Things We Learned » Notebook horses

Notebook horses

It was interesting that the horse that everybody seemed to want to put into their notebooks after the opening race of the Ebor meeting on Wednesday, the five-furlong handicap, was Mass Rally.

It is easy to understand why. Michael Dods’ horse was slowly away, but he travelled well through his race and he was checked in his run when Paul Mulrennan wanted to go forward. Still third last passing the furlong pole, he finally got a gap, and he picked up nicely, finishing best of all under just a hands and heels ride to finish fourth of the near-side group, ninth overall.

One of the difficulties with this run is that he was an obvious eye-catcher. He has gone into many notebooks, so there is a high probability that he will be over-bet next time he runs. Another is that the manner in which the race was run may have flattered Mass Rally. They went a breakneck pace in the race, so the pace-setters were at a significant disadvantage and they may have set it up for the closers.

The sectional times for each of the five furlongs (the first furlong was actually one furlong and 89 yards, and it was obviously from a standing start) were, respectively, 17.32secs, 10.33secs, 10.81secs, 11.27secs and 12.57secs. So it is obvious from the figures that they went really fast through the early stages of the race, and that Mass Rally was actually making up ground relatively cheaply close home as the pace-setters tired.

That is not to say that Mass Rally is not a horse on whom to keep an eye. On the contrary, there were three main reasons for thinking beforehand that he could improve on Wednesday performance, however he fared.

Firstly, he is better over six furlongs than over Wednesday’s extended five. Secondly, he is better on easier ground than on the ground that he encountered at York. And thirdly, he was racing for the first time in 98 days on Wednesday. His trainer said before the race that he would probably come on appreciably for the run.

He is worth a second look when he runs next, especially if it is over six furlongs on easy ground and particularly if it is at York, where he usually goes well. But just bear in mind that there may be others who will want to back him next time too, on the back of Wednesday’s ‘eye-catching’ run, and that he may be a shorter price than you expect.

Actually, the horse to take out of Wednesday’s race may be B Fifty Two. An unconsidered 33/1 shot, Charlie Hills’ gelding set a scorching pace on the far side under Frankie Dettori, leading the small group on his side by three lengths at half-way. Even though he led at too fast a pace, he was still able to keep on well enough to finish third overall, beating the four horses who raced over on the far side with him, and just going down by a short head and a neck overall.

This was the Dark Angel gelding’s first run for Charlie Hills, having joined him from his dad Barry’s yard, and it may be that his new surroundings have brought about some improvement in him. Winner of his penultimate race at Chester before he disappointed on his next run at Ascot, he was racing on Wednesday off a handicap mark of 94. That is 13lb below his peak, so he has plenty of leeway off that type of mark, and he will be of interest wherever he runs next.

Ebor draw

There was much consternation on Thursday morning when Paul Hanagan drew Pallasator’s name out of the blue and white bag (presumably to match the silks that he usually wears), and Jack Berry drew the number 22 out of the red bag (presumably to match the shirts that he always wears.)

Reaction was swift and decisive, with bookmakers pushing Pallasator out from 11/4 and 3/1 to 7/2 and 4/1.

Instinct tells you that a wide draw is a disadvantage. You are drawn widest of all, the theory goes, you have to cover more ground than everything else in the race, ergo, your chance is compromised. But history tells a different story.

In the last 10 renewals of the Ebor, only one winner was drawn in single figures and only two were drawn lower than 14. Three of the first four home last year were drawn 17 or higher, five of the first nine home in 2012 were drawn 10 or higher, as were seven of the first nine home in 2011, and three of the first five home in 2010 were drawn 16 or higher. The reality is that, according to recent history, a middle-to-wide draw in the Ebor is actually an advantage.

It is difficult to know exactly why this is. It may be that the low-drawn horses are usually ‘used up’ early in order to maintain their inside position, that the wide-drawn jockeys can be more patient and can drop in before being delivered late in the long home straight. It may be that those horses who race off the rail do not encounter the traffic problems that the inside horses do. Or it may be that the relatively recent trend that sees the field wheel off the home turn at York and into the centre of the track favours the wide horses, or at least negates the potential disadvantage of the ground that can be lost by racing a little wide around the home turn.

Whatever the reason, a wide draw is not a disadvantage. So if you fancy the favourite, if you think that Pallasator is value at this morning’s odds, do not be put off by his draw.

A week in the life

Eight days in the life of Joseph O’Brien … Three rides at Gowran Park on Wednesday evening (no winners), three more at Leopardstown on Thursday evening (one winner), hop on a plane to Chicago, ride Magician (at 9st) to finish second in the Arlington Million on Saturday night, hop on another plane (or perhaps the same one), back to Dundalk on Sunday for five rides (one winner).

Travel to Roscommon on Monday evening for just one ride, the 28/1 shot Elusive Ridge for Harry Rogers in a 0-90 handicap, who finishes 12th of the 13 runners (no winners). Then off to York on Wednesday for three rides, including Australia (one winner) at 8st 12lb in the Juddmonte International, back to Killarney on Wednesday night for three rides (one winner), and back to York on Thursday to ride Venus De Milo in the Yorkshire Oaks.

There’s commitment to your job and commitment to your job. No wonder he didn’t get time to eat.

Arc picture

Australia was not the only horse to enhance his Arc de Triomphe claims during the week, if, indeed, connections decide to aim him at the race. Tapestry surely enhanced her previously largely unconsidered Arc claims – the worry about soft ground notwithstanding – and simultaneously dented the hitherto unbeaten Taghrooda’s, by winning the Yorkshire Oaks on Thursday. On the continent, Avenir Certain, a still unbeaten three-year-old filly, French Guineas and French Oaks winner, was impressive in winning the Prix de la Nonette, while Markus Klug was quick off the mark to scotch rumours that all was not well with his unbeaten German Derby winner Sea The Moon.

Meanwhile, out East, we should have more clues early tomorrow morning when the top-class Japanese pair, Harp Star and Gold Ship, clash in the Sapporo Kinen in Hokkaido. It’s all shaping up very nicely.

Smullen superb

When a rider drops a horse out the back and gets up to win on the line, natural inclination is to say that it was a great ride. That isn’t automatically always the case, but it was the case with Pat Smullen’s ride on Short Squeeze in the Clipper Logistics Handicap at York on Thursday.

Short Squeeze is not a straightforward ride. He is one of those horses who does not like being in front for too long, and he was wearing cheekpieces and a tongue-tie for the first time on Thursday.

Pat Smullen had ridden him once before, in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot, when the pair of them finished 26th of the 28 runners. Undaunted, Smullen dropped Hugo Palmer’s gelding in from his wide draw in stall 18 on Thursday. Second last of the 19 runners as they levelled up for home, he charted a precarious passage among horses up the home straight, all the while resisting the temptation to move to his right and guarantee himself a clear run.

Still five lengths off the leader passing the two-furlong pole, the rider had a little look over his left shoulder and, path clear, moved to his left. He squeezed his horse forward, manoeuvred him back right, pushed him through the last gap and, still with a length and a half to find on Top Notch Tonto as they moved inside the final furlong, he just pushed his horse out hands and heels, no resort to the whip, to get up and win by a head. Significantly, 100 yards after the winning line, Top Notch Tonto was back in front.

It was Pat Smullen at his superb best, a ready-made training video to show young riders how to ride a waiting race on a horse who needs to be held up.

© The Irish Field, 23rd August 2014