Thursday, May 23, 2013

Royal Ascot 2013

Royal Ascot

By Stephen Dwyer

Situated just six miles from Windsor Castle, a royal residence for over nine centuries, Ascot racecourse had had regal connections since it was founded by Queen Anne in 1711. The five day Royal Ascot meeting staged each summer attracts over 300,000 visitors and has long been a highlight of the racing calendar. It is considered among the most important and prestigious flat meetings throughout the world. 

Beginning on Tuesday 18th June with a Royal Procession, the Queen’s horse-drawn carriage will rumble down the centre of the racetrack to commence proceedings. Ascot is now the United Kingdom’s only remaining racecourse that is still owned by the Crown. From an industry perspective, Royal Ascot turnover is on the increase and Spokesperson for William Hill Lucy Rhodes reveals "Royal Ascot is the biggest week in Flat racing, and with the British public revelling in royal raptures, we're looking forward to a busy five days.”. Interestingly, William Hill have been offering bets on the colour of the Queen's Hat at Ascot since 1973 and this is often the subject of national debate.

For the first time in its history, Royal Ascot will feature prize-money in excess of £5,000,000 in 2013. This represents a total increase in the total prize-money of £500,000 (an 11% increase from 2012). The racing on offer is highly impressive with sixteen Group races and at least one Group One event on each of the five days. Day One features The Queen Anne Stakes which was won in great style last year by Frankel. There was recent confirmation from connections that Animal Kingdom, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup will conclude his racing career in The Queen Anne. 

Winner of over $8.3 million in prize money, Animal Kingdom will race over the mile distance and the stiff test should play to his strengths. He is the current 3/1 favourite and sure to contract with the hype surrounding the horse although it will be his first time running in the UK. Aidan O’ Brien has a strong entry in the race with Declaration of War who was bred in Kentucky by Joseph Allen. Winner of five of his six races, Declaration of War comfortably won the Heritage Stakes at Leopardstown in May on his seasonal reappearance. Aidan O’ Brien has won The Queen Anne twice in the last seven seasons and boats a good record but Declaration of War might not be in the same class as Animal Kingdom.

The feature race of the day is The St James’s Palace Stakes which also features increased prize money this year. This race features the best male milers from the Classic generation and attracts horses that have run in the English, French and Irish 2,000 Guineas. Style Vendome, trained by Nicholas Clement is considering St James’s Palace as the most likely route after his recent win in the French 2000 Guineas. The other highlight of Day One is the King's Stand Stakes run over 5f which is part of the Global Sprint Challenge and has attracted more than its share of international winners.

The Prince of Wales's Stakes is among the feature races on Day two of Royal Ascot. Won by So You Think in 2012 it is the richest race at the Royal Ascot meeting and has a prize fund of £450,000. Among the list of entries include 1,000 Guineas and Irish and Epsom Derby winner Camelot. Described by Aidan O’ Brien as the best horse he has ever trained, Camelot underwent colic surgery over the winter and is has this race as his main seasonal target. Another horse who had surgery over the winter, this time for a chip on his ankle, Godolphin are all set to run Farhh who finished third in this race last year. Never out of the first three, Farhh is a very consistent sort and finished second in his last four runs in Group One races. It is sure to be an intriguing contest and supported on the day by The Windsor Forest Stakes, for older milers and The Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes, for the best up-and-coming two-year-old fillies.

The midpoint of Royal Ascot is on Thusday June 20th with the prestigious Gold Cup. This is run over the extended trip of 2 miles and 4 furlongs. The Gold Cup is the first leg of Britain's Stayers' Triple Crown, followed by the Goodwood Cup and the Doncaster Cup. It has been won many times by the same horse including Yeats, Royal Rebel, Ardross and Sagaro. Rite Of Passage trained by Dermot Weld heads the market at 6/1. He is a dual Ascot winner and handles any type of ground. Runaway winner of the Ormonde Stakes, Mount Athos also takes his chance in the Gold Cup for Luca Cumani as does Aiken for John Gosden. Although Rite Of Passage is a nine year old (the last 9 year old to win a Gold Cup was Beeswing in 1842) he did set a track record winning the 2010 Ascot Gold Cup and older horses can run well. Whether he can still stave off younger legs however, remains to be seen but it is a fascinating renewal.

