Monday, 15 December 2014

Welcoming the Director of Common Sense, and Future Gilded’s Novice Chasing Case

Over the last few weeks there have been quite a few announcements of some excellent appointments at the very top of racing. The old adage is that ships either float or sink from the bridge, and Steve Harman, BHA Chairman, is to be congratulated for showing a steely resolve to make sure that racing has a much broader leadership cadre, combining not just in-depth racing expertise but stronger business and commercial acumen. This is all part of putting in place a growth strategy for racing that is essential if the sport is to compete properly with all the other leisure sectors and racing territories. Indeed it says a lot about racing in the past that this will be the first ever proper strategy. Really looking forward to seeing the detail as it emerges in 2015.

However, Owners for Owners is probably the only organisation that is aware that a top-secret appointment has been made, yet to be announced – racing’s first ever Director of Common Sense. Any business sector or organisation can easily become process-bound and overly constrained by the letter of the law on its rules and regulations. We have seen a number of instances over the autumn where relatively minor episodes have an very negative impact on the public perception of the sport. If the day’s top jumps meeting suddenly finds that its best race is in jeopardy because of sunlight, it only makes sense to move it on the day so that it is run as a proper spectacle rather than a strange mish-mash of jumping and flat racing as numerous fences are bypassed by sticking to the same race time. If there is a minor infringement due to a flag man inadvertently waving the wrong flag (obviously fully acknowledging the need for jockeys to be vigilant and never to ignore the potential dangers of disobeying flag instructions), then let the race result stand and don’t overly punish the jockeys through lengthy bans. Racing wants to see its superstar jockeys over the Christmas holiday period, and banning someone such as Richard Johnson for the duration takes away a lot of public interest. Indeed, I think banning is a dubious punishment anyway. Hitting jockeys’ pockets really hard would probably be far more persuasive, and could be flexed to suit the circumstances of the rider.

So a warm welcome to the new appointee, and I can tell you now that the diary is likely to be very full. Indeed, with having this inside information, we have already lined up an important test case of Future Gilded (known as “Frankie” by his friends) vs. The Handicapper. Trainers and owners are finding the new novice / novice handicap chase regulations quite difficult to come to terms with, and I suspect it is likely that they will be tweaked again before too long. It is possible now for a horse to go into a novice handicap chase and run off his current officially-rated hurdle mark. This is a good innovation, because otherwise he would have to race against potential superstars from the Nicholls and Henderson yards in novice chases. Come up against a 150+ horse, run a fine race to come 2nd, 3rd or 4th and your handicap mark is probably blown for ever.

Eighteen months ago, Owners for Owners bought the gorgeous Frankie at our favourite sales venue, Arqana in Deauville. He had won his only race, over hurdles at Aix-les-Bains, and we knew that he wouldn’t be eligible as a result for novice hurdles in his first season with us. He would have gone into handicap hurdles, but for sustaining a slight tendon injury that meant he was on the sidelines until now. He’s a gorgeous, big, strong horse, made for chasing, which is where we’re going with him. We entered him in a handicap hurdle to get a mark, and have now got one – 117. Unfortunately though, when we then considered entering him for a novice handicap chase, we were told he is not eligible “due to the rules”, and that he would have to go handicap hurdling for three races first. Because he must have soft ground, and jumps fences far better than hurdles, this is the last thing we want him to do. He spent the whole autumn building his strength steadily and having regular scans to ensure the tendon has been sound, so it has taken until mid-December to have him ready to make his debut for us. If we go down the hurdling route, the risk will be that we lose the ground before all three races can be run, and then another season has gone. So the only option available to us is to go novice chasing ….. with the attendant risk of coming up against a potential super-star. Our trainer has spoken to the handicapper, who admittedly is sympathetic, but can’t do anything to help us. So we are running today at Plumpton in the 12:40. Do watch it and cheer on Fabulous Frankie. And if I see the new Director of Common Sense, I’ll be arguing my case with him in the O&T bar.

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