Following a spate of seconds in the last couple of weeks, we had a welcome winner in the shape of Liberty Jack at Lingfield on Wednesday. We bought this horse at the Newmarket HIT sale in October, and he has always shown us that he has plenty of ability, but it’s just taken us a little while to work out his optimum conditions and how to ride him. What I really liked about his win was the way he quickened from the rear of the field when asked to go and win his race – that turn of foot is what wins races, and hopefully now we have found the key to him he can win some more for us this year.
The start of the flat season is now only days away, and we are all looking forward to getting some of our turf horses out in the coming weeks. In the meantime we still have a few runners to go to war with on the all weather, in particular Atlantis Crossing in a £25k handicap at Lingfield on Saturday. After spending a couple of weeks with Gary Witheford, I’m really hoping this horses stalls issues are behind him now and that he can carry on his progression. He ran a blinder on his first run back when failing by a short head to make up a huge amount of ground on True To Form 3 weeks ago, and I’m hoping he can turn the tables on him this time. There are another 9 horses to worry about also and it is a hot race, but it is nice to have a horse pitching in at a big Saturday prize once again.
Racing has once again become embroiled in a bit of controversy it doesn’t need with a spate of horses being pulled out of races recently, in some cases seemingly to manipulate the early price market. The image that this is portraying is not a good one for the sport, and the danger is that the ability for a trainer to self-certificate their horses to withdraw them from a race when they are not 100%, which is a very sensible and useful rule when used correctly, will be removed, to the detriment of us all. I hope the BHA investigate this situation fully, and put measures in place to prevent the misuse of self certification, rather than removing it’s use altogether.
The recent situation over in Dubai, whereby the stewards saw fit to ban Pat Cosgrave for 6 months, for in their eyes riding under ‘team tactics’, in that he allowed the stable’s other runner up on his inside turning into the straight, has once again brought discrepancies in penalties in different racing jurisdictions into the spotlight. People will say that if you choose to ride under a different jurisdiction then you should accept their penalties, but in this instance there was no precedent, no warning and indeed in the ERA rules no indication that this type of ban would be doled out for this type of offence. In reality Pat rode a very good race on Anaerobio, setting very sensible fractions that allowed his horse to make the running, but still have enough in the tank (with a horse that was potentially a doubtful stayer) to hold on for 3rd in a Group 1 race. The fact that his stablemate won, having been allowed a run up his inner is immaterial – he was the best horse in the race and would have won regardless, and no other horses were affected by the manoeuvre. How many times do we see horses employed as ‘pace-setters’ in many jurisdictions with no penalty, with jockeys going off far too fast and giving their horse no chance of even being placed? In this instance, the horse ran to nearly a career best. Such inconsistency does the sport no favours, and I really don’t know what the Australian stewards, headed by John Zucal, were thinking of when they handed out this ban. It is like sending someone down for 4 years for racking up 3 parking tickets. If there’s any justice this sentence will get vastly reduced on appeal. Shame on them if not.
It was encouraging to hear Racing getting a mention in George Osborne’s budget on Tuesday, and confirmation that the offshore loophole is to be closed was welcome (if already anticipated) news. The other mention came in the suggestion that a ‘Racing Right’ would be looked into as a replacement for the existing Levy system. A replacement commercial system to the Levy has been high on Racing’s wish-list for a while now, but as yet there is no meat on the bones of how a Racing Right will work in reality. There are interesting times ahead whilst further negotiations take place, but it is encouraging that political lobbying, so often the preserve of the bookmakers, appears to be making headway for Racing in the halls of Westminster. It is to be hoped that this results in real results rather than merely political rhetoric.
The budget provided further bad news for the Bookmakers, with an increase in duty on profits from their Fixed Odds Betting Terminal machines. Many people find it hard to feel sorry for these corporations, who have seemingly put a lot of time and effort into promoting FOBT’s and other sports ahead of racing, as that way they see bigger and easier profits. However, it is important that Racing and the Bookmakers attempt to work together more, as it is a relationship whereby a prospering Bookmaking industry (as long as that industry does not choose to concentrate on FOBT’s and other sports) will bring in more revenue, and thus prize-money for Racing, whilst the Bookmakers will stand to benefit from a thriving and competitive racing calender that encourages more people to have a bet. Much as it may seem anathema to many involved in racing, it may be time to try to put aside our differences and work towards a better future for the sport for us all.