18 OCTOBER 1997, Page 79

The turf

Heavy weather

Robin Oakley

Both politics and racing have their sea- sons. En route from the new caring, sharing Conservative party to the most enticing Sport I could find on Saturday, I was reminded of the right-winger who com- plained a few years ago of a colleague espousing the views now coming into Tory vogue: 'He was so wet you could shoot snipe off him.' Now these sorts of Tories are, it seems, to be corralled in a political Jurassic Park while the new wave of aro- Matherapy Conservatives seek to reconnect themselves with the outside world by mas- saging the public conscience. At Ascot, too, it was season's end. It was ii. ot just wet. It was drenched, sodden, soak- mg, seeping-up-your-trouser-legs, why didn't I bring the wellies? weather, the kind Which sorts wind-hardened jumping men from the summer quiche-eaters and their equine whippet-racing. The only trouble Was that the racecard was not full of N, _lnholsons and Maguires, of Pipes and l'4nCoys, of Pitmans and Williamsons but of Ceells and Fallons, Gosdens and Dettoris, Coles and Quinns. It was still flat racing. In normal circumstances the search for Winners might have concentrated on such ,questions as 'Who's putting Fallon up while ne is still red hot?' and 'What's Peslier Tule over from France to ride this Satur- 'tar One would have filtered the memory °f how Mark Johnston's fast filly Land of Dreams had beaten a good field for the Flying Childers at Doncaster and checked the books to see which tough old handicap- per was back to the mark on which he used to win. But with the conditions so dire it seemed time to pay attention to Phil Bull's dictum that there is no factor so crucial in affecting a horse's performance as the going. As the ground deteriorated from soft to heavy to strictly agricultural, I combed through the form book for horses which had won on soft or heavy ground and allowed nothing else on my shortlists.

In the first, a Listed mile race for two- year-olds, there was little to go on and so I abstained. I was much impressed, however, both with Henry Cecil's remarkably unsplattered canary yellow socks and the way in which his Dr Pong performed on ground which Kieren Fallon said he hated and wore down Equity Princess. 'Potential- ly quite nice,' was all Cecil allowed himself but the jockey was truly enthusiastic. Cecil reserved his praise, we noted, for the work Daggers Drawn has been doing in his preparation for Saturday's Dewhurst. In the second race, the Willmott Dixon Cornwallis Stakes, there were three which had won on the soft: Banningham Blade, Bold Edge and Lady Alexander. On the grounds that Banningham Blade had had a hard season I went for the other two. But the race went to Ian Balding's Halmahera, who provided Martin Dwyer with his first Group win. He had won twice on 'good to soft' and what the form books can't tell you is how a horse which has never run on heavy ground will cope the first time. Bald- ing revealed afterwards that they'd been sure he would. He looks a top-class sprint- ing prospect for next season after the way he quickened on this ground.

In the Group 3 Princess Royal Stakes Reine Wells had won on the heavy and Delilah and Snow Princess on the soft. The racecard opined that Delilah 'acts on heavy ground'. I went for Reine Wells and Olivier Peslier brought Delilah in with a long smooth run to take the race by three lengths. Supporting evidence for the theory if not for my pocket.

In the next, a five-furlong handicap, Sur- prise Mission had won on heavy ground and three of them, Rudi's Pet, Gone Sav- age and Daneethenightaway, had won on the soft. The Ramsden horses having been quiet lately, I split my wager between Rudi's Pet, whom I knew was fancied by connections, and Dancethenightaway, who had won at Chester, where soft really does mean soft. John Reid brought Dancethe- nightaway home by a neck from Ansellinan at 20-1, and suddenly it didn't seem such a wet afternoon. Theory confirmed, thank you, Phil Bull. Dancethenightaway's canny trainer Brian Meehan was well pleased.

In the Financial Dynamics Stakes my financial dynamics took a turn for the worse as I plunged rather too heavily on Wilcuma, the only horse with winning form on the heavy. But the theory stayed afloat with Alezal and Cugina, two of the four who had won on the soft, coming home first and second. And in the sixth race, with only five runners, I did a forecast on the only two with soft-ground winning form, Barry Hills's La Faah, the 7-4 favourite, and the 10-1 Batswing, who duly obliged.

By now, with the rain still coming in from every angle and fewer punters on the out- side of the parade ring than there were trainers and jockeys inside it, I decided to beat a retreat. But there was time for one final test of the theory. Q Factor had won no less than four times on the soft. So I pocketed my expenses and enough for a drink on the way back and put the rest of the winnings on the nose at 7-1. Only to find when I got home that Q Factor had been beaten two lengths by the tempera- mental Rock Falcon.

Anyway, soon we will be back into that jumping game. And just to remind you of the flavour of what is to come, I heard tell this week of a trainer helping to attend his concussed stable jockey. 'He doesn't know who he is,' said the worried medic. 'In that case,' said the trainer, 'try telling him he's Lester effing Piggott. Then maybe the stupid bugger will do something right.'

Robin Oakley is political editor of the BBC.