Things We Learned » Walsh decision made sense

Walsh decision made sense

There was a smattering of mild surprise last Friday when it became known that Ruby Walsh would ride Djakadam in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown on Sunday, not Douvan in the Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase at Cork.  If you had been betting on which he would ride, you probably would have bet a shade of odds-on Douvan, a shade of odds-against Djakadam.  (And 12/1 the draw.)

You can see the case for going to Punchestown to ride Djakadam, hindsight being 20-20 vision and all.  The John Durkan Chase is a Grade 1 race, the Hilly Way Chase is a Grade 2.  The John Durkan had a winner’s pot of 50 grand, the Hilly Way had a winner’s pot of 30.  And there were other goings-on at Punchestown, there was American Tom, who was making his debut over fences, and there was Turcagua, who was running over hurdles for the second time.

There was also the fact that Douvan had a fairly straightforward-looking assignment in the Hilly Way, whereas Djakadam had a tough-looking task in the John Durkan, on his seasonal debut, taking on high-class and race-fit rivals in Sub Lieutenant and Outlander.  You deploy your strongest assets where they are needed most.  Paul Townend is a top class rider, he gave Douvan the no-nonsense ride that he needed and he had a four-timer on the day, but Ruby Walsh is Ruby Walsh.

The rider himself gave the real rationale afterwards: “I left it up to Willie and he thought I should come here.”

Important day

Sunday was an important day for Willie Mullins.  When you have the odds-on favourite for the two feature events on the day, a Grade 1 race at Punchestown and a Grade 2 race at Cork, expectation levels are high, and when expectation levels are high, there is lots of room underneath for disappointment.

There is not much room left, however, when you win those two races and when you have six winners in all on the day.

Douvan and Djakadam were both very good, but neither was flawless.  Douvan made his mistake at the third last fence, Djakadam made his at the fence going away from the stands.  Even so, Douvan eased to victory, he had high-class rivals in trouble from a long way out and, despite the fact that Paul Townend eased him to victory, he clocked a fast time, 0.14secs/furlong faster than Racing Post par.

Djakadam’s victory was different, he had to battle for it, but that was impressive in itself, against two race-fit and high-class rivals.  The fact that he stood up when he made that mistake was also impressive for a horse who has fallen twice over fences and who has unseated once over hurdles.  Perhaps he is learning how to find a leg.  He is still just a youth.

You have to remind yourself that Djakadam is still only seven.  When he finished second in the Gold Cup for the first time, behind Coneygree in March 2015, he was actually only five years and 10 months old.  He could be better than ever this season.

There was talk about the Ryanair Chase for Djakadam, about dropping down in trip, that two and a half miles could be his optimum, that his record over around two and a half miles now reads 11F11.  But that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  He carried 11st 10lb to victory in a Thyestes Chase on heavy ground and, more importantly, he has finished second in two Gold Cups.  The best two runs of his life have been in the Gold Cup, over an extended three and a quarter miles at Cheltenham. 

Susannah and Rich Ricci’s horse has beaten 21 horses and he has been beaten by just two over that course and distance, in the biggest race of them all.  So why would you not go back there?

Remember too that, when he finished second in 2015, he was only a whipper-snapper near-six-year-old.  When he finished second there last season, he had had an imperfect preparation.  He had had that fall in the Cotswold Chase in January, after which he needed stitches in his chest. 

He is a big strapping horse who takes his racing well, so it is reasonable to expect that he will progress from Sunday’s seasonal debut, as most of the Willie Mullins horses do anyway.  It will be interesting to chart his progress through the season. 

Last season’s juveniles get interesting

It is usually difficult for the juvenile hurdlers of one season – correctly insulated from their elders through a comprehensive programme for high-class juveniles – when they step into open company and take on their elders the following season. 

It is not a coincidence that only one five-year-old has won the Champion Hurdle since See You Then won the first of his three in 1985, and that no five-year-old has won the Irish Champion Hurdle since the Jim Bolger-trained Chirkpar won it in 1992.  Also, there has never been a five-year-old winner of the World Hurdle in its current guise, not since it was introduced to the Cheltenham Festival in 1972, and the last five-year-old winner of the World Series Hurdle at Punchestown was Paddy’s Return, and he won it in 1997.

