Things We Learned » Affordable luxury

Affordable luxury

You see, this is what happens when you don’t give a race name a race name, when you rely on the sponsors to give it its name. It worked okay in the olden days (ref. Benson and Hedges Stakes, Scwheppes Gold Trophy, Sweeps Hurdle), when a sponsor was not just for Christmas, but it doesn’t work so well these days when sponsors and races are often fleeting bedfellows.

Of course, there are modern day exceptions, like Hennessy Gold Cup and Paddy Power Gold Cup and Juddmonte International, in which longevity of sponsorship deal gives a race an identity in which you can be confident. (“The Hennessy is the plan.”) And brevity of deal is not a big issue when the race has its own fixed name, to which a sponsor’s name can be a frilly addendum. John Smith’s Grand National or Crabbie’s Grand National, it’s still the Grand National. (“He’ll go for the Grand National now.”)

But when the sponsor’s name is the race name, that’s when things get tricky. The Massey Ferguson Gold Cup has been six different things since it was the Massey Ferguson, the Whitbread Gold Cup is still the Whitbread Gold Cup Or Whatever They Call It These Days for many.

The Cheltenham Festival is not immune. It is great that there is a race named after the late Terry Biddlecombe this year, but it is difficult to understand why the powers that decide these things felt it necessary to replace John Oaksey. The Oaksey name was perfect for the National Hunt Chase, so why not adorn a different race with the Terry Biddlecombe memory? Vincent O’Brien, Fred Winter, Fulke Walwyn, Johnny Henderson and David Nicholson are all commemorated in race names at Cheltenham, and Martin Pipe is celebrated (as is Albert Bartlett, incidentally), so why not John Oaksey and Terry Biddlecombe, instead of John Oaksey or Terry Biddlecombe?

There is more confusion. Tradition and longevity out the window. The race that was the Jewson is now the JLT, and the race that was the JLT is now the Baylis and Harding. Only it isn’t the Baylis and Harding, it’s the Baylis and Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase, obviously for fear of getting the affordable luxury company mixed up with the well-known accountancy firm.

Incidentally, if it is affordable, can it really be luxury?

Eider pointers

You wouldn’t usually nominate a four-mile-one-furlong chase as a race that might be a good pointer to future winners, but there were two horses to take out of last Saturday’s Eider Chase for me, Wyck Hill and Presented.

There is no rocket science to Wyck Hill, he won the race. However, he still may be under-rated. He only won by three parts of a length in the end, and there was a feeling that he only just got home. However, he travelled like the best horse in the race from a long way out, he pricked his ears at the last, and there was a sense that he was idling up the run-in as opposed to running out of petrol.

The handicapper raised him 8lb for the win, but that still leaves him on a mark of 141, 1lb below the mark off which he raced in last year’s Racing Plus Chase (there’s that race name change again), when he was sent off as the 3/1 favourite. He clocked a good time on Saturday, he went faster than Racing Post par, and he probably won with a little in hand.

Unfortunately for connections, the Grand National weights have already been framed so, number 82 on the list at present on his old mark of 133, it is unlikely that he will get into the race. Also, contrary to some comments this week, he will not get a penalty for the Grand National. A penalty would obviously have moved him up the rankings and given him a better chance of getting into into the race. Once the Grand National weights are framed, they are set in stone. They cannot be moved.

Wyck Hill holds an entry in the Kim Muir, and he will be interesting wherever he goes next though.

As will Presented. He travelled really well until early in the home straight, when his stamina seemed to just run out.

He was racing from 8lb out of the handicap on Saturday, and the handicapper has left him on his old mark of 111, so when he races next, as long as he is in the handicap proper, he will be 8lb better off than he was for Saturday’s race.

He appears to be an improved performer since he joined Brian Ellison, he is only seven and so has plenty of scope for progression as a staying chaser, and he is by Presenting, so there is every chance that he will improve for the better ground that he should encounter during the spring. He will be of interest now dropped back down to three miles or thereabouts.

Aintree’s Own

Speaking of the Grand National, it is easy to see why Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh are thinking that the Grand National might not be the thing for On His Own.

The case for is quite compelling. He is a dual Thyestes Chase winner and he is this year’s Bobbyjo Chase winner, two factors that scream Aintree Grand National if history is any guide, which it usually is. Also, his last two runs, in this year’s Thyestes and this year’s Bobbyjo Chase, have probably been the two best runs of his life. He is a 10-year-old, he is the ideal age for the National, and he would not have to carry a penalty for his Bobbyjo win.

The case against is also easily made, mind you. While he was travelling and jumping well until he fell at Becher’s second time as an eight-year-old in the 2012 Grand National, he has disappointed on both his runs at Aintree since. He was a beaten horse when he fell in last year’s National at Valentine’s second time, and he didn’t seem to enjoy the experience, despite staying on well to finish sixth, in the Becher Chase last November.

He is probably at his best going right-handed, so it is easy to see why the Punchestown Gold Cup is emerging as a realistic option. He is potentially a Grade 1 horse. Of course, the other option is to do both. There are 25 days between the National and the Punchestown Gold Cup this year. Don’t rule that out either.

Murtagh timing

Say that you were riding better than ever. Say you were the go-to man for some of the top trainers in the world for some of the top races in the world. Say you rode Group race winners for seven different trainers last year, Irish trainers, English trainers, French trainers, German trainers, and say you were top rider again at Royal Ascot, four winners from 11 rides. Why would you hang up your riding boots?

If you had an even more exciting project to pursue, that’s why.

In Johnny Murtagh’s final act as a jockey, characteristically, he timed it to perfection.


So Sprinter Sacre is out and Cue Card is out and, as sure as eggs is eggs, there will be other high-profile defections before the jamboree gets under way.

For every action there is a reaction, and every high-profile absentee has the potential to cause a shift in thought or action. Sprinter Sacre’s defection obviously made the Champion Chase more attractive for some than it would otherwise have been. Henry de Bromhead immediately confirmed Sizing Europe as on track for the race, and you have to think that Tony Martin and/or Paul Nicholls will be thinking similar thoughts about Benefficient and Al Ferof respectively, especially if the ground comes up soft.

That is why, from a betting perspective, the non-runner-no-bet is such an important concession at Cheltenham these days. There are more races now than there used to be, more options for trainers, intermediate options where once you only had two miles or three.

As well as that, there is a greater concentration of the top horses among the top yards than ever before, so a high-profile defection from one yard could mean a re-think and a re-alignment of that yard’s Cheltenham team. Some bookmakers (Paddy Power, Boylesports and Bet365 among them) are non-runner-no-bet already, and others should follow soon, so make sure, if you are betting ante post, that you avail of the concession.

© The Irish Field, 1st March 2014