Social Discourse: 18th March 2019

It was a week that had everything, writes William Kedjanyi. The issue is that everything, as in other sport and indeed life, wasn’t always ‘good’; and for all the amazing memories that our champions gave us on the field, some will see only the negatives.

Here’s to reflecting on a Festival that had more highs and lows than Cheltenham’s racecourse itself, viewed below through the prism of twitter.

 

  1. The Week's Leading Lights....

Everyone will have their takeaways from the last week, but the group that made arguably the biggest lasting impact on the Festival? Women. 

This was a week which saw women riders claim four wins on the track; perhaps more importantly, there were three different winners, and two of the successes came at Grade 1 level, one in a Championship race.

Whilst many will focus upon Bryony Frost’s all the way win on Frodon, Rachael Blackmore – who has arguably had an even better season - was just as strong on Minella Indo, and Lizzie Kelly managed to time her fractions to perfection in the Festival Plate.

 

That wasn’t the only success, however, with Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park capping a season of domination at the top level with a fantastic Stayers' Hurdle victory too.

 

These victories are all wonderful, but what is even more encouraging is the variety they display: Blackmore kept things simple on the hugely well in A Plus Tard on Tuesday before then judging the right moment to strike again on Minella Indo; Frost managed to get Frodon to give everything from the front, and Kelly also had the same judgement skills in the Plate, as seen in a brilliant driving finish here.

 

Those three jockeys have now risen to the top of the game, and are here to stay; Henry De Bromhead and Paul Nicholls, and their owners, have been rewarded for giving quality horses to Blackmore and Frost whilst Kelly too remains very useful for the Williams' going forward.

There are plenty of female trainers at the highest level too, led by Jessica Harrington and Venetia Williams, even if they did not have Festival winners this week, and the future looks bright for those aforementioned. 

This is a boon for racing’s PR image at a time when it is much needed. Frost has broken through to some national media, and is universally adored, but there’s time still for Blackmore to reach said heights, and the quality of her riding continues to impress. She comes across wonderfully in TG4’s Jump Girls, an excellent watch.

 

The reaction on social media was also heartwarming to see:

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What next? Rachael Blackmore is already second in the Irish Jockeys’ Championship with 84 winners – Fairyhouse and Punchestown can bring lots of success for her, and perhaps Aintree too. At 29, she’s in her prime and has plenty to offer.

Frost has a number of excellent wins to her name aside from Frodon and perhaps, more importantly, the backing of Paul Nicholls. She has 49 winners this year at a 16% strike rate, impressive considering her serious injuries in the summer.

Be smart: You’d be in profit to the tune of £58 if you followed Bryony Frost blind, and +£13 for Lizzie Kelly.

 

  1. Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Racing is a sport which frequently frustrates the greats: remember how long it took for Frankie Dettori to win his Derby? Or AP McCoy to ride a Grand National winner? 

Willie Mullins is one of the great trainers of all time, but for a man who has dominated major festivals, the Gold Cup was one of the few gaps on his palmares. Before Friday, Mullins had won 64 Festival races without the Blue Riband, and he saddled four horses in this bid to change things.

 

There were good reasons to fancy any of Kemboy, Invitation Only, Bellshill or Al Boum Photo, but things did not start well with Kemboy unseating at the first, Bellshill smashing himself into the fifth and ending his chances, and when Invitation Only did the same at the tenth, that left Mullins with just one horse, Al Boum Photo, still in the race.

Come the home turn, however, he was cantering into contention and, despite grabbing the second last and stumbling over the last, he was too strong for the rest of the field, running out quite a convincing winner.

This ends a long wait for the winning most trainer at the Festival in its biggest event; he had tried and come so close with Florida Pearl in 2000 and then the legendary Hedgehunter, before four successive runners up in a row (Sir Des Champs, On His Own and Djakadam twice).

 

Anibale Fly was a fine second once again, making the best of his way home, and Bristol De Mai ran an excellent race in third; but this moment was all about Mullins and Paul Townsend, who had the greatest redemption after the farcical ending to the Growise Champion Novice Chase at the end of last season.

 

The Big Three: Didn’t make the first three, although there are good reasons for their runs; Native River couldn’t lie up with the early pace according to connections and wasn’t quite at his best in finishing fourth, whilst Paul Nicholls said that Clan des Obeaux got outstayed, and that seems to check out given the extra distance here compared to Kempton for his King George win. Presenting Percy, who never got properly into the race, was found to be lame and is definitely better than he showed here.

 

  1. Going Too Far

Apart from the Grand National, racing’s welfare standards are never under the spotlight more than during Festival week, and it’s in that context that the National Hunt Chase finds itself under the most extreme scrutiny.

This year’s edition, run in deep ground once again, was particularly tough; only four horses finished and there were 47 lengths between runner up Discorama and third-placed Jerrysback.

There was the grim sight of screens at both the last two fences and one right in front of the Best Mate enclosure, where we sadly lost Ballyward. Many runners were pulled up due to exhaustion, or worse, falling for the same reason.

It was an ugly spectacle and not one that you would show to a first-time watcher of the sport, but what is to be done?

 

Many have suggested cancelling the race, which might be an understandable, if visceral reaction, but doing so would surely call into question the existence of every long distance race: the Midlands National took place on ground that was just as testing on Saturday. Moreover, in many years we have seen single figures in terms of finishers for the Grand National – and certainly for the Irish equivalent.

Some have suggested a change in conditions, but the amateur riders navigate the Kim Muir and Foxhunters at the end of the week with less controversy than this, and the majority of the horses entered had staying credentials of some kind.

Pulling the race distance back is also not an option without consequence, as there are three other targets at staying distances for novices during the Festival.

Something has to change, however; So what about reducing the weight carried? In a graded race there’s no need for a welter burden and it is possible for amateurs to do less than 11-6; Jamie Codd’s lowest weight in the last 12 months is 11-0 dead, and if that were to be the universal rule then that would make a difference here – assuming that the jockeys can all make it.

Any other suggestions?

 

  1. Stars Of The Festival

There have been many stars this week, and not all of them can have the spotlight they so deserve. Here are a personal few, some obvious, some not so much...

  • Mark Walsh, who so cruelly suffered a fracture when presented with a fine book of rides here two seasons ago but bounced back with wins in the Champion Hurdle (Espoir D’Allen) And Ballymore Hurdle (City Island)
  • Lydia Hislop,tireless from the start to the finish of an incredible week, and who interviewed Willie Mullins and Paul Townend with such class in the midst of the Gold Cup
  • Andrew Gemmell, the owner of Paisley Park, who, blind from birth, experienced one of the most heart-warming successes all week
  • Henry De Bromhead, who supplied Rachael Blackmore with two fine winners and a selection of excellent rides this week
  • The entire team at ITV Racing, who had a marked lift on ratings compared to last year and who have tried very hard to appeal to casual fans
  • Pacha du Polder, the two-time winner of the Foxhunters’ Chase who was retired after this fourth run in the race

 

  1. Eye-catchers

And last but never least, some eye-catchers. Everyone loves an eye-catcher!

  • Aramon, who travelled beautifully into the Supreme, but then faded on ground much softer than preferred late on
  • Big River,who never jumped a fence in the Ultima but took fourth near the finish
  • Brio Conti looked like the best horse in the Coral Cup before just flattening out up the hill
  • Ciel De Neige ran a fine race on debut for Willie Mullins in the Fred Winter
  • Abracadabras was done for speed in the Champion Bumper but will be happier up in trip and has the look of a promising staying chaser
  • Cuneo didn’t quite see out his huge move in the Pertemps but absolutely has a race of this sort in him
  • No Comment made some eye-catching late progress in the Kim Muir
  • Éclair de Beaufeu went miles too soon in the County before unseating and will surely be better suited by Punchestown
  • Cartwright didn’t get any sort of run in the Martin Pipe late on

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 11th March 2019

Readers, friends, comrades in arms. We are here. There is just one day left before the 2019 Cheltenham Festival begins and, like all across this site, I can’t wait for the best that our sport has to offer.

It is a special edition of Social Discourse as we head into four incredible days, and as such there have been a few tweaks made to this particular edition.

If you’re headed to the home of Kings – and if you’re reading this, then there's a fair chance that you are – please give me a shout. You can do so via the same avenues that others use to complain about me lots - @KeejayOV2 on the Tweet Machine.

A big thanks to the hard work of Matt Bisogno on this and all the previous newsletters.

Let. The. Games. Commence.

  1. Do’s and Don’ts

It’s the greatest week of the year, but for most of us who take even half an interest, it is four days (or seven) that will have plenty of pitfalls as well as opportunities – no matter how you approach it. But what is the secret to a successful festival, both on and off the track?

I got in touch with the great and good to get some advice – and then gave some of my own anyway….

Do….

  • Watch races from different areas. Get different perspectives rather than just get a drink, or watch a race all in the same places. Go to the parade ring, watch near the second last fence, watch at the top after the winning post - @SteveRyder13, presenter of the On The Hunt Podcast
  • Think about how one race relates to another at the Festival. For example, as soon as they cross the line in the Supreme, think about what that race result has told you about the formlines for the Ballymore – and similarly for the Arkle and JLT/RSA. The result might just have unlocked a bit of value. - @jamesaknight, Coral/Ladbrokes
  • Dress weather appropriate! I never go inside at Cheltenham so will be outside the whole time on both days I am there. I am dressing smart but definitely layering up. - @novicefilly (Debbie Matthews), the founder of #GoRacingGreen
  • Get to the track early in the morning and see the Irish raiders exercising in the middle of the racecourse - @leemottershead, Racing Post
  • Remember the handicaps are impossible! - @MattBisogno, GeeGeez
  • Make it to the middle of the course. I had attended quite a few festivals before a friend took me to the middle of the course for a race. I had no idea you could do it! It is a totally different perspective to the racing though. First of all there is no big screen to watch the action on over there so when they go out to country, you are relying on the commentary to understand what is going on. Jowever there are two selling points to this little trip. The first is that it is a suprisingly different perspective to the course, you can take in the huge crowd in the stands from a relatively peaceful vantage point. The best thing about ding this though is being able to be mere metres from top national hunt horses taking the last fence. The sound of them brushing through the bitch is incredible. - @tdl123, Tim Larden, operator of themajorversusthebookieblog

Don’t….

