Clerks Of The Course and Darlan

I suppose after watching the news and seeing three feet of snowfall along the eastern seaboard of the United States it is rather churlish to begin complaining about the weather back here in the UK.

However I must confess I am beginning to get more than a little fed up with the ongoing weather we’re having this winter.

If it isn’t snowy and icy it’s persistent rain and even if the racing does survive the elements, the conditions are so testing the form book gets thrown out of the window.

Life is even more difficult for racings favourite whipping boys / girls, the Clerks Of The Course.

Sulekha Varma is Clerk at Huntingdon and Warwick and she would be forgiven thinking the weather Gods really have it in for her.

Having lost far too many meetings to the weather last year 2013 had started reasonably well but this week the weather twice caught her out. Racing at Huntingdon on Thursday looked to be fine until the temperatures decided to drop at the last minute forcing an unscheduled inspection at 10:00, which the course thankfully passed.

Two days later, at Warwick, Sulekha called a precautionary inspection for 10:00 due to a forecast of frost and fog. In the end neither materialised and the inspection was called off and racing given the go ahead.

Mother nature was only playing games though as within half an hour of the inspection being called off it began to snow. Initially it wasn’t a problem as the snow wasn’t settling but as time went on it began to settle. Again another impromptu inspection had to be called. Again luck was on Sulekha’s side and the meeting passed the inspection, with the caveat of there being no more significant precipitation as the ground was becoming saturated.

I know it is easy to criticise Clerks and let’s face it I’m one of the biggest critics of the rolling inspections, but they do have a difficult job at times.

As in all walks of life there are varying standards of Clerkship, some clerks you trust implicitly, a few have taken so many happy pills their optimism verges on the obsessive and their utterances are taken with a cellar full of salt.

I can think of one clerk who, even if the course was under three feet of water, would still manage to find one patch of “good” ground.

Sulkekha is definitely one of the clerks who falls into the first category so it’s a great sham she’s the one the weather Gods have chosen to play around with.

Any discussion about Clerks would be incomplete without giving a mention to Fakenham’s redoubtable David Hunter. His going reports are legendary amongst the racing media and have been known to include heartfelt pleas for the snow to go away, he’s even resorted to verse on occasion – at least with David you know even if the weather is going to win, there will be something in his going report to make you smile.


The unfortunate loss of Darlan at Doncaster on Monday has caused a great deal of debate, some of it frankly nauseating to the extent that some are blaming AP McCoy for the accident.

McCoy is a very driven jockey with a strong will to win, however he is also an excellent horseman and the finest judge of what he has underneath him.

Yes he can somehow get horses home to win when they “shouldn’t” but he also knows when a horse he is riding has no more to offer and when that point is reached he does stop pushing the horse.

Whilst the loss of Darlan was, of course, sad it has been almost forgotten two other horsespaid the ultimate price the same day.

Sadly losing horses is something which goes with this sport of ours and it doesn't, indeed shouldn't, ever get any easier, when it does happens.

If I ever reached a stage where I wasn't moved by an equine fatality, no matter how good or bad the horse, then I know it would be time to walk away from the sport.

Darlan has hit the headlines because he was a horse with great potential and we will now never know how great he would be.

It's human nature that we concentrate on the "high profile" casualties.

Hundreds of people die in car crashes every day across Europe, most barely get a mention in the local rag, but if a Princess is killed in a Parisian car crash it makes headlines round the world. Why? because of who she is - it does not mean any of the other deaths in car crashes are any less poignant or tragic.

In the same way when a high profile horse gets killed it hits the headlines more than one known only by its connections and a few punters.

I also don't think constantly looking for someone or something to blame is the answer. These things happen.

Darlan's loss was upsetting but, frankly, I was a lot more upset by the loss of Function Times at Catterick on the Friday before in what was simply a freak accident in a bumper - her leg went as they turned for home and that night, in bed, every time I shut my eyes I could still see her leg dangling as they waited for the vet to arrive.

One thing to bear in mind is horses can be killed by accidents anywhere. At Leicester the week before last, a runner broke down and had to be put to sleep.

I mentioned to the judge, Di Clarke, that was one side of the sport I really dislike but her reply was very sensible, she said, "at least at the racecourse the vet will be will be straight away. I had a horse break a leg at home and had to keep hold of it for 45 minutes before the vet arrived."



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