Five Cheltenham Festival Takeaways

It was, as it always is, a stirring whirlwind of happenings. Stories - fairytales, plots, sub-plots, familiar formulas - were more prevalent than a rap battle between Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allan Poe. This was the good stuff. Mostly.

Below are five Cheltenham Festival sub-plots that caught my attention...


Mullins,Willie 173161

Willie and Ruby: an unstoppable force in Grade 1's

1. Wullie is #1, Ruby is his #1. Bet their #1

Whichever way you look at things - be it from a sporting or betting perspective - Willie Mullins casts the longest shadow across proceedings. In the last five Cheltenham Festivals, Wullie has amassed 27 wins, the equivalent of winning every single race at the 2015 Festival. That figure represents 20% of all Festival races in that time, and is one more than Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls have mustered between them in the same timeframe.

In 2012, Mullins scored a respectable trio of victories at Cheltenham's hallowed March meeting; in 2013 it was five Wullie winners; and 2014's record shows four triumphs for Team Closutton. But it is the last two seasons - where the yard has notched eight and then seven scores - that implies a near Mullins monopoly.

From a betting perspective there is much to be gleaned. Ostensibly a 2016 record of 7 from 61, and a loss of £41.85 to £1 level stakes looks like car crash wagering territory. But this is a mise en abyme, a story within a story, and one where right (punters) defeats wrong (bookies) in the most classical sense.

One jockey has ridden 19 of Mullins' 27 Festival winners in the last five years. And he rarely chooses the wrong one. In fact, Ruby Walsh has an almost unblemished record in sitting on the right horse: the eight Wullie winners without Walsh were as follows:

Sir Des Champs, Don Poli x 2 (Gigginstown retained riders)

Back In Focus, Killultagh Vic (amateur or conditional riders' race)

Glens Melody (Ruby fell at the last on Annie Power)

Wicklow Brave (handicap, Ruby 4th)

Champagne Fever (Champion Bumper, Ruby 3rd)

In other words, in the last five seasons, but for a last gasp tumble, the only times Ruby has failed to win when a Wullie horse he was eligible to ride has won, was in the County Hurdle and the Champion Bumper - where he finished placed on both occasions, at 14/1 and 12/1 respectively.

If you'd backed Ruby for Wullie in Grade 1's you'd have won 15 from 48, for a level stakes profit of £20.02 at SP. That owes everything to the 25/1 victory of Briar Hill in the 2013 Champion Bumper, however.

Here's another way of looking at Willie's dominance. He is a trainer with a lot of Grade 1 horses: he actually ran seven in the Albert Bartlett! For all that volume, there is a clear hierarchy and it tends to be well understood by Mullins and his team.

So much so that, excluding the Champion Bumper and Annie P's last flight fluff, the last time Wullie won a Cheltenham Festival non-handicap with a horse not his market first choice was Rule Supreme... in 2004! Rule Supreme was a 25/1 shot when he won, beating his marginally better fancied 20/1 stable mate!!

This is a team who have most of the best cards, and know how to play them. It is also a team who will split their best pairs - as with Yorkhill and Vautour both re-routing late in the day last week. Second guessing the Mullins operation ahead of the day is a mug's game; likewise betting against their first choice in non-handicaps, the Bumper aside.


Gordon Elliott: Handicap King

2. Phil Smith hates Gordon Elliott!

Not personally, of course, but the ongoing professional battle between the pair is another compelling story within a story at the Festival. It is Phil Smith's job, as head of the official handicapping team, to give all horses in each race a notionally equal chance of winning. This is as impossible as it sounds, and the task is rendered still more impossible (were gradations of absolutes, erm, possible) by the fact that a large raiding party of horses are not handicapped under his team's jurisdiction.

The Irish squad is handicapped for Irish races by Noel O'Brien, Smith's oppo, and his team. However, Smith and co. have license to adjust the ratings of their Irish colleagues as they see fit. Clearly this is somewhat of a balancing act: on the one hand their duty is to give all horses in the Festival races a fair chance, on the other they have to manage a relationship with their handicapping peer group.

So it was that, as Tony Keenan reported here, Smith whacked the Elliott handicap squad with increased ratings, and therefore weight, burdens. For all of the trash talk regarding Diamond King's rating, the fact is he didn't just win the Coral Cup, a 26 runner (normally) ultra-competitive handicap hurdle, he - excuse me - pissed up.