  • Get so p***ed you can’t watch the racing. We’ve waited 361 days for this. @SteveRyder13, presenter of the On The Hunt Podcast
  • Be dogmatic about your selections before the festival. For example, you may want to be against Buveur D’Air at 9/4 in the Champion Hurdle (I know I do), but what if he drifts to 7/2? He’s probably a decent bet at those odds. It’s important to remember that betting is literally all about the price, so the advice is not to think in terms of ‘bankers’, and ‘lay of the festivals’ and any other b****cks that you might hear at preview nights and start to think about what price you need to get before you want to be with a horse (the other great thing about The Festival in this regard is that you don’t have to worry about non triers) - @jamesaknight, Coral/Ladbrokes
  • Back every odds on shot. - @UAE_Racing, editor of Racing Reflex
  • Don’t* bet on every race. Wait for extra places on the handicaps. The Irish are going to win all of the County, Coral Cup, Pertemps and Martin Pipe. Be aware of the super-rare moments where 'public money' and bookie multi liabilities actually create wonky markets - exploit them. – @GloriaVictis
  • Never chase out prices and compete with other Bookies around you. There is a lot of money in the ring at Cheltenham, and when it's your turn, at the right time, it'll come to you. Don't rush it or you can end up laying over the odds horses and you feel silly 3 minutes later. - @BenStarSports, owner of Star Sports
  • Be afraid to stick within your comfort zones. - @novicefilly (Debbie Matthews), the founder of #GoRacingGreen
  • Forget your folding stuff, as the queues for the cash machines might not move quickly. - @leemottershead, Racing Post
  • Don't forget the handicaps are impossible! - @MattBisogno, GeeGeez.
  • Speed drink between races! Gone are the days where I would take on the four day drinking test that the festival can be. I would emerge blinking into day four, confused and disorientated, trying to remember which form lines I was following into the Triumph. At any day at the festival, you have all day and all night to invoke the spirit of Bacchus. There is no rush. Especially if it is raining the bars can be busy, getting the round in can leave you little time between races. I enjoy the festival a lot more taking it easy and pacing the day out - @tdl123, Tim Larden, operator of themajorversusthebookieblog 

 

And some additional advice, from yours truly:

Do…

  • Bet before you get on course. Don’t rob yourself of the pleasures of the ring – the layers need your custom – but you will get the best positions and crucially place terms off course most of the time
  • Bet the night before – The best prices are nearly always found the night before, or in the morning
  • Take a portable charger – If you’re going, then you will earn your money back at some point with a powerful charger. £30 should get you a useful one that will last
  • Think outside the box – Only five of the festival’s 28 races have shown a profit for favourites over the last 10 years. There are routinely big priced winners at the Festival, and even more hit the place

 

Don’t….

  • Chase losses. It is the biggest betting week of the year and if things go wrong at some point, the temptation will be immense. Stick to your pace
  • Over-drink during the racing – As someone who loves a pint, yours truly is no stranger to a Guinness at the Festival. However, at no meeting all year will it take you longer to get served, and post 1.30 each trip is going to consume extremely valuable time. The day will fly by and refreshments after the last have always been beautifully thirst-quenching

 

  1. Whose Line Is It Anyway?

One race, one nose, two cameras. If it sounds too much like a sitcom, then that’s because it’s true; Welcome to British racing in 2019.

You know the scene by now. One For Rosie, having cruised into the lead of the European Breeders' Fund Matchbook VIP "National Hunt" Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final (try saying that without taking a breath), jumped to the front at the last. Sam Twiston-Davies punched and kicked for his life, and he just manages to get the better of the strong staying Third Wind, after a tense wait for the photo finish.

Or so we’d thought. Firstly it was all normal. We thought we’d simply seen another close Saturday finish. Punters got paid out and connections were being interviewed. And then we were told there was a delay. And then…

 

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That was just a flavour of the reaction. There are too many tweets to post, but

 

 

 

Fool Me Once: Amazingly, this wasn’t even the first time it had happened; this is the second occasion this year the wrong result has been called at Sandown, with the unique sprint course seeing Rio Ronaldo being announced the winner in a 5f handicap before the result was changed with Vibrant Chords handed victory.

 

Then, there was this interview:

 

The Official Response:  

  1. The Imperial Malaya

It’s just easier to ask what Paul Nicholls can’t do, the answer to which is nothing. His Malaya continued the stable’s brilliant form with victory in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The five-year-old mare looked to have a tough task on when trying to hop the second last and then just stepping through it, buckling in the process, but Harry Cobden kept his cool brilliantly to allow her to regather her momentum and slowly but surely she caught up with Monsieur Lecoq – who had made the best of his way home whilst going strongly from two out - jumping the last brilliantly when needing to and eventually grinding her way to a one and three-quarter-length win.

 

What about the Festival? Paul Nicholls has been open to running her at the Festival in a bid to take a bonus in post-race quotes, telling Maddy Playle of the Racing Post: "She's tough and won't need to do much work, it's definitely a possibility. We're not saving her for anything so we might look at it.”

Be Smart: Looking at the rest of the field: Call Me Lord ran a tremendous race under his huge weight, First Flow ran a fine race on his first run for nearly a year, and Benny’s Bridge will be much happier on a sounder surface.

 

  1. Fun In The Sun

In much sunnier climes, Meydan had their Super Saturday, a leadup to the Carnival ending Dubai World Cup night that takes place in just over three weeks’ time. Highlights included:

  • Capezzano’s arrival at Group 1 level with a wide margin victory in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, trashing the returning Thunder Snow by nine and a half lengths. He will now head to the World Cup, as will the second, who will hope to strip much fitter in a couple of weeks’ time

 

 

  • Dream Castle’s fine turn of foot to beat a heavy gamble on Wootoon in the Jebel Hatta, making it three from three in Dubai since being gelded

 

  • Old Persian managed to catch stablemate Racing History with apparent ease to take the City of Gold, seeing him up for the Sheema Classic and a promising European campaign
  • Muntazah broke the track record in the Burj Nahaar, winning by 10 lengths to make himself the sure fire favourite for the Godolphin Mile

  • Blue Point won the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint with the ease that odds of ¼ suggested, and will be hard beat regardless of the international raiders that might well come his way

  • Divine Image put together a career-best performance to romp away with the Al Bastakiya, making her favourite for the UAE Derby

 

  1. A King’s Pair

Willie Mullins – yes, that’s right, remember him? – had a perfect warmup for the coming week when he had a 1-2-3 in the Leinster National, led by Pairofbrowneyes.

If you’re thinking that name sounds familiar then yes, you’re right – Pairofbrowneyes won this last year, and it was almost a carbon copy of his win in 2018, with an impressive show of staying power down the home straight to eventually end up winning by five lengths.

This matters why? It’s yet another boost for the form of Invitation Only’s Thyestes Chase win, which has barely produced a bad result, including the winner and the third of the Leinster National yesterday, and the Wylies will be very happy with their position ahead of the Gold Cup.

Winning Jockey Paul Townend, to Sportinglife: "He's very likeable. It was like riding a handicapper. He made one mistake at the ditch down the back, but he sorted himself out and you couldn't be any more pleased with him.”

Something to note: The form of La Bague Au Roi got another boost as Kaiser Black, second to her in the Flogas Novices’ Chase, won the Naas Directors Plate Novice Chase by an 11 length margin. He could be a big player for the rest of the season in novice terms.

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 4th March 2019

Another fascinating week in the racing life, with The Festival (sponsored by cider) getting closer and closer and, as ever it seems, we weren’t light on talking points. That makes Number 5 below particularly special to me – hopefully you like this week’s Discourse.

 

  1. Winx And You’ll Miss It 

Before a stride had been taken in anger, a World Record was broken in racing on Saturday as the amazing Winx made it 31 – yes, really – straight wins with a comfortable success in the Chipping Norton Stakes. That was her 23rd Group or Grade 1 success, an incredible number which is almost as startling as the 31 race winning streak.

At one point she seemed in the slightest of trouble, as Happy Clapper and Blake Shinn had a commanding lead coming into a short home straight, and even with 300 meters left to go her fans would have been right to start biting their nails. 

I’ve heard this before, haven’t I: Yes, you have, because she’s won pretty much all of her last 31 races like that, including four Cox Plates and 19 other Group 1's. Whilst it has always been enjoyable to watch, especially for her legion of fans, it has not been everybody’s cup of tea. 

For much of the past two years, a fierce debate has raged about the true ability of the Champion Mare, mainly conducted across Twitter between fans, punters and handicappers from both sides of the equator.

Winx’s easy defeat of the solid Benbatl, the best Northern raider sent to face her since Highland Reel, went a long way to answering those questions. However, with a dearth of realistic opposition in Australia, there are still a large number of people who have fallen out of love with the eight-year-old Australian treasure.

See an example of the case for:

And an example of the case against:

Happy Clapper himself sets a better standard than most of Winx’s domestic opposition by one sharp tweeter, and the discussion shall rage on.

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Many observers hope to see her travel one day, but she is eight now and the only realistic challenge will come from another Benbatl type heading Down Under. 

The Bottom Line: We’ve been incredibly lucky to have a Champion, fit for three years at the peak of her game – but the debate about what she's beaten and therefore her level of ability will almost never end.

 

  1. Good Things Come To Those Who Wait 

One of the quirkiest parts of racing is the wonderful spectrum of names our equine heroes have, and on some occasions they really do fit perfectly.

Waiting Patiently is one of such horse and Ruth Jefferson’s eight-year-old will keep us all waiting a little bit longer as he’s set to miss the Festival, with a number of options in the near future.

Aintree and Punchestown are both on the table, the Melling Chase presumably a likely target, and a trip to France for Auteuil’s Prix La Barka or French Champion Hurdle were both mooted, given the likelihood that he’d get his favoured ground there.

Owner Paul Colling, speaking to the Racing Post’s Bruce Jackson: "Ascot was Cyrname's ground and if you look at the three behind, we all need cut in the ground. I walked from the second-last with Ruth [Jefferson] and wasn't for running him, but Brian [Hughes] said it was soft enough.

Thinking ahead: This is unrelated, but there’s plenty of rain in the air after a very dry winter, and the Festival could well take place on a softer surface than the winter’s racing, just like last year. Consider that when approaching the races at this late stage.

 

  1. Money Moneyyy (Part 2)

What a difference a week and a boycott (or two) make. Last week’s edition covered the standoff between ARC and trainers who were rightly unhappy at prizemoney levels, especially with further cuts announced – blamed on the Government’s call to cut the maximum stake on FOBT’s to £2 from £100.

A temporary move to reallocate funds in lower-grade races backfired – another race at Sedgefield was a walkover and then there was a call from Ralph 'Red Raif' Beckett for further action this week. 

This isn’t close to over: ARC, in response to the first boycott, have unlocked funding from the levy war chest for the next couple of weeks but there’s only a month until the FOBT funding cut, and a lot of ground to cover to say the least. I mean, just read these quotes: 

Arc Spokesman, speaking on Saturday: "Last night’s agreement with the NTF was made in good faith, with the aim of allowing further time to continue discussions between all parties concerned.” 

Oliver Sherwood, speaking to At The Races on Saturday: “The money at the top end is A1, it’s the bottom end [that is the problem]. And there are more average horses than good horses.”

Gary Moore, who withdrew five Fontwell entries: "I'm supporting the boycott – cutting off my nose to spite my face – and hoping some good will come of it.”

 

  1. On The Track…
  • Paul Nicholls continued his domination of Newbury’s Greatwood Gold Cup with San Benedeto giving Ditchdeat their ninth win of the race – in just 15 years. Nicholls ran three and they were all in the mix until late in the race, but San Benedeto found more than Gala Ball, making his first appearance for Phillip Hobbs, whilst Valdez was third.
  • However, Nicholls did not have it all his own way, with two odds on reverses north of the Border at Kelso. Black Corton was outpointed by the giant Blue Flight in the Premier Chase and then even more surprising was the case of Getaway Trump, moved here after many had predicted he'd head towards the Festival, as Rouge Vif dominated the Premier Kelso Novices’ Hurdle.
  • Noel Meade was the star of a very snowy Leopardstown as wins for The Red Menace, Aint Dunne Yet and Sixshooter capped a weekend in which the team at Tu Va Stables had a perfect four from four. On the same card, Gordon Elliott bagged a double.

 

  1. Chasing Those Spuds

We have already commemorated the healthy retirement of one staying chaser on these pages and I have no shame about putting Chase The Spud in that category.

The 11-year-old had made himself one of most loved horses at a yard with plenty of such types, winning five races including the Midlands National, and over £100,000 in prize money in just over a year. Happy Retirement, Spud!

