It was my opinion the Betfair Chase form should be classified under ‘unreliable evidence’ and the King George rather confirmed my impression to be correct. If Bristol de Mai requires hock-deep ground to win Grade 1 races then he is very unlikely to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup. The winner on the other hand will need ground no worse than good to confirm King George form come March. Might Bite is top-class, of that there is no doubt, though I suspect that when shove-comes-to-push, when a race becomes a war of attrition, he may lack the required resources of grit and steel to prevail. Also, and I fully appreciate how impressive Might Bite was through the race and that he may have won with a bit in hand, the bare form does not entitle him to be Gold Cup favourite, even with Sizing John running such a stinker at Leopardstown.
Double Shuffle was a revelation and could just be an improving sort but on all previous form it is hard to imagine him taking a hand in the finish of a Gold Cup, even if the step up in trip brings about ever more improvement. He will probably have to run in the Gold Cup as his handicap mark will keep him out of the handicaps at Cheltenham.
Tea For Two is interesting, isn’t he? 3-miles seems to be his optimum trip, yet Lizzie Kelly let slip he might be aimed at the Grand National rather than the Gold Cup. He’s run two cracking races in succeeding King George’s and while he never looked like winning behind Thistlecrack, this time around the possibility was there to be grabbed right up until the final hundred yards. He needs to be respected and though he might be a good ride around Aintree if he was mine I would have another crack at the Gold Cup, if only for Lizzie to lay the ghost of last year’s fall. An aside to the main subject; it is a surprise that Lizzie does not get too many outside rides. Unlike Bryony Frost, the only female jockey who at the end of her career will not be able to claim ‘if only I had better support I could have achieved more’, Lizzie’s ability in the saddle is being sadly overlooked.
For me, and at no point last year did I think he would win the Gold Cup, the horse to come out of the King George with the greatest credit, and he is being as ignored after the race as he was before, is Thistlecrack. I rather suspect the Tizzards cocked-up Thistlecrack’s preparation before the Newbury hurdle and are currently playing catch-up. I would like to see him have two more runs before the Gold Cup to ensure he is peaked for the big occasion. Horses of the calibre of Thistlecrack can win minor races against inferior opposition when only half or three-quarters fit and I shouldn’t think he was fully fit last season until Boxing Day, which is why his King George win was so impressive.
The conundrum of the Gold Cup this year is Coneygree. If they fix his breathing and he returns to the form of his Gold Cup year he may run them all ragged. It is just so hard to imagine, though, isn’t it? I would like them to go for the Grand National with him. But that is even harder to imagine happening.
Handicappers rarely win Gold Cups and when there are genuinely classy chasers around I believe they can be safely ignored, which is why I cannot give much of a chance to Total Recall and Whisper. Indeed if the Gold Cup is to return to Ireland it will accompany a horse trained by Jessie Harrington, with Our Duke as live a hope as his higher rated stable-mate.
And of course we have all overlooked Native River, fourth last year and who will be a much fresher horse this time around and it will be interesting to see which horse Richard Johnson would ride if he had to choose between Coneygree and Native River, which I am sure will be the case if Nico de Boinville is claimed for Might Bite?
To my eyes, at this stage of the season, if I was to back any horse ante-price for the Gold Cup it would be Thistlecrack. He isn’t as ground dependent as either Might Bite or Bristol de Mai and unlike all other candidates, bar Sizing John, has winning top-class form as both a chaser and hurdler. I would even suggest backing Tea For Two for a place as the way he is usually ridden it is easy to imagine him picking up third or fourth prize-money if Coneygree or Bristol de Mai set an attritional pace few will be able to maintain.
The recent ‘trials’ of esteemed racehorse trainers Philip Hobbs and Hughie Morrison highlights once again, as it were in the days when The Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee were in charge of disciplinary matters, that actual guilt is far less important than assigned guilt. The history books demonstrate clearly that when push comes to shove the powers-that-be can always gain conviction through use of catch-all regulations that have no need to distinguish between the truly innocent and the truly guilty. Remember Captain Ryan Price losing his licence, and career for 4 months, when it was decided that Rosyth had shown ‘abnormal improvement in form’ and was disqualified after winning the Schweppes Hurdle, even though Price’s defence that the horse came to hand slowly and as an entire was very much a ‘spring horse’ was proven in subsequent years when the horse was trained by Tom Masson. And when Hill House won the same race a few years later in what looked a common canter Price’s reputation was further tarnished as for six months he lived with the threat of being disqualified for life only to be proved innocent of doping when the Equine Research Station at Newmarket concluded that Hill House could in fact manufacture his own cortisol. As a subsequence of his 4-month ban the future Grand National Anglo winner left his yard to join Fred Winter.
