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  • in reply to: Why national hunt horses have got such funny names? #1483196
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    Moe,

    Back when The Fellow was racing, the breed was called Selle Francais – Selle as in Saddle. Mainly they were trotters, show jumpers, three day eventers, etc. But The Fellow was out of a thoroughbred mare, sent to an SF stallion.

    Sometime around the middle of the last decade, the French authorities opted to come up with a designation that would distinguish those bred for racing, which led to the use of AQPS, which translates as ‘Other than thorougbred’. If you want to go into detail, they now define the % of non thorougbred blood in each AQPS horse when it’s foaled and that tells you that most of them are over 90% thoroughbred nowadays.

    The classification was also expanded at the same time to cover all varieties of non thoroughbred. As an example, there’s a horse running here now called ‘Sully Doc AA’ – the ‘AA’ indicates Anglo Arabian blood.

    The AQPS horses in France don’t just run over jumps, there’s a whole program of flat races restricted to that breed, which are misnamed French bumpers over here. In fact they are nothing like our NH flat races, as a horse can make an entire career over several years running only in such races, they are started from stalls at tracks that have that facility, the races can be run at flat meetings as well as jump meetings, and the horses can be ridden by professional flat jockeys and the distance is invariably less than two miles. An AQPS horse can also revert to flat races after running over hurdles or fences.

    in reply to: Why national hunt horses have got such funny names? #1483166
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    And those named above are almost all non thorougbred horses, what the French call AQPS – and those horses have a specific naming rule that all of them born in the same year, must use the same first letter for their name. Other parts of the name can relate to the breeder or his stud – see this for an example:

    Why are Horses called De Sivola?

    And look at this result of an AQPS restricted race run today in France, where you’ll see all the runners, because they are all current 4-y-olds, have names beginning with ‘G’.

    http://www.france-galop.com/en/course/detail/2020/O/N1phbFZ3TmN1SlRlZ3hQaFR0MGR4Zz09

    in reply to: Then and Now – February #1483161
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    Tony,

    I wonder what they actually broadcast though – Newcastle and Nottingham were both abandoned on that date in 1985 because the country was snowbound. The shutdown continued through to the following weekend, when the Racing Post Chase card was lost, as were the Kingwell Hurdle and the National Spirit at Fontwell.

    The Irish Champion Hurdle did go ahead though, won by Fredcoteri.

    in reply to: Then and Now – February #1483056
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    February Week Four

    The week commencing Feb 19, 1990, would have been one keenly anticipated by NH enthusiasts, with a sequence of meetings offering opportunities for Cheltenham bound horses. Several factors have since come together to either eliminate or reduce the importance of this week as far as Cheltenham is concerned nowadays, aside from the obvious reluctance to run any race of significance at a midweek meeting.

    My memory may be at fault here and I haven’t found any way to confirm the facts, but I believe that only the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup would have had their initial entry stage prior to this week, and I’m quite sure that thirty years ago, the handicap entries were made the week before the Festival. Now we have almost all the entries made early, and I’ve no idea who this is supposed to benefit, as the result is hundreds of multiple entered horses, leaving punters none the wiser than they were in 1990. I also feel that having the handicap entries made three weeks ahead of the meeting, has discouraged trainers from running during this particular week, for fear of either raising their handicap mark, or dropping it to a level that would eliminate them from the Festival races.

    But back to 1990, which offered these chances to see genuine Cheltenham ‘trials’ every day:

    Monday Fontwell National Spirit Hurdle Vagador bt Beech Road

    Tuesday Huntingdon Chatteris Fen Hurdle Royal Square

    Wednesday Warwick Coventry City Trial Hurdle Run For Free
    Highfield Road Nov Chase Party Politics bt Garrison Savannah

    Thursday Wincanton Kingwell Hurdle Kribensis
    Jim Ford Challenge Cup Cavvies Clown

    Friday Kempton EBF Novice Hurdle Forest Sun
    Kelso Hunter Chase Call Collect

    The week was completed by still familiar meetings at Haydock and Kempton. The latter has barely changed at all, still including the Dovecote Novice Hurdle, the Adonis Hurdle (then the Tote Placepot Hurdle), the Racing Post Chase (whatever that’s called now) and the Galloway Braes Novice Chase, that was renamed in memory of Pendil. The only real change is the switch of the Rendlesham Hurdle from Kempton to Haydock. In 1990, the Haydock meeting was run one week later than Kempton, now it’s one week earlier – another switch that I suspect is designed to fit around the desire of trainers not to run too close to Cheltenham.

