The handicapper shouldn’t be left guessing
Mike Deasy on poor hurdlers getting low ratings from the handicapper on their chase debuts, leaving it too late for Aintree, drinking up time, when the finale goes a bit flat, and more
Last week’s class five Farm & Machinery Novices’ Handicap Chase at Ludlow seemed a pretty ordinary race. But its outcome raises a number of questions.
The winner, Duneomeno, won by two lengths having joined the leader at the last and pushed on to take the race on the run-in, returning 9/1 SP. It was a successful debut over fences.
However, the six-year-old gelding had been less effective over hurdles.
He’d had three runs last season: at Market Rasen when 100/1 and sixth of six; at Bangor when 250/1, beaten 87 lengths; and in September 200/1 and beaten 60 lengths at Worcester.
On his chase/handicap debut he was six pounds out of the handicap but nevertheless was backed in to his 9/1 SP from 20/1. The Racing Post Spotlight comment said of Duneomeno “goes chasing with a lot to prove and being outside the weights is clearly not ideal.”
There have been similar examples leading up to the Ludlow race of hurdlers of apparently limited ability finding their mettle over fences with not over-demanding handicap marks.
These include Champ Is Real and Clear The Runway at Musselburgh, both heavily backed when winning on their chasing debuts in handicaps.
The stewards enquired of Duneomeno’s trainer, Christian Williams, what was behind the marked improvement in jumping over fences compared to the horse’s hurdling performances.
The cross-examination elicited the explanation that Duneomeno had benefited from a four-month break and had strengthened up over that period. And that’s as much as the local stewards were able to ascertain in the time available to them.
There is a convincing argument that in such cases there needs to be an automatic referral to the BHA.
The handicapper is, of course, entitled to decline a handicap mark for any horse if the evidence is suspect – that right could be wielded a bit more, albeit we don’t know when that occurs. Perhaps we should.
Or horses should have raced over fences in non-handicaps for assessment before they get a rating. Otherwise, the handicapper is guessing, and that’s not an ideal situation.
Leaving it late for Aintree
A travel piece in the latest Irish edition of The Sunday Times suggested that if readers had left it too late to cross the Irish Sea for the Cheltenham Festival, then why not head to Aintree for the Grand National instead (pictured).
Author Nick Greenslade cited straightforward air travel and accessible hotel accommodation to support his argument. Just one thing was overlooked. All but one of the enclosures on Grand National day sold out weeks ago. Bit late for Aintree too.
Time gentlemen please
Hats off to Plumpton (pictured) who, aware there was a 90-minute hole in the Southern rail timetable for trains back to London, which meant either missing the last race (of six) at 4.30 or facing a wait of over an hour, announced they’d keep a bar open until 6.00 (service ending at 5.30). Good call.
That’s in sharp contrast to Lingfield recently where I ordered a Guinness after the last and was told to leave less than five minutes after its purchase.
I knew the bar was stopping service but not that the building was also shutting. I could, I was told, take my drink outside. It was a cold, wet day. Slainte.
When the finale goes a bit flat
It’s difficult to equate the argument that, at the heart of many of the sport’s problems, there’s too much racing, when you also hold view that a day’s jump racing should be just that.
Which means that a six-race card should comprise races over fences and hurdles, and not finish with a lame bumper.
Recent trips to Warwick and Plumpton have both witnessed five contests over obstacles and then, for a finale, a low-key NH Flat Race. I think both tracks, and others, should do better.