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Flat Hard Luck Stories 

It may be a little incongruous to think Flat on Aintree Grand National day, but the Flat is back all right, and so are the Flat Hard Luck Stories.

Of course, there are Jumps Hard Luck Stories.  Might Bite in the Feltham Chase was a Jumps Hard Luck Story (and he would have been another one in the RSA Chase too had he not copped himself on when the loose horse went past him).  Asthuria at Fairyhouse in February was probably a Jumps Hard Luck Story.  Annie Power in the 2015 Mares’ Hurdle was a Jumps Hard Luck Story.  Although that one probably depends on which side of the betting fence you sit.  For some it was the Greatest Get Out Of Jail Story since, well, since Prison Break.

Campeador at Fairyhouse in December was a Jumps Hard Luck Story.   You get the picture.

But the Flat Hard Luck Stories are somehow different. 

The Flat Hard Luck Stories are usually a little more subtle than their Jumps counterparts.  It is rare that a horse falls at the final fence on the Flat, and it is rarer still that he loses his hind legs at the final flight.  The FLHSs are not as obvious and therefore they don’t provide the obvious sense of warped satisfaction of knowing that he almost certainly would have won had he avoided the Hard Luck Story.

The Flat Hard Luck Stories are often derived from horses not getting a run, or from a gap closing, or from what turned out to be (in the 20-20 vision that is hindsight) a poor draw.

Sovereign Debt in the Magnolia Stakes at Kempton last Saturday was probably a Flat Hard Luck Story.  He went for a gap that was never really there before moving to the outside and finishing well.  That was his first run for Ruth Carr, it was his first attempt at 10 furlongs, and he appeared to stay it well.  That opens up options for him.

Mizaah in the six-furlong handicap at Naas on the first Sunday of the season was probably a Flat Hard Luck Story.  He was a little out-paced through the early stages of the race on his seasonal debut and his first run over six furlongs since last May, and he was squeezed out of it just inside the two-furlong pole just when he was starting to make his ground.  But he stayed on well through the final furlong and was beaten less than five lengths in the end.  He might be better back over further.

You should probably put Flat Hard Luck Stories in your notebook.  Because of their relative subtlety, they can prove to be more profitable to follow than the Jumps Hard Luck Stories.


Good Flat Rides

The Good Flat Rides are also back. 

Daniel Tudhope’s ride on Bravery in the Lincoln last Saturday has generally received the accolades that it was due.  Tudhope used his brain, tacked over behind horses towards the far side, the side that appeared to have been significantly advantaged in the consolation race, the Spring Mile, and rode his race from there.

It was a good punt by Tudhope, to move towards the far side.  It was a percentage call, and the strategy worked. 

It wasn’t certain that it would.  Often we thought that we had the draw sorted after the Ayr Bronze Cup and the Ayr Silver Cup had been run (far side has it), only for the near side horses in the Ayr Gold Cup to burst forward and fill 11 of the first 13 places.  Fair play to Tudhope though for trying something unusual, fo playing the percentages. 

Jamie Spencer rode a far-side race too on Donncha, he just didn’t exaggerate the far-sidedness like Tudhope did, but it was a fine ride, a thinking-man’s ride.

So the result of the Lincoln says that two of the first three home were drawn 20 or higher, but that masks the fact that low-drawn horses were probably significantly advantaged.  That is worth keeping in mind as we move into the Flat season.

Still on the subject of Good Flat Rides, all the headlines after Ryan Moore’s treble at Doncaster on Saturday centred around how much it cost the bookmakers, and how much it would have cost them had Oh This Is Us beaten Bravery by a neck in the Lincoln instead of getting beaten by Bravery by a neck.  (About £40 million apparently.)

Moore’s rides may not have got due recognition.  All three were good, actually all four were good, but his ride on Kool Kompany in the Doncaster Mile stood out.  Richard Hannon’s horse was keener than ideal through the early stages of the race, despite the fact that they went fast up front. 

Moore had about three opportunities to ask his horse for his effort before he did, but each time he resisted the temptation.  When he did eventually ask his horse to pick up, it looked like it might have been too late.  Of course, it wasn’t.  It was just in time for Kool Kompany to get up and beat Storm Antarctic by a short head.


Flashback

You know the way that, going into last year’s Grand National, seven of the previous 10 winners had raced between 10 and 14 times over fences?  And that, consequently, there was a probability of 0.7, a 70% chance (it’s high-level statistical analysis, honestly) that the winner would come from this group: Wonderful Charm, Ballynagour, Buywise, Gallant Oscar, Rule The World, Vics Canvas, Black Thunder, Ballycasey, Hadrian’s Approach, Home Farm, The Romford Pele?  And you know the way that that group provided the 33/1 winner and the 100/1 third from just 11 representatives?

Well, this year it’s eight of the last 11 (that’s a 73% chance), and here’s this year’s group: The Last Samuri, Saphir Du Rheu, Roi Des Francs, Wounded Warrior, Blaklion, Drop Out Joe, Le Mercurey, The Young Master, Regal Encore, Ucello Conti, Double Shuffle, One For Arthur, O’Faolains Boy, Vicente, Stellar Notion, Cocktails At Dawn and La Vaticane.  So there are 17 representatives this year, which is a marked increase on last year’s 11, but it’s still a decent starting point.


Age matters

It used to be the case that youth was a negative in the Aintree Grand National.  As such, it was different to just about every other handicap chase on the calendar.  Experience and strength triumphed over youth and potential.  Not any more.

The five Grand National winners between 2010 and 2014 were aged 10 or 11, and Bindaree was the only winner aged younger than nine between 1992 and 2015.  Also, Bogskar was the last seven-year-old winner, and Bogskar was in 1940.

The seven-year-old stat still holds, and even the modifications can’t get a seven-year-old into the frame. 

But Many Clouds won it as an eight-year-old in 2015, when another eight-year-old Shutthefrontdoor finished fifth, and last year, two of the first four home were eight.  Perhaps it is down to the modifications, but you can’t go putting a line through the eight-year-olds any more.


And weight matters

And it used to be the case that you couldn’t carry a high weight to victory in the Grand National.  Hedgehunter in 2005 was the first horse since Corbiere in 1983 to carry more than 11 stone to victory.

Then the highweights tumbled forward.  Mon Mome carried 11st, Don’t Push It carried 11st 5lb, Ballabriggs carried 11st, Neptune Collonges carried 11st 6lb.  Then they modified the course, softened the bellies of the fences and moved the start up closer to the Melling Road, and look what happens.

Sure, Many Clouds won it under 11st 9lb in 2015, but, the more evidence we accumulate, the more apparent it becomes that Many Clouds was an extraordinary steeplechaser.  And that was the highest weight that any horse had carried to victory since Red Rum carried 12st in 1974, and that includes Red Rum himself, who carried 11st 8lb in 1977.

You have to circumvent Many Clouds for the weight stat, but you can.  (Ref. extraordinary steeplechaser above.)  In the four renewals since the course underwent its latest modifications, Many Clouds is the only winner who carried more than 10st 7lb to victory. 

Four is a small sample size of course, but even if you widen it out to the places horses in order to increase the sample: nine of the 16 placed horses carried 10st 8lb or less, 13 of the 16 placed horses carried 10st 13lb or less.  When you are giving the pin to your kids this morning, putting the list of runners in front of them and blindfolding them (supervised of course), it might be an idea to have them concentrate on the bottom end of the page.

If you start at The Young Master (10st 13lb) today and work down, you rule out 12 of the 40 runners.  If you start with Rogue Angel (10st 8lb) and work down, you rule out 33.

© The Irish Field, 8th April 2017