Diamond King had a rating of 149, five pounds above his Irish perch of 144. That has now been elevated most of a stone by O'Brien to 157.

But that was as nothing to the victory of Elliott's Cause Of Causes, in the Kim Muir. Rated 146 when winning the (non-handicap) National Hunt Chase at last year's Festival, he was in here off 142, two pounds higher than his Irish mark of 140. He won by twelve lengths, the biggest winning distance of the entire Festival, having been hunted in last of the 22 runners for much of the race. He was so far the best that he could have been rated 160 and probably still won (except of course that it's a 0-145 race, and one which Mr Smith personally handicaps. How he must wish he'd given him 146 and had done with it!).

Elliott's team performed with staggering aplomb - we haven't even mentioned his Don Cossack winning the Gold Cup comfortably, nor shall we in this piece - and from 19 runners, he managed a form string of 44F413F440612197090.

Three winners, ten finishing in the first four. That is remarkable. Elliott is the coming man, a fact that seems yet to be fully reflected in the market. His trio of victories were worth a profit across the 19 runners, while focusing on those best fancied - 12/1 or shorter - gave a three from ten win rate, one more placed, and a profit of £11.75 to a £1 stake.

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Yup, I think it's certainly fair to say that Smith - who had a bit of a Festival shocker* with his other chase, the Ultima Business Solutions, where the first two home, both handicap plots, were seven and nine lengths too good for the rest - retains a professional loathing for Gordon Elliott!

*In fairness to Smith, Festival handicaps are akin to a burglars' convention and he has clear parameters within which to operate. They don't adequately cope with the likes of Un Temps Pour Tout, The Holywell or, to a lesser extent, the Irish raiders.

**As a footnote, it is worth noting that while British-trained handicappers took six of the ten 'caps, they did so from 183 runners (3.28% strike rate). 27 won or placed, 14.75% place rate. The Irish claimed four handicap wins from 50 runners, an 8% hit rate (13 won or placed, 26%). There is a fairly strong case for being even harsher on Irish handicappers next season.


3. Too many horses died

While some will disagree, it is easy to sympathise with the view that one horse death is too many. There can be few who fail to concur that seven fatalities is far too many.

Probably the most remarkable aspect of that figure is that four of the seven were injured, leading to death, on the flat. Put another way, a minority of the fatalities were caused by falls.

Without wishing to second guess anything in such a sensitive and important area as equine welfare, it would be remiss not to mention that a course record was broken on day one, a day when the going was officially good to soft, soft in places.

Regardless of new methods of timing the races or new positions of the flights, there seems a fundamental disconnect between the reported going and the race times. That this is nothing new has been a source of wry and/or knowing smiles in the professional fraternity since forever. Generally it is an irritatingly predictable sideshow before racing commences on the opening day, and a true gauge of the firmness of the turf can be established from the Supreme race time.

But this year, it is possible that the clerk of the course's 'poetic license' with regards to official going statements has been a factor in the loss of those chaps who broke down on the level last week. It is for others to decide that. However, after the Zabana starting farce whitewash, expect public declarations of support - and hope for a private 'drains up' leading to improvements.

Irrespective of whether or not there was a disparity between the official going and actual state of the turf, the responsibility is not solely with the clerk of the course. Whilst it makes it more difficult for trainers to recommend to their owners to withdraw horses when the official going doesn't hint at a problem, each handler should have walked the course daily when they have runners and made the right decision on that basis.

Of course, that won't stop all injuries, but it might have prevented some. At the end of the day, horse racing - and National Hunt racing in particular - is a dangerous sport with inherent risk to all participants. But that risk needs to be managed, by owners, trainers, jockeys and, fundamentally, ground staff.

Jenny Hall, Chief Veterinary Officer for BHA, has her work cut out to understand why this happened. And if the state of the track is a factor, there should be no shirking with regards to making sure it doesn't happen again. In this context, it should be remembered that two similar 'on the level' fatalities were incurred in the 2012 Cross Country Chase when that track was acknowledged as being firm, with no ability to water the turf there. (I still miss my old mate, Spot Thedifference).

Let us hope that the investigation is strongly led, with open and candid co-operation from all parties, and that recommendations are implemented promptly.


