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The British Museum

After the Paralympic Dressage at Greenwich Park I went to The Horse exhibition at the British Museum (which was my intended destination the other Friday when the car overheated).
It was small, and perfectly formed, which was good because I don’t think it much floated the kids’ boats. I particularly liked the oil paintings of the racehorse Eclipse, another stunning one of Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath by George Stubbs and a rather unusual painting and script mixture circa 1750 about the Godolphin Arabian, lent by Her Majesty the Queen. The Godolphin Arabian was, along with two other stallions, the foundation sire of the modern thoroughbred. That, however, is another post altogether.

I also had a look at the Paralympic medal designs on show, but, for the third time this week, a reflective surface (glass) got the better of me.

I took this stunning ceiling in the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court instead. Next time I go, I would like to visit the Reading Room, on the right of the picture.

A Distance

ANNOUNCEMENT: Change to Official Distances from the BHA website

From Boxing Day 2010 we will be ceasing to use a ‘Distance’ as an official term when calculating the distances that horses have been beaten. This will mean that when a horse is beaten by greater than thirty lengths the old term of ‘Distance’ will not be applied. For the purposes of greater accuracy the Judging department will now announce the actual number of lengths that a horse is beaten, when giving out the distances as part of the result.

This would mean that, for example, in the case of when Kauto Star won last year’s King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, that the distance calculated would have been 36 lengths, rather than him winning by a ‘Distance’.

To enable this change to take place, the Photo-finish software which calculates distances based on the elapsed time between each horse multiplied by the Lengths per Second Scale in use, dependant on the ground conditions, has had to be extended beyond thirty lengths. We will now calculate distances up to 99 lengths, after which they will appear as 99+ which is how they currently are reported in the Press for their cumulative distances.

This change is in line with Racing for Change and will give the Public and those that bet on distances more accurate information.

Yada yada yada. You can’t beat the phrase from the 1700s “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere” attributed to his owner Captain Dennis O’Kelly. In fact, nowhere was a distance too, any horse more than 240 yards behind the winner was said to be nowhere. Why they had to change it, who knows – Racing for Change 19th Century style perhaps.

Speaking of Eclipse there will be a partial solar eclipse tomorrow (January 4th) somewhere between 6.40 and 7.30 am.

WARNING: Don’t look at it directly.

Secretariat (who won the Belmont by 31 lengths in 1973)

The Eclipse: the partial or total obscuring of one celestial body by another

The actual horse Eclipse, whom the race is named after, was born on April Fool’s Day in 1764 during a solar eclipse.  He went on to win all his races, and was eventually retired due to lack of competition.

“Eclipse first, the rest nowhere” was coined during his short career.  Like most great horses he had his idiosyncracies, being boisterous and bad-tempered.  His running style – carrying his nose near the ground -made him so hard to ride that only one jockey, John Oakley, partnered him in his 18 race career, all won hands and heels.  Rumour has it that Eclipse’s best friend was a Psalm squawking parrot…

It is reported that at least 80% of today’s racehorses have Eclipse in their pedigrees and he himself was a direct descendant of the great foundation sire the Darley Arabian.

It is therefore apposite to note that Singspiel who I met once at a distance at Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley Stud was sadly put down yesterday after a *long illness.  Today Singspiel’s daughter Dar Re Mi lines up against the boys in the race at Sandown.  I have checked that Singspiel and his daughter are in the 80% of thoroughbreds that have Eclipse runing through their veins and they do.  As you go back through horses’ pedigrees the different strands become so convoluted and the pathways so many that I couldn’t look at every bit of Eclipse that they inevitably have but I can confirm that Eclipse and Creeping Polly produced King Fergus who appears at least twice in Singspiel’s pedigree, not to mention a bit of Eclipse and Sportsmistress producing the strangely named Pot-8-Os.

Pot-8-Os Got his name from a stable lad who was asked to put “Potatoes” on his corn bin but misspelled it (possibly as “Potoooooooo”). It was said to have amused his lordship (Earl of Grosvenor), and so it appears in the General Stud Book. Later it was shortened to Pot-8-Os for general use.      


