a season but never at this stage.

Long may it last but we must keep our feet on the ground and remember that the nature of the British program and its reliance on handicaps often dictates that a peak must be followed by a trough as our friends the official handicappers hike the winners up and try to stop them from winning again. Sadly, it takes a lot longer to come down in the handicap than it does to go up. Thankfully, however, we have a few more horses waiting in the wings to pick up the gauntlet if this first wave of success starts to wane. It is a great start to the year and makes the cold, dark mornings, and the boredom of lock-down a lot easier to cope with.

8th January 2021

Do you remember, just a few years ago, when we had a over 100 runners without a winner? James Willoughby, when discussing the situation on TV, said something along the lines of “there is no such thing as ‘yard form'” and that prompted us to engage James to look statistically at various aspects of our business. Of course, there are factors which can affect the form of a trainer’s team as a whole but, in reality, they are pretty unusual and, in 35 years of closely monitoring the cyclical fluctuations in our form and investigating the deep ‘troughs’ there have only been a couple of times that we have found a clear common factor affecting a significant number of horses. Early in my career I recognised that these apparent fluctuations in yard form were almost never related to an infectious agent and that the age old excuse, ‘the virus’, didn’t exist. I think that recognition has played a big part in our success.

Yesterday, I was asked by the Racing Post about our current excellent run and why it might be that we are knocking in the winners since the New Year. In reality, the same applies as when you are having a bad run: it isn’t something that we are doing differently and it isn’t down to an absence of infections amongst the horses. If it was down to something we were doing differently or something which we could affect, of course, we would do it all the time.

Ironically, it is less than three weeks since an owner of ours said to me, ‘you won’t like me saying this, but your horses aren’t running very well at the moment’. It was a day or two after we had had a treble and I can’t really understand where he had got that impression but it just shows you that the public impression of yard form is rarely backed by hard evidence.

In monitoring the form of the yard I tend to concentrate on the percentage of placed horses as, simply due to the greater numbers, it is a more reliable indicator. As a rough rule of thumb, I say that if we are having 50% placed, we are ‘flying’, 33% is good, and anything under 25% triggers investigation. In the last fortnight we are well over 50% but, of course, it is a fairly small sample and James might tell us that it isn’t statistically significant.

Can we maintain it? That is the most important question and the reality is that, beyond doing what we always do and have done for many years, we can’t change the fact that there will be peaks and troughs in the number of winners. We just have to ride out the troughs and try to ensure that they don’t result in loss of customers and/or horses and create a downward spiral. I said to the Racing Post that, in the current circumstances, with owners cutting back and number of horses down in our yard and, perhaps, across the industry, it is more important than ever to get winners but, if we are already doing our best every day, we can’t do any better. All we can do is to ensure that it is business as usual and that we are leaving no stone unturned. The same applies when trying to maintain a good run or recovering from a poor run.

This makes it sound like whether or not we have winners or not is all down to luck and it certainly isn’t. We can’t change the fact that there will be weekly or monthly fluctuations in the number of winners but it is how we deal with the poor runs that can set us apart. If you blame it on ‘the virus’ and shut down then you are ensuring that you will not be winning for, at least, the period of the shut down. One certainty in racing is that a horse can’t win if you don’t run it. It can’t get beaten either and it seems that some owners and trainers prefer that method of dealing with a run of losers but not this one.

When faced with a challenge, whether it is a run of losers or some threat to the business such as we are now experiencing due to Covid-19, we must rise to that challenge with attention to detail on which horses we run, where we run them, and every other little detail that makes a difference between winners and losers. Not long ago, when faced with cut backs by a major owner and a shift in the type of horses in our yard, we made a conscious decision to ‘hit the boards running’ at the start of the flat season. We had more two-year-olds ready and we aimed to run those that were going best first rather than test the water with a second division. It resulted in us winning the first three two-year-old races one year and the first four the next. It showed what can be done to combat a downturn.

I can’t say that there has been any shift in policy that has resulted in seven winners in the first seven days of 2021 but I am wise to the threat of owners’ cutbacks this year and will be doing everything possible to ensure that we ride out any storm.

 

6th January 2021

What a great start to the New Year. Six winners in the first six days. I don’t think we have ever had such a rapid start. Long may it continue. Racing isn’t much fun for owners at present but winners always help.

I haven’t been racing yet this year and, with no owners on track, and advice to limit our racing team to essential people, I don’t see that I’ll be going much in the next few weeks. It is, perhaps, a good reminder for punters if any is needed that the presence of the trainer on track has no bearing whatsoever on the horse’s chances.