Victoria P before the big Festival gig...

Victoria P before the big Festival gig...

4. Go Pendo!

The very fact that Victoria Pendleton's on/off affair with the Foxhunters' Chase had been so divisive within racing nodded unequivocally to its PR value to the sport. Indeed, taking into account the seven equine fatalities, it could be argued that it saved Cheltenham Festival 2016 from being dragged through the mainstream media mire.

I must first confess to not having been a fan of the Pendleton show. Actually, that's not quite true: initially I thought it was a great idea. But, between then and last week, I changed my mind, worried that VP might be involved in some frightful pile up with the inevitable front page bad news that racing only ever seems to get.

Her tumble at Fakenham - some said her foot was knocked from the stirrup, others that she ought to have stayed aboard - seemed to confirm that a 24 runner amateur riders' race over Cheltenham's feared fences was a challenge too far.

In truth, it has been a high stakes PR exercise, the bookies making it something of an 'each of two' scenario that Pendleton would or would not complete the course.

But, in the manner of the refreshing current fortunes of the sport, it was a high stakes gamble that paid off. Pendo, aboard an expert horse - albeit one known to not quite see out this exacting stamina test - rode the perfect waiting ride. For those who suggest she might have won, they may be right; but that needs to recognize that horses running over trips for which they have questionable stamina are "ridden like non-stayers" every day of the week.

In the context of this race - for amateurs, all of whom had more experience than Pendleton, but probably only two had more professionalism - she rode a blinder. I was reminded of Aidan Coleman's quote on the subject, when he said,

"There’ll be at least 10 worse riders than her in the field. Definitely."

Well, he wasn't wrong. Pendo was paid a lot of money to do this, and she applied herself with a dedication that few in her corinthian peer group could match - she is, after all, a multiple Olympic gold medallist.

But the thing that wins you over - at least, the thing that won me over - is her eloquence in front of the camera. Her unbridled enthusiasm for the sport. Her ability to take something 'we know' and transmit its appeal to the wider world in a way that racing insiders simply cannot do, for lack of gravitas, lack of public appeal, and, frankly, lack of concern.

Fair play to Betfair; fair play to Paul Nicholls, Andy Stewart and, especially to Lawney and Alan Hill. But, most of all, fair play to VP. She couldn't have played it any better, throughout, in terms of a classic riches-to-rags-to-riches narrative, the kind on which we've been nourished since the dawn of storytelling.

The knives were out for her on Friday but, three days after the Ides of March, Pendleton rode fearlessly into fifth place. Here's hoping she pushes on with her pointing career, and maybe rides in this race again next season. It will be very hard to top what she achieved here.


Cheltenham Festival: THE Greatest Show on Turf

Cheltenham Festival: THE Greatest Show on Turf

5. Cheltenham IS the Greatest Show on Turf

From the moment the tapes rose on Altior's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and that famous raucous roar...

Through Min's bursting bubble; Douvan's demolition derby; some Annie-Mull magic; and Mags' vroom vroom...

Through Yorkhill's glorious diversion; the heroics of No More Heroes and a (Blak)lion's bite; and the unforgettable Sprinter's stupendous time machine...

Through Vautour's vindication; and the magnificence of a Dorset dairy farmer's Thistlecracker...

To 'Russian Friday', Ivanovich Gorbatov and the Don, Cossack...

At every turn, class abounded. The facilities, newly opened earlier this season and heaving with record numbers of racegoers, matched the quality of the action.

In spite of an itch - the sort somewhere in the middle of the shoulder that can't quite be scratched either under- or over-arm - about the overshadowing of almost all that comes before in the National Hunt season, it is hard to shake the perception that this, truly, is the perfect closing chapter.

Regardless of the epilogues and spin off series at Aintree and Punchestown, Cheltenham in middle March is the ultimate convergence of form lines and plot lines. It is a final act in 28 parts, infectiously pleasurable with or without favour from the punting gods.

How to choose a single highlight? Very difficult. Very, very difficult.

For me, it's a coin toss between the old and new: Sprinter Sacre rolling past softened rivals warmed every sinew, but Thistlecracker's (yes, I know that's not his name, but I can't call him anything else) utter deconstruction of a credible World Hurdle field by wide margins in a race where plenty threw a punch and all were left sat on the canvass... well, that was really something wasn't it?

