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Then and Now – January

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    Cork All Star
    • Total Posts 537

    That was some novice Chase for Towcester! Such a shame the track has gone now.

    Docklands Express was another of my favourites. Such a consistent horse who must have been a dream to own.

    Titus Oates
    • Total Posts 212

    Re the novice chase problem – in recognition of this, there was a fairly major review conducted by a BHA working group, including Hobbs, Lavelle, Alexander, back in 2017. It had a number of recommendations that were broadly welcomed by many trainers, notably the one that stopped horses placed in a class 2 and below receiving a hefty hike in their handicap mark for their efforts.

    Whether this has actually resulted in an increase in the numbers running In these races is a moot point.
    My sense is that it is the novice handicap chases (nowhere to be seen in 1990 I think) that are the most competitive element of the current novice chasing programme, certainly in terms of numbers. The primary target for many here is the race on the first day of Cheltenham (currently the Close Brothers), where the upper ceiling is now 145, and the lowest to get in last year, I think, 138/9. A look at last year’s winner’s current rating (RPR 170) gives an indication of what level of ability is being held to under 145, just to get into this race – the aim being to win a race at the Festival, rather than run with merit but not reach the frame in the “JLT”.

    My other observation on this week’s card and how it differs from ‘back in the day’ is the advent of the Mares’ Novice Hurdle as a race category … no doubt you will have words to say later on this one @ ap. But, just as there has been a Mares’ Novice Hurdle to accompany the Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival, then surely the precedent is there for a Mares’ Novice Chase to follow on from the new Mares’ Chase set for 2021?

    All Jeff
    • Total Posts 251

    This has been a really good read ap

    • Total Posts 3099


    Glad you’ve enjoyed it so far – just another 49 episodes to come. January Week 4 will be posted on Sunday morning.

    Titus Oates,

    My view of all the fiddly changes made to novice chases in recent years, is that they are an example of what I call Square Two thinking. In other words, nobody has sat down and gone back to Square One and asked the most basic question.

    Which I believe is ‘What is the purpose of a novice chase’?

    And if the answer is that it’s essential for a horse to gain experience against other novices for a whole season before taking on more experienced rivals, please explain Coneygree.

    • Total Posts 1134

    For every Coneygree and Dawn Run, there’s a Carvill’s Hill, Gaffer, Beef or Salmon, Gloria Victis…..

    • Total Posts 3099

    January Week Four

    As it is now, a midweek of moderate racing, leading up to major Saturday meetings at Cheltenham and Doncaster. But there were a couple of points of interest from the Monday meeting at Leicester (now moved to Tuesday).

    First was the fact that a seven race card that included two divisions of a novice chase, produced a total of 117 runners. Every race had a double figure field and aside from the major festivals, that’s not something you’ll see much, if at all, nowadays. One reason for that of course, is the restriction imposed by the capacity of the racecourse stables. In 1990, and for several years beyond, it was accepted that big fields would lead to some horses being raced never having left their horsebox until it was time to go and be saddled.

    Leicester now can only handle a maximum of 106 runners in line with the regulation that every horse must have a separate box in the stables, and must go there to be identity checked by the racecourse vets.

    The second thing to catch my eye at Leicester was the mare Winnie The Witch winning her first race over hurdles, a 2m 4f handicap in which she ran off a mark of 91, and was ridden for the first time by the 7lb claimer David Bridgewater, son of her trainer. That was the start of a rise through the ranks that saw her win the 1991 County Hurdle and then the Swinton Hurdle.

    She started 11/1 at Leicester in a field of twenty, a price that I reckon would be less than half that if the same circumstances prevailed in 2020. Nine days earlier, I’d seen her run at Warwick, where she fell two out when looking a big threat and if more punters had seen that race or had access to a replay online, she would surely have had more supporters at Leicester.

    Finally on the number of runners point, the following day at Chepstow, another 95 made up a seven race card there. And those meetings filled without any earlier in the month being abandoned, so it wasn’t a case of trainers desperate to get a run.

    There were a few abandoned meetings later that week, but the Saturday meetings went ahead as normal. The Cheltenham program already included some of the elements we know now as Trials Day – the juvenile hurdle, the Gold Cup trial, the Cleeve Hurdle and that Cheltenham Saturday staple, the 2m 4f handicap chase. There was a 2m novice handicap hurdle that has now been converted to an open handicap to make it a ‘trial’ for the County Hurdle, and a 2m 4f novice hurdle has been added.