- William Kedjanyi

 

Social Discourse – 25th February

Another very busy weekend with Cheltenham clues aplenty, even this close to the big March fiesta. We witnessed some superb training performances, superb riding performances, and a boycott that led to a walkover. Thankfully we did not witness any more fights. As always, feel free to get in touch via the comments, or you can 'hashtag' me at @KeejayOV2 on Twitter. To the stories...

 

  1. Angels’ Out Of Breath

He’s still heading to the Supreme despite being outpointed at 8/11 in Saturday’s Dovecote Hurdle by Paul Nicholls’ – remember him? – Southfield Stone.

Nicholls' 6/1 shot, who was overturned at 4/6 when last seen, was always prominent and, under the urging of Harry Cobden, kicked for home off the bend into the straight, which proved to be a race winning move. Southfield Stone ran down the last and drifted markedly to the right thereafter, but still had enough to hold off the late charge of the odds-on favourite. The winner was cut for the Imperial Cup, nominated as his next target by Paul Nicholls, whilst Angel’s Breath was pushed out to as big as 12/1 for the Supreme.

Cheltenham questions abounded in the aftermath of the defeat as many punters cast a doubt on his Supreme aspirations, which had been perceived as very strong beforehand, as seen here. Opinion was split on his chances afterwards.

The Case For: 

 

And Against:

 

 

Be Smart: Defeat was disappointing for many at the time, but this was Angel’s Breath’s second run over hurdles, first run with more than four flights jumped, and first run for 64 days, including a flu jab that has come later than trainer Nicky Henderson expected to thanks to the equine flu hiatus.

Horses For Courses: Kempton was also a complete change of course for Angel’s Breath, who had done much of his best work up the home straight at Ascot on soft ground, and Cheltenham really ought to show his strength and stamina to best effect. 

Paul Nicholls, winning trainer, speaking to Kitty Trice of the Racing Post: "It'll be interesting because I know where Southfield Stone is and I know where Grand Sancy is after last week. I probably wouldn't entertain Southfield Stone in the Supreme, but he could be one for a handicap. He's in the Imperial Cup and might be one to leave for Cheltenham and go for a race at Aintree."

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Angel’s Breath, speaking to the Racing Post yesterday: “We’re pretty sure we’re staying at two miles for the Supreme, and a stiffer track will suit him much better, as would a little cut in the ground. He still ran very well in what was a very good time and we were all very happy with him."

 

  1. A Winning Raffle Ticket?

Henderson had better luck with Fusil Raffles on Saturday, as the French import sprinted clear for a nine-length win on his British debut in the Adonis Hurdle, impressing all-comers:

The Seven Barrows trainer had been relishing the chance to unleash another major festival contender, but in the process of his demolition, Fusil Raffles suffered a cut as he hit the second last. It is sufficiently severe to cast a doubt over his preparations for the Festival, as Richie Persad of ITV told viewers:

 

Henderson told Racing TV: “Unfortunately, he has got a very nasty gash right on his hind-bone shin which is being stitched. We’ve got less than three weeks to go (until the Festival) so it’s going to be tight. We will keep everybody posted. If we can get him there we will, as he deserves to, but if not he will have to wait until Aintree.”

 

  1. The Rath O’Vinden

Another huge target which is fast approaching is the Grand National, and Rathvinden staked his claim with impressive victory in the Bobbyjo Chase, a key prep which sets him on target for Aintree.

After the departure of Magic Of Light eight fences out, the race developed into a duel between Rathvinden and the long-time leader, Alpha Des Obeaux, with last year's National Hunt Chase winner prevailing by three and a half lengths under a resolute Paul Townend.

That was the second serious National trial in a week, after the amazing Tiger Roll bolted up in the Boyne Hurdle last Sunday, and Willie Mullins confirmed that Aintree was the plan afterwards.

"That was a nice first run of the season, and I'd imagine he'll go for the National. That would be the usual route from here. We're keen to go and the owner is keen to go."

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  1. Persistence Pays Off For Walter

Racing is sometimes, only sometimes, a game of just reward. Phil Simmonds could not have been blamed for turning away from the sport after losing Burns Cross to a terrible accident from a foot injury. 

But trainer Neil Mulholland kept him in the sport, and on Saturday he was rewarded for his persistence in the most wonderful fashion as Walt, given a power-packed ride by Sam Twiston-Davies took the valuable 888Sport Handicap Chase.

In what was a tremendous finish, he repelled the game top weight Double Shuffle, in receipt of 20lbs, to spring a minor surprise at 14/1. The winner might now head to Cheltenham for the Ultima Handicap Chase, whilst many eyes will be on the fast finishing third, Adrien Du Pont, who made up the most ground of any horse in the race by far.

 

Phil Simmonds, owner of Walt, speaking to At The Races: “From an owner’s point of view we need to support the Neil Mulhollands of this world. These guys are first class. It has shown today that if these guys have got the talent (to work with), they can do it.”

Bonus: Enjoy this superb shot of Walt jumping the last, taken by the brilliant Francesca Altoft.

 

  1. A Wissahickon For All Weathers

Meanwhile, at Leafy Lingfield, Wissahickon continued his run as one of most progressive horses in training with another dominant performance in the Winter Derby at Lingfield.

John Gosden’s four-year old tracked his stablemate Court House for most of the way, and after being given his orders by Frankie Dettori, he quickly sealed the deal to win by three and a half lengths, making it five wins on the bounce, four of them on the all-weather.

He won as odds of 1/4 suggested he ought to, and there are now much bigger targets on the agenda for him, including a potential trip to Dubai for World Cup night – although he looks set to have at least one more run here with owner George Strawbridge very keen to come and see him once again.

John Gosden: “There is some talk about World Cup Night out in Dubai, but I will have to speak to Frankie, who always has a very strong opinion! We might look at the Sheema Classic, if there was an invitation to run in the race. I think he is a mile-and-a-quarter to a mile-and-a-half horse – his mother stayed and he switches off in his races now, while quick, summer ground would be his game.”

 

  1. Money-Money-Money, Monneehhh

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems, Puff Daddy lamented in the 90’s, that golden age of rap. How the trainers and owners who keep racing afloat would wish to have even a sliver of the wealth floating around in the hip-hop game.

But British racing has pretty much always had a prize money problem. A huge fixture list, one which has bizarrely grown in recent years, stretches a pot of prize money that is under pressure at the levels where it counts – below the weekend racing and big festivals, at the general weekday level which is sustained by a huge bulk of class 4, 5 and 6 racing.

The Government’s long overdue crackdown on FOBT machines has led to a decision in turn by ARC, which owns 16 UK racecourses including Lingfield, to reduce prize money and thus not avail of a top-up fund provided to courses which offer prize funds at or beyond a threshold. That was the backdrop against which a protest against the unacceptably low prize money was staged at Lingfield on Saturday.

 

Costs are already stretched wafer thin: See this explanation from Mike Spence, a long time supporter of the game who has horses of all abilities:

Trainers made their mark with a protest against two races on Saturday with no runners declared for the five-furlong novice stakes from an entry of nine, while only the Nick Littmoden-trained Greybychoice was declared from the 18 entries for the mile novice stakes.

And they had the desired effect too, with the story making the BBC news, the papers – including The Mail, which has the largest online circulation of any British title – and international titles like BloodHorse and Australia’s SBS.

Never one to mince his words, Mark Johnston got stuck in: “I had two horses in the race and sent one to Chelmsford and the other has been entered at Southwell where the prize-money was £8,000 rather than £4,500. It gets to a point where it’s just not viable to take a horse all the way to Lingfield for that sort of money. We’ve done it in the past, but we’re not going back to the bad old days.

“The prize-money is quite ridiculous and the whole situation of Arc cutting prize-money in anticipation of a potential cut in the number of betting shops and funding due to the FOBT reduction, which is hypothetical at the moment, is out of order. The race values vary from 46-60 handicaps to maidens and better class races across the courses, but we always note the prize-money when making entries."

Good Gesture: Nick Littmoden, the only trainer who entered a horse in the two races, donated his percentage to the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.

What can be done? The big players – the British Horseracing Authority, National Trainers Federation, Racehorse Owners Association and Racecourse Association – are in talks but this problem will always persist unless there is a significant cash injection or, even more unlikely, a marked reduction in the bloated fixture list that consumes British racing for the benefit of bookmakers and media rights recipients. It is worth noting that Ireland does not have anything like this problem, even if the situation is not quite the same.

 

  1. Super Vision

Wind surgery and a step back up in trip proved the answer for Vision Des Flos, who turned out to be the quickest in what was a competitive National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell, and after a year and nine races, he finally got back on the winning trail.

 

 

The Kingwell Hurdle third had also finished second behind Buveur D’Air on his first start of the season, but he appeared to appreciate this trip and was always travelling best coming off the all-weather crossover. A big leap took him past the front running Lil Rockerfeller, and once Tom Scudamore sent him to win his race, he always had a little too much in hand for the late charge of If The Cap Fits, who was outpaced almost until he jumped the last.

Harry Fry’s runner up will head to the Aintree Hurdle next, whilst Ballymoy was a disappointment, finishing near last. The ever so admirable Lil Rockerfeller held on for third.

Colin Tizzard, trainer of Vision Des Flos: "He is in the Champion Hurdle and the Coral Cup, and on that running I’d say he would go for the handicap. You never know, if there are not many in the Champion Hurdle we might go there yet.” 

Harry Fry, trainer of If The Cap Fits: “He wasn’t good enough today and Noel did well to finish second the way he was travelling. We vaccinated him last week, which was not the plan in such close proximity to a race. Hopefully, the run was just down to that. If he had travelled well he would have won.”

Think Ahead: This was yet another boost for Elixir De Nutz, who had beaten Kingwell Hurdle winner Grand Sancy at Sandown. You can back both these proven horses, who had their form boosted twice over this weekend and who appear to be relatively versatile regarding ground for the Supreme at double figure prices.

 

Also at Fontwell: Hugos Other Horse, half-brother to the one and only Cue Card, ground out victory in the closing bumper.

 

 

  1. Check Mate 

In Ireland yesterday, there was a very smart card at Naas, with the feature Onside App Novice Hurdle (my Paddy Power cheque is in the post!) ending with a thriller eventually claimed by Chosen Mate.

The Gordon Elliott-trained progressive six-year-old travelled best into what turned out to be a sprint after the early fall of Jetez, who was in front at the time. A slick jump at the last sealed the deal for him in the dash for the line, which came just in time as he held off the charging four-year-old Hannon, in receipt of a stone in weight for age.

The runner up was cut to 25/1 for the Triumph with Paddy Power from an original price of 40/1.

Gordon Elliott, winning trainer: “Davy had to change tactics when Puppy (Robbie Power, aboard Jetez) fell. He wanted to get up and take Paul (Townend) on and not give him a complete freebie. The plan is to keep him for Aintree.”

 

  1. On The Ferry

On the same card, Cadmium booked his ticket to the Grand Annual, knuckling down to get the better of the consistent Doctor Phoenix in the Grade 3 What Odds Paddy? Chase.

He was three lengths to the good at the line but had to work harder than that, although he heads to the penultimate race of the Festival with as good a chance as any, especially with a bigger field likely to suit.

Rachael Blackmore was in the winning groove again, driving home Poker Party to take the Grade B Novice Handicap Chase. That’s two wins from two for the pair now, with the previously out of form seven year old seemingly thriving. And see this feature about her, below.

  1. Star Of The Week

A tough one, but perhaps Nick Littlemoden for doing the right thing by his owner and the trainers' collective.