Bloody marvelous!


p.s. what were your highlights of the week? Betting wise? Sports wise? Any thoughts on VP? Leave a comment and get it off your chest 😉

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27 replies
  1. Josh Wright says:

    Ah the perfect post-Cheltenham tonic. An incredible week and the only complaint is that it went too quickly, as it always does.
    Sprinter was the highlight for me for reasons that don’t need repeating.
    I will never try and second guess Elliot again in a handicap and the starting point will be that it’s mark wont stop it! Nicholls’ continued his ‘dominance’ in handicap hurdles, with the same profile of horse – essentially those with 0-1 wins in handicaps – a gold mine. 7/1 and 20/1>14/1 winners this year,adding to his 14/1 and 25/1 winners last year. Oh and his had his first chase winner, in handicap company, for quite some time I think, maybe he can build on that next year. Also looks like Dan Skelton is a chip of the old block and I am intrigued to see if the ‘one run before Christmas,put away’ is a strategy he will use in future time and time again. Most of his ran really well.
    Davy Russell deserves a mention – not sure on his formline again this year, but impressiv. Anything he is on is worthy of close inspection – I was guilty of ignoring him a bit this year.
    I mainly focused on the Handicaps, I just can’t resist, and thankfully two winners ensured I just about survived! (7/1-20/1)
    Finally – Pendo – she used to be a member of my cycling club back home and used to watch her race plenty when she was growing up – its a good job for her medal cabinet that she didnt discover horses sooner! I don’t think we can underestimate the impact she may have on the sport, especially bringing in a new audience and making people aware of the sport – I doubt you will find many better ambassadors that are ‘outsiders’ and I wonder if ITV will be considering an approach in some format. It is clear she loves the animals first and foremost, and that can only be a positive for the image of the sport etc. She will be around for years to come, riding etc
    A great week, roll on Aintree, some fun on the Flat and then it will be time to do it all again!

    • Dave says:

      Davy Russell??? Did you not see him ride Don Poli? At a dull Tuesday at Stratford he would have been grilled by the stewards ? Did you not see his ride Fagan ? At one point he was motionless when others were going for home and gave the horse far too much to do? Both races riding to place imo?Yes even at Cheltenham. At Downpatrick yesterday he rode the ears off a gambled on horse and won. You could never really be convinced he was on a going day?

      • Matt Bisogno says:

        I’d never suggest Russell (or any jockey) was riding for a place at Cheltenham. I felt the ride on Don Poli was because the horse was outpaced, and the ride on Fagan was a misjudgement. I backed both. Was frustrated by the Fagan one because I think he probably should have won. I never thought that about Don Poli.

        All that said, Russell knows better than most how far it is home at Cheltenham, as he showed with a fairly similar ride on Diamond King.

        Just opinions, nobody can be right or wrong on these things…


        • pancake says:

          I’d be shocked if not every jockey didn’t want a winner at Cheltenham, and Russell is a great jockey in my opinion and I’m saying that after backing just the ones he lost on. As for Fagans run, i think if you look at the race again he wasn’t closing within the last 100yards and one could argue that he was able to finish well because Russell was trying to conserve his energy so he could close at the finish. So I don’t think he would have won and Don Poli just wasn’t good enough, just my opinion of course.

          • Matt Bisogno says:

            Perfectly fair, pancake, and probably true about Fagan run flattening out as well. It was a great effort from a 33/1 shot in any case.

      • Josh Wright says:

        Did you not see his two winning rides in two of the most competitive handicap hurdles of the year??? 🙂 all a game of opinions. He is a great judge of pace normally at the meeting, hence I suspect why he gets so many to finish of their races – the Jamie Spencer of the jumping game maybe – sometimes he gets it wrong etc, but I wish I hand’t ignored his rides in the handicaps. Don Poli – well I was on him – and agree, i would have liked to see him more active a bit earlier, but I don’t think he had the pace to get close, and they didn’t come back. I would suggest Russell would have quite like to win a Gold Cup again! His record at Cheltenham is impressive, clearly he doesn’t get them all right.