Anyway, I am sure most of the other runners today have Eclipse in the pedigree too, although it would be interesting to try and find the 20% who don’t and put a line through them.  Without the time to indulge in a morning of poking around  in pedigrees over 250 years old you will have to settle with my summary.

I want Dar Re Mi to win obviously, but the last time I went to the Eclipse wanting a mare to win Christophe Soumillon got poor Ouija Board murdered round the last bend and she came back in about 5th place with cuts and bruises.  I can’t even remember who won that day, and I can’t be faffed to look it up now.  Maybe it will come back to me.

Dar Re Mi may find 10f a bit sharp is the conventional wisdom, but she is a course and distance winner.  Zacinto will be popular, but is stepping up from his usual mile for the first time and for that reason I don’t fancy him.  With Twice Over I am always a little bit cautious especially since he didn’t fire in this race last year when I am sure I backed him, but a Cecil win is always a heartwarmer.  I won’t back his today though because my heart is with the mare.

Of the others: Viscount Nelson, Sri Putra and Mawatheeq – I am not convinced.

So come on Dar Re Mi – do it for your dad Singspiel and your 30Greats Grandad Eclipse.

Poor Singspiel succumbed to laminitis

Great Sporting Weekend

The Tour de France started, there was some motorbike racing, Roger Federer completed his 15th Grand Slam title in nerve-shredding fashion and Sea the Stars became the fifth horse to complete the Guineas, Derby and Eclipse treble in his three year old season.  The latter was not even mentioned on the BBC news at 10 (or whatever time it rocks up on Saturdays) which mildly enraged me.

I, on the other hand, was to be found desperately trying to cycle the Southend end of Essex, be with the family, exercise the dog and not kill all the plants in the garden during the heatwave.  That’s the problem with great sporting weekends, 4 and 7 year old kids (not to mention dogs) don’t care and demand service as usual.  So I managed to catch the Eclipse with my bike in the bookies, some of the 2nd, 3rd and 5th sets at Wimbledon yesterday and not much else.  That meant I missed the delightful Speightstown colt Lord Shanakill’s win in the Prix Jean Prat in France.  His first Group 1 win and the first for his trainer.  I liked the horse a lot last year, I have mentioned him before and I thought he might struggle this season having been raced 8 times as a 2yo, at a high level and having been very genuine in so doing.

Not so.  He won at 11/1 and had I had time to read the Racing Post in my possession before the race I would have been swayed by the piece of information “thriving on work is a family trait” in the Bloodstock world page.  Then there was the trainer comment “I think he has come on for his run in the St James’ Palace”.  I form my views as the season unfolds and then these are the nuggets of info (along with his liking for fast ground) that inform final opinion and staking on the day.  Unfortunately, on the day, the Post was in the footwell of the car (unread apart from admiring the photo of Sea the Stars) and I was prancing around dog agility (dog) and archery (kids) at a country show.

That is the conflict of the punting life.  You can’t afford to let up on studying and keeping in touch otherwise you will miss something, on the other hand you can’t afford to spend your children’s lives with your nose stuck in form and the Post.  That’s why I like Group races during the week – I can pay attention to the form and not entirely neglect my motherly duties!  Hurray for Ascot, the July meeting and Glorious Goodwood. 🙂 

I can report that agility is not my lurcher’s metier, but notwithstanding dangling from the A-frame and refusing to entertain the tunnel he did the rest ok and got a certificate.  The scurry went less well (retrieval).  He amused those nearby by doing a good “time trial at Crayford” impression (tight bends) and then had to be practically handed the retrieve thingummyjig which he sort of tossed in the air to break its neck properly.  On the upside he deigned to be caught quite easily which would have never happened but a year ago.  I think, once this bike ride is done, we will have to seek out some lurchering events for him to enjoy.  After all,  it’s no good trying to put a round peg in a square hole.

Dog & Daughter with no Racing Post in sight!

Dog & Daughter with no Racing Post in sight!

