Things We Learned » Rockingham rocks

Rockingham rocks

It could be worthwhile saving last Sunday’s Rockingham Handicap on your Sky Plus (do not delete – blue button), because there are a couple of horses in there who could be worth noting for the future.

The winner Whozthecat is fairly obvious. He sweated up a little beforehand, and he was keen through the race at the head of the field, but he did really well to battle back as well as he did, after he had been headed, to go on and win by a neck in a good time, the only time that dipped below standard on a day of high-class racing.

Declan Carroll’s horse is not obviously unexposed, this was his 54th race, but it was a career-best, he is in the form of his life, and he shouldn’t be under-estimated next time he runs. He will be of interest if he takes his chance in the Stewards’ Cup,

Second and third, Nafa and Yulong Baoju, are two others. The pair of them travelled well, almost side-by-side, to the two-furlong pole, and they closed on the winner in a near-pincer movement all the way to the line.

Nafa was racing from 9lb out of the handicap, a disadvantage that was mitigated significantly by the excellent Connor King’s 7lb claim, which is hugely valuable in sprint handicaps. That said, it was a career-best from Mark Loughnane’s mare by some way. She has won five of her eight races since last April, and she proved here that she belongs in this grade.

Yulong Baoju wasn’t especially unlucky, but Eddie Lynam’s filly travelled like a good horse through the race, and she kept on all the way to the line. This was just her fifth ever race, and she should be significantly better-equipped for these big-field handicaps with this experience under her belt.

Sixth-placed Arbitrageur was a little unlucky, he got a bit tapped for pace when they picked up three furlongs out, but he was keeping on well when he ran into some traffic problems late on. Donal Kinsella’s horse could do better stepped back up to six or seven furlongs.

However, the most interesting horse from the race could be fourth-placed Timeless Call. Reggie Roberts’ mare ran a cracker to finish as close as she did from stall one, showing loads of pace out in the centre of the track, striking the front just outside the furlong pole and looking the most likely winner, before fading inside the final 200 yards.

It is usually an advantage to be drawn high, close to the stands rail, over five or six furlongs at The Curragh, and that appeared to be the case again on Sunday. (The first three home in the 10-runner six-furlong maiden earlier on the day were drawn, respectively, three, one and two off the stands rail.) The finish of the Rockingham was dominated by the stands-side horses, with six of the other seven horses who, along with Timeless Call, filled the first eight places were drawn in double figures.

This was just the Sakhee mare’s 14th ever run – she is relatively lightly-raced for a sprinter – and just her second of the season. On her debut this term, she finished second behind subsequent Group 3 winner Ladies Are Forever over five furlongs on Polytrack at Lingfield, when she had subsequent Wokingham winner York Glory behind her.

She is a talented sprinter, probably better than a turf handicap rating of 92 suggests. She is actually rated 100 on Polytrack, and has run to that mark at Dundalk and at Lingfield, but Saturday’s run was probably a career-best from her on turf.

She is at her best on Polytrack or fast turf, and five furlongs appears to be her optimum trip. She will be of interest when she races under those conditions again, and she would be of particular interest if she were to race next at Ascot, given how well horses who are proven on Polytrack appear to do on Ascot’s straight track, and that she would obviously race off her turf mark of 92 at Ascot, not her all-weather mark of 100.

St Nic blow I

The career-ending injury that St Nicholas Abbey suffered on Tuesday morning was a desperate blow to connections. Despite the fact that he had won six Group 1 races, including a Breeders’ Cup Turf, that he is the only horse ever to win the Coronation Cup three times, there was a sense that he had lots more left to give on the racetrack, even as a six-year-old.

The Ballydoyle horse looked as good as ever when he beat Japan Cup winner Gentildonna – conqueror of Orfevre in Tokyo – in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan in March, and he posted the joint highest RPR of his life when he danced in in the Coronation Cup at Epsom in June.

It was a brave move to keep him in training after his truncated three-year-old season. The easy option would have been to run him off to the breeding shed then, a Beresford Stakes winner, a Group 1 Racing Post Trophy winner, the even money favourite for the Guineas, and disappointing at Newmarket only because of injury.

That bravery was well-rewarded with five more Group 1 wins to add to his Racing Post Trophy, and a total of over €5.5 million in prize money. Hopefully he can be saved now to stand as a stallion because, a son of the now deceased Montjeu, out of a sister to two Group 1 winners, and a Group 1 winner himself at a mile and a mile and a half, he is sure to be in demand.

St Nic blow II

St Nicholas Abbey’s retirement is a significant blow to this afternoon’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. With the Ballydoyle horse in the race, it was a fascinating re-match between him and Cirrus Des Aigles, backed up by a strong supporting cast. In his absence, the supporting acts have been thrown centre stage.

Even so, it is still a high-class renewal. Okay, so the French three-year-olds have not travelled, and that is a significant factor since a lot of the top middle-distance European three-year-olds (Intello, Flintshire, Treve, Triple Threat, Chicquita) appear to be hanging out in France this year. However, the French three-year-olds rarely travel to the King George, Andre Fabre says that you can’t win the King George and win the Arc (even though he got to within about three lengths of doing just that with Hurricane Run in 2006), and the Arc is their Derby and King George and, well, Arc, rolled into one.

The gelding Cirrus Des Aigles is one of the best middle-distance horses in Europe, and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Novellist adds an extra (German) dimension to a field that includes the Irish Derby winner and a supplemented King Edward VII winner. So don’t say that the Classic generation is not well represented.

Lough’s to like

There is a lot to like about Carlingford Lough in the context of Wednesday’s Tote Galway Plate. Two for two over hurdles at the Galway Festival (and a close-up third on his two runs there over fences last autumn), he obviously likes the place, he handles the hill well, and it is probable that he has been trained for the Plate from a fair way out.

Still just seven, he has raced only eight times over fences, so he still has plenty of potential for progression. He is yet to win over fences, but he went mighty close against Miss Pepperpot at Killarney two months ago, and he has had a nice break since then.

Goodish ground should suit him well, a stiff two and three-quarter miles looks ideal, and his handicap rating of 133 over fences is 11lb lower than his mark over hurdles. He is only an 8/1 shot at present, but he could go off a lot shorter than that on the day. He missed the cut for the Hurdle by one last year, but he could make up for it in the Plate this year.

Justice and fairness

Final point on stewards’ inquiries and interference rules in Britain for now. I read during the week that, in order for the stewards to reverse placings, they have to be sure that the interference cost the runner-up the race. Therein lies the problem.

In a court of law, in a criminal case, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution. The state has to prove, beyond reasonable doubt (and that’s crucial), that the defendant is guilty. Hence the term ‘innocent until proven guilty’ (which should surely be ‘innocent unless proven guilty’, but that’s a discussion for another day). That is as it should be.

However, in a civil case, the case is generally decided on the balance of probabilities. That is, if the plaintiff can prove that it was more likely than not that he or she was wronged, if there is a greater than 50% chance, then the plaintiff will generally win the case.

It seems that, as things stand under the rules of racing and precedent in Britain, the burden of proof rests with the defeated horse. That is, it has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt that he would have won had the interference not taken place.

Surely, at the very least, the outcome should be decided on the balance of probabilities, that if it was more likely than not that the runner-up would have won without the interference, he should be awarded the race.

However, there is a strong argument for laying the burden of proof on the winner, that he should be disqualified unless it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt that he would have won anyway if the interference had not taken place.

If there is any doubt, then, in the interest of justice and fairness, the race should surely be awarded to the sufferer of the interference, not the perpetrator of it.

© The Irish Field, 27th July 2013