Things We Learned » Hurdle penalties

Hurdle penalties

For the second year in a row, the issue of penalties raises its head in the context of the Galway Hurdle favourite.

Rebel Fitz was rewarded with a 6lb penalty for the Galway Hurdle after winning the Kevin McManus Bookmaker Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary last Sunday, so he will effectively race off a mark of 145 in Thursday’s race. Most people seemed to be happy enough with the penalty imposed, but that is to miss the point: that the magnitude of the penalty was at the discretion of the handicapper. It could have been 16lb, or 1lb. Not that the handicapper’s view isn’t always valid or usually accurate. It is. Both. But it is the uncertainty that is the issue, and it is this uncertainty that dilutes the purpose of having an early-closing handicap in the first place.

You can easily argue that Rebel Fitz has shown improved form by winning the Grimes Hurdle, and that he should therefore race off his revised mark in the Galway Hurdle. But why have an early-closing race then? And if you are going to revise the marks of winners, why don’t you revise the marks of losers?

The concentration on winners only may work best administratively, and it may also work from a cothrom na féinne point of view (subscribing to the hypothesis that it isn’t right that you should be penalised if you haven’t won a race), but it doesn’t work from a logical point of view.

You could have no penalties after an early-closing handicap has closed, à la Aintree Grand National, or you could have mandatory penalties for winners, dictated by the value of the prep race won, not by the handicapper’s discretion. Or you could just leave things as they are. But at the very least, the issue merits a discussion now.

Get into Tinshu

There were plenty of apparent hard-luck stories in the 10-furlong handicap won by Ahzeemah at Ascot last Sunday. You could have thrown a large horse blanket over the majority of the 13-strong field at the top of the home straight, and several horses encountered traffic problems as the sprint for home developed. You will end up queuing at the soup kitchens if you blindly follow horses who looked unlucky last time out, and the most likely scenario is usually the most obvious, that the best horse in the race on the day won the race, but it still might be worthwhile keeping a close eye on third-placed Tinshu.

Derek Haydn Jones’s mare was no more unlucky than runner-up Las Verglas Star, and she hasn’t won in eight runs since she landed a listed race at Lingfield last December, just three weeks after winning a handicap there off a mark of 80. However, her run on Sunday suggests that she is in the form of her life, and that she is capable of out-performing her turf handicap mark of 84 by a fair way, given normal luck in-running.

Interestingly, in seven runs on the all-weather since November last year, her all-weather mark has risen from 80 to 93. By contrast, in three runs on turf since June, her turf rating has fallen from 91 to 84. There is a correlation between Ascot form and Polytrack form, in that a proven ability to act on Polytrack is no liability to carry into a race at Ascot. The correlation is more pronounced on Ascot’s new sand-based straight track, but it is still relevant on the round track, on which the last two and a half furlongs, the most critical part of the race, are run on the straight track.

With this in mind, it is interesting that the two highest Racing Post Ratings that Tinshu achieved in 23 runs on turf were achieved in two of her three runs at Ascot. She was withdrawn at declaration stage from the 3.55 at Ascot today, over the same course and distance as that which she raced over last Sunday, but she will be of interest the next time she races at the Berkshire track.

Timing right

The running of last Saturday’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at 4.35, as the second last race on the card, was spot on. There is something special about the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle-Arkle-Champion Hurdle rat-tat-tat of Cheltenham, and the Queen Anne-King’s Stand-St James’s Palace Stakes turbo-charged start to Royal Ascot, but there is always a sense of regret once the trump cards have been played so early in the day and so early in the week.

All things considered, the building of the anticipation, the funnelling of the day towards the most juicy morsel, is a better way to be going about things. And probably best to have the climax as the penultimate race instead of the final race. If nothing else, it allows some of the crowd to disperse before the final handicap, and it keeps those who backed the winner of the feature race back until after it has been run. That’s probably better than running the feature race at 7.40pm, like on Irish Derby day, and that’s not just from the perspective of Sunday’s paperback writers who had 80 minutes to file 800 words. Unless we’re planning to have Ronan Keating every year.

Leger match

This year’s Ladbrokes St Leger, like this year’s British trainers’ championship, is gradually developing into a match between Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden.

It isn’t just that O’Brien and Gosden dominated the Leger entries when they were published on Wednesday with, respectively, 11 and five entries (Mahmood Al Zarooni equals Gosden on five), but, between them, they are responsible for five of the top six and seven of the top 11 horses quoted in ante post lists, including Derby winner Camelot and Irish Oaks winner Great Heavens. David Lanigan and Sir Henry Cecil and John Oxx may have a different view but, according to the bookmakers, even at best odds, the probability of either O’Brien or Gosden landing the final Classic is 112%. That’s high by any standard.

Galway doubles

Galway doubles at best prices:

JP McManus/John Kiely double – Wise Old Owl (Plate) and Carlingford Lough (Hurdle) – 142/1

Rich Ricci/Willie Mullins double – Blackstairmountain (Plate) and Blazing Tempo (Hurdle) – 116/1

Last year’s winners’ double – Blazing Tempo (Plate) and Moon Dice (Hurdle) – 224/1

* Enhanced odds surely available somewhere.

© The Irish Field, 28th July 2012