    So midweek, we saw four 1990 Festival winners (and remember there were only 18 races then) – Garrison Savannah, Kribensis, Forest Sun and Call Collect. Vagador and Royal Square completed a double for Mark Perrett and Guy Harwood, and Cavvies Clown was a fourth winner of the Jim Ford for David Elsworth, who also had a sequence of four consecutive winners in the Kingwell Hurdle ended by Kribensis.

    I mentioned the duel between Party Politics and Garrison Savannah in an earlier piece this month – I was at Warwick that afternoon and the race made a lasting impression, with both horses high on my list thereafter. Taking the liberty to include a personal anecdote, I made a visit to the IJF facility called Oaksey House in Lambourn a few years ago, and had the good fortune to find myself talking to the lad who did Party Politics at the yard of Nick Gaselee, introduced to me then simply as Jumbo. Well Jumbo remembered that race just as clearly as I did and recalled the pleasure he and his colleagues had in the pub that evening having put one over the Pitman lads. Garrison Savannah was the 2/1 fav that day and Party Politics, despite his earlier course success, was sent off at 25/1, so as Jumbo told me, although he wasn’t a punter himself, there was enough cash to hand to make it a memorable session!

    Result of the Week

    Wed Feb 21st Catterick Aysgarth N H Flat Race

    Mudahim P Mcdermott (7) Trained by David Wintle

    This was the beginning of a long career under rules, that culminated with a win in the Irish Grand National. Mudahim didn’t have much luck in his three runs in bumpers, as he ran into a future Champion Hurdle winner, Flakey Dove, on debut – and a future Gold Cup winner, Jodami, on his third start, with this win sandwiched between those two races. Another legendary NH performer, but for totally different reasons, made his debut in this Catterick bumper, finishing a distant last – Quixall Crosset.

    By the time Mudahim started out over hurdles later that year, the owner had moved him to Chris Broad. After falling at the last when leading at Stratford, he proved a consistent performer, reaching a useful level of form when winning the Polycell Hurdle at Chepstow, the weekend before the 1991 Festival. Chasing had always seemed likely to be his game though, and when eventually given the chance, he won four ordinary novice chases late in 1993, not something that’s allowed in 2020, when horses are forced into handicaps or Graded novice races after two wins. In the last of those he beat Earth Summit by 25 lengths at Chepstow!

    The following season, his jumping went to pieces and he returned to hurdling, with considerable success, taking the Premier Long Distance Hurdle at Haydock in January 1995, then winning the Cleeve Hurdle by 7L a week later. With his confidence restored, he improved steadily over fences, finishing second to Lord Gyllene in the Uttoxeter National Trial before winning the Racing Post Chase and the Irish National early in 1997.
    Sadly for his original owner, Keith Bell, and for Chris Broad, those successes came in new colours and for the stable of Jenny Pitman, having changed hands for 26,000 gns at Ascot sales in June 1996. Injury curtailed his career after that, and there was just a brief campaign, now trained by Philip Hobbs, that ended with an unseat at Bechers on the first circuit of the 1999 Grand National as a 13-y-old.

    There were two other bumper winners that week who had high class careers over hurdles, Cab On Target and Ruling.

    Video of the Week

    The closing stages of the Kingwell Hurdle:

    But the thing to note is the number of people lining the rails, part of an official crowd that day of 4,987. That hasn’t been matched since and only once since the meeting was moved to Saturday has it come close. On February 19th, 2005, there was no other NH racing further south than Uttoxeter, and Wincanton also had an extra race, with the rescheduled Grade 2 Kingmaker Novice Chase. That attracted 4,704, but now they struggle to get 3,000. I’m sure that the increase in the number of handicaps from one in 1990, to five now, has had no bearing on that decline in the attendance!

    in reply to: Tiger Roll #1482875
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    LD,

    I’m with you 100% about O’Leary and his intensely annoying brother. But I must protest the idea that Tiger Roll is more talented/versatile than Red Rum.

    Presumably this is based on Tiger Roll winning the N H Chase (aka the 4 miler) and the Cross Country Chase at the Festival. But neither of those options was available to Red Rum. The 4 miler was restricted to maidens in the 70’s, and his wins over hurdles would have ruled him out of that – and the X Country abomination didn’t arrive until the mid 90’s.