What is clear, and the B.H.B. do not deny the truth of it, is that neither Philip Hobbs nor Hughie Morrison were guilty of the charges brought against them. As licenced trainers, though, they were only considered culpable as they should do everything in their power to prevent the rules of racing relating to stable security being broken at their licensed premises. It is a good thing for society and justice that the police do not take a similar thought-process to criminal law or you and I might be up in front of a judge defending our liberty for not taking all precautions against burglars stealing our possessions.
During the investigations and ‘trials’ of Hobbs and Morrison the emphasis was on acquiring a conviction against the accused rather than establishing the name of the actual perpetrator of the offence. Another point that concerned me during the Morrison ‘trial’ was that no one seemed to think that a criminal offence might have taken place. Someone, it seems, has gained unauthorized entry to racecourse stables and injected a horse with a powerful chemical. Surely this is some kind of criminal assault or damage to personal property that could possibly have caused injury or worse to both the horse and jockey.
Trainers, as with jockeys, owners and stable staff, who through their actions put the well-being of horses or the livelihoods riders in jeopardy should be dealt with by the authorities in the sternest way possible. But you cannot hold a trainer responsible for every misdeed committed under the jurisdiction allowed through being licensed to train racehorses. If two lads have a fist fight in the stable yard should the trainer be accused of causing actual harm to either combatant by not stepping in to break up the fight? If money goes missing should the trainer be the first questioned? Because if the B.H.B. were in charge of criminal law it seems the answer to that question is ‘yes’ as it is far more convenient and cost efficient than seeking to find the real culprit.
The most disquieting aspect of the Morrison case, apart from Morrison displaying a greater amount of initiative in attempting to discover who the actual culprit was, is that the guilty party continues to walk amongst us. Someone out there has access to nandrolene, a powerful anabolic steroid, and who has the nous to administer it, perhaps in a bustling secure space like racecourse stabling. ‘Strict Liability’ is all very good in principle but it is the catch-all rule that allows the B.H.B. carte-blanche to accuse a trainer with any violation from a vet leaving a syringe on the ground after administering a life-saving drug at midnight to routine and calculated use of anabolic steroids. Surely when a horse is proved to be doped the prime concern should be to discover the culprit, not to assign blame when it proves too difficult to discover the name of that culprit. Once it was clear to the investigating team that Hughie Morrison had no reason to dope his horse (Our Little Sister) time and resources should have been devoted to finding the guilty party not to ‘get’ a conviction against Morrison so as to bring the case to a speedy conclusion. Morrison could have been fined £1,000 six months ago and this whole affair kept out of the media spotlight. To have done that would have served racing to greater effect than a demonstration of washing ‘dirty laundry in public’. Instead what we had was a story that would have done justice to a tawdry racing thriller written by an ex-jockey or trainer that has as its climax an unseemly question mark.
I blanch whenever I am informed there is to be an increase in funding for races at the top level as it can only harden the believe of those outside of the sport that horse racing is run for the benefit of the elite. ‘Good news’ such as this are echoes of the past; the powers-that-be caring more for the rich and fabulously rich than those who turn the axle every day in scant hope of earning enough to pay the mortgage. When will the powers-that-be learn that to cater for the rich at the expense of the working class is completely the wrong stance for any organisation in the age in which we live.
I have read the ‘wisdom’ of people who like to believe they are both authoritative and dedicated advocates of our sport describe the lower class of racehorse and races as ‘rubbish’, proving therein that they do not fully understand the fiscal pressures the axle-turners must contend with on a day-to-day basis. The seller at Wolverhampton on a cold January night could be just as make or break to someone as the outcome of any race of higher value. More so, it can be easily imagined. To describe any sentient being as ‘rubbish’ is morally wrong anyway and perhaps says more about the detractor than the subject.
If you take away prize money and the prestige and social kudos humans attach to certain horse races and reviewed the finishes of races in retrospect, without the prejudice of money won or lost, the conclusion might be that the finish of a selling chase at Plumpton in November might have been more exciting than the finish of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Or a tight finish of a race at Ripon was more heart-stopping than the stroll in the park of a Derby winner.