Early indications were that last season’s class of juvenile hurdlers were going to struggle too, like the previous generations that had gone before them.  The two flagbearers for the classs of 2015/16, Ivanovich Gorbatov and Apple’s Jade, were both beaten on their seasonal debuts.  Footpad did win two races in France, a Grade 3 contest and the Grade 1 Prix Alain du Breil, and he was only beaten a head in the Grade 1 Prix Renaud du Vivier, but all three races were confined to four-year-olds.  Sceau Royal won, Diego Du Charmil won but, again, all in four-year-olds’ races.

Even the handicappers were starting to look poorly handicapped.  Leoncavallo was well beaten in the Greatwood Hurdle, Tommy Silver was well beaten in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, Diego Du Charmil was well beaten in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle at Ascot.

Then things started to turn for the four-year-olds.  Sceau Royal won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, giving weight to his elders.  Let’s Dance won a listed mares’ hurdle at Punchestown, the only four-year-old in the race.  Who Dares Wins carried top weight to victory in the Gerry Feilden Hurdle at Newbury.  Then Apple’s Jade ran Irving to a nose in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle, and went back to Fairyhouse a week later and got the better of Vroum Vroum Mag in that Hatton’s Grace Hurdle thriller.

Even some of the top juvenile hurdlers from last season who have gone chasing this term are getting in on the act now.  Clan Des Obeaux won a Grade 2 novices’ chase at Newbury, Connetable won an incident-packed beginners’ chase at Wincanton on Tuesday, Frodon won the feature race at Cheltenham on Saturday, the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. 

Recent evidence suggests that last season’s juvenile hurdlers may actually have been above average, and it will be interesting to monitor their progress now through the season.

Interference rules

The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities’ harmonisation of raceday rules committee met in Hong Kong during the week with a view to, well, furthering the harmonisation of raceday rules, which is essentially what harmonisation of raceday rules committees do.

It looks like they are almost there, even if it looks like France and Germany may not be a part of it.  (It’s a Gerfrexit.)  We have read it before: basically, if, in the opinion of the relevant authority, a horse improves its position after causing the interference, it should be demoted; if it does not improve its position, it should not be demoted.

What we are still missing is the definition of the opinion of the relevant authority.  How certain do they have to be that a horse did or did not improve its position?  51%?  75%?  100%?

To whom does the benefit of the doubt go?

In Britain, it still goes to the horse who caused the interference.  We saw it once again after the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap chase at Sandown last Friday, a race in which Pilgrims Bay passed the post first, a head in front of Antartica De Thaix.  The winner carried the runner-up across the track, almost certainly costing her far more than the head by which she was beaten.  They even bet odds-on the runner-up in the stewards’ enquiry.  And yet, the horse that finished first past the post retained the race.

“If you gave the benefit of the doubt to the sufferer,” the head of stewarding said on Racing UK afterwards, “yes there would be different outcomes to the enquiries.  Looking on the scout view from behind, yes, clearly he (the winner) takes her (the runner-up) off her line.  What we do at the moment, we give the benefit of the doubt to the interferer, people understand that.”

Allowing the benefit of the doubt go with the interferer surely goes against everything that the rules are in place to achieve.  It encourages riders to get to the winning post first, by whatever means are available to them, then take their chances in the stewards’ room, where they know the burden of proof rests on the victim.  It promotes the pass-the-winning-post-first-at-all-costs mentality, which can foster careless riding, even dangerous riding.

Fundamentally, it goes against common sense.  You reward the perpetrator, you punish the victim, and that does not appear to be a logical way to be (still) going about things. 

D E v D J

So D E Mullins, is that Danny Mullins or David Mullins?  And which of them, therefore, is D J?

Some publications write out their Christian names in full, but when they do not, you need to be able to identify them by their initials.  So D E is Danny.  Know it by the E sound.  D E.  Danny.  DannE.  David is D J.  David James.  In a sense, it doesn’t matter than much really, because both of them are riding out of their respective skins this season.  

Mr P W is Patrick.  (The inverse of Mr W P.)  That one’s easy.

© The Irish Field, 17th December 2016