 

11. Bad news to start the week...

And we start this week with the sad news that Le Richebourg, favourite for the Arkle, will miss the race - and the rest of the season - due to an injury during work on Saturday.

- William Kedjanyi

 

 

Social Discourse – 18th February

What a weekend that was! 11 graded races, eight winners for Paul Nicholls, three for Rachael Blackmore, and a 17 length winning margin in one of the season’s top races – and that’s about the short of what was a truly remarkable weekend, recapped – as best as is possible, by me, William Kedjanyi.

But first things first, just look at the brilliant reactions of Sam Twiston-Davies yesterday, perhaps saving the life of Daydream Aulmes at Ascot on Saturday. Show it to people who say that anyone involved in this game doesn't care.

 

 

As always, hit the comments, or come bother me at Twitter – the handle’s @KeejayOV2.

 

1. What’s In A Cyrname?  

You’ve probably seen it, but if not, just watch the end of this magnificent performance and marvel that a horse can run that quickly and jump that smoothly.

 

Cyrname’s rout in the Ascot Chase is still barely believable even after the dust has settled, but one had better believe that it happened because Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old really did smash Waiting Patiently by 17 lengths.

He arrived here after winning a competitive Ascot handicap by 21 lengths last month, but this was a far tougher test. He faced Waiting Patiently. He faced Fox Norton. His stablemate Politologue was a Melling Chase winner. Even Charbel, the outsider of the field, was a winner of the Peterborough Chase this season.

It simply did not matter. From the very start, Harry Cobden was in front and whilst he was always travelling sweetly, it was in the home straight when the taps were opened, Cobden sat motionless in the drivers’ seat for the most impressive performance of the season in my book.

 

 

Thinking Ahead: You would forgive connections for being speechless, but Paul Nicholls had plenty of thoughts on the future: “Aintree last year, he jumped out right, and those type of tracks don’t suit him. At least we will see if he gets three miles round Punchestown. It will be brilliant for him, because it is a big galloping track with proper fences. One day, we will go back left-handed.”

Waiting Patiently was a 17 length second, and Ruth Jefferson gave credit in defeat: “He has been beaten by a better horse on the day,” she said. "My instant reaction is he is probably a better horse on soft ground. That’s the quickest conditions he has run on since Kempton.”

Fox Norton, having his second run since coming back from injury, was third ahead of the slightly disappointing Politologue, who could have his wind operated on according to John Hales.

 

2. Dance, Dance, Dance!

Good things come to those who wait. Nobody would have been dancing last week, not least Dai Walters, but he had the last laugh as Al Dancer almost moonwalked to impressive victory in the rearranged Betfair Hurdle.

 

 

12lbs higher than he was for his win at Cheltenham in December, he could have carried double the weight and still won, and gave Sam Twiston-Davies a dream conveyance down the inside. Indeed, he would have preferred a faster pace but, come the straight, he was cruising into the race and after a good leap at the last he simply had too much for Magic Dancer and Blu Cavalier.

For those interested, main market rival Getaway Trump was back in fourth having made a fair amount of ground in the home straight – an eye catching display given he was second in the Challow Hurdle.

 

The effusive – is he ever anything less? – Nigel Twiston Davies, speaking to Matt Chapman on ITV: "He's a lovely horse, what a shame we weren't at Newbury but well done Ascot for putting it on. He's a championship horse, he'll be going to Cheltenham."

 

Don’t Forget: Getaway Trump is entered in the Ballymore still, but might the Coral Cup be a tempting option?

The Reaction: There’s nothing quite like a big race favourite and Cheltenham contender winning…..

 

3. The Winning Clan

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Paul Nicholls’ red letter day had some incredible moments, but one of the most satisfying must have been the 13 seconds it took Clan Des Obeaux to seal the rescheduled Denman Chase and set himself up for a big crack for the Gold Cup.

In what was a very uncomplicated four-runner affair, he tracked Terrefort into the race before the last, and with one big leap – his best of the day – he put what was essentially a match race, the pair being well clear of Ballyhill and Thomas Patrick by the home straight, to bed with aplomb.

 

Harry Cobden Jockey, speaking to the Racing Post: "He's got better all the time, he's maturing and he's more professional when he races. He's not as exuberant as he was, but if you light him up he takes off."

One To Note: Ballyhill, who was third, could go well in handicaps around 2m4f in the spring.

 

4. Over and Out 

This winter we have been reminded about just how valuable our champions are, and how blessed we are when we get to see them go out happy and healthy, so a hearty farewell – of the good kind – to Coneygree, who jumped with enthusiasm and style at Ascot in the Keltbray Swinley Chase, but who did not have the legs to keep up with faster opposition.

He was wisely retired by The Bradstocks after that, a move which brought about an outpouring of love from all in the jumping game. Enjoy.

 

 

https://twitter.com/rockonxruby/status/1096778764170813440

 

5. Meanwhile, at Haydock…. 

Robinsfirth swooped upon Ramses De Teillee to take the Grand National Trial at Haydock with a finely timed challenge from Sean Bowen, on a day where some idiots got involved in a punchup after the racing. Chef D’Oeuvre was third and Colin Tizzard also had the fourth in the shape of Royal Vacation who could be headed to Aintree

Shades of Midnight gave Paisley Park backers yet another form boost as he romped home in the Rendlesham Hurdle. Kilcooley ran a fine race returning from 1066 days off, although he was passed for second by Petticoat Tails. Yanworth, well backed on his seasonal debut, was a bitter disappointment and the stewards – even more perplexingly to this scribe – reported that nothing was amiss.

Quel Destin gave Paul Nicholls another Cheltenham contender with a wide margin win in the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle, winning by six lengths whilst Torpillo disappointed here

Jester Jet ended a run of seconds – five of them – with a rallying win in the Listed Mares' Hurdle at Haydock to defy If You Say Run, benefiting from a perfectly timed Tom Scudamore ride to get up by a head.

 

  6. May The Forsa Be With You

The weekend’s action was properly kicked off by the rescheduled Kingmaker Chase, which was turned into a procession by Glen Forsa, who took apart the very disappointing Kalashnikov by 19 lengths in a display that will now see Mick Channon’s charge head towards either the Arkle or the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival, rather than the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.

 

 

Glen Forsa, who had impressed with his bold jumping over the Christmas period at Kempton, was jumping better early on and made his advantage count when over the first of the Railway fences, as the odds on favourite was beginning to labour, perhaps struggling in the very tacky ground, with poor leaps at the second and third Railway obstacles getting in the way, and by the time the pair had reached the pond fence the race was basically over.

 

From Amy Murphy and Team:

 

7. Glee for Monalee...

We had no Presenting Percy, but we did have a big winner for Rachael Blackmore as she kicked Monalee home in the Red Mills Chase, a result that will probably make many of Percy’s backers pretty happy – the RSA form holds up better by the week. The four runner affair proved to be a fascinating race, with Monalee always happy in front but Killultagh Vic stopping quite quickly when we had the potential for a three-runner race as they turned for home.

Monalee found enough in front but just as eye-catching in second was the returning Anibale Fly, third in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and set to head there again following a fine effort given that he’d had only one run this season – his sixth in a handicap chase back in November. Tony Martin will be a happy man, whilst Edwulf looks difficult to place now although he will be better when stepped up dramatically in trip.

 

Henry De Bromhead, speaking to the Irish Times: “He’s in the Ryanair and the Gold Cup and we’ll work it all out between now and then. I wouldn’t be leaning any way to be honest. I don’t know yet and I’d say the ground will be quite telling.

8. Elsewhere..... 

Grand Sancy got the better of Sceau Royal and Vision Des Flos in a tremendous battle for the Kingwell Hurdle, giving Paul Nicholls another of his eight winners on the day, and providing Harry Skelton with a first win for Ditcheat in six years. He considerably boosted the Tolworth form of Elixir De Nutz and gave a shot in the arm for the novice form this season as he now heads to the Supreme, with the runner up going for the Champion Hurdle.

Darasso bounced back from a poor run in the Galmoy Hurdle to dominate the Red Mills Hurdle, getting the better of a brief tussle with Forge Meadow to then win by 11 lengths, in a race where last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Farclas was a huge disappointment.

Mister Malarky took his record to three from four over fences with a game win in the Reynoldstown, fighting off Now McGinty. He was cut to 20/1 from 33s by Sky Bet for the Festival’s RSA Chase.

The incredible Tiger Roll bolted up in the Boyne Hurdle, sparking a joyous reaction from fans as he belied odds of 25/1. He was cut into 5/4 for the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham and is now as short as 12/1 for the Grand National again. A shout out to Keith Donoghue, who rode him and had his first winner since he suffered a fractured eye socket and cheekbone after Christmas.

Rachael Blackmore gave Chris’s Dream a superb ride to land the Ten Up Novice Chase, only just holding on from Champagne Classic, on his second run off a long layoff to get very close.

 

9. What else you might have missed….

The last at Gowran, thanks to (or no thanks to) Racing TV. See the tweets below….

 

 

 

What happened? Daylight Katie won by eight lengths, giving Gordon Elliot yet another useful young horse.

How does this get fixed? The easy answer is for another channel, but things aren't that simple; the running costs alone to have two channels would presumably make such a project financially unviable.

So what then? Racing TV does have multiple channels online, although this is perhaps not all that comforting to Irish fans, many of whom have at best, faint internet access. Irish racing has the benefit of a slimmed fixture list which absolutely makes the product more valuable, but this comes at the cost of clashes such as this, especially on busy days.

On the bright side: The Punchestown Festival is run as an afternoon-evening card, so that should get pride of place come the end of April.

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse – 12th February

Welcome to a joyous, joyous edition of Social Discourse, as British racing makes its return from a six-day break caused by an outbreak of equine influenza (EI), which had put the sport into shutdown and caused concern over the Cheltenham Festival, due to commence a month today (allow yourself another little cheer).

Thanks to what one must say was quick and decisive action from the BHA, we are now set to return from tomorrow, albeit with caveats, giving (most) trainers a resumption of normality along with jockeys, owners, media outlets and the rest. There’s still time for Festival trials, too. Whoop!

As ever, hit me up at @KeejayOV2 on Twitter or just leave a comment below.

 

  1. The Wait……

1:57 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

9:12 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

10:23 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

11:19 PM · Feb 11, 2019: (Yes, that's right, the Irish Field got there first).

11:21 PM · Feb 11, 2019:


  2. The Joy…..

After what was nearly a ten-hour wait – although the last hour and a half was perhaps more stressful than the previous nine - it’s fair to say that this had brought the normally fractious social community of Racing Twitter together. A recap for you, if you couldn’t stay up, or just need that good feeling again.

 

3. The Super, Super Saturday Ahead 

We waited, and now good things are coming to us. Everyone within 10 miles of Cheltenham will still be breathing outwards with relief, but in the more immediate future, there are races to be won and more than a few Festival trials to be rescheduled.

Ascot’s card this coming Saturday was always going to be spectacular but, with the quick transfer of Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle and Game Spirit Chase to the Berkshire venue, it means we are set for a truly phenomenal day of action – the last chance for many high-class horses to run before Cheltenham.

 

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2-mile novice chasers get a last chance to tune themselves up for a very open-looking Arkle Chase with the Kingmaker moved from Warwick to boost Sandown’s Friday card; there’s a Mares’ Hurdle which now moves to Haydock from the same card, and Wincanton gets a Mares’ Chase from Exeter.