    The biggest change has been around what was in 1990, the most valuable race of the day, a 2m 4f race called the Arlington Premier Chase Final, worth £20k to the winner. This was the culmination of a series of races open to chasers that were novices at the start of the previous season, and although it invariably produced small fields, the 1990 final was a high class race. Sabin Du Loir won, beating former Champion Hurdle winner Celtic Shot and the 1989 Arkle winner, Waterloo Boy. When this type of race fell out of favour, this contest was altered from 1993 to be a novice handicap chase, whose most memorable winner was Monsieur Le Cure, who went on to pull off the 3M novice chase double at Cheltenham and Aintree.

    One race that has taken on greater significance since 1990 is one then run over 2m 4f and named the Bishop’s Cleeve Hurdle. I don’t know what happened to the Bishops, but the race title has been unfrocked and the distance stepped up to 3M. I didn’t understand this at the time, and still don’t, as running a replica of a championship race six weeks prior to the main event seems unsatisfactory, but I suppose it’s a criticism that could be made of most races on this card.

    Result of the Week

    Tues Jan 23rd Chepstow EBF Novice Chase 3M

    Just So S Burrough (7) 16/1

    Trained by J D Roberts

    This was the first win under rules by the ultra stayer who became affectionately known as Just Slow by his fan club. He never again summoned up the speed to win any race at less than 3m 5f and is best remembered for his appearances in the Grand National. The highlight of his career came at Aintree in 1994, when he finished second to Miinnehoma, closing him down near the line and beaten just 1 1/4L despite being 22lbs out of the handicap and carrying 3lbs overweight for the services of regular rider Simon Burrough. He’d also run 6th behind Party Politics a year earlier, gaining the very unusual formbook comment for the race of ‘finished fast’!

    By the time of that National success, he was being trained by his owner/breeder, Henry Cole, after spending two seasons with a young up and coming name, Paul Nicholls (who never managed to get a win out of Just So). Around the time Just So was retired, his owner was enjoying greater success with his half sister, Dubacilla, second to Master Oats in the 1995 Gold Cup.

    Cork All Star
    • Total Posts 537

    Thanks again AP.

    I remember seeing Winnie the Witch win the County Hurdle on my one and only trip to the Festival. I think she was a 33/1 chance if I recall correctly? And the County was still the last race in those days.

    It shows how long ago it all was when horses were running in and almost winning the National from 22 lbs out of the handicap. I think it was 1998 when Suny Bay carried top weight and only about six other horses were in the handicap!

    • Total Posts 4809

    Very enjoyable read AP.

    I spent many an afternoon of my teenage years in the mid to late eighties in the local bookies watching the racing, then college and career took took over from coincidentally 1990 onwards, and I lost contact with the sport on a day to day basis, until I had the time and money to reconnect with it again in my early thirties. But I do recognize plenty of the names you’ve mentioned here, I never missed a Cheltenham! It goes to show just what an important showcase for the sport, The Festival has always been I think.

    Slightly off kilter, regarding the availability of boxes and the pre-race “schedule” of a horse at the racecourse. I noticed when Altior ran the last day at Ascot, The Opening Show showed him arriving at the course and been led from the horsebox at about 10am, some four hours before off time. Seems very early to be there, in my very uneducated view, particularly considering Henderson’s isn’t that far of a journey from Lambourn.

    Anyone know just what a horse does for four hours beyond just standing there?

    • Total Posts 3099


    Bear in mind Henderson also had runners in the first two races, and they might have been in the same horsebox as Altior. From my experience, most trainers would aim to arrive 2 to 3 hours before a race. That gives the staff time for a trip to the canteen, and then to prepare the horse for his race – brushing, plaiting, clean feet, hoof oil etc, all the things that win best turned out prizes.

    • Total Posts 4809

    Thanks AP.

    • Total Posts 370

    Great read , so many names I’d forgotten about. Due to my work I used to go racing mid week as I worked weekends and it’s so true what has happened to these meetings

    • Total Posts 10

    A great read this. Just a bit of info on the Dipper Novices’ Chase, during the late Stan Clarke’s time owning Newcastle with his Northern Racing company, it coincided with the authorities giving permission for courses to sell races to other courses.

    Northern Racing moved the Dipper Chase to Cheltenham in this way. And also what was the Beeswing Stakes (Group 3) on the flat run on King George Day in July, but also up until the mid 1990s (believe 1995 was the last time) it was run on the Monday afternoon before Glorious Goodwood started the following day. The Beeswing Stakes at Newcastle became the Lennox Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.

    Personally very much disliked both of these moves, I like races to be spread around, and it’s sad the North lost a good jump race. Races you associate with courses, I think the Dipper gets a little bit lost in the shuffle on New Years Day now.

    I’m sure i’ll enjoy the rest of these then and now posts this year as I have these first few.

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