Watering should never taint the big event.
IN TESTING the hypothesis that excessive watering before Saturday's King George affected some of the runners, it is vital to examine the crux of the argument: excessive by what standard?
Clearly, the watering at Ascot was not excessive for the principals Golan and Nayef, two horses for whom considerable fears had been stated before the race that the going would be too firm. But connections of the disappointments Storming Home and Grandera have reason on their side in asserting that their horse's capability to handle seasonally firm conditions was nullified by human intervention.
On this point, it is important to stress that the winning times (which corresponded to good-to-firm going) are a complete irrelevance in judging the matter of whether the condition of the topsoil was satisfactory for true fast-ground horses. Any soil scientist would tell you that the effect of the going on the times comes largely from the position of the water table and the hardness of the subsoil, not merely from the state of its upper few inches.
The benefits of watering when undertaken sparingly are obvious. But what is the desired effect of using more generous quantities? What proof is there that the incidence of injury is less on a heavily dampened, inconsistent surface than one that is firm but true? For every runner who finishes lame on fast going, there may be another who suffers pulled muscles or pelvic problems by taking a false step on excessively watered ground that is loose on top but still just as unyielding underneath.
There is also the problem that considerable watering causes confusion over the safety of conditions. Connections of horses with a history of leg problems and an aversion to fast ground may just be tempted into running, only to find that the level of watering has been less than they had expected, and that the old injury recurs.
Uneven watering is responsible for many of Britain's track biases and for the unsatisfactory nature of straight-track races like Saturday's Tote International Handicap at Ascot, when at least half the field had no chance of winning before the stalls had opened. Please don't tell me that pace or track position had anything to do with this one.
IN THE case of the significant watering before the King George, the inescapable conclusion is that assuaging the fears of the connections of Sakhee and Aquarelliste - and thereby maintaining the prestige of the race - was influential in the decision to water at the rate that took place. After all, no little pressure had been exerted on the Ascot executive during the week by the public statements of the connections of these two horses.
The Jockey Club already has guidelines on watering in place that are intelligently conceived and employed by racecourses in the vast majority of situations, to the satisfaction of all concerned.
But when the likes of Storming Home's trainer Barry Hills and Grandera's jockey Frankie Dettori state their reservations about the fairness of the racing surface, it is time for the sport to remind itself that the level of watering - and the motives behind it - should never be allowed to taint the result of a championship race in the eyes of some of its main protagonists.
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Jul 29, 2002|
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