Things We Learned » Plate’s position

Plate’s position

If you wanted a snapshot of the place of the Galway Plate in the kaleidoscope that is Irish National Hunt racing, you got it on Wednesday in the 2016 renewal when six horses rounded the home turn with a chance of winning: three of them trained by Willie Mullins, three of them trained by Gordon Elliott.

The snapshot went further too.  Three of the six horses were owned by Gigginstown House, who had a foot in each camp – or, more accurately, two feet in the Elliott camp, one foot in the Mullins camp – and one was owned by Susannah Ricci.  And the top riders were there too, Ruby Walsh and Paul Townend and Jack Kennedy, with (more feet and more camps) David Mullins riding Devils Bride for his uncle Willie, and Danny Mullins riding Shadow Catcher for Gordon Elliott, who isn’t his uncle.

In the end it was the 5lb-claiming Donagh Meyler – comfortable and capable among the giants of his profession – who emerged victorious on Lord Scoundrel, who was running at Galway for the first time since he won a novice chase there last October.  There are horses for course, and then there is Galway, where the horses and courses thing seems to be more relevant than it is even in the dictionary of clichés.

It was Gordon Elliott’s first Galway Plate, and it was Gigginstown House’s second in three years.  That means that the last seven renewals of the Plate have been won by JP McManus (3), Gigginstown House Stud (2), Susannah Ricci (1) and Ann and Alan Potts (1), the four top owners in Ireland last season.  And there is the small matter of the subsequent Grade 1 winning exploits of 2013 winner Carlingford Lough and 2014 winner Road To Riches.

The Plate may be a summer handicap chase, but it matters all right.

York draw

Strange thing.  The stats say that it is an advantage to be drawn low on the sprint track at York, that it is better to race close to the far rail, the inside rail, than it is to race down the centre or towards the stands side.

This phenomenon was in evidence once again in the Sky Bet Dash that Kimberella won on the Knavesmire on Saturday, with six of the first eight home drawn, respectively, five, four, one, six, three and two, of 16.  Intisaab and Lexington Abbey, the two horses who got in among them from high draws, both raced towards the far side too, and both – especially the former – can be marked up considerably on the bare form of their respective runs.

Why then, if it is such an advantage to race close to the inside rail in sprints, do they insist on coming down the centre after turning for home in middle-distance races?  Surely it is to the leader’s advantage to remain as tight as he or she can to the inside.  As well as the fact that it is the shortest route, if you are along the inside, it also means that you can be passed on just one side, not two.

Third horse trauma

There have been three high-profile incidents in Britain of late in which the horse who passed the post in third place has been the main sufferer of interference, and that horse has not been awarded the race.

There was the Seeking Magic case at Goodwood in May, when Seeking Magic carried Huntsmans Close across the track and passed the post first, but allowed Go Far up in the stands side to finish second to him.  Huntsmans Close passed the post in third place, was awarded second place as Seeking Magic was placed behind him, but still didn’t get the race.

At Royal Ascot in June, in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, Kinema veered across the track, took Kings Fete’s ground and his potential chance of winning, but the stewards took no action, a decision that was probably influenced by the fact that Elite Army was second past the post, in front of Kings Fete, behind Kinema.

Then last Saturday at Ascot, in the Listed one-mile fillies’ race, Namhroodah moved to her right as Irish Rookie challenged on her inside, taking her ground.  The stewards demoted Namhroodah, deeming that she cost Irish Rookie her chance of winning, but, because Red Box had got up on the near side to be second past the post, she was the main beneficiary, she was awarded the race, while Irish Rookie was only awarded the runner-up spot.

There is something wrong when the horse who was probably no better than the second best horse in the race, possibly the third best horse in the race, goes home with the prize, and when the best horse in the race, the horse for whom the rule in is place, can’t be deemed the winner.

Tactics maximised chance of victory

Here’s why Ryan Moore’s ride on Highland Reel in the King George last Saturday was good: he had his game plan, you can be sure that he had done his research, he had thought through his tactics, and he carried them out to the letter.

It was the combination of planning and implementation that made the ride good.

The tactics were sound.  They make sense in hindsight, he got his easy lead, he won the race, therefore they worked, but Moore had the foresight to make the decision to implement them.

And he implemented them perfectly.  He got to the front, he steadied the pace initially, then he injected a little, and he was allowed steal a few easy lengths.  From the point at which they neared the home turn, with his rivals playing catch-up, it was unlikely that Highland Reel was going to be caught.  He is a top class horse, he had had an easy lead, and he had a couple of lengths on his rivals.  Sure enough, he picked up nicely at the top of the home straight, and he kept on well all the way to the line.  It never looked like he would be caught.

Just because his rivals made it easy for him, it doesn’t make the ride any less good.  If a football manager spots a potential flaw in the opposing team, if a tennis player spots a weakness in his opponent, just because he sets out to exploit that weakness, it doesn’t make a winning performance any less good.

Moore had the foresight to see the situation that might develop, that he might be afforded an easy lead.  So he took it.  And you can talk about the fact that the other riders made it easy for him, you can talk about the other riders as a collective all you want, but if any one of them had sought to match strides with, or lead, Highland Reel, each of them riding a horse who wanted to be held up, they would probably have compromised their own chances.  Nobody wants to be the sacrificial lamb.

It is probable that Highland Reel was the best horse in the race on the day anyway, that he probably would have won regardless of tactics.  But Moore’s ride maximised his chance of winning, and that’s what the best riders do.

Thoughts of JT

If there are banks races up there, you know that he will be riding in God’s colours.

© The Irish Field, 30th July 2016