The Eclipse

On June the 7th, the day after the Derby I wrote:

“Enough about my endeavours of endurance, what about Sea the Stars, the big star of racing, – where next? Obvious choice the Irish Derby which is annoyingly close to the Eclipse. The Irish Derby sometimes comes up claggy so I guess Mr Oxx will turn up at Sandown instead if that’s the case. It would also be a perfect opportunity to show his charge’s ability over 10f. 3/1 for the Eclipse is a cracking bet, except for the fact that the horse is far more likely to stay at home!”

Pity I didn’t snaffle that price then, this morning our champion 3yo colt is a best-priced 8/13 (ok I only looked in one place, but I don’t think there’s any value left now!).  Of course this test is over 10f (probably perfect in pedigree terms) but the finish at Sandown is a little stiff and he will be taking on his elders, if not his betters at 3.15 but with an 11lb pull at the weights for the 3yo contenders, Sea the Stars is a more than worthy favourite.

I love Sandown and I love the Eclipse, the first Group race in the calendar where the 3yos can take on the older horses.  The sun usually shines and the sloping lawn outside the trainers and owners bar offers a great view of the track.  Added to that, the chance to stand right by the horses as they go onto the track (at eye-level with the jockey’s boots if you are about 5’6 – Christophe Soumillon favours croc patent leather n’est pas) and have a good look at the horses and the rider’s faces it is all just about perfect.  I wish I could go, but I am on cycling duty this weekend and hoping to maybe make the July Cup on Friday if some miracle occurs! 

Mr Oxx says that he thinks Sea the Stars has improved from the Derby.  I really hope he has.  The supreme effort of winning the Derby has wrecked recent winners’ subsequent careers, but today we have the opportunity to see an outstanding horse, that has so far at least done everything with consumate ease, cement his reputation as possibly one of the outstanding horses of recent years.  If he wins today, he would be following in the white-socked hoofprint of Nashwan, who in 1989 won the Guineas, the Derby, then started a short-priced favourite and duly obliged in the Eclipse, before having the first battle of his life at Ascot in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, still prevailing and making a record of 6/6.

Nashwan by N.W. Brunyee
Nashwan by N.W. Brunyee

Of the other contenders I can’t find a serious threat.  Sir Michael runs a pacemaker for Conduit, who has failed over the 10 at Sandown before.  On breeding he just wants a good bit further and possibly slightly softer ground.  I would be surprised if he were able to win, but I respect his and his trainer/jockey’s chances.  If you can remember Notnowcato ploughing his own furrow  by the hedges a few years ago to win, you will understand what I am talking about! 

I really like the Henry Cecil colt Twice Over, despite his leaving a mental scar in the Craven when beating Raven’s Pass last year.  By Observatory, I think he has the opposite problem to Conduit and the pacemaker is not going to help him.  Cima de Triomphe has a course and distance win to his name and will be an each way price and it would be nice to see Rip Van Winkle run up to his hype over a more suitable trip. 

I can’t really split the also-rans so I think my bet for today will be a CTC (I think that’s a dog racing term?) – Sea the Stars, Cima de Triomphe & Conduit or Rip Van Winkle – two bets with the latter two interchanged – ok?
I have had a bit of a crisis this week over the morality of summer-jumping.  I don’t bet much on jumps anyway and I really try to steer clear of the firm ground in the heat.  News that  this week’s heatwave had meant that horses were coming off transport lathered in sweat and that the temperatures in the stables (and jockey’s room) were in the 90s was clearly not acceptable.  I wonder this – if punters stop punting on the daytime summer jumping calendar (although this does not address the firm ground issue) would the fixture list be amended?  No-one can argue with the facts, summer jumping causes more injuries than the winter season and I personally think we would be better off without it.  Water jumps need to be consigned to the scrap heap too, I am afraid.  A spectacle they may be, but they are one I would rather live without, given that sometimes the spectacle is too awful to behold, such as Mistanoora “plunging around in agony” to quote Brough Scott, at Stratford this week after breaking a leg.
I love racing, but I cannot accept that we need to run horses over extreme distances in extreme heat after travelling them in un-airconditioned boxes and that we are so desperate for punting opportunities that we cannot forgo the chance to back horses who are risking their limbs jumping onto hard ground in the middle of summer.  The horses are the things we admire and cherish in this sport and to do anything less than honour their efforts and rigorously protect their welfare makes us unworthy participants in the sport.