It hardly beholds me to criticise a fellow member of the media, but prompted by my friend Peter Ashmore, with whom I attended Kempton Park races on Saturday, and having reviewed the film of the finish of the Lanzarote Hurdle, I have to agree with him, writes Tony Stafford. After the horse we’d mutually dug out, Debestyman had jumped the second-last flight in front and was clearly going further away, there could have been little danger.
But then, edging left as they often do approaching the last flight in hurdle races there, unlike first time round when they cluster on the far side, Debestyman, an 8-1 shot carrying a little of Peter’s hard-earned made the first semblance of any mistake. He hit the flight and, jack-knifing to an extent that made it impossible for Micheal Nolan to stay aboard, the jockey duly went out the side door.
Meanwhile the nearest challenger, Notre Pari with Barry Geraghty in the J P McManus colours, also came down, in his case with an authentic heavy fall leaving Nicky Henderson, Geraghty’s more usual employer in the UK, to benefit for another of his major owners, Michael Buckley, with Burrows Edge, ridden by Nico de Boinville.
Sometimes Peter favours watching some of the “away” races in the small William Hill betting shop and returning there we both found it pretty galling to hear the winning punters coming up to the counter behind us saying: “He probably would have won anyway.”
Debestyman had three-mile form, so this 2m5f was in no way the limit to his stamina and such comments were as ridiculous as the average betting-shop punter from the 1970’s who used to stay all day and do his cash every afternoon. “No names!” The big firms must be wishing there were a few more of us (sorry, them) around never mind the public face of the “bet responsibly” rubric.
But returning to my point, Debestyman was edging slightly leftward and as horses clearly do have peripheral vision, he could hardly have missed the sight that confronted him immediately behind the obstacle. There, standing on a step ladder, was a photographer intent on the best shot. He got one. Peter was sure in the moment of his jumping, he must have been at least a little distracted, maybe even a shade frightened by the sight of a giant human within yards of him in mid-leap. Scrutiny of the film does not entirely rule out the possibility.
I’d love to see his shot. In the old days it would have been hawked around the Fleet Street picture desks – any unusual action like the completely unbalanced attitude of Debestyman at the time of the collision with the obstacle. At Kempton just at the side as you enter the track, they have a hurdle and a fence and they are both – even the smaller hurdle – very solid and big enough.
There were many more disadvantaged people after that incident than Peter and myself, for all it had turned a nice winning day for us into a small loss. But for owners The Plumpton Party and trainer Suzy Smith it was an unmitigated disaster.
She’s gone to one of the top tracks for a featured hurdle race on the back of a season where from 30 previous runs, she’d won two races. I saw the latest at first hand at Fakenham on New Year’s Day when Clondaw Bisto collected £5,490 for winning a handicap chase in good style.
Suzy, based on the old Lewes racecourse, has also won this season with Oscarsman, who earned £4,094 for his defeat of Bean in Trouble at local course Plumpton at the beginning of December.
She had gone to Tattersalls Cheltenham sale in May 2018, returning home with Irish point winner Debestyman for £28,500 and almost to the day of Saturday’s frustrating events, “did what it said on the tin” by winning a two and a half mile novice hurdle at Plumpton. A proper Plumpton Party indeed.
So then it was on to Kempton and a challenge for a big one. Before the day, a season’s endeavour had yielded a total of £21,061 in win and place earnings for the Smith stable. The owners collectively would have got around 65% of that; the trainer maybe enough to pay the diesel for a few trips to the races from her couple of grand share of the riches.
Saturday’s race was worth almost five thousand more alone at £26.5k and most annoyingly of all, as the Racing Post analysis glibly observed: “…he looked unlucky and the handicapper will take note, so this may have been an opportunity missed.” That’s right, put him up 10lb and make sure he won’t win again. You have one good horse and opportunities are few and far between. Maybe this is a time for the handicapper to show some sympathy.
What I’d like to see is for the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association to identify the snapper concerned, confiscate his step ladder and offer Miss Smith and the owners an apology. Obviously nobody can tell whether the horse was distracted but there’s a fair chance he was.
It was interesting that Suzy Smith had a welcome winner at Fakenham on New Year’s Day, just before Waterproof, also the beneficiary of a last-flight exit, the fall of Bran when almost a length to the good.
Waterproof got a 127 rating which makes him a borderline possibility for the Boodles Handicap Hurdle (Fred Winter) but Shaun Keightley thinks we might need another win and say an extra 4lb to increase the chance of his making the cut.
It wasn’t the idea to brag about Ray Tooth’s Pour Moi gelding – not this week anyway! - but another nice one for the exiled sire, Wolf Prince, won again at Fairyhouse on Saturday and also has ‘our’ race in mind. It was simply to applaud the tiny but ultra-friendly Fakenham track, run so efficiently by David Hunter, for its excellent prize money.
Kempton’s card opened with what was in effect a Triumph Hurdle / Boodles warm-up and the first three finishers would all easily make the top half of the Boodles field. The winner Goa Lil (Twiston-Davies/ Munir, Souede); Lord Lamington (King/ Netherfield House Stud) and Fraser Island (Henderson/ Spence) will all be on at least 135, yet they were running for a scandalous £4,158. Waterproof, yet to show anything like their class, collected £5,198 for his four minutes around Norfolk.
Gary Moore had juvenile hurdle races on his mind after the Friday abandonment of Huntingdon, the course suffering a creeping flooding when the neighbouring streams suddenly encroached after it rained in mid-morning.
The loss of an obvious opportunity for his Triumph 7-1 joint-favourite Goshen was an irritation but nothing like his reaction to the news that the BHA would not re-schedule the race.
They argued a four-horse field was one factor while the availability of other options made it unnecessary. Gary seems set on a juvenile race at Ascot this Saturday when the penalty scales are only slightly different. At Huntingdon Goshen would have carried an 8lb penalty, whereas at Ascot it is 10lb. The Ascot race, Gary will have noted, is worth less than half the value of the abandoned Chatteris Fen Hurdle.
Interestingly, Moore, who was a frequent in-and-out visitor to our sometime perch in the little William Hill shop, looked thunderous most of the time. Maybe he was remembering that 12 months ago, he ran the similarly-penalised Beat The Judge in the same race and he was a well-beaten third behind two unpenalised rivals.
Beat The Judge, around 20lb inferior to Goshen on the Flat, has never won since, but remains rated around 140. Goshen is on 143 and I reckon on what I’ve seen of this highly-talented stayer he’d give Waterproof at least double the official amount between them and still kick him into touch.
My favourite moment from Saturday, apart from another fantastic performance from a Hughie Morrison bumper filly, Maridadi, a five-length victress at Wetherby, was further proof that three miles around Kempton takes some getting in soft ground.
In the handicap chase, On The Blind Side ran a brave race but was anchored by 11st12lb, still gallantly running on to pinch third on the line. The winner was Miss Millie Wonnacott, claiming 7lb on the Neil Mulholland bottom-weight Fingerontheswitch. Her allowance brought the 10-year-old’s weight down to 9st8lb and therefore he was receiving 32lb from Alan Spence’s horse. Up the straight there was only one horse running!
Sharp track isn’t it?