Things We Learned » Sceaux impressive

Sceaux impressive

So why has Un De Sceaux not been getting the recognition that he has been due?

There are a few possible reasons for the injustice.  Firstly, Willie Mullins’ horse has not been a standout in his own yard.  That’s what happens when you share your digs with Douvan and Faugheen and Vautour and Hurricane Fly and Annie Power and Yorkhill and Nichols Canyon and others.  He has not been the stable star throughout his career, he has been merely one of a galaxy of them.

Also, he has been beaten at the Cheltenham Festival, and that may have had an unfairly negative impact on his reputation.  It doesn’t matter that he was beaten by Sprinter Sacre, nor that he battled back gallantly to take second place from the following year’s Champion Chaser on ground that would have been a fair bit faster than ideal for him.  Nor does it matter that his record at Cheltenham reads 1211 or that his record at the Cheltenham Festival reads 121.  When you get beaten at the Cheltenham Festival, the negative impact that can have on your reputation can be greater than what is deserved.

Furthermore, he has been unlucky in that he has not had the spotlight to himself on his big days.  On the day that he won the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham last March, for example, he had to share the winner’s podium on the day with three stable companions, Yorkhill and Nichols Canyon and Let’s Dance.  On the day that he won the Arkle Trophy, Douvan also won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Faugheen also won the Champion Hurdle, and still most of the talk was of Annie Power’s fall at the last in the Mares’ Hurdle.

The O’Connells’ horse is a remarkable racehorse.  He has won 20 of his 26 races, including eight Grade 1 races, and he has only finished out of the first two once when he has completed. 

The performance that he put up in winning the Clarence House Chase at Ascot on Saturday was top notch.  So a 145-rated horse finished second and his main market rival was a novice, but Speredek is progressive and better than his rating.  (Even a 9lb hike may not do it.)  Un De Sceaux did everything easily and impressively under a cool, no-nonsense ride from Paul Townend, and the winning time was very good.

Signs are that people are starting to recognise Un De Sceaux now, since Saturday’s win, for the superstar that he is.  He is 10 now but he is as good as ever on Saturday’s evidence, and he is not the tearaway that he used to be.  Give him his conditions, give him soft ground and a distance that is anywhere between two and two and a half miles, and he is almost unbeatable.

Horses for courses

If a horse runs well at a particular racecourse, it is a positive when that horse goes back to run again at that racecourse.  Racecourses have their unique characteristics: orientation and turns and undulations and sharpness and physical location and atmosphere and ground consistency.  You don’t need to know what it is that a horse likes about a track, you just need to know that he or she runs well there.

There are some tracks, however, at which course form is probably more important than it is at others.  York on soft ground, for example.  Gowran Park on soft ground.  Ascot’s straight track on the flat. 

Haydock is another track at which course form is probably more important than it is at other tracks, over jumps and on soft or heavy ground.

The Haydock-heavy-ground factor came to the fore once again in the Peter Marsh Chase last Saturday.  The winner The Dutchman had run just once at Haydock on soft ground before Saturday, he had finished second in a three-mile handicap hurdle to Sam Spinner, who went on to win the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle and is now favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Second home in the Peter Marsh Chase was Captain Redbeard, who had won the Tommy Whitte Chase on heavy ground at Haydock on his previous run, and whose record at the Merseyside track going into Saturday’s race read 121.

Third home in Saturday’s race was Hainan, who had put up the best performance of his life on his previous run when he won a three-and-a-half-mile handicap chase on heavy ground at Haydock.  Fourth home was Yala Enki, who won the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock on soft ground last season. 

Tintern Theatre and Walk In The Mill were both well fancied, but neither had run at Haydock before.  Tintern Theatre was a beaten horse when he unseated at the last, while Walk In The Mill was pulled up.  Both are deserving of another chance, away from heavy ground at Haydock.

O’Connor excelled

Aine O’Connor was very good on Drumcliff in the amateur riders’ handicap chase at Ascot on Saturday.  JP McManus’ horse made a slight mistake at the first fence, he just landed a little steeply, but O’Connor quickly got him into a nice racing rhythm after that, and his jumping was very good for one so inexperienced. 

The rider kept her horse wide, wisely, probably on the better ground and with room at his fences, she allowed his jumping take him into the race

They were probably left in front a little earlier than ideal, as both Crievehill and Flaming Charmer made mistakes at the final open ditch, the fourth last fence, but it didn’t really matter.  O’Connor didn’t panic, she allowed her horse move easily into the home straight in front, and she didn’t really go for him until after they had jumped the last clear.

Drumcliff is now two for two over fences.  The Harry Fry-trained gelding promised lots as a hurdler, he didn’t have a lot of luck on occasion, but his future always lay over fences anyway.  He was raised 12lb for Saturday’s win, but he is only seven and he should be able to continue to improve over fences. 

For Aine O’Connor, she has now had two rides for her brother-in-law Harry Fry since she moved to England to join him last year – Litterale Ci, also owned by JP McManus, in a lady amateur riders’ handicap hurdle at Ludlow just before Christmas was the other – and she has won on both.  She should get more opportunities now, and she is good value for her 3lb claim. 

Reliance on machines not good

You tend to have a negative view of anything that might be detrimental to the racing industry.  That’s the nature of this sport.  If you work in it or if you follow it or if you are a fan of it or even if you are mildly interested in it, you tend to root for its health, both in Ireland and in Britain.  You certainly don’t wish it ill.

So when you read that there is a change afoot that could result in significant losses for the racing industry, you tend to view that impending change negatively.

But this is a little different.

We have known for a while that the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs/slot machines) in British betting shops is set to be reduced from £100.  The new maximum stake has not been set yet.  Somewhere between £50 and £2, they say.

But it was reported in the Sunday Times last week that culture secretary Matt Hancock is in favour of reducing the new maximum stake to £2.  The bookmakers claim that a reduction of that magnitude would result in the closure of around 3,000 betting shops.  When you consider that bookmakers pay around £30,000 per shop for media rights, a significant proportion of which goes directly to British racing, you don’t need a PhD in rocket science to conclude that, if these figures are even close to correct, it would result in a significant reduction in annual bookmakers’ contributions to the racing industry in Britain.

That’s not good.  But what’s worse is what it all says about the FOBTs.

Unlike betting on racing or on other sports, the punter cannot win on the machines.  In the long term, it is certain that the player will lose.  The machines prey on the vulnerable.  They call them the crack cocaine of gambling. 

This is not a good place, a place in which, if the figures are accurate, 3,000 betting shops are reliant on what FOBT players are guaranteed to lose.  A place in which a reduction in the maximum stake on – not even the complete eradication of – the machines could have the potential to have such an effect.

Trainer form

Just shows you.  Colin Tizzard was on the cold list a week ago.  The Dorset trainer had had just two winners from 34 runners in January before 3.15pm on Saturday.  Then The Dutchman won the Peter Marsh Chase.  Then the following day, Fourth Act, one of just two Tizzard runners on the day, won a handicap hurdle at Fontwell.  Now two of his last four runners have won, and suddenly he is on the hot list.

© The Irish Field, 27th January 2018