Things We Learned » Fingers crossed

Fingers crossed

Strange that, here we are, on the morning of the most important weekend on the Irish flat racing calendar, and we still don’t know the make up of the most important race on it.

Latest indications from YR – the app, that is, not the sauce, although it is still difficult to get your head around the fact that they know more about the Irish weather in Norway than they do in Dublin – were that there was going to be between 14.3mm and 23.2mm of rain between six o’clock last night and six o’clock this morning.

If the rains had stayed away for another day, we would be getting up this morning and anticipating one of the most intriguing flat races run in Ireland in modern times.  The dual Guineas winner, the Derby and Eclipse winner, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner, last year’s Irish Champion Stakes and French Derby winner, and the Irish Guineas and Yorkshire Oaks winner, with a seven-time Group 1 winner thrown in for good measure.  The fact that top class Grade/Group 1 winners Found and Highland Reel are available at 14/1 and 16/1 gives you an indication of the strength of the race in-depth.

Instead, however, we arise with trepidation.  Rain could scupper the lot.  The top four in the betting, Golden Horn, Gleneagles, Free Eagle and The Grey Gatsby are all at their best on fast ground, and not many of the others would really want it too soft.  Cirrus Des Aigles, of course, is the exception.  It couldn’t rain enough for the Frenchman.

We could lose any of the top three in the market at least, possibly one or two others.  Hopefully we won’t though.  Rain, rain, go away, come again in time for Punchestown in November.  Fingers crossed then.

Riders change

It is a pity that the start time for the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes was brought forward 65 minutes, from 6.50pm to 5.45pm, so that it would be the first race run on the outside track.  The freshest ground for the classiest horses.  It makes sense.

It does mean, however, that no rider can ride in the St Leger at Doncaster, then high-tail it to Leopardstown to ride in the Irish Champion Stakes.  Last year, when the race was at 6.50, Ryan Moore, James Doyle and Paul Hanagan all rode at Doncaster before jetting to Leopardstown.  This year, Frankie Dettori was all set to ride the Aidan O’Brien-trained Bondi Beach in the St Leger at Doncaster before getting to Leopardstown to ride Golden Horn in the Irish feature.

Although Order Of St George was a late withdrawal yesterday changing jockey bookings, it was interesting that, given Dettori’s unavailability, William Buick was booked for the ride on Bondi Beach. Dettori rode Scorpion to win the Leger for O’Brien in 2005, but that was the last time that a Godolphin rider rode for Ballydoyle until Dettori rode Camelot in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2012, by which stage his ties with Godolphin were more or less severed.

It all augurs well for relations between racing’s two superpowers.

Safety becoming the main concern now

This is becoming a weekly bulletin at this stage, but there were more horses who played the rules of British racing – such as they are – to their advantage during the week.  Light Wave at Windsor on Monday was one, Realtra in the Sceptre Stakes at Doncaster on Thursday was another.

Realtra was drawn in stall four on the far side, she made her ground over there, out towards the centre of the track, on the left-hand shoulder of the field, yet she finished off her race on the stands rail.

She had to have the ability to get to the front, and she may well have been the best filly in the race on the day anyway, but in tacking across from the far side to the near side, across the front of the entire field, she hampered at least four of her rivals.  Excilly had to be checked, Terror had to be checked, Marsh Hawk had to be checked, Fadhayyil had to be checked.  Realtra won by over two lengths, everyone said that she probably didn’t improve her placing, and everybody moved on.

As mentioned before, it is not fair that the benefit of the doubt goes to the perpetrator.  But it isn’t just about fairness any more, it is becoming more about safety.  If any of the riders of Excilly, Terror, Marsh Hawk or Fadhayyil had not taken back, if they had fought for their patch, if they had tried to go forward to protect their racing line, there was a good chance that one of the fillies would have clipped the leader’s heels and come down, and that could have been disastrous.

Perhaps this one wasn’t rider Jack Mitchell’s fault.  He had his whip in his right hand, his correct hand and, while that isn’t definitive, it did appear that he was endeavouring to keep his filly straight, that she was hanging to her right despite her rider’s efforts.  However, an eight-day ban suggests that the stewards thought otherwise.  Paul Hanagan said that the interference cost his filly Fadhayyil second place.  In other racing jurisdictions, the winner would have been disqualified and placed fourth, behind Fadhayyil, or 14th, behind Excilly.

The situation is getting worse, not better, as more and more riders realise that their horse will not be thrown out, no matter what interference they cause, as long as they get home by more than a short head.  As well as running contrary to the laws of fairness and of common sense, it is an accident waiting to happen.

Haydock straight

Horse who raced towards the near side on the straight track at Haydock last weekend appeared to be at a significant disadvantage relative to horses who raced towards the far side.  The far side of the track just seemed to be riding faster.

The first, and most obvious, horse that you should mark up from the weekend’s racing is Strath Burn, who ran out of his skin to get to within a short head of Twilight Son in the Sprint Cup, coming from stall 16 (of 16 stalls, 15 runners) and racing, as he did, on the near side.  But there were others.

On Friday, there was Life Of Fame, the 50/1 third in the second division of the six-furlong juvenile fillies’ maiden, and Compton Park who kept on well to take fifth behind Harwoods Volante in the six-furlong handicap on Friday.  Then on Saturday, as well as Strath Burn in the Sprint Cup, the effort that last year’s winner G Force put up in finishing well down the near side to take fourth place appeared to go largely under the radar.  Those horses could all be worth noting next time they run.

Jumpers back

The most interesting piece of information to emanate from Paul Nicholls’ owners’ day at Ditcheat on Sunday wasn’t that Silviniaco Conti is unlikely to run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup this season, that he will tread a Betfair Chase-King George-Betfred Bowl path, nor that Dodging Bullets will reappear in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham’s November meeting, interesting and appetite-whetting though those pieces of information were.

Nope, the most interesting nugget to emerge from the day was that Nicholls now has seven horses that will carry the famed JP McManus green and gold hoops, including Modus, second in the Cheltenham Bumper and third in the Punchestown bumper for Robert Stephens, and Hawkhurst, who won a Boulta point-to-point last December by 12 lengths on his only run between the flags.  Exciting innit?

© The Irish Field, 12th September 2015