The owner of that winner at Ripon, for instance, may have bred the dam who bred the winner; it may be the first winner they bred or indeed the first winner they had ever owned. Their excitement would have exceeded the delight of the connections of the Derby winner. The Ripon race may have been a seller, ‘a rubbish race’ to use a description that should never be used, yet without the hopeful optimists who continue to support horse racing at the lowest level the sport would have no foundation. And many, if not most, of the top jockeys and trainers began their ascent to the summit by winning sellers.
The point I am inelegantly trying to make is this: the rallying cry that enhanced prize money will ultimately lead to better quality racing is baloney. It is a false premise to base strategy. There are only so many Grade 1 chasers and hurdlers, only so many Group 1 flat horses; you cannot make a silk purse out of a cow’s ear and that is what the powers-that-be are attempting. In the houses of the rich caviar is doubtless commonplace; in the working class household fresh bread might be.
The big handicap at Cheltenham last weekend had a depleted field of 10. In fact too few of the races at the meeting had fields that allowed-for each-way betting down to third place and if the Irish ever lost their fascination with cross-country races the Glenfarclas would result in walk-overs and match races.
There are now so many Group I races across the world that it is a novelty when 2 really top-notchers actually meet. Even races like the Arc can now be skipped in favour of easier competition. Strolls in the park do not raise the blood pressure. Basing a reputation on a horse winning, without ever coming under pressure at any stage, a two-horse race or what is essentially a two-horse race is nothing short of hyperbole. There is a lot of talk in the racing media about 2-horse fields for some novice chases and similar races known as Graduation chases. Though it is not highlighted the same could be said of Group and condition races for 2-year-olds on the flat, with the majority of the field sizes made up with horses who are there in hope of picking up for their owners ‘black type’. If I had my way there would be no Group races for 2-year-olds.
To my mind the enhanced prize money detailed for these races would be more beneficial to betting turnover and owners if it was applied to handicaps. When Nicky Henderson bellyaches that we need more Graduation chases not less what he is actually saying is that he needs more Graduation races as they are easy pickings for himself and his owners.
Although our sport could not survive or thrive without the enthusiastic support of of J.P.McManus and Michael O’Leary, Godolphin and others, the powers-that-be should not overlook the necessity for creating openings at the lowest end of the market by pouring resources into prize money through the week, incentivising, encouraging, giving hope to the small-time owner and syndicates that they can break even. Owners of large strings of horses do not need to pot hunt through the week, their personal wealth allows them to take losses the ordinary owner cannot bear. Adding £10,000 to a big Saturday race makes no difference whatsoever to quality or field size.
The Jockey Club have just announced they are to throw £8-million into prize money in 2018, I just hope not one penny of it goes to any of the big races. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the Cheltenham Gold Cup whether it has a prize fund of £200,000 or £1-million. The Grand National also. What is wanted is for no race at Bangor or Carlisle, for instance, to be worth less than £10,000. When that happens the sport will be making progress. Though as none of us know how long a length of string is there is no doubt that in twenty years £10,000 will need to be doubled or trebles. But we will still know the worth of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Lord Oaksey, or plain John Lawrence as he was then known, said of Anthony Bingham Mildmay, 2nd Baron Mildmay of Flete, as co-author of the History of Steeplechasing, ‘Anthony Mildmay carved for himself a place in the hearts of the racing world which has not, since his death, been filled’. Of course, though he would be too modest ever to accept the accolade, it was John Oaksey himself who was to occupy that place in the hearts of the racing world from the early sixties until his death, and who likewise agonisingly came close to achieving glory in the Aintree Grand National. Both were members of the upper set, yet neither were begrudged a single winner by the professionals they rode against.
It was said of Lord Mildmay that he was the same unaffected man when talking to royalty, his fellow riders or to anyone he met on the street. Herbert Tree said of him, ‘A gentleman is a man whose courtesy is not regulated by interests. By that definition, or by any other, Anthony Mildmay was a gentleman, for his courtesy was unlimited.’
In 1936 he was leading in the Grand National at the 2nd last fence on the 100/1 shot Davy Jones when the buckle of the reins broke and the horse ran out. If the same had happened when riding Cromwell in 1948, rather than Lord Mildmay suffering from a severe attack of cramp from a persistent neck injury, rendering him useless to assist Cromwell, I believe the horse would have jumped the last two fences unaided and no doubt gone on to win. Incidentally, although it is difficult to be exact as his riding style, due to his height, being rather stooped, watching the Pathe News footage of the 1948 Grand National it appears Lord Mildmay was affected by his injury from at least 2nd Bechers onwards, which explains his great affection for Cromwell.
