Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What's wrong with these people?

I'm confused.  Saturday's racing on TV was great, primarily because Un De Sceaux was scintillating (notwithstanding that one couldn't put it past him not to have another fall at some point) when winning the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot, bravely harried all the way by Sire De Grugy.  Sunday's sport was even better, with both Douvan and Faugheen absolutely magnificent when winning their Grade One races on a big day at Leopardstown.  What is particularly exciting is that both horses will again run on the same day (the Tuesday) at Cheltenham in March, so that's really a day to look forward to.

But is it?  Not if you believe the whingers.  All I keep reading is that the dominance of these Willie Mullins-trained horses is going to spoil Cheltenham, and that having dominant horses who will go off at unbackable odds (and very likely win easily) in big races is making it hard to sell the sport to the public.  This makes no sense whatsoever.  If we take, say, Douvan and Faugheen, they are both wonderful racehorses from the very top drawer.  In fact, they are the very type of horse who should be "box office", whose mere presence on the card should put thousands on to the gate.

It is, of course, as yet unproven that they are quite in the Frankel class, but basically that is where they are: they are superstars, the type of horse that it is a thrill to watch.  You'd go to the races just to see horses like these do an exhibition gallop (or, in the case of jumpers, a schooling gallop) between races.  Frankel used to show up time after time at unbackable odds and he'd guarantee a full house by doing so, because it's a pleasure just to watch virtuoso galloping displays of utter domination and class.  Black Caviar was the same.  So what's different over jumps?

Nothing, as far as I can see.  But it seems to be the general opinion that if a card of top-class races contains some horses who are so good that their races are not going to be open betting heats, then they make the day duller, not more exciting.  That's total nonsense - or, rather, it should be total nonsense.  But seemingly that's the way people think.  I must admit to having become fairly disenchanted by National Hunt racing because of the lack of a sporting ethos among the major players (I'll expand on that comment at some point soon, but not right now) but I'm now even more disenchanted if this is the way that the supposedly more sporting fans really do think.

We're always told that National Hunt racing attracts a better and more sporting crowd than the Flat, and I've always been fairly sceptical about this viewpoint.  Now I'm even more sceptical, if this portrayal of the mindset of supposed National Hunt enthusiasts, compared to how excited Flat racegoers invariably are by the presence of an outstanding champion, is indeed representative of the overall picture; if the National Hunt mindset has indeed deteriorated so much that the thrill of watching a virtuoso performance by an outstanding racehorse is indeed totally subordinate to a 'competitive' betting opportunity.

Viewed at a slightly different tangent, I read a tweet from one of the most sensible observers of the sport, and even he raised the supposed difficulty of selling the sport to the wider public if big races are going to 'deteriorate' (he didn't use that word, but I'm using it, and highlighting it with the inverted commas, to imply what appears to be the erroneous perception) from open betting events into races in which the favourite starts at long-odds on and wins with his head in his chest. Anyway, my response to this was to ask why this should be a problem: after all, this supposed wider public is presumably the type of person who might consider a One Direction 'concert' ('concert', with its musical and creative nuances, being used here in its widest sense) an attractive leisure option - because after all, Faugheen or Douvan winning a Grade One race easily as the 1/4 favourite presents both a more exciting and less predictable display than a One Direction concert.

Whinge over, other than to end with the exhortation to these fools to "Get a grip, and wake up to the joy of being in the presence of a great horse".  From the great to the slightly less great, we have had one runner since I last blogged (good old Cottesloe, who went to Chelmsford on Thursday night, as you can see here, and ran yet another hugely creditable race) and should be having two more this week.  As it is, we'll only have one this week: Indira has a very minor problem which means that she has come out of her engagement at Kempton tomorrow on a vet's certificate (but will, I hope, be OK to run at Wolverhampton on Monday) but, God willing, Fen Lady will line up at Southwell on Thursday.


neil kearns said...

