Things We Learned » Derby picture clouded

Derby picture clouded

The Derby picture is not much clearer now than it was six weeks ago. Indeed, it may even be murkier.

Gleneagles is a lot of things, he is an impressive Guineas winner, an impeccably-bred impressive Guineas winner who is as exciting a three-year-old colt as there is in training at present. But it is difficult to argue that he is a Derby horse. He may have too much pace to be a Derby horse.

Irish Guineas, St James’s Palace Stakes is surely the route for the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt, possibly followed by a step up to 10 furlongs later in the season. The Eclipse, the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes, those types of races. Just like his uncle Giant’s then. (Causeway.)

It is difficult to find the number one Ballydoyle Derby horse at present. That, in itself, is not unusual, but it is unusual that you have to go down to the fourth horse in the betting to find the first contender. That’s John F Kennedy, who is on a recovery mission now after his defeat in the Ballysax Stakes.

Ol’ Man River was disappointing in the Guineas and Giovanni Canaletto scoped poorly and had to miss his intended trial at Chester during the week, while Sir Isaac Newton was beaten at long odds-on in a maiden at Chester. Hans Holbein did win the Chester Vase on Thursday, the race that O’Brien won with subsequent Derby winner Ruler Of The World two years ago, but you get the feeling that Hans Holbein might not be at the very top of the Derby list at Ballydoyle.

Of the others high in the betting, Racing Post Trophy winner Elm Park hasn’t run yet this season and was taken out of the Guineas because of good to firm ground, which is worrying. Dermot Weld has expressed his reservation about Zawraq getting the trip, while Christopermarlowe won the Epsom Derby Trial which has a poor record in pointing towards the main event.

All that into the mix, and it leaves the John Gosden-trained Jack Hobbs as Derby favourite. The son of Halling is a nice colt, he is obviously highly-regarded by connections and he was impressive in winning at Sandown two weeks ago, but that was a Class 3 handicap that he won, and he was racing off a mark of 85. Afterwards you could have been thinking that he would be a lively Derby outsider, not the Derby favourite.

We have the Lingfield Derby Trial today, for which the afore-mentioned Christophermarlowe is favourite, and we have the Derrinstown Trial tomorrow as well as the French 2000 Guineas. We also have the Dante on Thursday. We should know more after all of that.

Found not lost

Don’t give up on Found yet. She is fully deserving of another chance, despite her defeat at the hands of Iveagh Gardens in the Athasi Stakes at The Curragh on Monday.

The Galileo filly had that well-publicised setback in the middle of her preparation for last Sunday’s 1000 Guineas, and the fact that Aidan O’Brien elected to run her in a Group 3 race on Monday, instead of in the 1000 Guineas on Sunday, tells you that he probably didn’t think that he had her at concert pitch, Legatissimo or no Legatissimo.

And Found raced like a high-class filly who was just short of peak fitness. She travelled through her race, and she quickened up impressively a furlong and a half out to put her race to bed, trading at the floor price of 1.01 in-running on Betfair before she tired on the ground. And the filly who caught her, Iveagh Gardens, is a talented filly on soft ground.

Found was one of the best juvenile fillies in Europe last season, and there is every chance that she will be one of the best three-year-old fillies in Europe this season. If her seasonal debut brings her on – and it is reasonable to expect that it will – she will be a force wherever she goes next.

Whip rules again

You wonder why we need whip rules? Have a look at the finish of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday night and count the strokes in the home straight. Twenty-five, you might get, maybe one more, maybe one less. And don’t even think about counting the seconds for the time-to-respond thing.

Victor Espinoza acted within the rules of American racing of course. Under the rules, he was fully entitled to give American Pharoah the ride that he gave him. He didn’t miss either. Each smack was a heartfelt smack, every one administered with feeling.

Indeed, he would have been expected to give his horse the ride that he gave him. It’s a cultural thing, the different cultures of horse racing in the different jurisdictions, governed by the different rules in the different jurisdictions. Even so, it made for uncomfortable viewing. Every time the rider administered a crack, you found yourself thinking, that’s enough now, don’t hit him again.

The whip rules still are not right in this part of the world, mind you. Michael Owen was the latest person to highlight the anomaly, when the Tom Dascombe-trained Crowley’s Law got beaten a short head by Don’t Be in a listed race at Goodwood on Saturday, and the winner’s rider Chris Catlin was found to be guilty of excessive use of the whip. In fairness to the winner’s trainer Sir Mark Prescott, he agreed with Owen, that there was something wrong with the rules. Indeed, Prescott is an advocate of disqualification if a rider is in breach of the whip rules.

We have been here before. We do need whip rules, we do need whip limits, but we need the correct rules, the correct limits, and we need the correct punishments if the rules are breached.

Grand National distance

So the Grand National distance has been reduced by a furlong, from four miles and three and a half furlongs to four miles and two and a half furlongs, this time without the course being altered a jot.

It is the method of measuring that has been changed. So, it is only three years since you needed a horse to stay four and a half miles if he was to win the Grand National. Now he only needs to stay four and a quarter miles. Maybe you do need a good two-and-a-half-mile handicapper after all.

The reason behind the reduction in the distance of the race – without an actual reduction in the distance of the race, you understand – lies in the fact that race distances are now being measured along a racing line that is two yards off the inside rail. That’s a change from measuring distances along a line that runs down the mid-point of the course. That makes sense. You have to think that two yards off the inside rail is more of an average measurement of the actual distance that a horse travels than the midpoint on the track is.

Strange, however, that the distance of the Grand National has been reduced by a full furlong. A rough calculation suggests that, if the race distance is being reduced by a furlong, the distance between the old racing line and the new racing line is around 18 yards, and that seems like a lot. The track is no more than 20 metres wide on the run up to Becher’s Brook. Perhaps the opportunity was taken to address other little inaccuracies as well.

Whatever the exact distance was, the initiative is a move towards greater degrees of accuracy by the BHA, and for that they are to be applauded. It may be that calls by the likes of the Racing Post’s Dave Edwards and Irish Field columnist, Timeform’s Simon Rowlands, did not fall on deaf ears after all.

No Hennessy

It was sad in a sense to read during the week that Hennessy’s sponsorship of Leopardstown’s, eh, Hennessy Gold Cup has come to an end. Their association with the race lasted from 1991 until now, and the race has grown under their sponsorship, boasting winners of the calibre of Carvill’s Hill, Jodami, Doran’s Pride, Danoli, Imperial Call, Beef Or Salmon and, of course, Florida Pearl.

You get frustrated when sponsors torpedo historical race names, impose their name on the race to the exclusion of all other identifiers, then head off over the hills after a year or two, taking their name with them and with it the identity of the race. However, you can allow Hennessy this one. If you sponsor a race for 24 years, you are entitled to own the name.

However, while Hennessy’s departure is a massive loss, it also presents Leopardstown with an opportunity. Before Hennessy came along, the race was called the Vincent O’Brien Irish Gold Cup. So why not name it as such again, the (insert sponsor’s name) Vincent O’Brien Irish Gold Cup, or the (insert sponsor’s name) Irish Gold Cup. Its position in the calendar and the quality of its winners are such that the Irish Gold Cup title would sit easily. And what sponsor would not want to have its name associated with the Irish Gold Cup?

© The Irish Field, 9th May 2015