As with so many jockeys, amateur and professional, of the pre-war years, Lord Mildmay fought for King and Country, enlisting in the Welsh Guards and rising to the rank of Captain by the cessation of war, and for whatever reason acquiring the nickname ‘Nitty’. As soon as racing restarted Lord Mildmay returned to his great love and was leading amateur with 32 winners in the 46-47 season.
The year before his luckless ride in the Grand National he suffered a fall at Folkestone that seemingly dislocated his spine and was no doubt the cause of the neck cramps that troubled him during his subsequent riding career and were considered the reason for his untimely death in 1950. He rode in steeplechases at a time when health and safety was a cork hat and yet died taking an early morning swim in the river close to his home. From May 12th till June 7th when his body washed up at Falmouth he was presumed dead. I suspect the racing world hoped and prayed during that time, rather like another local resident of the time, Agatha Christie, he had only gone to ground for personally reason. Christie returned; alas Lord Mildmay did not.
Quite possibly the greatest service he provided for the sport he loved was introducing the Queen, as she was at the time, to steeplechasing, buying for her Monaveen and then with Peter Cazalet M’as-tu Vu. He also sourced the most famous horse her majesty owned, Devon Loch, the horse that continued the bad luck at Aintree that would not stop associating itself with Lord Mildmay even after his death. In his will he left all his horses to his friend and trainer Peter Cazalet, who passed on Manicou to her Majesty, the first horse to run in her own colours and who seven months after that fateful early morning swim won the King George at Kempton.
He is remembered at Aintree with the Mildmay course and Sandown honour him alongside Peter Cazalet with a memorial chase. Sadly commercialism has dictated that the Mildmay of Flete is no longer run at the Cheltenham Festival where he rode three winners, though as he only had steeplechasing’s best interests at heart I dare say he would not have lodged an objection. And at least in his honour on his death a pub in Holbeton, Plymouth, changed its name to ‘The Mildmay Colours’ and to this day displays the Mildmay racing silks in a frame on the wall of the public bar.
Although in the main he had nothing but bad luck at Aintree, he did win the Grand Sefton on Lecale Prince, though the Stanley Chase of 1947 rather summed up his riding experiences at his favourite racecourse. There were 16 runners and though it would not happen now at Aintree it was a race for maidens. Only 5 were still in the race at Becher’s, of which three fell. This left Billykins and Tim Molony and his lordship on Watchit. Unfortunately for Lord Mildmay, Billykin fell and on his own Watchit lost interest in proceedings. After several attempts at refusing he finally succeeded four from home. Tim Molony remounted and won by fifteen minutes, with a Mr.Blacker, on being told ever other horse had fallen, remounting and finishing the course, disbelieving everyone who told him he was only second. Aintree has that persona; it doesn’t believe it owes any man anything. Even greatly loved members of the aristocracy.
Between the King George, oh, and the Welsh National, with the powerful exception of the newly created Leopardstown Dublin Racing Festival – 2 days, 7 Grade One’s, an Irish Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle and 1.5 million euros in prize money - National Hunt racing through January and February is all about getting to March, to Cheltenham, and for some surviving so they can go on to Liverpool and Punchestown. We need a re-think.
The Dublin Racing Festival is overdue. The three separate days racing were hung out through the back-end of January and into February like washing on the line on someone rich and famous. Of course with the fabulous prize money on offer other races and racecourses will suffer, especially the traditional Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup trials. And I suspect the top British hurdlers and chasers will be kept at home for fearing of losing Cheltenham on the battle-grounds of Leopardstown and the heavy ground that is commonplace in Ireland throughout the winter months. What the bringers of these big money races always fail to appreciate is that there is only a finite number of top quality horses around; certainly not enough for all the big money prizes now to be found in both Britain and Ireland.
It is, though, what it is, and I have no doubt, the weather willing, that the new festival will be a great success. But it is British racing during the depths of winter that I wish to address.
