Social Discourse: 21st January 2019

Another seven days, and my word, what a week, writes William Kedjanyi. An appearance by arguably the best chaser in training, a harking back to the past, and a flying object which isn’t a hurdler or chaser all make the best of this week’s social discourse. I wonder what they call the difficult third album.

As ever, please get in touch via the commments, or @KeejayOV2 on the tweetie machine. Let’s get to it…


  1. To The Left, To The Left

Before the weekend, the magic number was three but, after Altior won the Clarence House chase with ease, the magic number was seventeen, to which he has now extended his unbeaten run. Nicky Henderson’s two-mile ace eventually came home seven lengths clear of Fox Norton but there was much focus on the jumping of the Champion Chaser through the race, with a round of fencing that saw him move so much to the left that the Labour Party are apparently offering to buy him!



In all seriousness, his jumping to the left was notable and the subject of much discussion in the race’s aftermath, although Nicky Henderson wasn’t as fussed as most post-race:



There was plenty of discussion from Twitter’s legion of racing fans:




Let’s get technical. On Twitter, an ardent fan and self-described equine physio expert has analysed Altior’s jumping over the course of three runs on right-handed tracks, including the Celebration Chase at Sandown, Saturday at Ascot and also his win in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton – fascinating reading for those who are initiated or not.





Henderson was asked about it again on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday, and had a very interesting theory to share with the racing public:

“Nico [De Boinville, Altior’s jockey] said, and it’s interesting, that Special Tiara taught him that [to go left when jumping] last time at Kempton. He was on the outside of Special Tiara and he kept taking him that way.

“He’s a very competitive horse and he likes racing. Out in front there he was not doing anything all the way round. I’m not saying he was playing games but he had to do something to amuse himself.”


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What Really Matters: Altior pleased plenty of people but this meant everything to one particular racegoer, Debbie Matthews, who fought her own personal battle to make it to Ascot to see Altior. It was the first time she’d seen him and she told her story brilliantly to Stuart Riley of the Racing Post. Please take the time to read it, and follow Debbie via the link below:


Be Smart: Returning to Cheltenham, all being well with a likely larger field – and perhaps Special Tiara again – ought to give Nico De Boinville a much more preferable tactical setup in the Champion Chase. Altior will be extremely hard to dislodge from his plinth, and is justifiably the shortest-priced, and only odds on, favourite for the Festival.


  1. No Bet, No Deal

This is the point at which most people will stop reading or skip on to the next section, because I have to talk about Brexit. But, like it or not, racing is going to be seriously impacted by Brexit and this comes on a number of levels. 

So first, the politics, and yes please god, I will try to make this quick.  There are 68 days left until we are set to Leave the European Union. There are several options, but the three main ones at this point in time. 

Option 1: Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is accepted. This doesn’t mean the whole thing is over, but it essentially means everyone outside of the negotiations, and MP’s, can sleep easy for a while. However, this agreement suffered the largest ever defeat in the history of Parliament just six days ago and there’s no sign of anything close to the sort of turnaround needed to make it an option.

Option 2: We extend or revoke Article 50 to buy more time. If we asked the EU to extend Article 50, and the 27 other EU member states (or countries) said yes, then we could have more time to keep negotiating, or do something else, like have another referendum or a new Government even, which could change course (i.e. moving to a different sort of deal, having changed one of the so-called ‘red lines’).

Option 3: No Deal, described by some as ‘WTO Brexit’. This is perhaps the most likely option because nothing needs to happen – if neither of the first two options takes place then in 68 days, at 11pm on the 29th March, the UK will leave the EU with no withdrawal agreement of any kind.


No Deal is the most likely, and also the most serious. But how does that affect our wonderful sport, you might ask? Racing is an all year sport and National Hunt, which would be immediately affected, is hugely reliant upon swift movement of horses between Britain and Ireland (and France to a lesser degree) on a very regular basis.

  • The law that permits horses to move freely between Britain, Ireland and France is called the Tripartite agreement. And in the event of No Deal, it would no longer be valid.
  • This is vitally important; in the last calendar year there were over 25,000 movements through this system and over 1,500 foreign raiders to run in Britain, including the Irish trainers who dominated the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National. Don’t forget those on the flat, as well.
  • Do not fret just yet, however. According to the Government’s technical notice, the UK is replicating current systems – so the import rules wouldn’t change overnight.

