Things We Learned » What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

This is getting ridiculous now.

There isn’t much you can do about the fact that the Schweppes Gold Trophy will not be run as the Schweppes Gold Trophy at Newbury this afternoon – if it goes ahead – or the Tote Gold Trophy, or even the Totesport Trophy. You can’t really call it the Schweppes when Schweppes don’t sponsor it any more, and you certainly can’t call it the Tote Gold Trophy when the Tote aren’t the Tote any more, when they aren’t even Totesport any more (almost all the signs now have been replaced by Betfred ones) and when it is sponsored by a betting exchange. Betfair are paying the money and, as things stand, they are entitled to put their name over the door.

The problem is with the as things stand bit. The Schweppes is not the Schweppes any more in the same way as the Whitbread Gold Cup is not the Whitbread any more and the Mackeson is not the Mackeson and the Irish Sweeps Hurdle is not the Irish Sweeps Hurdle and the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup is not the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup any more. You get the picture.

That’s the problem when the sponsor’s name is the race name: the sponsor changes, the race name changes. It wasn’t really an issue in days of yore when the sponsor was in it for the long haul, but it is a huge issue these days in a sport of transient piper-payers in which tradition should be key.

However, while a commercial sponsor (the clue is in the adjective) can be forgiven simply overlaying an old sponsor with the new brand and putting its stamp on a race, there is no excuse for relegating a traditional race name to the formerly-known-as or registered-as benches, as has happened today with the Game Spirit Chase. It happened to the Bula Hurdle (poor Bula, no relevance to the modern-day racegoer), it almost happened to the Tingle Creek Chase, and it happened for one renewal to the Bunbury Cup, a half-brother to the Derby, no less, separated at birth by the flip of a coin.

Who knows what is going to happen to the Powers Gold Cup, the Juddmonte International, the Victor Chandler Chase, the Ryanair Chase or the Hennessy Gold Cups, and their ilk, when those sponsorship terms run their respective courses, but surely there is a need for HRI and the BHA to step in, and impose names on the important races so that you don’t have to refer to a race as the race that used to be called the Game Spirit, and so that the benefit to a sponsor is in the association with the race name, a benefit that increases with the longevity of the sponsorship.

The Coral-Eclipse, the William Hill Desert Orchid Chase, the Ladbrokes Morgiana Hurdle, the Goffs Thyestes Chase, the At The Races Bobbyjo Chase, even today’s all-new Betfair Denman Chase: all the important races should be thus. At least then we could navigate our way through the seasons with certainty.

Hennessy hopes

It is a shame that tomorrow’s Hennessy Gold Cup has been decimated with the 11th-hour defections of high-profile would-be contenders Synchronised, Quito De La Roque and Jessies Dream. Also, whatever wins the race, be careful not to get lulled into thinking that his chance of winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup has been automatically significantly enhanced as a result.

History tells us that Irish Hennessy winners have a terrible record at Cheltenham. Perhaps it comes too close to Cheltenham. Tomorrow’s winner will have just 33 days to recover from what is sure to be a lung-bursting effort if he does line up in the Gold Cup. Perhaps it is simply that different attributes are required to win two very different races, run on very different types of tracks, usually on very different types of ground. Perhaps it is just happenstance.

Imperial Call is the last horse to complete the Irish Hennessy/Cheltenham Gold Cup double, and Imperial Call was 16 years ago. The only other horse to win the Leopardstown race in its 25-year history, and go on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup the following month, was Jodami in 1993. Whoever wins tomorrow’s race will probably have his Gold Cup odds reduced appreciably, but best advice is to tread warily.

Fake them

Interesting that the racecourse executive at Fakenham, with a circumference not much bigger than Dundalk’s greyhound track and where you go about six and a half circuits in a three-mile chase – in the wake of calls for improvements to the track layout after Sam Waley-Cohen became the latest in a long line of riders to mis-count the circuits – have decided that no changes are necessary. The best way to avoid blunders, they reckon, is for jockeys to familiarise themselves with the layout of the track. Not for someone to just walk out and put a cone in front of the fence in front of the stands after the horses have embarked on their final circuit. It is an unjust demand, apparently.

Nothing like being helpful.

King Eider

Portrait King put up the best performance of his career by some way to land the Dobbins & Madigans National Trial at Punchestown last Sunday, appearing to appreciate the extreme test that the race presented in the conditions, and to win with plenty in hand under a nice smooth ride from Davy Condon in a good time, with the right horses chasing him home. He is only seven, this was just his fifth run over fences, his first win, and he has huge scope for progression.

Trainer Maurice Phelan is doing a fine job with the strapping grey, who finished second in the Porterstown on his previous run, the first occasion on which he was ridden by Condon. The trainer said after Sunday’s race that he could send his horse to Newcastle for the Eider Chase on 25th February, and that makes a lot of sense. The son of Portrait Gallery stayed the three-and-a-half-mile trip on Sunday well, he relished the testing conditions, and there is every reason to think that he could stay four miles at Newcastle in what is often very soft ground. (Remember last year?)

The handicapper raised Portrait King 7lb for Sunday’s win, which is more than fair and, as long as the British handicapper doesn’t go bananas, a mark of around 120 should see him get into the Eider in the low 10sts. Given that he is trained by a small Irish trainer, he could remain under the radar a little if he goes to England, and he could be allowed go off at a decent price in the Eider.

Flat start

Five weeks from Cheltenham, and suddenly Eton Forever is favourite for the Lincoln. I’m not sure he jumps well enough.

© The Irish Field, 11th February 2012