Saturday, 1 March 2014
Cheltenham Festival – Almost There, But Do Early Closers Serve Any Real Purpose?
As always, Cheltenham fever is building up, and I’m really looking forward now to the usual fabulous racing and equally usual assault on the betting account and liver! Having said that I’ve devised a few “Cheltenham survival strategies” (mostly to do with cutting down on alcohol) to get through the rigours of the meeting. Not overly confident that will succeed. Another reason for looking forward to it, though, is that we are hoping our horse Shantou Magic will be running in either the Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe, depending on the going. He trotted up in his first two novice hurdles before Christmas and then stepped up to Grade 1 in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, where he travelled beautifully but didn’t get home from the front, and set it up for the eventual winner Captain Cutter, before trying to give lumps of weight away in a handicap at Wincanton. Off 137 he must have a decent chance, particularly in the Martin Pipe.
Anyway, the plan is to do a slightly shorter blog this time. I’ve had feedback that they are getting too long – particularly for those who read the blog on iPhones etc. Will try to curb my War & Peace tendencies.
One Cheltenham statistic that caught my eye is the incredible 1,038 entries for the eleven handicaps. For the two races that we’re considering, there are 136 entered in the Coral Cup and a staggering 166 in the Martin Pipe. Objectively this just doesn’t make any sense at all. The ranges on OR are 111-154 for the former and 112-145 for the latter. At least half of these horses have absolutely no chance of getting in, since they are probably a stone below the standard needed. Of the other half, virtually all have multiple entries, so the trainers are bound to pull them out of some of these and / or wait to be balloted out. While trainers may not be too bothered, owners certainly should be. The loss of entry fees, which as you would expect are expensive at Cheltenham, is just a complete waste of money.
So do “early closers” such as we have at the Festival make any sense at all? They certainly give pundits something to write about in the Racing Post and national press; encourage punters to take ante-post prices (which is a double lunacy – 50% of your selections probably won’t get in, and you obviously haven’t a clue what the going will be); prompt NH aficionados to have endless debates over the merits of potential combatants; and of course, boost total prize-money without the racecourse having to dig deeper into its own coffers. On the other hand they are really expensive, needlessly restrictive, and confusing for trainers.
I ran this by a couple of our trainers this week, and they both had exactly the same view: only have two early closers each year – the Grand National and the Derby. Sounds a sensible policy to me.