 

Don’t Forget: If Ascot is getting you excited, then Haydock also has a feature – the William Hill Grand National Trial, plus a Mares’ Hurdle – and Wincanton features the Kingwell Hurdle as well as the Mares' Chase. Best cancel those Saturday plans if you can.

Trigger-Happy Punters: Markets will have to be remade, with the BHA having to work out which yards can send runners, and the entries will come through at 1.30 today. So if anyone wants to get a jump…. Then have a sneaky tab open around 4 this afternoon.

 

4. The Caveats

It’s not as simple as some might think, however.

- No entries or declarations will be accepted from horses that have not been vaccinated in the previous six months.

- Added to this, trainers of all horses are required to submit a health declaration, the documentation for which needs to be with BHA staff at racecourse before a horse can be unloaded at the track

- If there happen to be any overseas runners, then they won’t be allowed to run unless there’s evidence of a negative test within last 72 hours.

- The ruling that all horses need to have been vaccinated in the last six months has put a spanner in the works of many plans. Already we know that Silver Streak will not be able to run in the Kingwell, whilst 2017 Grand National winner One For Arthur won’t be able to run thanks to needing another jab.

A list of yards that won’t be able to run at least in the next week has been speculated on twitter, and it could include Nicky Henderson, based on what we’ve seen here.

https://twitter.com/muffinmannhc/status/1095255812413497344

Those berating the BHA for not advising trainers of the need to get their horses a booster jab are wide of the mark, as this tweet shows:

As with all that has preceded it, the BHA is doing everything it can to support the sport, including announcing the provision of some additional races for circa 23rd February to enable those without booster jabs to get vaccinated and have a prep before the Festival:

5. Getting Jiggy With It

Meanwhile, racing in Ireland continued unabated and we were treated to a pair of good cards over the weekend with Punchestown having their Grand National Trial on what was at the very least an informative day.

Gigginstown can do no wrong at the moment and they gave themselves a tremendous hand in both the Aintree and Fairyhouse versions as Dounikos came right back to his best to beat Wishmoor by four and a half lengths, with General Principle just a half-length behind.

In what was a dominant showing for the O'Leary squad from start to finish – all three of their charges raced prominently – Dounikos put himself down as a major contender for either the Grand National itself at Aintree or the Irish equivalent, targets that Wishmoor and General Principle, the winner of last year’s Irish Grand National, will also be looking at.

Gordon Elliott, trainer of Dounikos, speaking to Tony O’Hehir of the Racing Post: "Dounikos might go to Aintree or Fairyhouse, we'll see the Aintree weights this week," he said. "I made a lot of entries and I could end up running 12 or 15 in the race. One of those could be General Principle, and Elliott added: "He ran a good race today and Aintree might be the job for him this year."

 

Be smart: Dounikos is generally a 33/1 shot for Aintree (as big as 40/1 with Bet Victor) with the weights due out tomorrow, and General Principle is around the same price.

 

6. Over The Water

A good card at Naas saved ITV, who combined quickly and effectively with the HRI to show a decent card in absentia of Newbury’s Super Saturday.

The highlight was arguably Pravalaguna, who gave a fine front-running display to take the Listed Opera Hat Chase.

Sent off at just 8/13 after strong support, the only scare came when jockey Paul Townend appeared to lose an iron briefly at the fifth last, but he regained full control before taking the next obstacle and from then on she didn’t put a foot wrong before marching to a 14 length success from Baie Des Iles in second.

On the same card, we saw another Festival contender in the shape of City Island, who justified long odds on favouritism with a facile win in the Connolly's Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle at Naas.

Mark Walsh could have written this column whilst he was sat onboard Martin Brassil's six-year-old, and when he gave him his cue, he picked up trailblazing The Echo Boy and won by an easy seven lengths. Cut to as short as 9/1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, he now goes as one of the main players.

Death, taxes, and Joseph O’Brien having smart juvenile hurdlers are the three certainties in life just now, and Band Of Outlaws joined a growing club by coming from last to first to take the EMS Copiers Rated Novice Hurdle.

In a slowly run race, JJ Slevin had Band Of Outlaws fifth of six most of the way round but when push came to shove, he comfortably had too much speed for long-time leader Maze Runner after the final flight to win going away by four and three-quarter lengths.

The Festival now? Well do be careful – the runner up was only seventh in Leopardstown’s Grade 2 at Christmas and O’Brien, if anywhere at Cheltenham, may send him for the Fred Winter although that is not certain at this stage.

 

Even when O’Brien loses, he wins: The new JP McManus purchase Konitho was a disappointing fifth of sixth, not finding anything like the response of his stablemate, although O’Brien felt that the slowly run race did not suit him. "You'd have to say he was a little bit disappointing. The race probably didn't suit him as he's bigger, more of a staying type of horse.”

Jessica Harrington could have a runner in the Cheltenham Festival Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in the shape of the wide margin maiden hurdle winner, Emily Moon. Robbie Power, having his only ride of the day, took the race by the scruff of the neck and she never saw another horse, eventually finishing 14 lengths clear of Debuchet.

Winning rider Robbie Power was impressed: "I was very impressed with her. She's improved a good bit and probably dropping back half a mile in trip suited her better as she loves jumping out and rolling. Over two miles you can let her go, you're not worried about the trip."

Onto next week we go - should be a quiet one..!

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse – 5th February

A weekend with so much action that even this bumper edition struggling to fit it all in, writes William Kedjanyi. We like a challenge here, however, so here goes with a round up of all the latest movers and shakers on the bumpy highway to the Cotswolds next month…

 

  1. How’d you like them Apple's?

She’s going: The brilliant Apple’s Jade, a wide margin winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle, is now more likely to head to the Festival’s first-day showpiece than not. In the aftermath of her brilliant performance at Leopardstown, where she stole the headlines on the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival, Eddie O’Leary, speaking on behalf of owner Michael, had suggested that she would still go the Mares' Hurdle route in lieu of a tilt at the bigger race.

"We'll go to the Champion Hurdle if you can run a gelding in the Mares'. Did she win the Mares' Hurdle last year? No." – Eddie O’Leary, speaking to Nick Luck on Racing TV in the aftermath of Apple’s Jade’s stunning win.

But overnight, trainer Gordon Elliott and owner Michael O’Leary appeared to have a change of heart.

 

Gordon Elliott, trainer, speaking to Luck On Sunday:  "Buveur D'Air is obviously a very good horse and just does what he has to do every day, but we’ll take him on. Nothing is concrete, but I'd say it's likely."

Michael O’Leary, owner: "If you are going to lose, I’d rather lose trying to win a Champion Hurdle than a Mares’ Hurdle, now that we know she can run a fast two miles."

Looking ahead: If she stays sound, then a delicious clash between Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air will be the highlight of the first day at Cheltenham.

Best of the rest: Supasundae ran well once again to be second, although his connections are between a rock and a hard place regarding Festival targets: he would be unlikely to reverse form with Apple’s Jade but the emergence of Paisley Park in the staying division makes life difficult there also.

 

  1. Anything you can do….

Dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air responded in kind with victory in a hack canter in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, having to make some of his own running before easing clear of Vision Des Flos and winning the race for a third time.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has been following the same route as last season, albeit with a defeat in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and aside from that sprint to the line where Verdana Blue beat him, he’s looked as dominant as ever. Slicker through the latter stages of the race this time than at the Sunbury venue last, he briefly looked under pressure before finding top gear and putting the race to bed.

However, we know he is likely to face perhaps his biggest challenge since becoming the Champion Hurdler in the shape of Apple’s Jade, and we didn’t learn much about him here aside from his wellbeing.

Nicky Henderson, speaking to Sky Sports Racing: “It was a muddling old race. He led down the back and then Barry took a pull and let another horse take a lead. I thought he jumped a bit slicker than at Kempton where he made one howler, but I'm not saying that as an excuse. I'm very happy as he did need this race and the timing was perfect. I was very nervous when I thought it might be off and I had Kelso as an alternative.”

Battle lines are now drawn - Britain vs Ireland, girls vs boys, Henderson vs Elliott, champ vs contender - for a Tuesday in mid-March: bring on the show!

 

  1. Joseph and his Multi-Coloured Triumph Brigade
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Joseph O’Brien has quickly established himself as one of the leading National Hunt trainers in the game – on either side of the Irish Sea – and using his high-class resources, he has emerged with a fine team of juvenile hurdlers.

Sir Erec, strongly fancied for the race beforehand, was an impressive winner of the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown over the weekend when beating stablemate Gardens of Babylon by five lengths. In so doing, he launched himself to the head of the Triumph Hurdle betting, where he’s now 9/4 generally, from 7/1 before Sunday.

Joseph O’Brien, speaking to the Racing Post: "Making the running with Sir Erec wasn't ideal but he's very straightforward and he did it very well. Stamina is probably his forte but he quickened well from the second last. It was only his second run over hurdles, whereas Fakir D'Oudairies has more experience, if not quite the same engine as this fellow."

 

In winning convincingly here, he displaced the wildly impressive Cheltenham trial winner, Fakir D’Doudaries, from the top of the market. That was the second 1-2 for the stable in major Triumph trials, as Fine Brunello was a 13 length second at Cheltenham on Trials Day.

Be smart: Given his incredibly close proximity to high-class flat horses, O’Brien could have much success in this sphere, including with horses making their jumping debut. Also, with so many options – and the backing of JP McManus to help – we could still see some targets being switched.

 

  1. Defi-nitely Maybe

Onlookers at Sandown were treated to a thrilling tale of revenge, as Defi Du Seuil reversed Cheltenham form with Lostintranslation in a battling victory to take the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase.

 

 

Flashback: Only ten weeks ago, Defi was being trashed by Lalor in the Racing Post Arkle Trial, ballooning each fence and looking like he’d confound Phillip Hobbs once again after his great juvenile hurdling season two campaigns ago.

But Hobbs has managed to coax the required fencing improvement from him on each run since that clumsy display, and he battled back determinedly under a fine Barry Geraghty drive. In so doing, he cast aside any lingering apprehensions about his finishing effort after Lostintranslation worried him out of the Dipper on New Year’s Day, albeit with a 3lbs weight turnaround.

Favourite Vinndication didn’t travel with any zest at all and stayed on fairly well to finish third, beaten just a couple of lengths. Kim Bailey reported that he didn’t like the ground – which was sticky 'holding' turf – so he adds further intrigue should the three re-engage in the JLT.

Philip Hobbs, after unsaddling Defi Du Seuil: “Barry was delighted with him, particularly with the way he jumped and coped with the ground. Where we go from here, a lot will depend on the ground, but he certainly saw the trip out well.”

 

  1. Here’s what else happened
  • Bellshill took a thrilling Irish Gold Cup, albeit in a decimated field, as he was driven home by a short head to beat Road To Respect under a great Ruby Walsh drive. He was cut to cut to a general 12-1 (from 16) for the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

  • Walsh was just as good aboard Klassical Dream, who is now as short as 8-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after a dramatic Grade 1 success in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, just touching off his stablemate and past Grade 1 winner, Aramon.

 

  • La Bague Au Roi struck a notable success for Britain with a gritty front-running success in the Flogas Novice Chase, holding off 33/1 outsider Kaiser Black after Delta Work was withdrawn. It’s probable she’ll miss Cheltenham for Aintree, and it is also to be hoped that Winter Escape will bounce back after bursting a blood vessel.

