By Tony Stafford
Never mind what the bookmakers tell you, going racing is a highly acceptable pastime as far as its natural audience is concerned. You honestly can’t judge a sport’s popularity by the numbers that switch onto a certain television channel, be that terrestrial or one of the two excellent Racing-only pay channels, Racing UK and Attheraces.
Doncaster on Saturday was Lincoln Day and even though the BHA have compromised its uniqueness as it no longer starts the Flat, this year they even sanctioned a Redcar meeting at the beginning of last week. The ground there was desperate and the “product” was of a depressingly low standard.
Luckily the folks of South and indeed West and North Yorkshire love their Doncaster with its vast betting and drinking areas where the beautifully-attired lasses somehow keep pace with the lads. What’s great about it, you probably see more 20-plus gents wearing smart suits there than you would walking around a City Centre anywhere in the country.
It’s an event and the car parks and approaches shout it long before you get there. The ground here was pretty horrible, too, but for John Ferguson it was joy all the way as Secret Brief, in the Godolphin blue, saw off the brave effort of the Jeremy Noseda-trained Bravo Zolo and Ryan Moore.
Fergie remains stuck on 71 winners as his jumping trainer’s experiment winds down, but there’s no sign of anything but righteous confidence as the Charlie Appleby – Saeed bin Suroor squads keep the blue flag flying high.
The chief exec/ managing director/ head honcho/ supremo – choose your title – did not try to suppress the smile as he collected the trophy for what remains not just an historic old race but also a more than acceptable one in prizemoney terms.
Sadly, the number of written media in the press rooms of the country for anything but the Festivals, is down to a hardy few. Doyen locals Tom O’Ryan, Colin Russell and Joe Rowntree were there, as were commentator John Hunt and correspondent Cornelius Lysaght for BBC Radio 5, but the days of two and more for each newspaper are long gone.
I’ve written before about Ascot’s ability to pull in the fans and the Sunday meeting there successfully saw off the televised all-overpowering Premier League matches from Leicester and Old Trafford, as well as England’s epic World T20 final, settled by four towering sixes at the start of the last over by the West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite off a crestfallen Ben Stokes.
Yet such is the one-eyed nature of the media, Monday morning’s Mail Online led off with the gathering of a few present and some past colleagues of out-of-action England and Man U captain Wayne Rooney at a Cheshire restaurant where Mrs Colleen Rooney celebrated her 30th birthday. Is it me? No it’s them.
Ascot, where 11,374 attended the corresponding meeting in 2015, attracted a whopping 18,009 crowd, almost 60% higher. It’s still special to go to the home of the Royal meeting and considering the length of time the younger element has to get a shade on the tottery side, there is relatively little of the bad behaviour and over-indulgence that used to happen a few years back once the football season ended.
Solving the problems posed to punters by Ascot’s all-jumps card was clearly easier than winner-finding at the two Flat-race Sunday fixtures at Doncaster and the Curragh when no favourite won at either venue.
Found’s failure to cope with the conditions in her first race since beating Golden Horn at the Breeders’ Cup will not have worried Aiden O’Brien and the Coolmore team too much, but over at Limerick, the defeat of the J P McManus-owned Noble Emperor in a seven-runner handicap hurdle had much more immediate impact.
The race over two miles was typical of many jump races in Ireland where often a front-runner goes into a long early lead until its supporters watch it drift back into the pack before fading long before the finish.
The problem for Noble Emperor, the 7-4 favourite trained by Tony Martin and ridden by JP’s retained jockey Barry Geraghty, was that market rival Velocity Boy (2-1) was the horse fulfilling that role under Barry Cash.
Velocity Boy, a seven-year-old, had won a point-to-point two seasons ago. He also had two wins under rules from eight starts before yesterday. Coincidentally, both had been at Limerick, the latest when a rapidly-fading dead-heater in the two and a half mile novice event on the same card 12 months ago.
He’d run pretty well in two comeback runs last month after almost a year off, and trainer William Murphy clearly had him in good fettle as the starting price indicates. Velocity Boy was soon twenty lengths clear and the chasing pack could hardly be described as “chasing” so little attention did they seem to be taking of the leader.
Geraghty reported his instructions were to keep the horse covered up, but with so few runners and the propensity for many Irish races to be strung out over many lengths from the outset, that proved a task too difficult apparently for the jockey to achieve. Maybe, though, this always well-researched rider noted Velocity Boy in that race last year and believed he’d fade again.
Unfortunately for Barry, with Velocity Boy displaying admirable velocity and stamina, he had to go away from the two horses from which he’d tried unsuccessfully to get cover and go for home before he wanted to. By the line, he was still 11 lengths off the untroubled winner, with the rest beaten off 15 lengths and more behind.
All the jockeys, bar Cash, were interviewed afterwards, but Geraghty was singled out. He was banned for 30 days, which if confirmed at what is sure to be an appeal hearing, will keep him out of Punchestown and all those lovely JP winners. Tony Martin was fined €3,000 and the horse banned for 60 days.
The stewards clearly thought Bazza rode a “non-trier” race, but managed to do nothing about the remaining five riders. Anyone who regularly watches Irish jumping, especially novice events with their customary 20-plus runner fields will be wondering how those same stewards, who condone the unambitious attempts of many as the fields split into two or even three groups many lengths apart could act in the way they did yesterday.
There’s rather more scrutiny around novice hurdles in Britain but the feeling remains that many of the big stables, Flat and jumps, get somewhat less careful attention than their more lowly counterparts.
Meanwhile, I had a two-day trip north at the end of the week, preceding Doncaster with a lovely morning in Shropshire at Kinsale stud. Six foals have already arrived for the boss and the latest, a daughter of Nathaniel and I Say is simply a princess, so elegant, correct and aware of her place in the firmament. Tried Red Carpet, but that’s not available. Raymond cannot wait to see her or the six home-bred yearlings for that matter, so we’ll be going back before the Guineas.