Things We Learned » Reserves judgement

Reserves judgement

The preamble to Saturday’s Ebor at York was proof-perfect, once again, that the reserve system in Britain is absolutely ineffectual.

In Britain, in order for the first reserve to get to run in a race, one of the horses who is already in the race must be withdrawn before 9.00am on the day before the race. It is obvious that the instances in which this occurs will be few, when you consider that the horse was declared less than 24 hours earlier, and that the race is still more than 24 hours away.

It almost happened in Saturday’s Ebor, when Steps To Freedom was withdrawn at 9.15am, but because the withdrawal was made 15 minutes after the deadline, neither Noble Silk nor Itlaaq got into the race. Then, with 20mm of rain on Thursday night and 10mm more on Friday night (remember we’re talking 48-hour declarations here), and the consequent changing of the ground, there were five more withdrawals before off-time.

The net result was that there were just 14 runners in the Ebor, the biggest middle-distance handicap on the British racing calendar, a race with a safety limit of 20 and for which there were 53 entries at five-day declaration stage.

The reality is that the reserve system in Britain is pointless. Under the current system, reserves will rarely get into a race. Perhaps it was instigated as a means of placating resistant trainers when 48-hour declarations were introduced but, if the intention was to create a structure whereby reserves were likely to have a chance of actually getting a run, it wasn’t thought through very carefully.

The reserve system in Ireland is more sensible (if by sensible you mean that you actually give reserves a chance of getting a run). In Ireland, if a horse is scratched from a race at any time up until an hour before the first race on the card (plus a 15-minute period of grace), then a reserve is allowed take his place in the line-up.

From a betting perspective, however, the current system in Ireland is not perfect either. We have been here before, but reserves still create headaches for punters and bookmakers here, and perhaps that is why there is a reluctance to introduce such a system across the water.

Bookmakers have differing policies regarding reserves in Ireland. Some price up the race in the morning with reserves included, others price the race up in the morning without reserves, and treat the reserves as non-runners when settling bets placed at morning odds. The latter method seems like the fairest way to be going about things, but we are long overdue the standardisation of policy in this regard.

Propeller worth watching

My Propeller could be an under-rated horse now on the evidence of her run in the Flying Five at The Curragh on Saturday.

Peter Chapple-Hyam’s filly travelled well through the early stages of the race for Declan McDonogh, she was actually travelling at least as well as the winner Dutch Masterpiece two furlongs out and she was level with Gary Moore’s horse at the furlong pole. However, whereas the gap opened for Dutch Masterpiece towards the near side, it closed on My Propeller on the far side. McDonogh had to snatch up to stop his filly clipping heels and, in that manoeuvre, of course her chance evaporated.

It is impossible to know how the Holy Roman Emperor filly would have fared had she not been impeded, but it is probable that she would have at least finished close to the winner.

Just over two lengths behind Jwala in a good listed race at York in July on her previous run, she actually beat Robert Cowell’s filly on her penultimate run in a fillies’ listed race at Ayr in June, form that obviously looks even better now than it did then since Jwala’s Nunthorpe win.

My Propeller appears to be at her best on fast ground over five furlongs, and she could be significantly under-rated the next time she encounters those conditions.

Power play

Speaking of five furlongs and fast ground, you have to think that Sole Power was at least a little unlucky not to land his second Nunthorpe Stakes last Friday.

Sabena Power’s horse did not have the perfect run through the race, he was closing on Shea Shea and Jwala all the way to the line, and he was out in the centre of the track, towards the far rail, probably not on the fastest of the ground. However, his real ill-luck rested in the 20mm of rain that fell at York on Thursday night.

Race times on the Friday suggest that the ground wasn’t really soft, that it was actually a little faster than the official description of good to soft. However, Sole Power is at his best on rattling fast ground, no rain would have been the best preparation for the Eddie Lynam-trained gelding, and you have to think that, had the Nunthorpe been run on Wednesday or Thursday, Sole Power could easily have become the second dual winner of the race in six years.

Group 2 Gimcrack

The push for the promotion of the Gimcrack Stakes from Group 2 to Group 1 status appears to be gathering pace but, while it has a case in terms of prize money, it still appears that it has some way to go in terms of quality.

The Gimcrack roll of honour for the last 10 years before Astaire (Balmont, Tony James, Amadeus Wolfe, Conquest, Sir Gerry, Shaweel, Showcasing, Approve, Caspar Netscher, Blaine) does not exactly read like a Who’s Who of colts who went on to scale the summits as three-year-olds or older horses.

Indeed, if there is a Group 2 juvenile colts’ race in Britain that is deserving of elevation to Group 1 status, it is surely the Coventry Stakes which, although worth just over half the worth of the Gimcrack this year, boasts a recent roll of honour that includes Henrythenavigator, Canford Cliffs, Dawn Approach and now War Command.

Jurisdictions judgements

Stewards’ decisions remain high-profile these days. After the Elusive Kate/Sky Lantern, Al Kazeem and Chicquita decisions in Group 1 races in Britain and Ireland, we had the Real Solution/The Apache reversal in the Arlington Million in Chicago.

The general talk is of the different lines that stewards take in different jurisdictions: America versus France versus Asia versus Britain and Ireland. Interestingly, Britain and Ireland tend to be grouped together as one jurisdiction in which stewards’ decisions are homogenous. The reality, however, is that they are not.

In Britain, it is rare that a horse who passes the post first is thrown out, and it is extremely rare when the winning margin is greater than a nose. It is a dangerous way in which to proceed, it encourages a win-at-all-costs mentality among riders, get your horse across the line first by whatever means you deem necessary, and suffer the riding ban that inevitably ensues. A strange notion seems to have arisen among stewards that the correct course of action is to punish the rider while allowing the result to stand.

In Ireland, stewards seem to take a much more pragmatic approach. Less black-and-white, more judgement-call. Which horse would have won had the interference not taken place? That makes a lot of sense. Indeed, Rule 271, introduced in late June this year, determines that the standard of proof in deciding on the effect of interference should be the balance of probability. There is an argument that says that the burden of proof should lie with the perpetrator, but the balance of probability isn’t a bad way in which to be going on.

In the two months to date since the introduction of Rule 271, there have been five stewards’ inquiries into possible interference in Ireland, two of which (when the first and second were separated by a head and a neck respectively) resulted in the winner being thrown out, and one of which resulted in the third and fourth-placed horses’ positions being reversed. Contrast that with the situation in Britain where, during the same period, there were no fewer than 22 stewards’ inquiries (including two in which the winning distance was just a nose). The third and fourth-placed horses’ placings were reversed in one instance, but in no instance was the winner thrown out.

At least the instances are rare in Britain in which the bookmakers who pay double-result have to pay out twice.

© The Irish Field, 31st August 2013