  2. hillsy945 says:

    Douvan’s performance, whilst beating a fairly mediocre field – oozed of class and friends of mine who rarely watch racing were totally drawn in by his dominance and slick jumping. Sprinter Sacre’s return to the festival winners enclosure brought a tear to my eye but that aside, my week was one of frustration (from a punting perspective). Focusing on the handicaps, I had some sizable bets on If In Doubt, Long House Hall, Romain De Senam and Dandridge and was left to ponder what might have been with a little more luck.

  3. SAMUEL CARSON says:

    Re the fatalities. Just how much did watering play a part ? Was I alone in noting a number of horses taking a false step, indicative of false ground ?
    Graeme Cunningham really annoyed me re VP. He stated that it would be good if she returned next year under her own steam without the help of Betfair etc. I have never heard him make similar comments re Mr Fergusons Bloomfields operation or the fact that his son was their amateur jockey and now surprise surprise has a position within Godolphin. He then on Saturday expressed his surprise at the interest in VP, honestly no awareness at all outside of his nice cosy racing world.

  4. phill says:

    For the first time in 42 years I made a profit on every day for 4 days -sad to see so many horses break down, and I agree with you (again) about the going.
    Shouting too loudly at the TV when monster sacre hove alongside, and went in front.
    VP just missing out on that 4th place for a fair few quid, but what a great race she rode.
    Being thankful I didnt have a shotgun handy when the starter made a right horlicks of THAT race
    Glad I wasnt there when I saw the guiness village so full, it looked impossible to move.
    And my tip to everyone for 6 months- thistlecrack my bet of the meeting won very nicely.
    Sad to think its 361 days until the next exciting 4 days-nothing like it on the planet, and my work collegues cant see what the fuss is about cheltenham- dopes !!
    As shankly said about football -its more important than death- I feel the same way about march and cheltenham

  5. Ray says:

    Why do you keep referring to Willie Mullins as Wullie. Its a bit condensending to be honest and if I had not followed your blog for so many years I would think there was something anti-Irish about it.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      It’s a composite of Willie and Mullins, Ray, and is not intended to be even remotely condescending. Rather, it is a pet name, one of many I have for various trainers. I’ve been surprised that it has evoked such strong feelings, to be honest. It’s just a bit of fun. As for anti-Irish, given that my partner is Irish, that’s just plain daft, old boy. 😉


        • Matt Bisogno says:

          I’ve been called worse, Ray, most days! And no, I don’t mind at all, though Mitt might be more appropriate given that I was supplanting a vowel from mUllins into wIllie. I simply find it very hard to get offended by such trifles. Still quite surprised that, as a long-standing reader, you failed to see the inoffensive nature of the post. If anything, the only intonation is one of reverence for WPM’s consistent performance and awareness of his equine pecking order.

          Please, can I now politely request you defer from making assertion/accusation on my behalf? (Thank you)


  6. Jaosn Fuller says:

    Highlights… crikey where to start Matt!

    Calling the forecasts on Yorkhill & Yanworth, Altior & Min, Sprinter Sacre & Un De Sceaux were all enjoyable and good for the coffers – couldn’t separate the fellas so RFC’s all 3 races.

    The only downside was I launched into UDS – however, as he was beaten by my old favourite it was probably the only time I didn’t mind losing a bet (the RF took away some of the pain)…

  7. dolphin68 says:

    This is a question….and I’d be interested to know what you think Matt and other Geegeez subscribers too. Is Cheltenham turning into NH’s equivalent of the Premier league?

    Simply looking at three out of the top five trainers at this year’s festival (Mullins, Nicholls and Henderson) in some races they had multiple entries.

    Gold Cup (Mullins three entries)
    Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Mullins and Nicholls three entries apiece)
    Coral Cup (Mullins four and Henderson three entries)

    A smaller scale trainer who may have worked all year to get a horse into one of these races may have been denied their chance? Can racing survive if all the top races are to be ‘run’ by three of four top trainers? What are the ways forward?


    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Martin

      It’s an interesting question. Better examples might have been the Triumph Hurdle, where eleven of the 14 runners came from three stables (Nicholls ran five) and the Albert Bartlett, where Willie (mustn’t call him Wullie for fear of upsetting people!) ran seven.

      In the case of the Triumph Hurdle, the race could have accommodated more runners but these were the only entries. In both cases, there is a broad spread of official ratings, and that’s the key. Those other trainers’ horses are generally not good enough, a situation which hasn’t changed in recent times. There is a clear meritocracy in play, meaning horses that are good enough get a run, regardless of who trains them. It just so happens that certain trainers have more of the better horses.