The one new initiative I do not approve of is the winter all-weather festival at Lingfield on Good Friday. A slippery slope is ever there was one. Jumping rarely encroaches on the flat season, and wouldn’t at all if the flat started after the Grand National meeting and not somewhat indecently before. So it annoys me quite considerably when a flat meeting is given so much priority during the all too brief period when jumping should possess all of the limelight. The all-weather does a fantastic job; it ensures there is racing (mostly) when Mother Nature forces National Hunt to take a breather and to allow flat jockeys, trainers and owners to have sport and an income through what was traditional a barren period for them. Never should it be allowed to shout so loudly, though. Apart from when the Pitman’s Derby is run at Newcastle the all-weather throughout the summer months sits quietly in the background, allowing the flat turf season to hog limelight that is its due. That is the stated purpose of the all-weather, to give joy to the lonely and down-trodden. Not to advance upon the sport with the stealth of a colonising species. Why it is allowed to take over a bank holiday, forcing hard-working stable-staff to work yet another day in the year, is something that shames the industry and diverts the attention from the golden days of March that are the very reason for breathing, at least for the true aficionado.
Since the days of the Whitbread when the likes of Arkle and Desert Orchid thrilled the Sandown crowds, the race that now occupies its place in the calendar has gone rapidly downhill in terms of quality if not spectacle. Now it is ordinary when once it was a race to savour. To my mind Sandown in late April or early May should have as its main event a 2-mile handicap chase or a race over 4-furlongs further, with the 3-mile 5-furlong chase run at the end of January, giving the dead of winter a fillip, and allowing the connections of Grand National hopefuls a good prize and a stern test.
During this period a valuable chase for mares could be established, especially as this type of race is often mentioned as a good fit for the Cheltenham Festival. This race could be held at the Newbury meeting to stand beside the Betfair Hurdle, if they remain the sponsors of the valuable 2-mile handicap. The Dawn Run Gold Cup would be a suitable name for such a race.
A race I have suggested should be considered for the Cheltenham Festival and is sadly lacking throughout the entire season is a 4-mile Championship Chase, a distance that seemingly is only allowed for handicappers. Cheltenham trials day might be a suitable venue or perhaps Doncaster. Not Haydock, though, as it is no place for Grade One races.
I would suggest for the quiet months a novice handicap hurdle and chase to entice the punter and fill the satchels of bookmakers, with a valuable conditions chase for veterans as well. Those three races alone would make an interesting card for somewhere like Kempton or even Ayr, a much maligned and unappreciated racecourse.
It is my contention that if November and December can be crammed with racing goodies why allow January and February to feed on scraps? Good scraps at times but not the joyous feast that early winter delivers. The good and the great need to get together around a table and devise a better blueprint for the back-end of December through to the early weeks of March. A big race on every Saturday, as it is earlier in the season.
Jockeys are only human. I dare say there is a bad apple amongst the fragrant number but as a whole jockeys are amongst the most hard working and dedicated tribe of workaday people as you will find on the planet. Occasionally one will stray from the righteous path. Occasionally the pressure of driving six digit number of miles in a year for the hope of the one winner that will mark a breakthrough will saturate the brain and the persuasion of drink, drugs or God-forbid cheating becomes a way around the mess that is failed ambition. How anyone of them remain faithful to the straight and narrow of honest endeavour when broken bones and tragedy are constantly at their shoulder is a mystery I shall never solve. They are solid gold troopers and you and I owe them a debt that we have no hope of repaying, as they have a debt to the horses that are their daily comrade-in-arms.
The top jockeys are, of course, well paid for their trials and tribulations and we should not envy them the triumph of having no problem in paying the mortgage and getting their children into the best schools. But what of those lower in the pecking order; the jockeys who ride work beside the stars of the profession, who often as not get thrown up on the less educated and slightly more dangerous horses as no trainer would want to be responsible for a gallops injury to Johnson, Geraghty, Scudamore or Coleman?
Of course if jockeys did not hand in their licenses at the end of unsuccessful careers in the saddle the younger generation could not get the opportunities they need to prove themselves capable of one day filling the boots of the aforementioned quartet. Yet I always feel a pinch of sadness when I realise that a journeyman jockey has disappeared from race-cards to take up a job, especially outside of racing, just so that his children can eat regularly and to keep a roof over their heads. Surely the sport owes these equally hard-working and talented riders an opportunity to earn a living from their chosen sporting career, if only to stop them falling prey to the sort of persuasions that ruins reputations.
I have proposed for many years – decades, I suspect – that these journeyman jockeys, flat and jumping, who ride less winners in a career than the likes of Richard Johnson has rides in a week, could be helped a wee bit, not through charity, but simply by tweaking the racing programme. All that is required to put an honestly earned extra few quid in the back pocket of these men and women is for the powers-that-be to sanction one, two or three races per week, spread across the country, restricted to jockeys that have not ridden 10, 12 or 15, (to pick a number) winners in the previous twelve months.
All I suggest is a small amount of positive discrimination, as has happened over the past few seasons to good effect for female jockeys.