  • Envoi Allen booked his Cheltenham ticket on Saturday, winning the Matheson (C&G) I.N.H. Flat Race at Leopardstown. The favourite stuck his neck right out to the line and beat the closing Meticulous, owned by Michael Tabour and trained by Joesph O’Brien, and is now being aimed at the Festival Bumper.

 

  • Commander Of Fleet proved himself a promising stayer with a battling victory over Rhinestone in the the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle. He relished the step up in trip and might go further in the Albert Bartlett as Battleoverdoyen looks set for the Ballymore. Champion Bumper winner Relegate finished with a wet sail to take fifth but she must learn to jump better.

  • Min repeated his 2018 win in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown but the race was marred by a fatal injury to Special Tiara.

 

  • Le Richebourg cemented his claims as a leading player for what is now a very competitive looking Arkle with a smooth win in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase

 

  1. The Fast Show

The Dublin Racing Festival will mostly be remembered for performances on the track – as it should be – but the track itself was the subject of much attention as firm ground in places on the chase course led to a glut of non-runners on Sunday. 22 of the 26 non-runners with were withdrawn because of the ground, unusually quick for a jumps meeting, especially at this time of year.

The Irish Gold Cup was decimated, with Al Boum Photo, Balko Des Flos, Monalee, Edwulf, Noble Endeavor and Anibale Fly all withdrawn, leaving a four-runner heat that somehow still served up a fine duel, albeit a diminished one.

 

Be smart: This was a perfect storm of weather conditions. Below average rainfall had led to quicker underfoot already, and then low temperatures trapped the ground staff with nowhere to go. This might continue to be the case in future, with higher average temperatures leading to drier and drier winters. However, we could still be in for a nasty shock when the spring comes, as wet weather could make for very soft ground at Cheltenham and Aintree, just as it did last year.

Lorcan Wyer, Leopardstown’s Clerk of the Course, speaking to the Racing Post’s Richard Forristal: "In the lead into this meeting, ten days before this fixture, we were given a forecast by Met Eireann of 40-50mm of rainfall. We got maybe 20mm of that, and we started off on the Monday of this week with a forecast of 20mm to 40mm of rain, sleet or snow, and sub-zero temperatures all week. Watering with that forecast, particularly with the sub-zero aspect, would be alien to me. I'm not sure any other track would go along those lines."

Being Sensible; Noel Meade, trainer of Irish Gold Cup runner up Road To Respect: "It's a Catch-22 situation. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. The way it's turned out today, you would have loved if they had watered, but hindsight is a fine thing. They were in an impossible situation."

**

The countdown to Cheltenham's Festival continues apace, and next weekend the focus will be on Newbury, where the Betfair Hurdle, Denman Chase and Game Spirit Chase all offer Festival aspirants the chance to rehearse ahead of the big week in March. Join us early next week for another thrilling instalment of Social Discourse!

- William Kedjanyi

 

Social Discourse – 28th January 2019

Another crazy seven days has given us two new Festival favourites, the world’s richest turf race as well as the second richest dirt race, and the extraordinary achievements of five brilliant women... and that is where we start this week.

As always, seek me out on @KeejayOV2 or write something in the box below for all your comments, good and bad.

 

  1. Who Ride The World? Girls.

As one of the few sports in which men and women compete on equal terms, some would argue it has taken too long for top female talent to break onto the big stage of racing. That is no longer the case.

  • There are now top jockeys plying their trade in top races on both sides of the Irish sea: in Britain Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly have been responsible for a host of Saturday winners in front of the TV cameras.
  • In Ireland, Rachael Blackmore has ten Graded wins, 73 total wins, and €1,135,265 in prize money for the season, at the time of writing.
  • In France, Mickaelle Michel was atop the French Jockey’s Championship for 83 days until a certain Christophe Soumillon overtook her. 
  • Don’t forget Emma Lavelle, who has brought tremendous improvement out of Paisley Park this season, and Kayley Woollacott, who has the Arkle contender Lalor under her wing. And they’re just two of the numerous women flying high in training.

 Kelly and Frost showed themselves at their very best with wins on Siruh Du Lac and Frodon on Saturday's Cheltenham Trials Day. The former produced a powerful drive to get the better of Daryl Jacob and favourite, Janika; whilst Frost reprised her beautiful bond with Frodon to take yet another Saturday Cheltenham feature as the son of Nickname, only just turned seven, valiantly held the late charge of Elegant Escape in the Cotswold Chase.

TV and Social Media quite rightly absolutely loves these new stars, with fans responding with joy to their winners.

 

Meanwhile in Ireland, Blackmore has struck up a very promising link with the exciting novice Honeysuckle, who won impressively at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

Don’t forget the flat too, with Josephine Gordon a leading light who is getting a better class of horse to sit on with each passing season, whilst in France the weight allowance gives a small platform, even if that allowance was cut after a 165 per cent increase in the number of winners ridden by women there. Seems they didn't really need it!

 

  1. Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present Percy

It had been a long time between drinks for fans of Presenting Percy. The wide margin 2018 RSA Chase winner had been off the track for 316 days until his return in the Galmoy Hurdle last Thursday, in which time he’d found his Gold Cup price shortening and his reputation growing in the interim.

So it was no surprise to see a huge crowd turn up to Gowran Park to watch him retain his Galmoy title, travelling well before finding plenty when Davy Russell asked him to get the better of the Willie Mullins-trained trio of Bapaume, Killultagh Vic and Limini with his ears pricked.

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Market reaction was instantaneous and positive: he was cut into a top-priced 100-30 (from 9-2) to record a third consecutive Festival victory, in the biggest race of them all, the Gold Cup.

However, there was a twist in the tale, as connections suggested that they might head to the Stayers’ Hurdle rather than the Friday showpiece. Here’s owner Philip Reynolds speaking to the Racing Post: “Stayers'? He jumps a hurdle every bit as slick as he jumps a fence. We've been talking all year about 'what ifs' because of the ground. Is it my preference? Of course it's not. I'd like to get him back here in three weeks' time for the Red Mills Chase.”

Jockey Davy Russell was also floating the alternative in a post-race interview: "He has the Stayers' Hurdle as an option now as well. If the Gold Cup turned out to be very competitive or if he didn't get a run over fences beforehand, he has that option anyway.”

 

  1. Trials and Tribulations

Cheltenham’s Trials Day is always an important event on the racing calendar, and this year’s edition was no different, with a number of Festival clues as well as some compelling stories.

We saw huge performances change the landscape for two of the Festival’s feature races:

  • Fakir D'oudaries tore the Triumph Trial apart with a superb performance under JJ Slevin, beating his stablemate Fine Brunello by 13 lengths, the 5/4 favourite Adjali well beaten in third, to give Joseph O’Brien his first Cheltenham winner and the now Triumph favourite, as he was cut to as short as 4/1.
  • Paisley Park confirmed himself as the leading British stayer with a wide margin win in the Cleeve Hurdle, doing all his best work up the straight before he pummelled West Approach by a staggering 12 lengths up the hill. He’s now 7/2 generally for the Stayers,from a quote of 12/1 before the day's events.

Those weren’t the only things of note on the card either...

  • Birchdale was handed the Ballymore trial as Brewin'Upastorm crashed out at the last flight when narrowly in front, with both horses surely having more to give. The exchanges had Brewin'Upastorm winning at the time, as he was 1-4 in running, but the real winner from the race is probably the form of Champ, who beat Brewin'Upastorm by four lengths in the Challow Hurdle.
  • Siruh Du Lac just edged out Janika in a pulsating finish to the Trophy Handicap, with Lizzie Kelly earning deserved plaudits for a brilliant drive to hold off Daryl Jacob on the runner up.
  • Jacob didn’t go home empty handed however, as he gave Kildisart a fine ride to take the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase, travelling quietly into the race and getting the better of the strong travelling Highway One O One. He’s now a best price of 16/1 for the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase.
  • Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan also took something from the day, as Benny’s bridge was a remarkable winner of the Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle, in a victory that truly has to be seen to be believed.

 

  1. Away From Prestbury Park…
  • Dynamite Dollars made it three Graded wins with a with an all-the-way success in Doncaster's Lightning Novices' Chase, giving 8lbs and a workmanlike beating to Ballywood, who had previously won two handicap chases over Christmas.
  • Lady Buttons overcame a late scare as she beat Indefatigable by a neck in the olbg.com Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle, also at Doncaster.
  • Nadaitak sprang a 12-1 surprise with a convincing 22 length win in the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle, atoning for a blip at the course last time. However, at this stage he is not certain to go to the Festival.
  • Real Steel, who danced every dance in last season’s novice hurdles, broke his duck over fences in really impressive style at Fairyhouse, winning by 10 lengths and atoning for his late fall on debut at Leopardstown.
  • Honeysuckle was a deeply impressive winner of the Solerina Mares' Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, setting herself up for a tilt at the Cheltenham Festival equivalent.
  • At Naas yesterday, Ballyward was left in front in the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase after a fall from Discorama at the last, setting himself up for a potential charge at the NH Chase. A winner at the 2017 Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals but not seen since, Champagne Classic travelled like the best horse in the race after that monster lay-off, and looks to retain at least most of his old level of ability.
  • On the same card, Espoir D'Allen took the Limestone Lad Hurdle, where he gave 7lb and a two and a half-length beating to Wicklow Brave despite some sloppy jumping. He’s now as short as 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle.

 

  1. Go Green

Last week I wrote a small bit about Debbie Matthews, the Altior superfan who overcame severe anxiety to see her star win the Clarence House Chase. Here she gets a lot more space, as she deserves.

Matthews has been at it again, this time handing out green ribbons  – think the pink ribbons for cancer, but different – in the crowd at Cheltenham’s Trials Day to raise awareness of mental health and to share a message that shows the best of this great sport.

Here she is, in her own words, speaking to the Racing Post’s Bruce Jackson: "Green is the colour of the mental health ribbon and if anyone is there on their own it's a sign that I'm one of those people who they can come and say hello to. Even others going in a group who wanted to wear one, saying people could join in with them, could."

As you can see, the results are inspiring. A special shoutout to friend of geegeez.co.uk (and many others), Rory Delargy, who wrote a brilliantly candid article on the subject in the Irish Field:

 

All credit due to Fergal O’Brien, who reached out as early as last April to Matthews when her blog had just started, and Nicky Henderson, who let her see Altior in the flesh after the Clarence House Chase. 

 

  1. Pegasus The Wonderhorse(s)

Big Money was on offer in America, where the third running of The Pegasus World Championships took place on a filthy evening and a sloppy track at Florida's Gulfstream Park.

The weather, and its effect on the track, definitely hindered some of the contenders, but so impressive was City Of Light in the Pegasus World Cup that it may well not have mattered. The five-year-old son of Quality Road, trained by Michael W.McCarthy and ridden by Javier Castellano, was always moving well and put away Accelerate in a matter of strides at the top of the stretch before he powered away to a five-length win. Seeking The Soul gave his connections a huge payday by pipping the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner for second, benefiting from a strong pace and doing best of those held up.

Accelerate ran with credit to be third, and Bravazo was a fine fourth ahead of Audible, though there was no joy for Frankie Dettori on Mexican Triple Crown winner, Kukulkan.

 

Michael W.McCarthy, trainer of City Of Light, spoke afterwards to the Daily Racing Form: “To have a horse like this come into your life, honestly, I can’t describe the emotion that goes along with something like this,” he said, hesitating to recover his poise, while his 8-year-old daughter, Stella, touched him on the shoulder in support.

“Winning the Breeders’ Cup was incredibly special. To follow it up with something like this, I don’t know if it’ll ever happen again, and if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be okay with it.”

