Marten’s Perspective: Autumn Musings
September 11th, 2015 | Marten's Perspective
For example I now find myself ready for autumn, just as in a couple of months I’ll be keen for winter. After the dark nights and, where I live in the Lakes, often dreary wet days, by February I am desperate for light, blue skies and warmer days. Then, bang on cue, along comes spring. The snowdrops and daffodils promise new birth and growth, before summer arrives with a bloom and a busyness all of its own.
For those of us in racing things are structured in a rather more formal way. Yes, we know that there will be a chill in the air with the imminence of autumn, but racing – especially the fixtures – are set in stone.
We have clients in my business who build their year’s itinerary around Cheltenham in March, retaining their regular hotel room on a rollover basis. Personally I have struggled there in recent years, mainly due to its increasing popularity and my journalistic and publishing commitments. These oblige me to produce thousands of words of copy during that week, keeping me tied to my keyboard for about six hours a day – three before racing and three afterwards.
I did try to cover the meeting a few years ago, but that was when I had the support of an owner who valued my company to such extent that he helicoptered me in each day from a hotel a few miles way. That meant I could be back in my room within an hour of the last race to meet the mid-evening deadline for the next day’s preview, but even then it was tough going and by the time I finished I was exhausted and not quite the source of all wisdom around the dinner table that my host was expecting.
The other problem is that I see no point in attending a race-meeting unless you are able to assess the horses at close quarters in the paddock. I can confidently assure you that whether it has been at a top-class meeting or a local gaff, I have always – and I mean always – seen something of value and interest. Indeed, there have been occasions when I have gleaned something that has paid off handsomely in the weeks that follow.
The trouble with the Cheltenham Festival, as those of you who attend it will no doubt testify, is that people are a dozen deep around the paddock and even though as a tall man I am more fortunate than many, it is still very difficult to get near enough to spot the detail. My policy at such times is to get a lead on the crowd by finding a position in the pre-paddock, but even that becomes congested at the Festival.
One way round this, and I admit it is nothing like the same atmosphere as the Festival, is to try and catch sight of the horses at a minor meeting in the weeks before. I am fortunate that I live in the west of the country, so I have access to many of the tracks favoured for up-and-coming young horses. In fact in the last two autumns I have seen this year’s Grand National winner Many Clouds winning at Carlisle, my local track. Eduard and Holywell, both top-class performers, followed him home there last November.
Looking back I have found that I have managed to see most of our top-class horses at some point and I have spotted something interesting to pass on about each of them.
There is, though, one gripe I have and this concerns the media. We now have two dedicated racing channels – ATR and RUK – and as far as I can see they have an abundance of pundits and presenters. Those attending the track have access, from favoured positions, to identity points of interest some, of which, could prove invaluable to the punter back at home. Yet only a few of them – and I am not prepared to single out names – seem to have an eye for a horse.
The one area in which the majority are well researched is statistics. Speaking personally I loathe them. I respect that they can give a guide to a horse’s preferences or the form of a trainer, but they don’t account for the fact that a horse, like a person, is flesh and blood. They may, I concede, reflect a trainer’s way of working – for example, a low return with unraced two-year-olds could suggest that this is not a trainer who likes to get his horses fit and ready to win on their debuts. But they are only a guide, and do not account for the fact that a horse is a living and constantly evolving creature.
Nothing beats the evidence of the eye and, for that, you have to be near the horse throughout the preliminaries of a race, even to the point of watching it gallop down to post. A picture then appears in your mind which, I have found, will remain with you for weeks to come.
I never had, and probably still don’t have, a natural eye for a horse, but after standing at the corner of a sales ring in my younger days for hours on end I gradually started to learn how to spot the details – a good walker, a keen eye and other aspects of a horse’s demeanour. Nothing beats practice, and anyone can learn by doing what I did. The other thing is that you get to know where trainers stand around the ring. For example at Newmarket Tattersalls Henry Candy likes to lean over the rails alongside his wife just in front of the restaurant area. I found that they were always keen to try and guide you, and you learn from all of them.
If the TV pundits took the trouble to spend time at the sales, rather than trying to remember the content of the Signposts feature of the Racing Post, then their viewers would surely benefit.
I view my primary job as a journalist to share what little I have learnt, hoping it will be of interest and benefit to others. To this end I approach a race-meeting with the specific intention of trying to find something original to pass on. After all, that is what a private client would expect from someone in my position. They don’t want me to repeat what they can read for themselves in the Racing Post.
It won’t be long before I wend my way up to Carlisle for their first jump meeting of the season. I will be fortunate to see another horse of the calibre of Many Clouds, but there is sure to be something there for me to tell you about afterwards.
Jump racing is the pumping heart of our industry. I can’t wait!
Bye for now