These races need only be of the lowest grade, though some sort of series with a final might also be considered. The sport caters for apprentices, amateurs, conditionals, ladies, racing legends and charity races, why not races for those at the lower end of the pecking order?
This proposal would not cost the sport a bean, and would only lesson the earning potential of the more successful jockeys by an amount unnoticeable to them or their accountants. I cannot understand why those in a position to sanction such a proposal fail to do so. Perhaps the Jockeys Association might think to ask questions of clerks of the courses and the British Horseracing Board. Jockeys, flat and jumping, deserve to be given opportunities to pay their way in life and my proposal is a small step towards that goal.
Once, as a moderately precocious schoolboy, I came top of a geography exam. How this came about surprised me and baffled my teachers, especially the geography teacher. If anyone had chalked up prices on the likely result of this geography exam odds of 33/1 could easily be laid against me coming out on top. I had no form, you see, had shown no ability for the subject in the previous two years of study. I can think that the more adept of my fellow classroom pupils must have suffered an off day or were perhaps only gaining complimentary reviews of their course work as the opposition was so poor. Either way, I came top and was elevated to the upper division of the secondary school where inevitably I floundered, never to show such promise again. You see, on the basis of that one result I received an inflated rating I could not live up to.
This regularly happens to racehorses. 2-year-olds in maidens run within a length or two of a horse that goes on to win a Group race and for seasons after their rating puts them near the top of handicaps they cannot win or they must race in conditions and Group races that they equally lack the ability to win. The same happens in novice chases, which is the reason why these races end up with two or three runners.
My dislike of ratings is especially relevant in the light of Bristol De Mai’s demolition of the opposition in the Betfair Chase. He won by 57 lengths. Not only a record for a race of the calibre of the Betfair but also a damning indictment of ground conditions frequently to be found at Haydock.
I suspect Bristol De Mai would have won if the ground had been good-to-soft but his new rating will be based on a race where the opposition, as when I came top of that geography exam, ran well below what they are capable of achieving. It was a sad sight, in what is arguably the third top conditions chase in the country, to see horses of the quality of Cue Card and Tea For Two clambering over the final two fences and finishing so tired that collapse seemed only a few strides away.
To my mind the Betfair was so unrepresentative of the abilities of the runners that I would prefer the handicapper to sit on his hands and leave all the horses on their pre-Betfair ratings, including the winner.
Ask any racegoer under the age of fifty to name the best chaser he or she has seen and the majority will answer Kauto Star or, at his very best, Sprinter Sacre. But anyone who did not give Arkle as their answer would be wrong, very wrong. Arkle remains officially the top-rated chaser of all-time at 212 yet there are people who believe Kauto Star to be superior. They speak not so much through ignorance but through the dictates of their hearts. To them Kauto will always be the best, as those who went before will have no other answer than Desert Orchid. Ratings are cold, calculated and without sentiment. When an old horse, flat or jumping, is having to lump ten pounds more than his present-day ability suggests, the handicapper will point to a performance or performances from seasons past and claim his rating justified. In many instances handicappers are cold-hearted bastards. Ask any number of trainers.
Incidentally there was a chaser in Arkle’s time, indeed in the same yard, who was rated within 2 pounds of the great horse without ever even running in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. When the conversation turns to the great chasers do not omit to mention Flyingbolt, a horse robbed by illness of achieving the same great heights of his more illustrious stable-mate.
Kauto Star finished his career with a rating of 191, the same as Mill House, but a point inferior to Sprinter Sacre. Denman’s rating was 183, a point ahead of Best Mate but four points below Desert Orchid, even though Denman’s two Hennessey wins are considered two of the best performances of all-time.
As Ruby Walsh commented: ratings are nothing but opinion. Yet the likes of Kauto Star, Sprinter Sacre and Best Mate were never tried in the top handicaps. Their limitations were never challenged. Arkle won handicaps giving away upwards of two stones and more. As did Flyingbolt.
If it were not for the opportunity it would spawn for trainers and owners to manipulate the handicapper’s hand, I would suggest ratings, if they must exist, should be analysed not after every race but every third or fourth race, so that horses are not judged for seasons on end by one performance or the sheer bad luck to run second to a subsequent Group I or Gold Cup winner. I dare say all the top trainers can give instances of the careers of promising horses being ruined by inflated handicap ratings judged on their first or second runs.
To my mind the handicapper (and ratings) can be as cruel on a horse as a whip-happy jockey.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.