Friday 21st June is midsummer and the feature race at Royal Ascot is the Coronation Stakes. This race traditionally brings together the leading three-year-old fillies in Europe. Also on the card is the King Edward VII Stakes, which was formerly known as the ‘Ascot Derby’, as its conditions mirror those of the Epsom Classic. The Sir Henry Cecil-trained Hot Snap was removed from the Oaks following a disappointing run in the 1,000 Guineas and is entered in the Coronation Stakes. She is a full sister to Midday and a former winner of the Nell Gwyn Stakes. Flotilla, a brilliant winner of the French 1,000 Guineas may also run in the race for trainer Mikel Delzangles. At Longchamp Flotilla defeated favourite Esoterique, getting up in the last few strides, with four lengths back to the third, she is an exciting prospect for her young trainer.
Concluding the 2013 Royal Ascot meeting is The Diamond Jubilee Stakes.   

As the second British leg of the Global Sprint Challenge, it is also UK’s joint most valuable sprint race, alongside the Darley July Cup at Newmarket. This is the last of the seven Group One races run at the meeting and was won last year by Black Caviar. Yet another name in the peerless roll of honour of Royal Ascot which is set to continue this June as the flat season reaches its pinnacle.

In Service Of Others

In Service Of Others

By Stephen Dwyer

Three hours before the start of the first race at this year’s Punchestown Festival, Dr. Adrian McGoldrick will drive through the racecourse gates. He will meet with all personnel including racecourse doctors, The Order of Malta Ambulance Corps, Turf Club officials, GardaĆ­ and racecourse management. The early arrival to Punchestown however is mainly to meet with Racecourse doctors, the Order of Malta under Nigel Kelly and groundsman Andy Coyle . Together with Coyle, they will inspect the track and meticulously plan the ambulance routes for all the races, in particular the cross country races. Due to the nature of the races and the large amount of runners taking part, no less than four doctors will tail the pack, the aim being to deal rapidly with any injuries sustained by riders falling.

Racecourse doctors at Punchestown and other tracks aim to tend to fallen riders, when necessary within sixty seconds of an incident occurring. This is an impressive time frame, second to few sports worldwide. It is as immediate a response time as possible and the doctors must make rapid assessments in ambulances travelling at speed . At times it may be necessary to leave a rider who has had a simple fall in order to keep up with the race in case of more serious injuries. This is no easy feat but when you are a racecourse medical officer, it is exactly what you do.

On New Year’s Eve 2008, Dr. Adrian McGoldrick, a native of Rathangan,Co. Kildare took over the reins as Turf Club Senior Medical Officer from the retiring Dr. Walter Halley, who had pioneered racecourse medical services in Ireland. The role is as diverse as it challenging and few areas of occupational medicine are involved in areas of such risk. It is a seven-year renewable contract and Dr. McGoldrick must spend at least seventy days per calendar year working on track where he will partake in any number of professional and advisory duties. These include meeting with Turf Club officials to check whether or not there are jockeys that need to be passed fit to race and other engagements such as checking the catering facilities in the weigh-room to see if the food is adequate for the jockeys.

In addition to his role with the Turf Club, Dr. McGoldrick is a  practising GP at Moorefield Medical near in Newbridge. Since graduating from UCD Medical School in 1976, Dr. McGoldrick has become one of Ireland’s most experienced sports medicine professionals.  Through the Turf Club Research Group which he co-ordinates jointly with Dr. Giles Warrington, Programme Chair of Sports Science at DCU, they have produced a wealth of peer reviewed medical journal articles and abstracts. His deep research is specifically focussed around the well-being of jockeys and his published reports include such topics as “Bone Mineral Density and Body Composition Characteristics of Top Level Jockeys” and “Acute Weight Loss Patterns By Professional Horse Racing Jockeys In Preparation For Racing”.

