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.

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

Monday Musings: UK Racing Reels from Point Blank Jab

Every autumn, while the days are still long and temperatures warm, the messages start, writes Tony Stafford. Either as SMS’s or calls from the surgery’s land line. “Don’t forget your ‘flu jab. It’s free!”

Boots the chemist also makes regular calls to one and all to take advantage of the offer for much of the pre-winter period. From my surgery the urgency increases with time. Obviously they have so many units of the stuff they simply do not want to be left with any. After all, who’s going to bother taking precautions once you get past Christmas?

A few years ago I succumbed to the onslaught, much as regular (possibly annual, although seemingly constant) demands to have one’s type 2 diabetes, blood pressure, eyesight, weight, feet and God knows what checked punctuate life for over 65’s in the Britain of the 21st Century.

So I have the flu jab each year and, while it does not guarantee immunity, I have never had what goes for “proper” flu when you are stuck in bed for a week and end up with agony in the bones and joints. Then again I’d never had more than a cold in any of the previous six-and-a-bit decades before Mr Flu Jab entered my senior life.

Every racehorse in Great Britain has to be fully inoculated against Equine Influenza before it ever races and each year has to have a booster injection. Just as my insurance against the worst potential effects of flu is no guarantee of escape from infection, so horses’ immunity is also not inevitable.

When Wednesday’s news of Donald McCain’s stable’s having three confirmed cases of EI was revealed it shocked and stopped racing in its tracks. These were revealed by the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket after swabs on the three horses were taken by vet Alasdair Topp on McCain’s instigation as those three horses had been exhibiting “worrying signs”.

All McCain’s runners since the previous Monday were monitored. Immediately the BHA ordered that every stable that might have had a horse possibly coming into contact with one of the McCain animals at those racecourses should go into “lockdown”. The race was on to test every horse in what amounted to 174 stables, and equally to get the swabs to carry out the tests. Soon after, three more McCain horses, including one of three from the stable to have raced in the days immediately before the revelation, were discovered to have the virus.

Those veterinary practices that were quick off the mark apparently bought up all available swab supplies, leaving some stables to have to wait in limbo for days before being tested. The vets have been to the forefront in this procedure as racing underwent an initial week-long hiatus, one that could well be prolonged further after Sunday night’s news that four Simon Crisford stable inmates have tested positive.

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So, most worryingly, especially for the sport’s top practitioners, Newmarket is not clear. Crisford, while at the moment concentrating more with his runners at Meydan, did have a beaten odds-on shot (Sajanjl) at Newcastle last Tuesday but not on a day that McCain had a runner there. Crisford is in an interesting, nay privileged, position, hardly surprising in view of his long previous career as Sheikh Mohammed’s racing manager at Godolphin.

Overseas trainers are allowed runners only on the days of the Carnival in Dubai, but alone, apart from Charlie Appleby and Saeed Bin Suroor, Godolphin’s main trainers in the UK, Crisford can also run horses at non-Carnival fixtures there. He is operating a satellite yard in the Emirate, so counts as a local trainer.

It did not take long for opinion to question the need for such stringent action. Nigel Twiston-Davies vociferously echoed the thoughts of many stablemen who believe that as all these horses have been immunised, the fact that a few cases have been revealed is little different from the run of the mill situation in all stables where runny noses and temperatures are a daily fact of life.

One trainer, not affected by the lockdown, said that for weeks around the country marts talk has been of rampant flu in non-racing animals in the UK and Ireland while he had heard that one of France’s leading trotting yards has voluntarily closed itself down.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, and clearly the BHA had to be seen to be acting to contain such a contagious disease, the costs for owners will as ever be considerable. Apart from missed opportunities at the track – who says the Betfair Hurdle prizemoney will ever be collected? – the blood tests must be paid for by somebody. My contact reckons the vets are the only winners in this costly exercise.

It was timely that Luck on Sunday chose this week for his principal guest to be Michael Dickinson, 36 years after his unique and much-celebrated Famous Five Gold Cup when Bregawn led home Captain John, Wayward Lad, Silver Buck and Ashley House that March day in Cheltenham.

Dickinson seems hardly changed in his appearance since those days, but more than 30 years on from his departure to train in the US after his sacking as Robert Sangster’s trainer at Manton, he is uniquely placed to assess such problems as the present veterinary crisis.

Luck asked how equine flu is dealt with in the US, to which Dickinson said that the system of training at racetracks makes it easier to handle any problems. With each stable and trainer having his own barn, any infected horse and therefore trainer’s barn can be quickly closed down and put effectively into isolation.

Just as when international runners go over for events such as the Breeders’ Cup, they have to go onto the track for training after the main body of domestic horses are exercised, so any barns with horses showing signs of infection have to exercise at separate times.

Newmarket stables identified as being in lockdown are similarly being required to exercise their horses in the afternoons, until clear returns for all those horses are established. As anybody that’s ever spoken to a trainer will tell you, horses have to be exercised every day once they have been brought to racing fitness, for their own and stable staff’s welfare. Monday morning traditionally, after a quiet Sunday, was always the day when lads expected a fiery first few minutes before the weekend “fizz” was extinguished.

Much of the 40 minutes of Luck and Dickinson devolved into a thrust and counter-thrust of the Mad Genius berating the Boy Wonder on his love of dirt racing. Dickinson, contrarily, while conceding the Triple Crown is safe, reckons dirt racing’s time may be coming almost to a conclusion.

As the developer of the Tapeta racing surface, as he revealed the result of 53 different elements – “we had them all in boxes” – his championing of turf and synthetic over dirt is hardly unexpected. But he backed his point of view with compelling statistics of the level of fatalities in dirt racing.

He said that the biggest complaints about racing in the United States were ”medication, facilities and dirt”, while agreeing that when Da Hoss won his two Breeders’ Cup Mile races two years apart, he did race with both Lasix and Bute.

Luck called that hypocritical, but Dickinson would not be shamed saying, “Lasix moves a horse up four lengths. If we’d not allowed him to use it, we wouldn’t have won and you wouldn’t be interviewing me now”. The “four lengths” theory explains why Frank Stronach, boss of Gulfstream Park in Florida wrote a condition in the two multi-million dollar Pegasus races recently allowing 7lb for horses not using any medication. Aidan O’Brien took the option and was rewarded with a highly-lucrative second place from Magic Wand in the Turf race.

Dickinson armed himself with a number of quotes. In one a New York racing secretary said that if he writes a maiden race on dirt, he’ll get two entries. The same conditions for a maiden on turf would attract 18. The writing it seems is on that particular wall, but then the fact that turf tracks are susceptible to wear and tear is a constant downside for US racecourses that may race every day for weeks on end.

Dickinson also offered a quote from Aidan O’Brien, perhaps understandable after the shocking experience of Mendelssohn in last year’s Kentucky Derby: “Dirt racing has an aggression approaching the level of savagery.” Point taken! As for racing here, let’s hope enough of the swabs come back clean so that it can resume before too much more damage is done.