Dont know about anyone else but I would rather watch Faugheen , Douvan et al rather than some of the so called top saturday fare served up in Britain recently where some average horse finish in a heap .
I dont know whether its just me but when Henderson or Nicholls is dominating a sector there does not seem to be the same whinging and moaning - is it just because all the top horse are Irish ?.
If the nay sayers point here is to do with betting only then a large number of bookmakers offer betting without the favourite markets so if the bookmakers want to they can advertise the hell out of those markets and those who watch racing purely for the purpose of betting can have their competitive race whilst the rest of us watch the class act power 20 lengths clear
one other point if the handicapper behaved properly ie let the Irish runners go off their true marks then you would get even more whinging as more prizes zip over the Irish Sea .
Perhaps it would be better if the negative brigade were to do a Martin Pipe and see what the top guys do that they don't and make the changes required to become a dominant force truth of the matter is currently the Irish do it better in both buying of horses ,attracting owners with patience (and money) , schooling of horses and in the whole way their National Hunt racing is presented .

grahamerp said...

Perfectly put Neil

David Winter said...

The majority of the points you make, Neal, I agree with but I think you are a tad harsh in suggesting that English trainers aren't as talented as the Irish. There are two points I would make in mitigation. Firstly, the racing game is cyclical and just at the moment W. Mullins is taking his turn with a full hand of class horseflesh when Messrs Henderson, and probably more significantly, Nichols , are in re-build mode. I would imagine that Mr Mullins in the recent past has felt that the aforementioned duo were in the position of infallibility; much as he is now.
The second point is the rise of Gigginstown Stud [ aka, Michael O' Leary / Ryanair ] and of course Rich Ritchie, both very significant owners who pay for top French imports [ in the main ]. These two owners are providing probably 80% of Mullins top firepower and probably will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, but there will be a time when a year or two will be somewhat fallow; when the newly introduced horses will not "fire" as expected.
John must lie awake at night contemplating the chance to train just one of the blue bloods that the three mentioned trainers have year in and year out. We have fantastic NH training facility at the links and it's a great shame that no major NH yard is based in Newmarket.

neil kearns said...

in response to David's comments

three things

there was nothing stopping the English trainers attracting Rich Richie (Gigginstown are probably a different case) the issue here is that both these major owners are prepared to give the trainers both money and more importantly time to allow the purchases to fulfil their potential - I don't buy the cyclical argument once you put the winning formula in place others have to come up to it not wait for time to pass eg Martin Pipe , Mark Johnston etc . I also feel that the majority of the so called superstars are bred as jumpers as opposed to converted flat horses and this is a significant factor which could be addressed by allowing shorter say 12 furlong hurdles to be run by three year olds from the start of the year thereby allowing the later maturing types the opportunity to go straight to hurdling rather than to run down the field in pointless long distance flat maidens and don't ask me how you do this next one ensure that national hunt flat races are run at a decent gallop not a dawdle and two things that may encourage this is to run these races mid meeting rather than an after thought at the end and secondly to give prize money for them in line with say a grade 3 maiden flat race

point two review the number of fallers in Irish novice / maiden hurdle/chase races as against the same in Britain -unless I am way off with my statistics- it is dramatically less in Ireland - this suggests to me that something is wrong in the way some trainers teach jumping . I remember chatting to a well known dual purpose trainer a few years back and asking how many fences his average novice popped before taking to the track and was genuinely surprised as to how few this was , this followed on from a conversation with John about how much ground a horse gained throughout the jumping process where the master trainer asserted this could be up to four lengths (I later measured it as up to 6 lengths) if the horse slowed into a fence and stuttered over it - do this over say 4 of the 8 fences and consider the average race is won by less than ten lengths and you begin to understand the importance of jumping and in my opinion the amount of time that needs to be dedicated to this process in a horses education - a good example was Henderson's french import Barman yesterday sent off favourite who hardly jumped a fence fluently and was hammered out of sight - ok something else could have been wrong but the jumping definitely was

Point three I too cannot understand why there is not a major jumping yard in Newmarket - time for John to take up the mantle !! Again though I have a feeling this all comes back to the prize money argument and would be jumping owners having to be patient which is probably why those trainers who have the rich owners appear to be the most willing to take their time