    Yes, Tiger Roll won the Triumph Hurdle, and he was therefore a better hurdler than Red Rum. But Tiger Roll never won on the flat and he’s never won a Scottish National or finished second in a Hennessey either. Nor was Red Rum given a quiet time before his National runs – in the 1975/76 season, he ran eight times over fences before Aintree, usually carrying more than 12st, and he also took in the Whitbread after his second to Rag Trade.

    The following season, it was seven runs before Aintree and even after that historic third win, as a 12-y-old, he went on to run in the Scottish National.

    By contrast, Tiger Roll is is raced like a member of a protected species. In the three years since his N H Chase win, Tiger Roll has run nine times over fences and four of those hardly count as they were in X Country races.

    in reply to: Then and Now – February #1482508
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    Strath Royal was the best horse owned by Lady Anne Bentinck and trained by Brennan. He won a remarkable twenty races under rules, twelve of them over fences. He was something of a Wetherby specialist, winning five chases there, culminating in a Charlie Hall Chase in 1998.

    in reply to: Then and Now – February #1482481
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    February Week Three

    The week commencing Feb 12, 1990, was quite different from its predecessor, with little of interest midweek, but five races with major prizes spread across three meetings on the Saturday. More like 2020 than 1990!

    It was a week that had five meetings scheduled at courses that no longer stage NH racing (Nottingham x 2, Towcester, Folkestone and Windsor) – and in which the weather caused the loss of six cards, with no turf racing at all on the Wednesday.

    So nothing to add about the midweek fare, other than the presence of a two day meeting at Sandown on Thursday and Friday, which attracted the biggest crowd of the week on the second day, 4,750.

    Saturday was unrecognisable and would surely be dismissed by online critics as ‘ the worst Saturday ever’. The racing was at Chepstow, Newcastle and Nottingham, with Windsor scheduled but abandoned. But as mentioned earlier, there was a good spread of interesting races (the figure shown is the winners prize money):

    Chepstow John Hughes Grand National Trial 3m 6f £ 10k
    Rising Stars Chase 2m 4f £ 10.7k

    Newcastle Eider Chase 4m 1f £ 11.2k

    Nottingham City Trial Hurdle 2m £ 7.5k
    Nottinghamshire Nov Chase 2m £ 11.3k

    There wouldn’t be many times that Nottingham got to stage the most valuable race of the week.
    If Windsor had raced, their card included the 3m Fairlawne Chase, a conditions event worth around £7.5k. The Eider is the only one of those races to survive in the same form, and that will offer a first prize of £50k this year.

    The biggest name to emerge from those races was Royal Derbi, winner of the City Trial as the 7/4 fav in a field of eight. He’d been a useful juvenile the previous season, but had struggled prior to this win. But he went on to have a top class career over hurdles, winning a Fighting Fifth and a Bula, as well as second placings in the Christmas Hurdle and the 1993 Champion Hurdle, the latter after he’d failed to make any impact in the race in 1991/92.

    Royal Derbi ran in the colours of Michael Tabor, who continued to have the occasional NH horse in training over here, even as his racing interests developed elsewhere! The last good horse was the mare Refinement, trained by Jonjo, who won twice at the big Punchestown meeting and finished second in the first running of the Mare’s Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2008.

    Result of the Week

    Monday Feb 12th Nottingham Coral Hurdle Final Qualifier 2M 6F

    Invasion S D Williams (7) 9/2

    Trained by Jeremy Glover

    Invasion beat twenty one rivals, winning by 25L and 20L on heavy ground, running off a handicap mark of 121. He only ran once more that season, a 3m 1f novice hurdle at Kelso that he won by 12L at odds of 5/2 on. Those two wins saw his handicap mark rise to 142.

    The reason I’ve chosen to feature this winner comes in the following season, when he is switched to fences. That began with a singularly unimpressive win, when he got up in the last strides at Market Rasen to beat a maiden over hurdles and one other finisher. His jumping let him down next time at Uttoxeter, unseating at the 4th, and then he was brought down at Fakenham. Unsurprisingly, that brought about a return to hurdling for the remainder of the season, after which he moved stables to Owen Brennan.

    After one more run over hurdles, Brennan put him in a handicap chase – where he was allocated a mark of 100, 32lbs lower than his last hurdle mark. It didn’t immediately help him, as his first two handicaps were no better, but having fallen to 95 and fitted with a visor, he managed a win at Market Rasen. He went on from there to record a total of seven wins over fences, but his mark never got higher than 118.