      This is not a new phenomenon – remember when Martin Pipe was hoovering up, or when Michael Dickinson saddled the first five home in the Gold Cup.

      So I’d be of the opinion that it isn’t broken and therefore doesn’t need fixing. That said, I do think five and seven entries – most of whom ran predictably disappointingly (four of Mullins seven didn’t finish, none ran better than 7th; none of Nicholls’ five ran better than 6th) – is a bit silly.


      • dolphin68 says:

        Cheers for the reply….thought provoking as ever. Wonder what Wullie would think -;)



  8. James Cross says:

    Obviously the performances of Douvan, Vautour, Thistlecrack, Limini, Annie Power, Don Cossack, Altior and Sprinter Sacre were a joy to behold but my personal highlight was Any Currency winning the cross country and the delight of the Keighley family at finally getting a Festival winner aftet a few near things. Their reactions as the race was drawing to a close and the unbridled joy when the old boy held on are what the game should be all about.

  9. cyril cooke says:

    I went on Thursday but was trying to buy a drink as Thistlecrack came round the final bend so watched it in the Vestey Bar in the new stand. Next year they need more bar staff everywhere, 15-20 minutes is too long. Forget that Sprinter Sacre was fantastic, so was Altior, My Tent or Yours, Sternrubin, UnowhatImeanharry and On the Fringe. As a cycling fan as well as National Hunt I was apprehensive for VP, but was pleased for her efforts as I thought in a large field she may run into trouble, she did extremely well for a newcomer, I couldn’t or wouldn’t try it as much as I love racing. Keep up the good work.

  10. Hugh says:

    Hi Matt, for me it was the roof raising return of Sprinter Sacre. I am a lachrymose character at the best of times and that got me reaching for the hanky. Have you seen the gif of the finish that Camilla Hendo has put together with to the tune of The Impossible Dream? All credit to Simon Holt for a superb commentary too.

    On the subject of affectionate names for trainers, my racing buddies have a few stock phrases we shout at the TV on the appearance of:
    Wullie – “That would be an ecumenical matter Ted”
    Paul Nichols – “Pound of sausages please” He does look like the family butcher. Dan Skelton as understudy.
    DS David Pipe – “Move along, move along, nothing to see here”

  11. rick brind says:

    Brilliant Cheltenham as always even better this year for me given I started the Festival with Altior at 5/1
    giving me a £100 and doubling my bank for the week. With Douvan, Annie and VVMag in a little trixie not a bad start. Wed brought more with Yorkhill, Blacklion, Ballyandy and the amazing Sprinter doing the buisness. Thursday Ruby Ruby Ruby and The Cracker made a nice Yankee. Final day 1st and 2nd in the Albert Bartlett reeeeesult ! All good things come to an end though as did Cue Card’s chance in the Gold Cup. Doh! Hey pretty good Festval though I certainly won’t be needing the food bank or a new shirt for sometime.
    Couldn’t of done it without GeeGeez thanks Matt keep up the good work.

  12. Tony says:

    Went on the Tuesday in the Best Mate end as usual. Plenty of people but well staffed and less than five mins for a beer. We always watch the racing in front of the big screen facing the main stand so see all the horses just after the winning post with the jocks being interviewed by Alice. Not bad for £25. Altior was all the rage at the Donny preview night and was a very impressive winner and a good start for me although it ended up being the highlight. The crack being my only other winner at enhanced odds of 11/8. With the bookies concessions (Sky Bet money back on first race in particular) not too much damage was done amazingly. Emotional highlights were obviously the Sprinter plus my old fav the Tent! What a performance from horse and trainer. Interesting read of Segals post where he says his methods were redundant, 16/1 biggest winner all week and with the layers falling over themselves to offer the best prices and get your business the value was actually at the front end of the market. Thoughts?

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Absolutely agree with Tom Segal that it was a desert for bigger price value punters. That said there was oodles of value at the top of the market for smaller players, courtesy of the mass of concessions.

      Glad you had a great time, and agree with all of your highlights.

  13. donn says:

    “There is a fairly strong case for being even harsher on Irish handicappers next season”.WALOFS
    what percentage of conditions races were Won by Irish raiders which are free from Phil Smiths Embargo? exactly STFU.

