90 minutes is a long time in horse racing; let me use last night as an example:
5.10 Catch up with Peter in the Owners and Trainers Bar and a Coke and a Sprite. (Hey..this is serious business)
“What do you think?” says Peter
“ I am trying not to think we should win but we should, shouldn’t we?
“ I’m more nervous than before Cheltenham; he should win if he performs like he does at home”
“ New World looks the only danger. Should be suited by the better ground but it may be too short”
“ Ok..off to saddle him up – you coming?”
“ Actually no. the only time I didn’t was at Galway and he won so I am being superstitious”
5.35 (In the parade ring)
Luke Dempsey comes into the parade ring reminding me how I used to look when I was 10 years old; he’s twice that but you would need to double check his birth certificate to be convinced. Anyway we felt pretty confident although Peter and I felt that 5/4 was way too short
Bay of Freedom is really playing up at the start; moving from side to side , dropping his head and just not looking happy. It seemed to take an age to let them go and he was just getting worse. No idea why he keeps doing that ; you could understand it at Cheltenham and, to a lesser extent, Punchestown as they are big meetings but not a Friday evening at Down Royal.
When they started he settled straight away and running to the first hurdle he was nicely positioned in 4th place
What was that? His first jump and he screwed in the air making a mistake but landed on four feet and kept upright. The second hurdle was now a new adventure but he jumped it well and they set out on the full circuit
Balance of the race
They had started at a crawl and Robbie Power on New World decided to inject some pace and pulled a few lengths clear – he was never to see another horse all race and won comfortably. Bay of Freedom jumped stickily and slowly but that wasn’t the issue; he just seemed not to have the ability to increase his pace and was pretty one paced throughout – all the time Peter was saying “he’s faster than that” and I was only too happy to agree. In the end he kept on very honestly and finished 3rd when, at times, 5th or 6th looked the best he was going to do
Bay of Freedom comes back into the unsaddling enclosures and the post mortem begins. Luke said he jumped into the bottom of several hurdles and just was not going and that he would benefit from further than two miles; the last point we knew and, as regards the hurdling, it was much slower than at home but it was ok for a first run
Peter had a horse in the next race (finished 2nd) so we resumed our discussion after the 2nd race in the stable yard where a very relaxed Bay of Freedom was walking around.
It was pretty obvious that Galway was off the agenda and we would need to lower our sights and, in the immediate deflation (if I can use that term coming from Boston) after the race Peter seemed to concur.
We retired to the bar where an amazing thing happened:
Peter remembered that Bay of Freedom had shown much better form at home , jumping well and running with much more zest;so what had gone wrong? Well..he had run a bit flat at Punchestown and not really come home strongly whereas in his other runs (at Listowel, Galway and Cheltenham) he had finished vey well. Was it possible that Cheltenham had taken more out of him than we realized? He had not done that much work since (although he had done plenty of schooling) but he had also not had any break. So we hatched a plan – we would give him a complete break for a few weeks, freshen him up completely and then bring him back – we would also increase the distance to at least 2 ½ miles.
Was it possible we were talking ourselves into putting Galway back onto the agenda? The answer would appear to be yes! The logic goes like this:
- his form at home entitles him to run in a good quality novice like the Guinness Hurdle on the Thursday of Galway
- Some horses never reproduce their home form on the racecourse but Bay of Freedom did that in his first three races
- We just need to figure out how to make him show his home form at Galway
- If we still came up short then we would know where we stood and could change our plans accordingly (probably down the handicap route)
- We had not lost faith in him; in fact, we should probably stop talking or else we were in danger of hyping him up as a certainty at Galway!
(Editors note: The writer is well aware that he will be an outsider now at Galway (based on last night) but you can dream can’t you?)
Kim had been the unfortunate recipient of my changing moods from 5.45 to 6.45 and her brain was probably ready to explode from “that’s it! He won’t be going to Galway” to “Guess what? We’re still going to Galway?” with a few more vacillations thrown in for good measure. She is used to my emotional state by now so just kept saying supportive things and waited for me to talk myself off the ledge.
None of this thinking would be worth the paper it’s written on if Peter was a poor trainer who had no idea what he was doing; I firmly believe the opposite and, for good measure, Peter’s other runners last night finished 2nd (two of them) and the other horse won so, all in all, a successful night. The only disappointment was Bay of Freedom but now that we have rationalized everything, even that wasn’t disappointing. You know what? I even think he’s better than we realized before last night!!! Ok, that’s a joke and I am preparing myself for lower expectations (and that is ok, by the way) but we keep dreaming for one more race at least.
Hey, look it (I am so Irish these days) Bay of Freedom has already achieved more than I ever expected and has given me such incredible excitement and dreams that whatever happens it is all perfectly fine. I am so lucky to be having this experience and I will continue to enjoy every moment wherever those moments take us.