    And there you have to my mind the single biggest difference between NH racing then and now. Then, if you ran three times in level weight novice chases, you would be handicapped solely on what you did in those three races, with no consideration of anything that had happened over hurdles previously. Now, the hurdle mark is automatically transferred, and if your horse turns out to be less proficient over fences, tough.

    To punters accustomed to our current system, this may seem ridiculous. How can a horse that runs to 132 over hurdles be allowed to run off 100 over fences? But so long as the same rules apply to every horse, is it really a problem? Trainers then still had the option to go straight into handicap chases using their hurdle mark, as they can now – but it wasn’t compulsory. One of the best examples would be the future top class 2M chaser, Waterloo Boy, who made his chase debut in a minor handicap at Worcester from a mark of 96. Less than five months later, he won the Arkle!

    Just to add, that in the best traditions of the Coral Golden Hurdle series (and it’s current replacement, the Pertemps Network series), the eventual winner of the Cheltenham final, Henry Mann, managed a well hidden 7th (btn 51L) in that Nottingham qualifier.

    Video of the Week

    Again with thanks to Espmadrid, the closing stages of the Nottingham Trial Hurdle, as a reminder of how Nottingham looked for NH racing.

    in reply to: Then and Now – February #1481742
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    I presume that Reynoldstown also won at Wolverhampton, as they used to have a Grade 2 2m 4f novice hurdle there in late November, called the Reynoldstown Cup.

    In early 1991, the subsequent Champion Hurdler, Granville Again, won his first hurdle race there – ‘led 2 out,canter’ says the form book comment.

    And go back a bit before 1990, and there was also a Wolverhampton Champion Hurdle Trial, run on a Monday afternoon in February – a race won three times by Birds Nest in the late 70’s. That race disappeared sometime in the early 80’s.

    in reply to: Then and Now – February #1481688
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    February Week Two

    I must have had some time off owing to me, as my diary tells me that I went racing five days in a row from Tuesday Feb 6th, 1990 – Warwick, Ascot, Wincanton and two days at Newbury. And it’s very much a recurring theme that at those first three meetings, staged from Tuesday to Thursday, I saw two future Gold Cup winners, two future Grand National winners and one all time great.

    On Tuesday, Party Politics made his breakthrough over fences, winning a sixteen runner novice chase over 2m 4f at Warwick at 40/1, by 10L and 20L. They went 9/2 the field in that novice, the longest priced favourite on a seven race card. In most novice chases now, a 9/2 shot would be an outsider!

    On Wednesday, Ascot saw Royal Athlete win the Reynoldstown, and a young handicapper called Cool Ground finish well beaten in the feature 3m handicap. One of the reasons I had gone to Ascot was to watch Desert Orchid carry top weight in that race, but he was withdrawn because David Elsworth thought the ground was too soft to ask the horse to give two stone to most of the others. He had a point as the race was run more than a minute slower than the standard. But his absence left one horse on 10-6 and all the others on 10st and out of the handicap by various amounts.

    The beaten favourite in the Reynoldstown was the Gordon Richards trained, Carrick Hill Lad, who arrived at Ascot off the back of eight straight wins, the last five over fences. Royal Athlete confirmed the form by beating him again in a novice chase at the Scottish National meeting, the only time Carrick Hill Lad was beaten in a chase at Ayr.

    And so to Thursday at Wincanton, which attracted a bigger crowd than usual as Desert Orchid was re-routed to the Racing In Wessex Chase. There was also extra press interest, as this was the week in which he was given top weight of 12-2 in the National, announced as a probable runner, then as an unlikely runner, before finally being taken out of consideration after a hurried meeting of trainer and owners in the bar after he’d won this race by 20L. Those of us present had the opportunity to laugh at the non specialist media who turned out at Wincanton to film the horse and/or talk to connections. There were two other greys in the field, who both came into the paddock ahead of the star, and got the cameramen and photographers running round in circles.

    The final future star was Garrison Savannah, who trounced 18 rivals in the 3m 1f novice chase by 25L as the 2/1 favourite. His jumping that afternoon was spectacular and I was sure I’d seen a potential Cheltenham winner – an opinion that cost me a considerable sum when he was beaten later in the month by Party Politics! More on that in Week Four.

