Rise and rise of the all weather

November 10th, 2020 | Ian Carnaby's Racing News

I seldom dwell on isolated successes  –  too many setbacks for that  –  but I did find the last winner of the turf season, the 16/1 shot Zip at Doncaster, after the sort of intense analysis that justifies falling in love with the game in the first place.

Let’s not over-egg it. Zip is a consistent Richard Fahey handicapper who had too much weight in dreadful ground at the same course a fortnight previously. Tim Easterby’s Flying Pursuit can’t have it heavy enough and duly went in at 12/1 with Zip back in sixth.

The latter was 7lb better off this time and it was soft, if very misty, as opposed to heavy. But he won partly because of that and partly because he received a splendid ride from Jessica Cooley, who can still claim 5lb, even in apprentice races. Maybe all of Fahey’s lads have ridden too many winners to qualify for the allowance, which makes this a very shrewd booking indeed.

I first noticed Jessica at Salisbury a couple of years ago when she finished second on Tony Newcombe’s moderate sprinter Princely. Tony is a clever man but lacks ammunition. He used to be the brains behind ‘Barnstaple butcher’ C John Hill’s various schemes, especially at Bath, many years go but the pair fell out and there was no reconciliation.

Anyway, Tony would have known that Jessica Cooley could ride but I sort of lost track of her until one day several weeks ago when she turned up in an apprentices’ race, I think, at Chantilly. It was certainly a French track, anyway, and I made a mental note that she must still have ambition. I’m retired, as you know, and I wasn’t about to start ringing round when I saw the Fahey booking, though I did need to know where she is based these days. Looking through her recent rides, the answer seemed to be at Keith Dalgleish’s. She has been successful for him.

Anyway, it is no exaggeration to say she rode Zip to perfection, even making sure he was last into the stalls in a multi-runner handicap. Her moves from now on will be very interesting but I have mixed feelings about that because I think AW racing, which is bound to feature in her plans, occupies an almost ridiculously dominant place in the racing calendar.

All right, I’m getting on a bit and to me much of the past is better than the present. But I remember presenting on SIS and interviewing clerk of the course Geoff Stickels on the day in 1989 when we all went down to Lingfield for the first AW meeting. The jumps side of things was soon shelved because it was too dangerous but the flat meetings were ready to go if a freeze-up or waterlogging ruled out everything else. I even remember some of the lines from the time  –  ‘it’ll keep the tills ticking over in the shops’ was the general assumption.

In fairness I can recall the days when we’d have welcomed anything to break the tedium. Trotters from Belgium had their moment and there was the time Fontwell was 3/1 favourite to end a long barren spell, the theory being that the salt breeze off the Solent would give it a better chance than anywhere else. And I go back even further to the dreadful winter of 1962-63, when a horse called Severn Bore won at 100/6 when we finally got going again. AW racing would have been a godsend during that bleak campaign.

So let’s be clear that I’m not against it per se. I even paid for two or three Christmases when Bill  and Emma O’Gorman had African Chimes at his peak. But the novelty vanished long ago. There is nothing ‘novel’ about AW racing these days, it’s just stock, standard fare filling up the racing programme and has nothing whatever to do with meetings falling by the wayside.

Let’s try to leave aside Covid-19 for a moment, even if I happen to be shrugging off a positive test from a while back. Before it all happened, who actually WENT to teatime AW meetings? Who has enough money to attend Newcastle on a regular basis, kicking off at 4.15pm or whenever? Confronted by a steady stream of maidens involving several lightly-raced individuals from top Newmarket yards, how many Kempton stalwarts can puzzle out which ones are having an outing before going into ‘winter quarters’ (don’t hear that much these days) and which ones might conceivably end up in next year’s Dante? And don’t play the old ‘keeps the tills ticking over’ card. True, it’s harder for me to get to London these days, but whenever I did I always made a point of dropping into as many shops as possible between Oxford Street and Paddington on my way home in early evening. More often than not I doubled the number of people in there and the other one wasn’t punting. (Just as an aside, I have NEVER seen anyone bet on an American race.)

For a sprint handicap follower like me, AW racing has wrecked my calculations, especially at Class 5 and Class 6 level. I had a moderate year at Bath and Chepstow this time and there was no Brighton, of course, but it hardly helps when the trainer thinks he might just as well have a go at Wolverhampton three or four nights later. You simply have the same old sweats gearing up for a long, hard winter and there is no committed form student in the world who could show ahead under those circumstances. (And not many trainers, either, though Tony Carroll is a shining exception.)

I won’t go deeply into the subject of Southwell, though I did watch both legs of a poor sprint handicap the other day. Is the kick-back all that much better than it was? People tell me it is and I suppose the days of the virtual sandstorm are over, but as a spectacle Southwell still leaves something to be desired.

I’m not an old moaner  –  a ‘grinch’, have I got that right?  –  but I think you may well agree that we were swamped by AW racing before we knew what was happening. Covid-19 has complicated matters, needless to say, and when it relaxes its grip the desire to go racing will see a surge in attendances. Nor am I forgetting that AW Championships Day at Lingfield is a beacon in a sea of dross. But after a while it will become perfectly obvious that the tracks are continuing to race as often as they possibly can to make up for the sparse crowds attending humdrum fixtures, with the reason they came into being in the first place long forgotten.

So, five months off for me. Well, not quite, because Malcolm Saunders may find an AW race for Diamond Cottage, Jessica Cooley may pop up at any time and Mr Eireann Cagney may finally get another ride, although time is running out for him  to be top of the word,ma. He is very good, you know, it’s just that no one ever uses him. One of those divided Wolverhampton amateur riders’ races might be the answer, I suppose. Dear Lord, I shall never be free.


Ian’s brand new book – the long awaited follow up to Not Minding That It Hurts – is out in December

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