Things We Learned » Cesarewitch musings

Cesarewitch musings

Two main things about last Saturday’s Cesarewitch at Newmarket. Firstly, the draw in the race is still remarkably relevant. Okay, so the winner Scatter Dice was drawn 18 of 33, right in the middle, but she completely missed the break, and she was able to tack over towards the inside rail before she had gone 100 yards. Apart from Mark Johnston’s filly, Lieutenant Miller was the only other horse drawn higher than eight to finish in the first five.

It is mildly surprising that the draw has a strong impact on a race run over two and a quarter miles with effectively just one turn and a 10-furlong home straight, but history tells you that it does. Three of the last 12 Cesarewitch winners emerged from stall one, the first three home last year came from stalls one, seven and three, and seven of the 10 winners before Saturday’s renewal were drawn 12 or lower, with five of the 10 drawn in single figures.

The second thing to note about Saturday’s race is Waterclock. They went a fast pace from early, they went for home from fully four furlongs out, and that should have set it up for the closers. Yet, Roger Charlton’s horse raced handily throughout, he got caught in traffic a little two furlongs out, and he may have been racing on the slowest ground towards the far side, so he did really well to keep on as well as he did for second place.

Seven of the first eight horses home were held up. Waterclock was the only one of the first eight home who raced prominently, and he finished second. This was just his seventh ever race, and he still has scope for progression as a stayer. A 3lb hike is not at all harsh, and he will be of interest wherever he goes next.

Future champions

The Cesarewitch aside, Future Champions day at Newmarket last Saturday was a good day for Irish horses. War Command’s win in the Dewhurst Stakes may have been Aidan O’Brien’s first Group 1 juvenile win of the season, but it was the trainer’s third Dewhurst and Ballydoyle’s 10th. Remarkably, it was also the seventh time in eight years that an Irish-trained horse has won the race – Jim Bolger and O’Brien have dominated it in recent times – with only Frankel winning it for the home team in that time.

Great White Eagle and Sudirman may have disappointed in the Middle Park, but Fiesolana was a really impressive and popular winner of the curtain-raiser, the Group 2 Challenge Stakes.

Willie McCreery’s filly has been an incredible filly this term. Trained by Jean-Claude Rouget last season, she was narrowly beaten on her debut this term for McCreery on heavy ground at Tipperary in May. Winner of a big handicap at The Curragh on Guineas weekend off a mark of 93 on her second run of the season, she has now won five of her eight races this term, including three Group 3 races and a Group 2, and she is rated 21lb higher than she was when she set off.

Her task on Saturday was admittedly made easier by the withdrawal of Darwin and the fact that Lockwood didn’t run his race, but you can only ever beat what they put in front of you. Such was the ease of her victory that it is difficult to argue that it wasn’t the best performance of her life. She is all set for the Tattersalls December Sale, so it will be interesting to see what the future holds for her. Hopefully she will stay in training, because she remains a highly-progressive and talented filly with whom McCreery has excelled and who could have even more to give on the racetrack.

Punchestown back

It was good to see racing back at Punchestown on Wednesday – has it really been four and a half months? – and there were some interesting performances.

The Noel Meade-trained Apache Stronghold made hard work of overhauling the useful Clonard Lad in the two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle in the end, but there was a lot to like about his performance. He made a mistake at the first flight, and his jumping was a little guessy in places thereafter, but he travelled really well through the race for Davy Condon, and he looked like the most likely winner from a long way out.

He seemed to idle once he moved up to challenge Clonard Lad, and he didn’t go on and win as easily as it looked like he might. In fairness to the runner-up, Willie Mullins’ horse did battle on well all the way to the line under Ruby Walsh, and the winning margin was only a short head in the end, but the winner left the impression that he had a fair bit more left to give.

Meade said afterwards that he would come on for the run in fitness terms. He should also improve as his jumping improves with experience. A talented bumper horse last season, he is an exciting novice hurdler for the season ahead.

The Gordon Elliott-trained Bonisland, winner of the beginners’ chase that ended Wednesday’s card, could be an exciting novice chaser now. It was just a four-horse race, so it was difficult to get cover, but he was notably out to his left at his fences when he didn’t have company.

His jumping when Local Celebrity led him, however, was accurate and straight. He travelled well into the home straight, and he probably just about had the measure of Rogue Angel when that horse came down at the final fence.

It was interesting that Elliott said afterwards that he could have a couple of better novice chasers at home, because this fellow could prove to be fairly good himself. A talented novice hurdler last term, the Gigginstown House horse should progress from this, he should be better in a bigger field when he can be held up behind horses, and he could be better again when he goes left-handed.

Funding cut

It is understandable that HRI’s CEO Brian Kavanagh would express his disappointment at the fact that government funding to Horse Racing Ireland was cut again in Tuesday’s budget, by €600,000 this time. It is the sixth reduction in funding in as many years, and HRI now has to operate within a budget that has been reduced by 29% since the heady days of 2008.

However, in the broad scheme of things, a reduction of €600,000, while not insignificant, should not be that disappointing. It represents a reduction of just 1.36% on last year, and that in a budget in which medical card thresholds and maternity benefits were hit hard.

The other piece of good news is that Minister Simon Coveney – both in word and in deed – appears to appreciate the value of horse racing to Ireland, not only as a sport but also as an industry. It is easy to believe him when he says that, politically, the easy thing for him to have done would have been to cut funding more dramatically. There is inevitably a corner to be fought, and it appears that the minister is fighting it.

There was predictable talk of the new legislation (isn’t there always?) for the remote betting tax, the minister saying that it was only a matter of weeks away. We have heard imminent, we have heard close and we have heard impending, but we have probably never heard a matter of weeks before. It is important to remember that this is not the panacea that will fix all racing’s ills, but it will be interesting to see what form the new legislation takes, what new revenue it generates, and to what extent it will strengthen the minister’s case when he goes looking for funding for racing in the future.

Extraordinary day

We learned plenty on Monday at Limerick. We learned that Irish people can be extraordinarily generous when confronted with an extraordinary issue. We learned that the racing community will rally around when one or two of their own are in trouble. We learned that the work that the organising committee (Ruby Walsh, Andrew McNamara, Russell Ferris, Bryan Murphy, Patrick O’Callaghan, Richard Pugh, Michael O”Rourke, Jane Davis and Barbara White) put in behind the scenes was gargantuan, and we learned that, when you have all of racing’s stakeholders pulling together in the same direction, you can move mountains.

We also learned that no amount of money will ever compensate JT McNamara or Jonjo Bright for what they are going through, and that a colossal amount of money is needed on an annual basis just to give them a chance. The fund-raising needs to be ongoing, this cannot be the end of it. To that end, Barry Connell’s donation of all prize money that Our Conor earns this season was as inspired as it was generous.

Our Conor is one of the most high-profile National Hunt horses in training so, as well as the money that he will hopefully win for the Emergency Fund through the year, every time he races, the issue will be brought into focus again.

© The Irish Field, 19th October 2013