    In his later career, after the glory of his Gold Cup win, Grand National second and the subsequent fifteen month injury layoff, Garrison Savannah became a Wincanton regular, running six times in conditions chases at the course, including three times on this same card in the Racing In Wessex Chase and twice in the Jim Ford Challenge Cup.

    Neither of those conditions chases still survives at Wincanton, and indeed they represent a type of race that has almost completely disappeared from the program. Various things have contributed to their loss – bookie pressure for each way races – payments to the courses reduced for races with fewer than eight runners – trainers seemingly less willing to run their good horses as often etc.

    But one element not mentioned often, if at all, is that under current BHA race planning rules, any such race would have to be run as a Class 2 contest. And a Class 2 weight for age chase (other than a novice chase) must offer a minimum of £22,500 total prize money. Not an easy sum for a rural track to fund at a midweek fixture. Wincanton still offers chases with good prize money, but they are all handicaps nowadays.

    Result of the Week

    Monday Feb 5th Wolverhampton Handicap Chase 3M 1F

    Rubika R Dunwoody 14/1

    Trained by Stan Mellor

    Watching the two runners in the Trevor Hemmings colours fight out the finish of the 3M chase at Sandown on Saturday, made this the obvious choice. Rubika was one of two horses sourced from France by Stan Mellor for this new owner. Neither won in their first season, but in the first five months of 1990, they won seven races between them and from those modest beginnings came an owner that has contributed a great deal in the thirty years since.

    Rubika won that Wolverhampton handicap off a mark of 100, but continued to progress, with a second to Bonanza Boy in the Midlands National in March 1991, and a win in the four mile chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day 1992. He also ran twice in the Grand National, the first of many representatives in those colours. The other horse was called Astre Radieux, and he was the first to win, but it was Rubika that made the bigger impact on his owner, as I can testify from personal experience, because I had a horse with Mellor later in 1990.

    Sadly for Stan, Hemmings soon decided to keep his horses at his home in Lancashire over the summer, and that led to him switching to trainers based further North as well. Within ten years, Hemmings had around twenty in training, mostly with Micky Hammond and Sue Smith – and Stan Mellor was heading for retirement!

    Coming forward to 2020, the stables built by Stan Mellor not far from Swindon, which he named Pollardstown, after his Triumph Hurdle winner, are now owned by Sir Mark Todd, the NZ born champion three day event rider. He’s been located there for several years and last year, he took out a licence to train on the flat and expressed ambitions to become a leading player in this new field. You can read an interview with Mark Todd here:

    Todd’s transferable talent

    in reply to: Then and Now – January #1480295
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    Cav,

    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.

    in reply to: Then and Now – January #1480224
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    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.

    in reply to: Then and Now – January #1480026
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    Jeff,

    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.

    in reply to: Nicky Henderson and his fairy tales #1479709
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    He’s managed to turn Altior into a pantomime horse.

    He’s going to run at Kempton – oh no he isn’t, oh yes he is, oh no he isn’t.

    Look out Frodon, he’s behind you – oh no he isn’t.

    There was an old trainer that lived in a shoe,

    He had so many horses, he didn’t know what to do.

    in reply to: Then and Now – January #1479606
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    January Week Three

    One of the great mysteries of NH racing is the now almost eternal question ‘What happened to novice chases?’ The contrast between the week commencing Monday 14th now and the same week in 1990, highlights what is the biggest change in the NH program.

    In 2020, there will be four novice chases run in that week, and that includes one on Sunday 20th. One of those four is a Beginners Chase, thus unavailable to any horse that has already won a chase. And the one absolute certainty about those four races is that they won’t attract double figure fields, but they will very probably attract criticism online!

    Going back to 1990, there were fifteen NH meetings (excluding those on the AW), and only one of those meetings didn’t stage a novice chase. Kempton on Saturday had two, one at 2M and one at 3M, and on the same afternoon, Warwick ran two divisions of their novice chase. So that’s sixteen novice chases in six days, and they produced a total of 153 runners. There was only one race with fewer than seven runners, a three runner contest at Catterick, which probably came about because the official going there was good to firm.

    And they were competitive races, even when future stars like Royal Athlete and Antinous were winning at odds on. The eight runner contest at Towcester on Friday was won by Knight Oil for Oliver Sherwood, with future stars Garrison Savannah and Docklands Express filling the places.