Accelerate’s trainer, John Sadler, told NBC: "I will always remember his honesty, he would always run a good race. We enjoyed him for a good three years and he is just a really good, solid racehorse. He ran well in tough conditions and we are going to walk out of here with our heads high." 

What’s Next: Both City of Light and Accelerate will be heading to Lane’s End Stud to take up stallion duties, initially standing at $35,000 and $20,000 respectively.

 

Earlier on the card, Chad Brown’s skill and patience was rewarded once again with Bricks and Mortar romping in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Turf, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Magic Wand finishing well to claim a very good second from the Frankie Dettori-ridden Delta Prince in third. Catapult, who made a big move down the backstretch, hung on for fourth.

 

It was a fine display of training from Brown, who had brought the winner back from over a year off; and Aidan O’Brien will be very happy with Magic Wand’s second given the rain that hit the track. We can expect plenty of good things from her if she builds on that and maintains her form.

Side Note: O’Brien’s night was a satisfactory one that could have been better had the rain stayed away, with Hunting Horn finishing fast for third but not having the tactical speed of the former Dermot Weld-trained Zulu Alpha who won the Grade 3 W L McKnight Stakes. Still, he’ll be sending plenty more horses across the Atlantic in 2019.

A disappointing night was had by William Mott, whose Pegasus World Cup favourite, Yoshida, failed to get into the race from a rear position early, whilst Channel Maker could only finish fifth. Japanese runner Aerolithe bombed.

Chad Brown, trainer of Bricks and Mortar, related to NBC: "I'm so proud of this horse. We managed to get him back after a couple of issues which required a lot of time and patience". Expect to see his campaign geared towards the Breeders' Cup in Santa Anita in early November, though whether he's aimed at the Mile or the Turf is still in question, this victory being achieved at a range of nine and a half furlongs.

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 21st January 2019

Another seven days, and my word, what a week, writes William Kedjanyi. An appearance by arguably the best chaser in training, a harking back to the past, and a flying object which isn’t a hurdler or chaser all make the best of this week’s social discourse. I wonder what they call the difficult third album.

As ever, please get in touch via the commments, or @KeejayOV2 on the tweetie machine. Let's get to it...

 

  1. To The Left, To The Left

Before the weekend, the magic number was three but, after Altior won the Clarence House chase with ease, the magic number was seventeen, to which he has now extended his unbeaten run. Nicky Henderson’s two-mile ace eventually came home seven lengths clear of Fox Norton but there was much focus on the jumping of the Champion Chaser through the race, with a round of fencing that saw him move so much to the left that the Labour Party are apparently offering to buy him!

 

 

In all seriousness, his jumping to the left was notable and the subject of much discussion in the race’s aftermath, although Nicky Henderson wasn’t as fussed as most post-race:

 

 

There was plenty of discussion from Twitter's legion of racing fans:

 

 

 

Let’s get technical. On Twitter, an ardent fan and self-described equine physio expert has analysed Altior’s jumping over the course of three runs on right-handed tracks, including the Celebration Chase at Sandown, Saturday at Ascot and also his win in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton – fascinating reading for those who are initiated or not.

 

 

 

 

Henderson was asked about it again on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday, and had a very interesting theory to share with the racing public:

“Nico [De Boinville, Altior's jockey] said, and it’s interesting, that Special Tiara taught him that [to go left when jumping] last time at Kempton. He was on the outside of Special Tiara and he kept taking him that way.

"He’s a very competitive horse and he likes racing. Out in front there he was not doing anything all the way round. I’m not saying he was playing games but he had to do something to amuse himself."

 

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What Really Matters: Altior pleased plenty of people but this meant everything to one particular racegoer, Debbie Matthews, who fought her own personal battle to make it to Ascot to see Altior. It was the first time she’d seen him and she told her story brilliantly to Stuart Riley of the Racing Post. Please take the time to read it, and follow Debbie via the link below:

 

Be Smart: Returning to Cheltenham, all being well with a likely larger field – and perhaps Special Tiara again - ought to give Nico De Boinville a much more preferable tactical setup in the Champion Chase. Altior will be extremely hard to dislodge from his plinth, and is justifiably the shortest-priced, and only odds on, favourite for the Festival.

 

  1. No Bet, No Deal

This is the point at which most people will stop reading or skip on to the next section, because I have to talk about Brexit. But, like it or not, racing is going to be seriously impacted by Brexit and this comes on a number of levels. 

So first, the politics, and yes please god, I will try to make this quick.  There are 68 days left until we are set to Leave the European Union. There are several options, but the three main ones at this point in time. 

Option 1: Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is accepted. This doesn’t mean the whole thing is over, but it essentially means everyone outside of the negotiations, and MP’s, can sleep easy for a while. However, this agreement suffered the largest ever defeat in the history of Parliament just six days ago and there’s no sign of anything close to the sort of turnaround needed to make it an option.

Option 2: We extend or revoke Article 50 to buy more time. If we asked the EU to extend Article 50, and the 27 other EU member states (or countries) said yes, then we could have more time to keep negotiating, or do something else, like have another referendum or a new Government even, which could change course (i.e. moving to a different sort of deal, having changed one of the so-called 'red lines').

Option 3: No Deal, described by some as ‘WTO Brexit’. This is perhaps the most likely option because nothing needs to happen – if neither of the first two options takes place then in 68 days, at 11pm on the 29th March, the UK will leave the EU with no withdrawal agreement of any kind.

 

No Deal is the most likely, and also the most serious. But how does that affect our wonderful sport, you might ask? Racing is an all year sport and National Hunt, which would be immediately affected, is hugely reliant upon swift movement of horses between Britain and Ireland (and France to a lesser degree) on a very regular basis.

  • The law that permits horses to move freely between Britain, Ireland and France is called the Tripartite agreement. And in the event of No Deal, it would no longer be valid.
  • This is vitally important; in the last calendar year there were over 25,000 movements through this system and over 1,500 foreign raiders to run in Britain, including the Irish trainers who dominated the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National. Don’t forget those on the flat, as well.
  • Do not fret just yet, however. According to the Government’s technical notice, the UK is replicating current systems – so the import rules wouldn’t change overnight.

Exporting, however, may become much trickier. From the technical notice once again:

  • As the UK would be a third country, an Export Health Certificate (EHC) would be required to move equines, on a permanent or temporary basis, to the EU.
  • EU certification would require additional action from vets to confirm the absence of equine disease. This new process would require more planning from the equine owner and could involve increased cost if additional blood tests are required, estimated to be between £200 and £500 depending on the third country category the UK is placed in after leaving the EU.
  • Punting is not certain to be unaffected: Gibraltar-based bookmakers need current EU agreements to access markets within Europe and in a No Deal, that could require re-ratification.

And let's not even start on the shortage in stable staff, with many EEA workers already in the racing industry and then the ending of Freedom of Movement as a 'red line' for the Government.

 

  1. Drone Alone

Drones have become an important feature of British cultural life, causing misery for myriad would-be air travellers over the Christmas period and sparking many a national conversation about just how we will cope with our new flying overlords.

The issue flared its nostrils once again at Haydock on Saturday, when a van parked near the A580 was presumed to be communicating with a drone which flew over the course for the valuable meeting that included two Grade 2 events as well as the Peter Marsh Chase.

The Edge: Drones can be, and are, used by punters who want to gain an edge on delayed pictures to either Racing TV or Sky Sports Racing. Haydock belongs to RTV, which has a delay of 1.5 seconds on average – still enough to make a considerable difference in big markets – and Sky Sports Racing has a delay purported to be close 10 seconds, a lifetime for in running punters. 

The Bottom Line: Not much – if anything – can be done at this stage to stop the drones from being over the course. If Gatwick can’t do it, then it's going to be very tricky for Ascot, let alone Southwell. 

Look Ahead: This isn’t just about the big courses either… There are plenty of courses in the Sky Sports Racing stable that are ripe for targeting with that significantly bigger delay.

 

  1. A Feather In The Handicap

Three was not the magic number for a lot of racing fans, as the presence of Altior reduced the final field for the Clarence House Chase to a trio before the race had even started. See the usual reactions from Twitter, a selection of which are picked to refresh your memory below:

 

 

 

 

 

The reaction was muted at best, and soon the conversation turned to how to avoid such small field events. Older readers amongst us will be familiar with the fact that the Clarence House Chase started life as a Limited Handicap, with the first edition won by none other than Desert Orchid, starring off the huge burden of 12 stone. That was followed by a series of impressive weight-carrying performances from household names such as Viking Flagship, Call Equiname, and Well Chief before the race was moved whilst Ascot was re-developed its facilities.

That was a golden era of performances with brilliant duels up the length of the home straight, my favourite of which I have picked out for you to enjoy:

 

Following this year’s three-runner event many have declared their intention for the race to revert to being a handicap once again, a call led by Kevin Blake of ITV Racing and At The Races:

 

 

Blake calls for all non-Grade 1 races to become limited handicaps, a bold call which some might see as going too far, but the idea is a fascinating one and something which is picking up a great deal of support.

 

 

Perspective: It’s hardly as if this would be a completely new idea, either. The Old Roan Chase has consistently been one of the early season highlights and the handicap has made the Elite Hurdle a fascinating pre-Christmas puzzle, so the scope is there.

Thinking forward: The Old Roan and the Elite Hurdle are two Graded handicaps currently in the calendar, whilst there is also the Ladbroke Trophy (affectionately known as the Hennessy after its long-time sponsor), arguably the most elite Graded handicap in the calendar. This idea is a fascinating one but it remains to be seen which courses would be willing to change their race status, and if one could still attract the top notchers that made the Clarence House so special when run as a handicap.

 

  1. Sweeney’s McMagic

Infuriated, confused, depressed, or plain bored by what you’ve read? Just watch this.

It’s neck and neck between Fort Worth Texas and Ask Heather coming to the last at the Killeagh Point to Point meet in Cork. Michael Sweeney’s mount Ask Heather steps two full strides before the fence. Crashing into it, the horse flings Sweeney off the side but he clings onto the head of the horse and manages to pull himself by his thighs to get back onto his mount’s back, and then rally past Fort Worth Texas to win by an unbelievable four lengths.

 

Unbelievable stuff, and perhaps a source of hope that some vague form of triumph can yet be salvaged from the Brexit chaos...

[And huge thanks to Pat Healy and the team at Healy Racing for allowing me to share the banner image at the top of this post].

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 13th January 2019

Not quite seven days from the inaugural Social Discourse, I'm back with the next thrilling instalment, writes William Kedjanyi. Thanks so much for the responses to last week's opener - they are much appreciated indeed, and hopefully you'll continue to enjoy these posts going forward.

There's been rather a lot of news off the track in the last week as we head towards further trials for Cheltenham's Festival, but sadly we must start with some bad news on this very front.

  1. Say It Ain’t So, Dino

The lord giveth, and the lord taketh away. As reported last time, Master Dino romped to victory in a top class Plumpton novice chase to the joy of those who got to witness it (and subsequently backed him for the JLT). But just 48 hours later we received arguably the most gutting injury blow of the season so far as it emerged that Guillame Macaire's exciting French fencer sustained a hairline fracture to a hind leg en route to victory.

Needless to say, the racing Twitteratti, yours truly included, was in anguish;

 

 

Anthony Bromley, racing manager to the chaser’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, confirmed the news on Twitter. [Master Dino] has had surgery to insert three screws in his hind leg. Glad to say he is fine after the operation. Now the long road of recuperation.”

