Things We Learned » Star performance

Star performance

It is correct that Balbriggan should have garnered the accolades that he did after the performance that he put up in landing the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase at Navan on Sunday. It was a lovely ride by Kevin Sexton, who got his horse into a really nice rhythm in front, it was a fine training performance by Gordon Elliott, who only got the horse from Mick Channon during the summer before Galway, and it was some gamble – from 12/1 and 14/1 until well into the morning to an SP of 4/1.

However, as a consequence, the performance that runner-up Owega Star put up under Davy Russell in finishing second may have gone a little under the radar.

Peter Fahey’s horse carried 11st, in a race in which it is historically really difficult to carry high weights. Going into Sunday’s race, 72 horses had carried 10st 10lb or more in the previous 10 renewals of the Troytown, and just two had won with just 11 finishing placed. The two winners were Notre Pere, who won the Welsh National on his next run off a 14lb higher mark, and who was a subsequent Grade 1 winner, and Tofino Bay, who finished second in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and in the Grade 1 three-mile novices’ chase at Punchestown later that season.

In Sunday’s race, Owega Star was the only horse who carried more than 10st 4lb and who could finish in the first six. Moreover, he carried 11st, so 10lb more than 10st 4lb, and he was the only horse who could challenge Balbriggan over the last two fences.

On top of that, the Basanta gelding was actually lucky to survive at the third fence, when Thomond clipped heels and came down, bringing Rogue Angel down with him and causing Russell to have to take evasive action on Owega Star. He did not lose too much ground or momentum, but it wasn’t ideal, just when he was getting into a rhythm in the early part of the race, and it makes his effort all the more meritorious.

The handicapper has raised him 4lb to a mark of 138, and that is fair. He is only seven, Sunday’s race was just his eighth chase, and there could be a good staying handicap chase in him off that mark.

Yellow flag

There were calls on Tuesday at Sedgefield for common sense to have prevailed, that the authorities should have allowed the 1.20 race to stand. On the contrary, however, common sense actually dictated that the race should have been voided, as it was.

In brief, the fence at the top of the hill was omitted, so the flag man was to wave the chequered flag on the approach to the fence, to indicate same. Unfortunately, on the first circuit, the flagman held up the yellow flag, the one that says that the race is to be stopped.

Everyone knew that the fence was being omitted, goes the former argument. The jockeys by-passed the fence, none of the riders stopped riding, none of the horses were inconvenienced, and the best horse in the race on the day won it. Actually, the yellow (incorrect) flag was replaced by the chequered (correct) flag by the time the horses came around for the second circuit. No harm done.

If you were to adopt that line of logic, however, it would set a disastrous precedent. It would mean that, the next time jockeys saw a yellow flag, they would be well within rights to continue to ride, just in case the race was not voided. The yellow flag is there to protect riders from dangers that they cannot see as well as dangers they can.

You have to feel sympathy for the riders, all of whom were banned for 10 days. It must be difficult to stop riding when you think you know what is going on, when you think you know that the flag is there to warn you about the by-passed fence, about which you were made aware before the race started, especially when none of your rivals have stopped riding.

You have to have sympathy, in particular, for Harry Challoner, who rode the ‘winner’ of the ‘race’, such as it wasn’t, Debt To Society. He gets suspended, and the race he thought he had won gets taken from him. However, he was incorrect to say afterwards that someone else’s mistake had cost him. He saw (or he should have seen) the yellow flag, and he did not stop riding.

Good/Bad dichotomy

There has been much written about the Philip Fenton and John Hughes cases during the week. When these things come to light, there is always a good/bad dichotomy: good that the perpetrators have been caught, good that there is a demonstrated willingness and ability on the part of the authorities to catch them, bad that it is going on at all, bad that there is the worry that, if these are the ones that have been caught, how deep do the roots run?

To that end, the fact that the Turf Club will have greater powers from 1st January is a significant positive, as is its ever-strenghtening relataionship with the Department of Agriculture. Because Nitrotain – common to both the Fenton and Hughes cases – can leave a horse’s system after between 48 and 96 hours, the ability to test horses away from the racetrack is crucial. It is a mammoth task, no question, it may be needle in haystacks stuff, but perhaps not when you have a powerful magnet. Intelligence-led, Denis Egan said. And incentive-driven.

Unfortunately, when you put humans and money together in any walk of life, you will invariably have a small proportion who will seek to gain an unfair edge. The message is clear though: if you are caught, the consequences are dire. The three-year ban imposed by the Turf Club and the harm inflicted on Philip Fenton’s reputation, for example, is a much greater penalty than merely the €10,200 financial cost that the courts imposed.

Two-mile hurdlers

The addition of the Betfair Price Rush Hurdle to Haydock’s Betfair Chase day is undoubtedly a welcome and valuable addition for plenty at a micro level, but it makes no sense at all at a macro level.

This is a new two-mile Class 2 hurdle race, which attracted The New One and Melodic Rendezvous, presumably to the delight of the sponsors and the racetrack. However, it is on the same day as the Ascot Hurdle, a Grade 2 hurdle race run over two miles and three and a half furlongs, it is a week before today’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle and tomorrow’s Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, and it is just a week after the Morgiana Hurdle. There just are not enough high-class two-mile hurdlers around to justify such a proliferation of races.

Mullins game

It is never too early in the season to start to play the Being Willie Mullins game. Here’s the way it works: simply match the Willie Mullins horse to the Cheltenham Festival target. You are allowed two moving days, one after Christmas and one after the Hennessy meeting at Leopardstown in February. Then, in March, give yourself one point for every correct match, but deduct one point for every hurdler you had in a steeplechase, and for every Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner you had in the Neptune. Here are five (easy ones) to start you off:

Faugheen – Champion Hurdle

Annie Power – Mares’ Hurdle

Vautour – Arkle

Briar Hill – World Hurdle

Don Poli – National Hunt Chase

© The Irish Field, 29th November 2014