Author: Stephen Molyneux
It is hard to know where to start after such a plentiful week of racing, both here and abroad, but getting the controversy out of the way seems as good a place as any and Christophe Soumillon’s ride aboard Thunder Snow in the Breeders’ Cup Classic has attracted more than it’s fair share of criticism. Brutal, barbaric and disgusting were just three of the adjectives used by people far better qualified to comment than me and whilst fully entitled to their opinions, that seems a bit far fetched to me. Yes Soumillon used the whip more than he should have with the most disconcerting element being the time between strikes, whilst the force was certainly more than Soumillon would likely have used for just a normal race, but this was one of the biggest contests in the world so why shouldn’t a jockey try that bit harder to extricate everything from his mount.
You could argue that Thunder Snow’s stallion career has already been defined by his Dubai World Cup win but a Breeders’ Cup placing sits well on the pedigree page too. Soumillon was riding Thunder Snow for the 15th time in a race, he knows he is a horse that gives everything and at the end of the day, would Soumillon easing off a touch have meant that Thunder Snow dropped out of the placings? The problem is that everything is hard to quantify... did the force of the strikes hurt the horse? Probably not is the answer given the modifications that have been carried out on the whip over the years. Did the strikes in quick succession ensure Thunder Snow kept going as fast as he could? Probably.
The problem with all of it is perception although I would venture to suggest that racing worldwide has bigger issues with horse welfare and public perception than overuse or misuse of the whip. Sticking with the whip and it was another Godolphin horse in the form of Wild Illusion who raised a debate that I must admit I didn’t really know existed. Racing professionals came out en masse on social media to support the use of a long whip in persuading a reluctant horse to go into the stalls, it’s effectiveness perfectly highlighted by Wild Illusion who had given much trouble before one flick of the long whip ensured she went straight into the stalls. Its use is banned in England and Ireland but Shane Ryan can regularly be seen using it here and I must admit to have been converted having heard the reasoning behind it.
Closer to home and Doug Watson wasted little time in flexing his muscles with another four timer at Meydan. The highlight was certainly seeing George Buckell not only back on a horse but back in the winner’s enclosure and he was very open when I interviewed him afterwards regarding the issues he has faced over the last year or so. Hopefully such openess and honesty will continue to guide him in the right direction. Ronan Whelan will certainly require some positive thinking after a spill at Meydan left him hospitalised and facing a spell on the sidelines. Hopefully only a short one, however, and whilst there is never a great time for a jockey to sit watching, maybe the start of the UAE season is it if judged on field sizes.
The number of entries, or perhaps lack of, on Thursday seemingly suggests that a few trainers are playing the long game. I certainly hope that is the case as trying to fill air time talking about five unraced 2yos last week wasn’t pleasant, only to be dealt a three runner affair with again little constructive advice to offer on each runner this week! It raises the question of where are all the 2yos? It certainly seemed as though plenty of our trainers were active at the sales over the summer but maybe these races are simply coming too soon. Don’t forget all unraced horses have to trial, Thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabians, but maybe this is the reason behind the small fields so far in the juvenile division.
Limited opportunities to trial these horses allied with the fact that inexperienced horses probably require more time between races, or a trial and a race in this case, mean trainers are happier to shun the early season contests. There is a lot to commend the race planning department on the development of the Classic programme and yearly tweaks will no doubt be made. Maybe the race plan is fine and it is the trials for Thoroughbreds that should be scrapped; either way it is an area that needs to be monitored.
Dubai Racing Channel