  14. Tim Spring says:

    Thanks for your report on the festival, Matt. All your posts are interesting – as are your guests – and add much colour to the game we love. I appreciate them all.

    With your permission, I should like to make a comment on another incident during recent days at Kelso, We now know that Sam Waley-Cohen ran his horse, a previous Gold Cup Champion, Long Run in an amateur Hunter Chase to assess his ability about any future contests – which was made quite clear prior to the race so that punters were aware. Nevertheless, they backed Long Run down to 1/2.
    The horse went well but ran out of steam after the last fence and Sam W-C could have pulled him up even at that late stage, but instead he allowed Long Run to run on at his own reducing speed before realising that others were fast closing so he rallied Long Run in an effort to make the line for third, but failed by finishing in fifth place.
    The stewards took the view that he should not have stopped riding for a dozen strides but kept up his effort to the line ” to obtain the best possible placing”. Despite his explanation, they handed Sam W-C a 7 day race ban.
    My main point about all this concerns the reason why any ban is issued for this offence of non-triers. There are several very proper reasons…Owners’ prize money being among them. Another is because punters have money riding on the result and may lose their money too….a serious matter in itself.
    However, with respect to this particular race, the rider and trainer are also the owners of the horse so they were not the least concerned about the sum of third place prize money, something around £250….which is obviously their privilege.
    Then the punters’ interest – anyone who backed him at odds-on will scarcely have bet him each-way so they wouldn’t complain when he has lost them first place anyway. Place bet returns would not have paid their bus fare home.
    Then the argument about Long Run’s long term well-being. Sam W-C explained that he felt he was tiring so much that, out of concern for his horse, he eased up in the closing stages. He was solely concerned about that than any consideration for the prize money. As he was himself the owner and did not care then why should anyone else?
    The Stewards, obviously justified by the necessary Rule in the Book, gave him the ban anyway., So that’s alright then. Justice done.
    Or is it?
    I believe this points out the lack of true understanding of the what took place.
    The rider could have simply pulled him up and walked over the line. Nothing could be said and we would not have even heard about it.
    Instead he allowed Long Run to continue the last furlong at his own pace to complete the course as he wished. But, this is interpreted as “non-trying” and so must be punished.
    With every respect for the necessary rulebook, surely the salient point here concerns the horse and the best outcome was that Long Run came home sound. Having shown he has done enough he has now been retired in good order to enjoy life as he thoroughly deserves.
    But, what if he had been ridden out to the finish to make third place but had then collapsed, what would have been said then?
    Along with everyone’s expressed shock and grief and handwringing, the stewards would have issued their condolences with the rest of us.
    But any regrets, in hindsight, about their decision to enforce the rule book? I doubt it.

    Does anyone remember the first lady jockey to actually complete the Grand National back in 1982? Geraldine Rees was backed to complete the course on Cheers to win considerable sums.
    The result is that Cheers came in last to finish by faltering over the line. The rider received great applause. Not long afterwards the horse subsequently collapsed and died.
    I expect my view may be criticised but I do believe that in the game we all love the mainstay of it all is what concerns me most – the horse.
    I shall be interested in any views on this.

    • Chris Worrall says:

      Racing is full of opinions, but mine doesn’t stray too far from the above.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      I have to say that while not having a strong opinion, I deviate towards disagreeing. SWC knows the rules. There was no issue with the horse when he was checked after the race by stewards. SWC is a VERY experienced and accomplished amateur jockey. He knows the rules. He didn’t follow the rules, for no apparent good reason (regardless of what he said afterwards).

      The sport is run largely for punters – on the basis that they pay for it – and all horsemen have a duty of care to both the horses and punters. It strikes me in this case that the jockey is deflecting attention from himself by pulling a public heartstring. After all, steward bashing is all the rage, right?

      In point to points, horses get eased and pulled up at a MUCH higher rate than under Rules. A Hunter Chase is a race run under Rules, so SWC had two options – pull up or ride for the best possible placing. To do neither is in clear and obvious breach of the rules. SWC knows the rules. If he was genuinely worried about the welfare of the horse, he’d have pulled up.

      OK, so it turns out I did have a fairly strong opinion! (Note, no more right or qualified than yours, just different!)


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