Exporting, however, may become much trickier. From the technical notice once again:

  • As the UK would be a third country, an Export Health Certificate (EHC) would be required to move equines, on a permanent or temporary basis, to the EU.
  • EU certification would require additional action from vets to confirm the absence of equine disease. This new process would require more planning from the equine owner and could involve increased cost if additional blood tests are required, estimated to be between £200 and £500 depending on the third country category the UK is placed in after leaving the EU.
  • Punting is not certain to be unaffected: Gibraltar-based bookmakers need current EU agreements to access markets within Europe and in a No Deal, that could require re-ratification.

And let’s not even start on the shortage in stable staff, with many EEA workers already in the racing industry and then the ending of Freedom of Movement as a ‘red line’ for the Government.


  1. Drone Alone

Drones have become an important feature of British cultural life, causing misery for myriad would-be air travellers over the Christmas period and sparking many a national conversation about just how we will cope with our new flying overlords.

The issue flared its nostrils once again at Haydock on Saturday, when a van parked near the A580 was presumed to be communicating with a drone which flew over the course for the valuable meeting that included two Grade 2 events as well as the Peter Marsh Chase.

The Edge: Drones can be, and are, used by punters who want to gain an edge on delayed pictures to either Racing TV or Sky Sports Racing. Haydock belongs to RTV, which has a delay of 1.5 seconds on average – still enough to make a considerable difference in big markets – and Sky Sports Racing has a delay purported to be close 10 seconds, a lifetime for in running punters. 

The Bottom Line: Not much – if anything – can be done at this stage to stop the drones from being over the course. If Gatwick can’t do it, then it’s going to be very tricky for Ascot, let alone Southwell. 

Look Ahead: This isn’t just about the big courses either… There are plenty of courses in the Sky Sports Racing stable that are ripe for targeting with that significantly bigger delay.


  1. A Feather In The Handicap

Three was not the magic number for a lot of racing fans, as the presence of Altior reduced the final field for the Clarence House Chase to a trio before the race had even started. See the usual reactions from Twitter, a selection of which are picked to refresh your memory below:






The reaction was muted at best, and soon the conversation turned to how to avoid such small field events. Older readers amongst us will be familiar with the fact that the Clarence House Chase started life as a Limited Handicap, with the first edition won by none other than Desert Orchid, starring off the huge burden of 12 stone. That was followed by a series of impressive weight-carrying performances from household names such as Viking Flagship, Call Equiname, and Well Chief before the race was moved whilst Ascot was re-developed its facilities.

That was a golden era of performances with brilliant duels up the length of the home straight, my favourite of which I have picked out for you to enjoy:


Following this year’s three-runner event many have declared their intention for the race to revert to being a handicap once again, a call led by Kevin Blake of ITV Racing and At The Races:



Blake calls for all non-Grade 1 races to become limited handicaps, a bold call which some might see as going too far, but the idea is a fascinating one and something which is picking up a great deal of support.



Perspective: It’s hardly as if this would be a completely new idea, either. The Old Roan Chase has consistently been one of the early season highlights and the handicap has made the Elite Hurdle a fascinating pre-Christmas puzzle, so the scope is there.

Thinking forward: The Old Roan and the Elite Hurdle are two Graded handicaps currently in the calendar, whilst there is also the Ladbroke Trophy (affectionately known as the Hennessy after its long-time sponsor), arguably the most elite Graded handicap in the calendar. This idea is a fascinating one but it remains to be seen which courses would be willing to change their race status, and if one could still attract the top notchers that made the Clarence House so special when run as a handicap.


  1. Sweeney’s McMagic

Infuriated, confused, depressed, or plain bored by what you’ve read? Just watch this.

It’s neck and neck between Fort Worth Texas and Ask Heather coming to the last at the Killeagh Point to Point meet in Cork. Michael Sweeney’s mount Ask Heather steps two full strides before the fence. Crashing into it, the horse flings Sweeney off the side but he clings onto the head of the horse and manages to pull himself by his thighs to get back onto his mount’s back, and then rally past Fort Worth Texas to win by an unbelievable four lengths.


Unbelievable stuff, and perhaps a source of hope that some vague form of triumph can yet be salvaged from the Brexit chaos…

[And huge thanks to Pat Healy and the team at Healy Racing for allowing me to share the banner image at the top of this post].

William Kedjanyi

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