Dr. McGoldrick has a deep understanding of the physiological impact of being a professional jockey and explains his motives; “I was very concerned about the lifestyle jockeys were leading so I initiated  the research in an attempt to address it. Prior to our research, there was very little research being carried out but now we work closely with our counterparts in England, Australia and France who are involved in ongoing research projects."

As an example it is only in the recent times that issues such as hydration are being addressed as he explains; "We know from our research that the majority of jockeys are dehydrated on an ongoing basis, but more so during racing. At higher levels of dehydration we do see impairment in cognitive and physiological function. We are addressing this through dietary and exercise education and new approaches such as setting Minimum Riding Weights for Apprentices."

The area of weight too is a huge area for concern. Dr. McGoldrick reveals that “The issue of jockeys 'making weight' has been a matter of great concern to me and has perhaps been the most important factor in my becoming involved in research on racing. In 2004 I made a submission to the Turf Club Safety Review Committee based on the findings of my initial research. This, in turn, led to the establishment of the Turf Club Research Group and has been in existence for the last eight years.. Our research has shown that the vast majority of jockeys have restricted nutritional intake resulting in reduced bone density in up to 50% of them. . Apart from providing nutritional advice and advice on “making weight’ safely, we have been able to liaise with all stakeholders –The Turf Club, H.R.I., The Trainers Association and Jockeys Association, resulting in the minimum and median  riding weights being increased by several pounds in the last few years and  ensuring that the health of our jockeys is being consistently monitored and addressed."

 Given the nature of horse racing, there will be falls, but for the first time in a decade, fall rates are down. This is predominantly due to the weather and resulting soft ground. National Hunt jockeys will still fall on average in 5.5% of their races, rising to 15% in Point to Point riders with associated injuries.. The upside is that when accidents happen, riders are in safe hands. There is now a detailed concussion protocol in place, with baseline assessment of cognitive function before a jockey’s licence is issued. Following a concussion a rider is stood down until their cognitive function returns to their baseline level. The Jockey’s helmets standard, which have changed little  since 1996, is currently being re-written at European level, chaired by Mc Goldrick with a view to producing a higher standard of helmet which may also reduce concussions and work is on-going with organisations in Australia to introduce an improved standard of helmet  which will be available in Ireland when it is ready later this year.

Dr. McGoldrick also adds to that well-founded belief that jockeys have a higher tolerance for pain. “Part of my day job is an occupational physician assessing employees fitness to return to work. But with jockeys they want to get back to work literally the following day, the problem is to try and restrain their enthusiasm, it’s an addiction, they want to get straight back into the saddle again. Their pain threshold is unique to the rest of us, it is way beyond a normal human being"

A reflection of the dedicated and clean lifestyle that the professional jockey lives is reflected in the banned substance rates for 2012. During that year 164 riders were drug tested and just three samples were confirmed as positive. “Drink and drug testing is random but jockeys are elite athletes and rarely misure drugs. There is a very low uptake of drugs but if someone is found positive the Turf Club and I will fund provide  counselling services where neccessary.”. With respect to injured jockeys he would like to see  a centralised holistic rehabilitation centre  built in Ireland. A team headed by McGoldrick and Warrington visited Oaksey House in Lambourn prior to the recent injuries to JT Mc Namara and Jonjo Bright and saw the need for a co-ordinated approach to rehabilitating jockeys. He would like to see this built in Kildare, perhaps as a further development of R.A.C.E., due to its central location and which would provide a further range of services to jockeys and their families.

Perhaps the most ground-breaking plan for jockeys is the new  Jockey Pathway. The Pathway is in the final development stages through the Turf Club Research Group and R.A.C.E and aims to provide support and backup services to jockeys from the time they start their careers in pony racing into retirement. The proactive approach taken by Dr. McGoldrick and his medical team and counterparts truly does cover the entire racing sphere. It is entirely admirable and truly a case of dedicating oneself to the care and service of others. There can be no better calling.   

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