Things We Learned » Whip rules

Whip rules

First things first. It was a superb training performance by Gordon Elliott to produce Bayan in the form that he was in to land the Ladbroke Hurdle on Saturday. Second in the Galway Hurdle in July – like Elliott’s previous Ladbroke winner Cause Of Causes – the Core Syndicate’s horse had not run since he finished fourth in that good handicap at Leopardstown on Irish Champions’ Weekend. Elliott’s horses are flying, and it was just the latest milestone in a season that is shaping up to be his best ever by a long way.

Secondly, it was a really good ride by Davy Condon to get the horse home on just his third ride back after an awful injury. Condon had to be fit too, because he had to drive Bayan along from before the home turn. He was driving and kicking for almost a minute at the end of a gruelling test on holding ground. You could see what it meant to the rider when he pulled up after crossing the winning line.

It was a shame, then, that both Condon and rider of the runner-up Pine Creek, Sam Twiston-Davies, were both rewarded with suspensions and fines for excessive use of the whip. It does not sit squarely. It looks really bad to the outside world. Horse wins race, yet the winning jockey is suspended because he broke the rules. People within racing accept it just because it has been thus for so long.

There have been calls from some highly-respected quarters of late for horses to be disqualified if the jockey breaks the whip rules, and that is a potential solution. However, there are major implications for such a rule, not least the betting implications for the fact that a jockey could get a horse beaten by simply over-using his whip. Also, it would also have led to a farcical situation on Saturday, with the third best horse in the race going home with the trophy.

What is required now is a return to fundamentals. Britain said that they would be leaders in whip rules, that the world would follow their lead. Well, the world hasn’t. Back to basics: why is there a need for whip rules? Is it for aesthetics? Is it for animal welfare? Nobody wants to see a horse being abused, but when a jockey smacks his horse eight times with the cushioned whip they use these days, is that a flailing? Nine times? 15 times?

Some clear thoughts on a blank page are required now.

Ptit quick

These things are easy in hindsight, but it was strange that Ptit Zig was a bigger price than Josses Hill for the Mitie Novices’ Chase at Ascot on Saturday, given that (a) he was two for two over fences going into the race whereas we had yet to see Josses Hill jump a fence in public, and (b) he was rated 7lb higher than Josses Hill over hurdles.

Of course, Josses Hill was the high-profile horse, the fashionable horse, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up who had won the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, and who had been ear-marked by many as a chaser-in-waiting. He remains an exciting prospect.

But Ptit Zig has been an under-rated horse for most of his career. A 157-rated hurdler, he is now three for three over fences, and he is still only five. Two and a half miles is probably his optimum trip, and he is shaping like a leading player for the JLT Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

L’ami surge

There were four races run on the hurdles course at Ascot on Friday. The two-mile-six-furlong maiden hurdle was run in a time that was 1.55s/f slower than standard, the two-mile-six-furlong handicap hurdle was run in a time that was 1.66s/f slower than standard, and the two-mile bumper was run in a time that was 1.55s/f slower than standard. The other race, the Kennel Gate Hurdle, was run in a time that was 0.77s/f slower than standard, and that could be significant.

That Kennel Gate Hurdle was won by L’Ami Serge. Killultagh Vic set a good even pace through the race, but L’Ami Serge travelled well for Barry Geraghty behind it and moved to the near side to deliver his challenge on the run to the second last. As he did, Emerging Talent moved to the far side, and he looked a danger before he came down at the second last flight.

Of course, it is impossible to know how the race would have panned out, but L’Ami Serge came away from Killultagh Vic with such authority, despite making a mistake at the final flight, that you have to think that Emerging Talent would have had to put up a really good performance to beat him. Also, the winner was eased right down on the run to the line and he still clocked an impressive time. He probably could have gone faster had he been pressed.

The King’s Theatre gelding did not win in six attempts over hurdles in France, but he finished second in three of those races and third in two. More importantly, he is now two for two since joining Nicky Henderson. He was impressive in winning a listed handicap hurdle at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting off a mark of 132, and he moved thorough Saturday’s race like a good horse.

He is a second-season novice, he has the option of stepping up in grade now as a novice, but he also has the option of contesting some of the valuable handicaps, like the Betfair Hurdle, in which his trainer has such a good record. He will be interesting wherever he goes next.

Lesson learned

Conor O’Farrell may have gone for home too early on Our Father in the Becher Chase at Aintree three weeks ago but, if he got that one wrong, he got Broadway Buffalo very right in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock on Saturday. There is no point in getting older if you are not going to get wiser.

It was difficult to know what to make of Broadway Buffalo before Saturday’s race. David Pipe’s horse had battled on bravely to land the Long Distance Handicap Hurdle on Swinton Hurdle day at Haydock last May, but he hadn’t won since, and he was becoming a weak finisher.

He had travelled like the most likely winner down the hill in the amateur riders’ handicap chase at Cheltenham’s November meeting before finding disappointingly little and fading to finish third. Then, on his last run before Saturday, he had travelled really well, making significant ground down the back straight in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle last month before appearing to cut out on the run to the home straight.

There was a chance that something was ailing him, but there was also a chance that he just needed to be ridden patiently, his energy conserved until it was needed. That he needed to be asked for his effort only at the end of his race. He was obviously a talented and potentially well-handicapped horse, racing on Saturday, as he was, off a chase mark that was 11lb lower than his hurdles mark.

O’Farrell got him spot on on Saturday. He settled him at the back of the field perfectly, and as, one by one, his rivals started to come off and on the bridle, he sat still and made his ground easily on the far side up the home straight. He actually didn’t ask his horse for his effort until after he had landed in front over the last fence.

It was the ride that the horse needed. This win should restore the Braodway Flyer gelding’s confidence and, if right is right, it should mean that O’Farrell is the automatic choice for the horse now the next time that stable jockey Tom Scudamore is not available.

Bye High

It was sad to learn of High Chaparral’s demise. It goes without saying that he was a top class racehorse, a dual Derby winner, a dual Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, but he had also made his mark as a stallion.

So You Think was his obvious superstar, but he had multiple Group 1 winners It’s a Dundeel and Shoot Out in Australia, while up here Toronado is a Sussex Stakes and a Queen Anne winner, and there is no knowing how good Free Eagle could be. His death was untimely, at the relatively youthful age of 15, and on the back of such a successful 2014 season. It is up to his progeny now to carry on his name.

© The Irish Field, 20th December 2014