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Social Discourse: 8th April 2019

You all know where this is starting.

 

  1. The Eye Of The Tiger

Look at it. Drink it all in. Reminisce, all over again, and enjoy Tiger Roll’s history-making repeat Grand National triumph.

 

Normally we post the best tweets in here that you might have missed, but there were so many that only the photos can do justice to racing’s collective scream of joy.

 

 

 

 

Hindsight is a powerful thing, but Davy Russell and Tiger Roll were always travelling beautifully and once the diminutive nine-year-old jumped to the front after the Elbow, it appeared – just like last year – to be simply a matter of how far, and he fairly sprinted clear of the young mare Magic Of Light, who ran a sensational race to finish second at 66/1.

The racing community – and basically the whole country of Ireland – were in raptures after taking a 1-2-3, with the popular Rathvinden finishing third, but this was all about one brilliant horse.

What they said: “Tiger Roll isn’t Red Rum – he’s Tiger Roll – and I feel no pressure to go back and try to win a third time. There’s huge public affection for him and I think we’re duty-bound to mind him now.” – Michael O’Leary with some performance trolling regarding Tiger Roll’s potential attempt at a three-timer.

“I was trying to watch all of mine, I can’t believe it. I never once thought he was going to win until he crossed the line, because all I could remember was last year. He didn’t tie up this year. He’s an absolute gentleman to deal with.” – Gordon Elliot in the aftermath of his third national win

 “This horse and this place is amazing. People go on about certain sporting events, but Liverpool and Aintree are so far ahead. People come here in their droves to cheer you on and they can be so proud of what they have here, it’s so well run. It’s televised all around the world and I’m so proud to be a part of it, I can’t believe it.” – Davy Russell, who had an easier time of things this year in the home straight 

 

  1. Those in behind….

There were 39 other horses (I know, did you also forget?) who lined up at the start, and many fine performances from the 19 horses who managed to complete the course.

It’s something of a surprise that Jessica Harrington, arguably the best dual code trainer around, hadn’t participated in the race before, and she nearly took it at the first attempt with eight-year-old mare Magic Of Light, who ran a tremendous race from the front before Tiger Roll flew past. Despite a mistake at the last (and a significant one at the Chair, after which Paddy Kennedy did well to stay on board), she came home two and a quarter-lengths clear of Rathvinden, who travelled best for much of the way, and looks sure to be back next year.

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Rathvinden gave a bold sight in third, although he was unable to give Ruby Walsh another National winner, whilst Walk In The Mill, the Becher Chase winner, was best of the British. He delighted the shrewd Robert Walford and gave James Best a fine spin; still only nine, all roads would lead to Aintree next year for him.

Spare a thought for Anibale Fly, who ran a titanic race to finish fifth under top weight, just half a length behind Walk In The Mill. Tony Martin has one of the most consistent staying chasers in the game, although he looks set to be forever too high in the weights to win this great race.

The 2017 winner One For Arthur had unseated twice but looked like the horse of two years ago when making a huge move around the outside coming for home, before he just faded late, and Lucinda Russell is already thinking of aiming him at next year’s contest.

 

 

  1. Meanwhile, back on the level….

Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore kick-started their season with a treble on Leopardstown’s Classic trials day, where we saw a number of eye-catching performances.

  • Lady Kaya ran out a comfortable winner of the Ballylinch Stud 'Priory Belle' 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes for trainer Sheila Lavery and jockey Robbie Colgan, with the fast-finishing Happen in second and last year’s Fillies’ Mile winner Idressa in third under a 3lb penalty

 

  • Leading Guineas hope Madhmoon was beaten for the first time as Never No More ran him down on his seasonal bow in the 2,000 Guineas Trial Stakes, taking advantage of a 3lbs concession in the weights and the benefit of a recent run on slower ground than he'd faced before

 

  • Broome gave the standout performance of the day as he bolted home in the Ballysax Stakes, winning by eight lengths and being cut to 9/1 for the Derby

  • In America, Roadster came with a powerful late run to take the Santa Anita Derby, beating stablemate and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Game Winner

 

  • Ghaiyyath put himself in the frame for a host of middle-distance honours this season with an eye-catching performance on his seasonal debut in the Prix d'Harcourt at Paris-Longchamp, as he stretched eight lengths clear before being eased down. The Ganay and the Tattersalls Gold Cup are on the agenda for Charlie Appleby's potentially top class colt.

 

  1. Box Office Tiger

Back to the Grand National, arguably the biggest PR moment for racing of the year, and certainly the biggest moment for any broadcaster involved in the sport, so ITV and the BHA have every right to be delighted with their viewing figures.

 

The coverage on Saturday scored a peak of 9.6 million viewers, a 12 per cent increase from the 8.5m in 2018 according to audience figures, with the average audience for the National show up from 5.1m to 5.4m, an endorsement of a programme which makes a lot of effort to reach first-time viewers and non-experts.

There are a multitude of personalities on the programme – different strokes for different folks, as they say – and it worked through the week too, as shown by a seven-figure audience for the Foxhunters’ on the first day.

Wake Up To ITV: There was also a record audience for The Opening Show too of 300,000 – a fine figure considering it was an FA Cup semi-final morning.

 

Takeaway: There’s much to be said about the draw of a horse who had such a big chance of back to back Nationals, but these figures are welcome news in an era when there has never been so much choice for sports fans. ITV’s approach of trying to convert causal watchers and educate first timers is the right one when younger fans are needed more than ever.

 

  1. What else?

Across the three days of Aintree, in case some had forgotten:

  • Kemboy made up for a first fence fall in the Gold Cup with a dominant success in the Betfred Bowl, confirming himself a top class staying chaser

  • Min bounced back from a below par showing in the Champion Chase with a 20 length romp in the Melling Chase, making it 2 feature race wins for Willie Mullins

  • Supasundae got the better of Buveur D’Air and  County Hurdle hero Ch'tibello in a thrilling Aintree Hurdle

 

  • Pentland Hills followed up his JCB Triumph Hurdle victory with a gritty display in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

  • Kalashnikov presented trainer Amy Murphy with a first Grade One success in the Devenish Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree.

 

  • Cadmium gave Mullins another winner as he dominated the Topham Chase and Top Wood fought back to pull the Foxhunters out of the fire

 

Next week? The small matter of Winx’s last race….

 

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