Thursday, November 29, 2018

They've re-badged it, you fool!

Yes, two runners this week it is.  Konigin (seen in the first three photographs with Jana Trnakova) this evening at Chelmsford; The Rocket Park (seen in the final four photographs with William Kennedy yesterday - and incorrectly referred to in the previous chapter as Sacred Rock, which he was called at one point) at Newbury tomorrow.  Hopefully we shall get two decent runs, although I'd imagine that both will have double-figure SPs.  As expected, Solitary Sister (seen last week with Nicola Currie in the fourth photograph) was eliminated from her race at Wolverhampton on Saturday night.  Fifty-something entries; 44 declared; 13 get a run and she is one of the 31 who will be staying at home.  She didn't actually miss out by far - I think it was six or seven - but a miss is as good as a mile.  I think that Chelmsford on 13th December is her next option. 

Declaring this morning for Wolverhampton on Saturday was done differently as today is the start of a new era.  (Well, that's not strictly true: I think that at this stage it is merely the start of a three-month trial.  Let's hope that those three months are the full extent of it).  Saturday is 1st December, so I presume that's why the trial started today, to run through the three months of winter.  In practice it didn't mean anything different for me.  I declared her three days ago.  I always declare early as then, when the time comes, you don't forget.  You just then have to remember to cancel the declaration before declaration time if the horse subsequently goes lame, falls ill or whatever.  The difference is that that used to mean prior to 10am of declaration-day.  Now it's 9.30.

The declaration deadline hasn't been brought forward because, as you might think, we're in the depths of winter and one likes to get things done in good time because it seems to start getting dark pretty much as soon as it has stopped getting light.  No, the reason why declaration time has been brought forward by half an hour is because under this new trial scheme every race is re-offered, rather than just ones which fail to attract eight declarations first time around.  I don't like this.  Declaration time is declaration time, and that should be that. 

What happens is that prior to declaration time, you don't know who else has declared (although you do know how many horses have been declared).  After declaration time, with a re-offered race one gets to see which horses are in the race, which I don't like.  It's making things even easier for trainers who have a big stable of horses.  They can enter several, declare none, find out how strong the race is likely to be, and then decide which of theirs to run.  (And, of course, you can only cancel a declaration up to declaration-time; during the re-offering period you can't do that, so once you have shown your hand, you have shown your hand).

And it favours trainers working on a big budget as they're in a position either that they don't have to train their horses but instead can sit on the computer during the morning (which most of us can't do as we're busy training the horses, which is why we just declare well in advance as we know we'd forget if we left it until the morning, as during the morning we have our hands full.  Literally) while their staff train the horses, or that they do train their horses but can afford to employ someone to sit in an office staring at the computer while the work is being done outside.

God is already far enough on the side of the big battalions even without this rule-change to favour them even more, so let's hope that the three-month trial doesn't turn out to be permanent.  It isn't a major factor, and life will go on either way.  But it is wrong.  And the BHA clearly know that it is wrong because they sent out a very disingenuous press release on the subject, falsely claiming that, rather than changing things so that in effect every race will be re-offered, it is changing things so that NO RACE WILL BE RE-OFFERED.  The fact that they felt moved to paint the picture in this light suggests that they know that re-offering races is unpopular and/or wrong.

What effectively happens now is exactly the same as if a race is re-offered, the only difference being that every stage is brought forward half an hour, ie declaration time is 9.30 and the 30-minute re-offering period ends at 10.00, whereas previously declaration time was 10.00 and the 30-minute re-offering period ended at 10.30.  The BHA's line is that declaration time is still 10.00, but that during the last 30 minutes before it one can see which other horses are declared.  This is clearly misleading because if declaration time was still 10.00, one would be able to cancel one's declaration at any time up to 10.00.  If a horse goes lame after declaration time, then so be it - he's a non-runner.  But if he goes lame before declaration time, you have to be able to cancel the declaration as it's nonsensical him being among the declarations, meaning that he's a non-runner and, very often, someone else's horse has been eliminated needlessly.

One can't do this after 9.30 now; one can only do so until 9.30, and so one can't say that declarations are still open beyond 9.30 because if they were, one would still be able to cancel.  Pretending otherwise puts me in mind of the wonderful Valentine's Day episode of Alan Partridge when news comes in that he isn't getting a second series, so Lynn is trying to persuade him to downgrade his car, trading in the Rover 200 for a "new Metro" to make substantial savings and keep Peartree Productions going, albeit with a skeleton staff - except that "I'm not driving a Mini-Metro ... I'm not driving a Mini-Metro ... I'm not driving a Mini-Metro ...".  When Lynn tries to tell him that "it's different; it's called a Rover Metro now", he retorts, "They've re-badged it, you fool!"  It's like that with the new declaration timings and the supposed ending of re-offering: they've re-badged it, you fool!


neil kearns said...

interesting change particularly at this time of year when so many jumps races have pathetic fields , I can see totally where you are coming from as regards the smaller trainers but something needs to be done about the ridiculous fields turning out over fences often for decent prize money
unfortunately this does extend to the top end of flat racing where one often sees five and six runner pattern class races alongside decent handicaps which fill several times over
the problem seems to me to be the unwillingness of the great and good to undertake the fundamental task of reviewing the whole race planning structure which has been needed for several seasons (particularly in terms of the geography of meetings on any given day worst example this season Carlisle , Chester and Haydock all racing on the same day)
too many cards are full of necessary but uncompetitive and oversubscribed maidens (in favour of bigger stables) to the detriment of handicaps , sellers and claimers where most horses run by smaller operations are most likely to be competitive

John Berry said...

I think this change to every race being re-opened only applies to Flat racing, Neil. I think the system remains unchanged for the jumps. The small-field thing at the top end is easily explained and hard to fix: most of the good horses are concentrated into a very small number of stables, who are in a position to make sure that they don't take each other on. If these horses were more evenly spread among a wider range of trainers, you would find that these horses would run more often and the races which they contest would be more competitive.

neil kearns said...

assumed from your article it was all races but did wonder with the walkover at leicester yesterday on top of some very small fields
i notice in the states that some of the top end races instead of being level weight (with or without penalties) are handicaps and attract reasonable fields , my problem is generally with the group 3 , listed events which often attract five or six runners or less for decent money and whilst it is a very valid comment that the concentration of the best animals to a small number of stables will only exacerbate this if these were compressed handicaps or even true handicaps then the field sizes would be better - it is fine to have a structure that is built on the progression upwards of the horse but it would seem that as times change you need to tweak this to suit the distribution of the horse population and for me the pattern structure is not as relevant as it once was to the current horse population yet still gets a vast amount of the limited prize money in UK racing