Things We Learned » Shergar Cup horses

Shergar Cup horses

There was plenty to take out of last Saturday’s Shergar Cup day at Ascot. For starters, with lots of jockeys riding unfamiliar horses at an unfamiliar track, with unfamiliar undulations and unfamiliar turns, sometimes over unfamiliar distances, it stands to reason that many horses would have been the recipients of rides that did not give them the best possible chance of attaining the best possible placing. If you can identify such horses, you may have identified an angle.

Debdebdeb and Big Thunder were the two to take out of the Stayers. Debdebdeb fell out of the gate. Yuichi Fukunaga actually did well to stay on board, but his horse was really keen through the first mile. Stone last of the 10 runners turning for home, she picked up really well on the far side, threading her way through traffic, and she finished best of all to take fourth place.

Big Thunder was also keen early on. Held up towards the back, he just didn’t settle. S’Manga Khumalo allowed him stride forward on the outside going down by Swinley Bottom, moving up to third place five furlongs out, and travelling well, but he had expended too much energy through the early part of the race, and he just didn’t get home, fading to finish sixth.

This was a race in which they did not go a great gallop and in which it was difficult to make ground from the rear. The winner, Retirement Plan, was handy throughout, just behind the leaders and on the rail, while the runner-up, Buckland, led from flagfall until well inside the final furlong.

Trip To Paris was one of the horses to take out of the Classic. He simply went too hard in front. He was two and a half lengths clear of the second and third horses, Mr Gallivanter and Pack Leader, passing the six-furlong pole, and even they were going too fast.

That trio finished seventh, eighth and 10th of the 10 runners, while the two horses who were held up right out the back, Our Gabrial and Snow Squall, finished first and third.

Interestingly, when Trip To Paris last met Our Gabrial, in a handicap over Saturday’s course and distance on King George weekend, he was held up, and he beat Richard Fahey’s horse by almost two lengths. On Saturday, meeting him on 1lb better terms, he was beaten by 28 lengths. He should do much better next time, as long as he is ridden more patiently.

Communicator is probably the horse to take out of the Challenge. He was well back in the field in a race in which they did not go a great gallop. He travelled best of all into the straight, but his rider waited until they had passed the two-furlong pole before he asked him to pick up. It did not help that he dropped his whip – there was a lot of that about on Saturday – and that may have cost him second place, but he finished well. He showed here that he has the pace for a mile and a half, but he should be better stepped up to a mile and six or two miles. This was his first run since May, so he should come on for it.

Shergar Cup lessons

There was more than just the horses to take out of Saturday’s Shergar Cup. First, there was the cutaway, or the false rail that fired the horses out into the middle of the home straight.

There are pros and cons for the false rail. We see it regularly at Chester, we have it at Dundalk now, we see it at Kempton. It fans the horses out in the home straight, it gives every horse a better chance of getting a clear run. On the downside, it probably counts against front-runners and prominent racers for that reason, and it is not as aesthetically pleasing as horses wheeling around the home turn on the rail but, on the whole, it worked well at Ascot on Saturday.

Second, there are the teams. Suggestions on postcards for other possible teams, but shouldn’t there be an Irish and a British team? Two teams, instead of one Irish/British team? All three riders on the GB/Ire team on Saturday were Irish.

Third, there are the numbers of runners, 10 in each of the six races. But there are 12 jockeys, three on each team, so two riders sit out each race. Twelve riders, 60 horses, each jockey has five rides.

You can understand the initial fear that every race would not get 12 runners, but there was plenty of demand for places in every race on Saturday, four of the races had three reserves and two of them had two, and that was when trainers knew there were only 10 places available.

If the races were 12-horse races, every jockey would have a ride in every race. And in the eventuality that there is not a horse for a jockey in one race – which is drawn by lottery, in the same way as the horses are allotted – that jockey is awarded an arbitrary number of points, say three, the equivalent of a fifth-place finish, and points are awarded in that race only down to fourth place instead of fifth.