    So what caused the demise of this type of race? My opinion (and it is only that) is that the changes to the handicapping of novices implemented by Phil Smith in the late 90’s were the initial trigger. Once he began to give novice chasers significantly higher initial ratings than his predecessor, two things happened. Firstly, trainers became wary of the risk of handicap rises if they ran close to the winner in a novice chase and secondly, the higher ratings given the winners of novice chases, opened up the possibility of running a novice in valuable handicaps, whereas they would previously not have been rated high enough to get into those races.

    A prime example of this that many will remember, was the novice season (1999/2000) of the staying chaser Beau, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies. He ran four times in novice chases, winning one, a record that earned him a rating of 129 – and I reckon that was about a stone higher than he would have got for the same form ten years earlier. He then won the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster from that mark, collecting a prize worth more than the Reynoldstown Novice Chase which was his next run.

    And even after that Ascot win, connections opted for the N H Handicap Chase (finished second to Marlborough) over the Sun Alliance Chase, and he ended his season by winning the Whitbread Gold Cup by 30 lengths. Combine that with the exhilarating performance of Gloria Victis in winning the Racing Post Chase off a mark of 151, after he had won the Feltham on Boxing Day, and it was a series of results that opened the eyes of the more traditional trainers.
    Back in 1990, spending an entire season running in novice chases was simply the accepted way to train. There wasn’t much difference then in prize money between the novice and handicap races and with a smaller fixture list and no summer jumping, the program of handicaps wasn’t actually a more attractive option.

    Once the fixture list grew and the number of handicap chases expanded, the gradual decline of numbers in level weight novice races was inevitable. The authorities have fiddled with the program, the definitions of what is a novice chase, massively increased the number of novice handicaps, but none of these changes have altered the basic financial reality. Which is that moderate chasers (rated 130 or less) have a better chance of paying their way in handicaps than taking on the big stables at level weights.

    And if trainers won’t run their horses in novice chases at what we might call the ‘midweek’ tracks, then those courses won’t schedule them, because they only get their full media rights payments for each way races.

    Ok, that’s enough on that topic and just one other point worth taking from the then and now comparison this week. In 1990, both Catterick and Kempton staged two day meetings on Friday/Saturday, and this was a common pattern for most tracks. Ascot raced on the Friday before the Victor Chandler on the Saturday, Doncaster did the same for their January meeting, as did Newbury for the Tote Gold Trophy.

    Only Doncaster have retained the two day Fri/Sat meeting during January and February. The other tracks have all spread their fixtures around, primarily to avoid losing two day’s business to a spell of bad weather. Newbury for example, now stage a meeting on the Wednesday of week three in January, and the big February meeting is Saturday only. With modern covering reducing the impact of frost on cancellations, they could probably go back to the old set-up, but even that would add the considerable cost of laying and removing the covers twice rather than just once.

    Result of the Week

    Sat Jan 20th Haydock Premier Long Distance Hurdle 3M

    Mrs Muck G Bradley 13/8 Fav

    Trained by N Twiston-Davies

    This was the final fling of her memorable career for the home bred mare that launched N T-D as a trainer. She started out in April 1985 with bumper wins at Hereford and Cheltenham and progressed to running in all the major races over hurdles, switching from 2M to 3M+ in successive races with no noticeable difference in her results. Throughout all that period, N T-D was just a permit holder, and I’m fairly sure this was her first and only win for him after he took out a full licence. Without her influence in raising his profile, I suspect he’d still be farming and keeping a few point to point horses.

    in reply to: Then and Now – January #1479470
    apracing
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    Titus,

    In the case of Wincanton, presumably because it’s also owned by Jockey Club Racecourses. They therefore own not just the fixtures, but the races, and can move them to other courses they own. I also think the pattern imposed minimum prize money levels that some ‘midweek’ courses couldn’t manage.

    For example, the 3M Worcester Novice Chase was moved from Worcester to the Hennessy meeting, where it’s still run under a different name. The Dipper moved from Newcastle to Cheltenham. I suspect both moves were financially motivated.

    A similar case to Wincanton is Warwick, another Jockey Club course. They used to run a Festival trials card on a Wednesday in February. In 1988, Rebel Song and The West Awake won the novice hudle and novice chase at that meeting and both went to win at Cheltenham. Two years later, the novice chase saw Party Politics beat Garrison Savannah.

    At some point during the year, I planned to use one of the weekly updates to list all the major races run midweek in 1990, that are now staged on a Saturday or Sunday. It will be a long list!

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