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.
- 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:
If Winx was mine, she wouldn’t be retiring at the end of this season with the way that she is racing.
— Shane Anderson (@Globalgallop) March 2, 2019
And an example of the case against:
Do you really want another season of exhibition gallops Shane? https://t.co/9FdWReY2Nb
— James (@jamesaknight) March 2, 2019
Happy Clapper himself sets a better standard than most of Winx’s domestic opposition by one sharp tweeter, and the discussion shall rage on.
what (4 year old plus) European milers would beat happy clapper ?
— calum swan law (@calumswanlaw) March 2, 2019
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
Confirmation that one of our stable favourites Chase The Spud has been retired
— FergalO’Brien Racing (@FOBRacing) March 3, 2019
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