Which brings us onto the reserves. There was plenty of talk about the reserves in the lead up to Saturday, and there has been plenty of talk since. We have more or less this system in Ireland, but it was an unusual one for British racing fans in that we didn’t know until 45 minutes before the race whether or not the reserves were going to get in.

As it happened, no reserves got in, so the issue probably didn’t get the airing that it deserved. We have been here before on numerous occasions in this space, there needs to be an agreement put in place between bookmakers to accommodate reserves.

It doesn’t make sense that different bookmakers treat reserves in different ways. Some price them up in the morning and implement a Rule 4 deduction if and when the reserves come out, some don’t price up the reserves in the morning and treat them as non-runners for betting-at-morning-odds purposes if they do get in. Win or come second to the reserve. Whatever system is adopted, it really should be standard across the board.

Deux pointer

Pour Deux made a really encouraging racecourse debut at The Curragh on Sunday. The Johx Oxx-trained filly travelled really well through the early stages of the race. Moved to the outside by Declan McDonogh before the three-furlong pole, she got a little caught out when they picked up towards the far side, but she kept on really well all the way to the line to finish third behind Run The Red Light and Tamadhor.

It may have been her inexperience that caught her out mid-race rather than a lack of pace, yet she still did best of the five newcomers. She is really well-bred. By Dansili, she is out of Gagnoa, a three-parts sister to Derby winner Pour Moi, who won Group 3 races at two and at three in France, and who was second in the French Oaks and third in Moonstone’s Irish Oaks.

Pour Deux is bred to be good, and initial signs on the racecourse are really encouraging. She should benefit greatly from this, her racecourse debut, and she should do even better on better ground and when stepped up in trip.

Kennedy exciting

You know that optimism burns brightly in the John F Kennedy camp, not only because he is by Galileo out of Rumplestiltskin, a Moyglare Stakes and Prix Marcel Boussac winner, and therefore a full-brother to Tapestry, but also because he is named John F Kennedy. Sue Magnier does not tend to waste names like that.

Beaten on his racecourse debut behind Hall Of Fame at Leopardstown last month, the performance that he put up in winning his maiden at The Curragh on Sunday was much more like it. He travelled like a good horse through the race, he moved up nicely towards the outside when Joseph O’Brien gave him a little squeeze, and he galloped on enthusiastically to the line to come clear.

The comparisons of relative times on the day may be a precarious business, as the ground may have become progressively slower as the day developed, but it may not have become dramatically slower. The overall times held up fairly well, with Scream Blue Murder clocking the fastest comparative time on the day in the Phoenix Sprint Stakes, the fifth race on a seven-race card.

If the relative times are to be even semi-trusted, John F Kennedy’s was really good for a juvenile running over a mile and winning easily. It was the third fastest comparative time on the day, third after the two Group races, and it was almost two seconds faster than the time that the five-year-old No Dominion clocked in winning the handicap over the same course and distance later in the day carrying 4lb less. He is another who should improve as he steps up in trip. He is obvious, but he is exciting.

McCoy watch

When AP McCoy eased My Direction to victory in the opening novices’ hurdle at Fontwell on Thursday evening, and followed up by driving Barton Stacey to victory in the handicap hurdle an hour later, he brought his tally for this season to 92. That’s eight short of what could be the fastest 100 recorded by a National Hunt jockey ever. (Remember, we are still in mid-August.)

Unsurprisingly, it is McCoy himself who holds the record – doesn’t he hold them all? – having got there by 4th September in 2002, which broke his own previous record by 14 days. Coincidentally, there are 14 days of National Hunt racing between now and 4th September, including this evening’s meeting at Market Rasen, so he needs, on average, 0.57 winners per racing day if he is to set a new record.

The champ has ridden his 92 winners from 303 rides so far this season. That is a strike rate of over 30%. Assuming a similar strike rate for the next 14 days, he just needs an average of two rides per racing day if he is to beat his record and set another bar another notch higher. All things being equal, it looks on.

© The Irish Field, 16th August 2014