Things We Learned » Things to do

Things to do

Things to do if you are going to Cheltenham on Tuesday?  Get to the track early for starters.

You don’t want to be playing catch up.  You don’t want to be battling your way through traffic and getting there 10 minutes before the first, then starting to figure out where you want to be.  It’s a unique meeting, it’s a unique atmosphere.  Give yourself the time to drink it all in.

Go to the top of the stands and have a look out over the racecourse, steeped in history.  Cleeve Hill behind it.  A natural amphitheatre.

Remember Istabraq, remember Hardy Eustace.  Remember Best Mate, remember Kauto Star, remember War Of Attrition, remember Moscow Flyer.  Remember Dawn Run, and listen to Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s commentary in your mind’s ear.  The mare is beginning to get up.  Train your binoculars on the third last fence and follow the course around into the home straight and up the hill.  Imagine what it’s going to be like later.

Try to get out onto the track.  Walk along the back straight if you have the time, plain fence, water jump, open ditch, plain fence, open ditch, and turning all the time. 

Walk up the home straight and have a look at the hill that stretches before you up to the sky.  Have a look at the stands, relatively empty for now, but bulging and buzzing later.  Savour the anticipation.

Ryanair hotting up 

Just when you thought that the Champion Hurdle could be turning into a victory parade – okay, it’s a few weeks ago now – along came Laurina and Apple’s Jade and turned it into one of the most fascinating races of the week. 

There is strength in depth too.  At one point, it looked like Sharjah and Melon and Espoir D’Allen were going to provide the main opposition to Buveur D’Air.  Now they are set to play supporting roles – and possibly big supporting roles, don’t rule them out – behind the three lead characters.

It’s a similar story with the Ryanair Chase.  Waiting Patiently came out, Fox Norton came out and Cyrname was never going.  It was looking like a weakened race, it was looking like Monalee versus Willie Mullins, and even Monalee had the Gold Cup option.

Monalee still has the Gold Cup option, but the Ryanair Chase is looking more likely.  Frodon was definitely going for the Gold Cup, now it looks like he is definitely going for the Ryanair.  And now it looks like Road To Respect is probably going for the Ryanair instead of the Gold Cup.  Add Balko Des Flos probably and Un De Sceaux probably and either Footpad or Min, and you have a race that is well up to standard. 

Handicap anomalies

You can understand Irish owners’ and trainers’ frustrations with the handicap anomalies.

They have been well documented by now.  De Name Escapes Me, for example, was given a chase rating of 139 by the British handicappers, 7lb higher than his chase rating in Ireland, and a hurdles rating of 150, also 7lb higher than his Irish rating over hurdles.

Speaker Connolly was given a chase rating of 139 in Britain, 7lb higher than his Irish mark.  Off You Go was given a hurdles rating of 156, 5lb higher than his Irish mark.  Whisperinthebreeze, rated 139 over fences in Ireland after winning at Leopardstown last time off a mark of 130, was pushed through the 145 barrier in Britain, thereby rendering him ineligible for both the Close Brothers Chase and the Kim Muir.

There are two major sources of frustration.  Firstly, it’s the not knowing.  The fact that Irish trainers do not know what rating the British handicappers have awarded their horses after they have run.  It would make much more sense if the British handicappers regularly published the ratings that they keep for Irish-trained horses.

And secondly, at Cheltenham, or at any British racecourse, Irish-trained horses can meet on terms that are very different to the terms on which they meet at an Irish racecourse.  For example, if De Name Escapes Me were to run in the Kim Muir, he would be conceding 2lb to Measureofmydreams.  By contrast, if the pair of them were set to line up in tomorrow’s Leinster National at Naas, Measureofmydreams would be conceding 5lb to De Name Escapes Me.  That makes no sense.

Surely a system of handicapping can be determined that stretches across the jurisdictions – there are only two after all – that is both sensible and transparent.

Irish performance

It is true that Irish horses win and are placed more times these days in the Cheltenham Festival handicaps than their overall representation should dictate, but there is a selection bias at play with Irish horses making the trip to Cheltenham.

Interestingly, last year, Irish-trained horses won 12 of the 18 non-handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival, and filled 16 of the 36 places available in the non-handicap races.  That’s 67% of the wins and 44% of the places in the non-handicaps.

Their performance in the handicaps fell short of that.  Irish-trained horses won five of the 10 handicaps, and filled eight of the 30 places available in the handicaps.  That’s 50% of the handicaps that went to Irish-trained horses, as opposed to 67% of the non-handicaps, and 27% of the places in the handicaps, as opposed to 44% of the places in the non-handicaps.  It’s a small sample size but, on this basis, Irish-trained horses actually under-performed in the handicaps at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, relative to their performance in the non-handicaps.

© The Irish Field, 9th March 2019