The Good: Master Dino is just five, and even a late return, all being well, would see him take to the track before he turned seven. 

The Bad: He has now lost the rest of his novice chase season in both France and the UK for connections.

The Ugly: It is a hairline fracture, however, and we will be left waiting a long time before news of the fullness of his recovery is known.

 

  1. Play It Again, ATR

Sense has prevailed as Irish racing replays for races run before the new year have been restored. Reported Scott Burton of the Racing Post:

"Race watchers will now be able to see Irish racing replays, including those from the festivals at Leopardstown and Limerick, on attheraces.com as well as RacingTV.com, sorting out what had been a rather confusing row."

A joint statement on behalf of the four companies said: "We are pleased that all parties have reached an agreement which will enable the Irish digital archive to be restored to websites. The archive up to December 31, 2018, will be restored on attheraces.com today. It will be available for the rest of 2019.”

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  1. Hard Lines

Amid a rise – a small but notable one - in the number of cases of jockeys testing positive for metabolites of cocaine, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board has pledged more stringent penalties on Irish-based jockeys who test positive for the substance.

Five-year suspensions were handed out to 7lb claiming apprentices Damien Melia and Conor Murphy and, according to the Post, there’s another case waiting to be heard.

 

There has been a fair amount of reaction to the ban as many would expect, with some being supportive of the jockeys involved, as seen above.

IHRB Chief Exec Denis Egan: “As the number of positive tests for riders in 2018 was five, Justice Tony Hunt, chairman of the IHRB referrals committee, feels the message is not getting through to riders. Consequently the starting-off point for bans related to positive tests will, in future, be five years.”

 

  1. Beauty, In The Eye Of The Beholder

Japan’s love affair with the Arc is one of the highlights of the famous race but it might not be exaggerating to suggest that Almond Eye is perhaps the most exciting raider they’ve planned to send since Orfevre.

At the JRA awards last week, the unbeaten fillies’ Triple Crown winner who landed the Japan Cup in an astounding 2 minutes 20.6 seconds, was pointed towards the race by trainer Sakae Kunieda.

Enjoy her victory below, courtesy of Sky Sports Racing:

 

From The Horse’s Mouth: "The Arc is our ultimate goal. We'll see how we do in Dubai and make the final call after that but the Arc is our target. She's doing really well now, coming along nicely."

 

  1. If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

How does one take on the all-conquering force of Ballydoyle? Join forces, of course. A superb exclusive from the Irish Field’s Daragh Ó Conchúir reveals that top Curragh trainers John Oxx and Patrick Prendergast are to join forces ahead of next season, with Oxx as the named trainer.

The two are based in adjacent yards but Prendergast won’t renew his license. Despite last season being his best ever, he will instead play an integral role in training a progressive and growing string alongside Oxx, formerly trainer of the brilliant Sea The Stars.

 

Logistics, Logistics, Logistics: Oxx said, "I have the space and Patrick doesn't, so we can combine. He is anxious to do it and we are very happy for him to join up with us, and it brings us up past the critical number that this place needs. We haven’t had that for some years.

"It’s a big place here so it needs a critical number of horses to support the core staff levels I have to have, whether I am training 30 horses or 150, so it has a big positive effect on us.”

One To Note: The training regime of classy filly, Skitter Scatter, winner of the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes in September, won’t change, in case you were wondering.

 

6. A Perfect Winter Escape?

Little known Irish trainer, Aidan Howard, has a hugely exciting prospect on his hands in the shape of Winter Escape, a J P McManus-owned son of Robin Des Pres, who gave weight and a beating to two smart horses in the Grade 3 Total Event Rental Novice Chase at Punchestown on Sunday.

The third placed horse is rated 145, and he was beaten 15 lengths in receipt of seven pounds, and the second placed 5/4 favourite was getting a full stone from the winner but was no match.

Winter Escape earned a Racing Post Rating of 157, the highest in the JLT Chase ante-post division and yet he's available at 16/1; still, the 12/1 non-runner no bet with Skybet looks the prudent call.

The trainer told Racing Post, "Winter Escape did it very well and I wasn't expecting him to be able to give away that sort of weight to the favourite. He has a couple of entries at Leopardstown so we'll see how he comes out of the race. I think he's a good horse"

Social Discourse: 8th January 2019

Hello and welcome to Social Discourse, a sort of weekly digest looking back over the past seven days in racing from various different angles. I'll be looking at stories big and small, and will bring you the very best of what's occurring on Racing Twitter as we head towards the Spring. This is something of an experiment for now, so let's see where it might go.

I'm William Kedjanyi and, if you're unfamiliar with me (it's quite common), I've written and spoken about racing for the past five years, alongside many other sports.

Of course, if you've any thoughts on what you'd like to see included, do leave a comment below, or send me a tweet. I'm at @KeejayOV2. Right, let's get cracking...

[N.B. All of the images below, when clicked upon, will open up the content for viewing, be it a video or article snippet - enjoy!]

 

The Big Thing: My Kingdom, My Kingdom, My Kingdom For Some Staff

Staff? Any staff? Hello? Can anyone here ride a horse? Ideally everyday, starting at 6am? No? Erm OK.

There is a staffing crisis in British Racing and everybody is talking about it. ITV’s Opening Show led with a big debate on an issue which has been talked about for at least 18 months and been around for longer.

 

Trainer Dan Skelton also believes there is a major issue right now...

Others - including Evan Williams - see it as a wider 'rural economy' issue:

Regardless of who is right or wrong, racing clearly has a challenge to recruit and retain enthusiastic and skilled stable staff.

 

New Year, New TV  

A new year heralds a new era for racing on TV: On New Year’s Day, At The Races became Sky Sports Racing, with coverage from Southwell and Fakenham, while Irish racing was broadcast for the first time on Racing TV, the new name for Racing UK.

The Reaction? As with everything in racing on social media, it was mixed, but we are just four days into the New Year and all good TV, especially live TV, needs time to bed in.

The Bigger Picture: This is a matter of patience. The Sky Sports Racing Team is a strong one – most of it having migrated from At The Races – and Racing TV has made some top hires. Sky Sports Racing will be on Now TV and Sky Go from the 8th January, but there is no sign that it will be available to Virgin Customers in HD, a big blow for those who have waited so long for the change. Also, what happens to the unfilled 11pm to 2am slot when the channel joins Sky Sports News remains to be seen, though all bar the night owls will be tucked up by then.

As well as the live coverage, Racing TV had a follow-on show after the racing with post-race interviews, and are continuing with their race review slots for subsequent analysis. Sky Sports Racing used time between races to explain track configurations and other elements of racing, and that would be a very good idea for a standalone programme. The incorporation of drone footage to show how courses, in this case Plumpton, ride is a welcome addition, as are the super slow motion images at the finishing line.

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The verdict? It’s early days, but the Irish TV viewers appear to have been shortchanged so far. On the first day of Racing TV, Fairyhouse and Tramore were joined by four British meetings, which meant that split screens were used for the majority of the action whilst the start of some contests were missed completely. With forty races shown on RTV on New Year's Day, at an average of one (jumps!) race every six minutes, there wasn’t much time, so one can sympathise with production teams and presenters. But perhaps not so much with programme controllers who appear not to have made an extra channel, or a channel solely for Irish racing. There’s still time for a late New Year’s Resolution there…

A side issue which emerged was that full race replays for Irish racing before the new year are not currently available – although RMG's director of PR and responsible for Racing TV, Seb Vance, told the Racing Post on Wednesday: "Full race replays will be free to view in the very near future.”

Time will tell...

 

Come Back, Please

More TV chat: what has happened to The Sunday Forum? And will On The Line return? Whilst Luck On Sunday is an excellent offering that we are fortunate to have on the podcast scene now, The Sunday Forum - ATR's magazine programme - was very much its equal and gave viewers two different perspectives, including one that was cheaper (i.e. free) than the alternative. It is to be hoped that it returns to Sky Sports Racing, with a show like On The Line surely a fan favourite again.

 

 

Sunday Fundays

Sunday is often described as a day of rest but that was not the case yesterday on either side of the Irish sea.

Plumpton held one of its best ever novice chases – and some might say the best ever – as French champion four-year-old, Master Dino, took on Pertemps second Glenloe, former Grade 2 winning hurdler Slate House, and the 148-rated Knocknanuss in the 2m3½f Follow At The Races On Twitter Novices' Chase.

It promised to be a great tussle and delivered against expectations, as Knocknanuss made it a strong test. He must have had Daryl Jacob thinking on the now five-year-old French raider, but Guillaume Macaire’s charge adapted well to English racing and was electric at the last before stretching away for a convincing win by seven lengths.

He should improve for the experience of English racing and ought to be more at home around a more testing track like Sandown, where he heads next for the Scilly Isles Chase. The tweet machine was suitably impressed;

 

 

Speaking to Sky Sports Racing’s Hayley Moore, Guillaume Macaire was delighted with how his star had adapted: “I’m very pleased, because it was a test today – he doesn’t speak English, only French! He’s learning, but it’s the first time for him.”

Meanwhile, in Ireland on one of the first feature Irish racing days for Racing TV, Battleoverdoyen maintained his unbeaten record in the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle, with a hard fought victory that saw him cut into general second favouritism for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at around 6/1.

Never far from the front, he jumped the second last impressively and, when asked, found plenty to repel the closing pack without ever being in any real danger.

 

He’s a chaser in the making, Gordon Elliott told Racing TV afterwards: “I’ll have to talk with Michael and Eddie [O’Leary], but I don’t see why he couldn’t go to Cheltenham this year. It will be hurdling this year, and chasing straightaway next year.

 

 

He’s only a baby, and we don’t want to kill him , but he’ll have all the entries, including at the Dublin Racing Festival (at Leopardstown)", Elliott continued. 

Worth noting: The form of the race suffered some letdowns as neither Punchestown Champion Bumper winner, Tornado Flyer, nor the heavily-backed Come To Me ran their races.

 

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chasers Making Changes 

It’s not lost on many connections that one of the leading lights of jump racing in recent times – Big Buck's – was switched from an abortive novice chase campaign back to hurdles before dominating the staying division for years to come, and with an open looking stayers’ hurdle division this season, that blueprint is providing encouragement to some connections to do likewise.

Following his second ponderous round of jumping over fences, this time in the Dipper Novices’ Chase, and despite the assistance of equine jumping expert Yogi Breisner, Tom George announced that Black Op, his Grade 1-winning novice hurdler last season, will revert to the small obstacles, with the Cleeve Hurdle  towards the end of the month as the target. Sound familiar?

George was quoted on his website on Friday: “Yogi, who has had a couple of sessions with him recently, would like to have him for a spell over the summer months to do some extensive schooling before a decision is made regarding his chasing career.”

Think Ahead: Black Op retains his novice status over fences - even if he is eight now - and with just nine races under rules there’s still time for a switch back in the future.

Since George's announcement, we’ve had another notable switcheroo as Kilbricken Storm, last season’s Albert Bartlett winner at the Cheltenham Festival, is now set to go for the Stayers' Hurdle after disappointing in the John Francome Novice Chase at Newbury.

Owner Power has played its part here, with Tizzard quoted as saying: "The owners are not very keen to continue over fences, and they are quite keen to have a go at the Stayers’ Hurdle. When we bought him his point-to-point form was only moderate, but he was a very good hurdler last season."

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If a news story has caught your eye this week, do drop me a line on twitter (@KeejayOV2) - I'll include the pick of them in next week's round up. Thanks for looking in!

- William

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