British Champions’ Day is behind us and, for me, it was a bit of a bloodbath punting-wise. Such is the nature of the big meetings, especially towards the end of busy campaigns. Too many horses I wagered were either over the top or couldn’t handle the presumed sticky, drying ground at Ascot. It’s my contention that the going was what is known in France as ‘holding’, i.e. gluey.
Holding is called soft or occasionally good to soft here because it is when wet ground dries out. But it is very different from soft or good to soft when dry ground is rained upon. The absence of an additional going description for this is bonkers to me, and a change is long overdue. We are simply betting blind in such circumstances, as nothing in the form book can help us know if a horse will act on a surface on which – heavy and firm aside – the fewest horses can act.
If that sounds like whining, well, I guess it is to a degree. But too many of the top horses underperformed at the weekend to be easily written off as merely being ‘over the top’. BCD’s slot in the diary means it will always be prone to meteorological inclemency, but this is not about that: it’s a more general point about the accuracy of going descriptions.
Frequently I – and many others with more experience and/or acuity than me – believe the clerks of courses mislead with their official going descriptions. Happily, measures are being taken to more closely scrutinize what is reported versus what comes to pass. But here, clerks are totally exonerated on the basis of their hands being tied to a band of descriptions which is insufficiently broad for its role. I don’t see any change on this in the near future, but it is something I’ll be raising with HBF.
As an example of ‘breakout’ thinking, the excellent Andrew Cooper, clerk at Sandown and Epsom, described a meeting as soft (holding) in March of this year, and went on to offer a very good description of it in this clip on RUK:
Sandown going: Soft (holding) on the hurdle course, a mixture of good to soft and soft on the chase course pic.twitter.com/vNLocQomV7
— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) March 10, 2017
If only clerks were actually ‘allowed’ to offer such information officially. Closer to home, if only geegeez.co.uk could afford to hire a daily race reader to add an unofficial going description to our results and form. Sigh.
Before we move on, there has been much animation regarding the performance of Cracksman in Saturday’s Champion Stakes. His seven length victory over Poet’s Word and Highland Reel was impressive, but arguably less so than has been reported in some quarters.
My view is that the run, whilst clearly extremely meritorious, was not superlative form to that offered consistently by Enable all season. That is not a view shared by one major ratings agency, who immediately put Cracksman at the head of their seasonal ratings.
His overall form creaks – Group 2 wins over second tier horses, defeats in two Derby’s – in the context of Enable’s thorough demolitions of genuine proven Group 1 animals all season long. Moreover, the horses he beat on Saturday are either just below top class themselves or were ill at ease on the ground, or over the top.
Highland Reel, a class horse and genuine marker on quick, but one that hates such turf, plugged on for third, nearly snatching second from Poet’s Word. Poet’s Word, for his part, brought dubious top table credentials to the party: second to Decorated Knight in a very weak renewal of the Irish Champion Stakes earned him a six pound elevation to an official mark of 119. Any belief that he ran to 119, and Cracksman should be rated on a line through him, is madness to my eye.
There is little doubt John Gosden’s three-year-old colt has improved as the season has progressed, but so too did his three-year-old filly. The depth of Enable’s form in multiple Group 1 processions stands far closer scrutiny to the single G1 stroll of Cracksman, at this point in time and in the eye of this player, at least!
Moving on, and the jumps season really ratchets up a notch in Britain today. Across the Irish Sea, the dogs have already been barking for exciting novices Death Duty and Samcro but, at Exeter this afternoon, it’s the turn of an established player, Alan King’s Yanworth, to shake off the last vestiges of his aestivation as he embarks on a chasing career in Exeter’s Best Mate Beginner’s Chase. He has a stone and a half class edge on his rivals on hurdle ratings, and I’m not seriously suggesting he’ll get beaten today. But it will be interesting to see how this sometimes awkward hurdler traverses larger obstacles. Hopefully it will be the making of him.
Elsewhere, Anthony Honeyball, whose yard geegeez.co.uk sponsors, takes the wraps off the first of his young team for this term. Anthony has his biggest and best squad for the forthcoming campaign, and geegeez.co.uk syndicates have two horses in training with him this season, East Wing and My Dance. Today sees Acey Milan make his debut in the ‘junior’ bumper at Exeter, and it will be exciting to see how he goes.
Anthony was kind enough to do a full stable tour ‘podcast’ with me a month or so ago where he discussed his entire team. You can – and should! – check that out here. He has plenty more runners to unleash in the coming days and weeks, many of which are unfamiliar names, so do check that post out and arm your tracker accordingly!
Finally, while turf flat racing in Britain and Ireland is all but over for the year, the international bandwagon rumbles on. For the first time for a few years, we have a correspondent covering the Melbourne Cup; and as always I will be covering the Breeders’ Cup, which is now just ten days away.
Breeders’ Cup 34 will be hosted for the first time in Del Mar, north of San Diego, on the left coast of America. The cast looks excellent – genuinely deep and cosmopolitan – and finding winners will be the usual challenge.
For those who like to play the meeting, I will have a Breeders’ Cup Compendium available. It’s a product packed with data, factoids and opinions, and you’ll be able to get a copy in a day or two.
The nature of the beast – with information coming through bit by bit – means the BC Compendium will be released in stages, as and when pre-entries, draw positions and final preferences are known. Rest assured it will be the best Breeders’ Cup product this side of the pond!
Enough for now – enjoy the racing at Exeter. What a fantastic time of the year this is.