UK Racing looks at the races of interest this weekend

Frankly, it’s all a bit embarrassing for us horse racing fans this week thanks to the photo and video posted on social media suggesting certain players are not as caring about their horses as others, and that is just me being diplomatic. I have spent a long time thinking about what to write as I need to calm down and at least try to give out a balanced, if personal opinion. 

Firstly, the photo and the video are totally abhorrent. That is a strong statement but it is the truth, racing sits at a crossroads in this politically correct world we all inhabit and giving those who see it as a cruel sport all the ammunition they need was naïve in the extreme. Add in an excuse that seems barely credible to anyone with half a brain, something along the lines of sitting down to take a phone call (yeah, we all sit on the nearest dead animal when that happens because modern mobile phones are soooo heavy), that he was waving away the person taking the picture (yep, with a V for victory hand signal, we all do that as well), and done with a smile on his face – no need for a jury on this one I’m afraid. 

For me, the question is all about the punishment, not the guilt, so what do we do to avoid a knee jerk reaction. For me, this is all about trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Rob James – although I accept the person who spilled the beans clearly has a grudge of some kind, I do not go along with the many who are calling for them to be punished as well, after all, you don’t shoot the messenger. 

As with most things in 2021, the public seems polarised in to black and white with no grey areas – in the blue corner we have the ban him from racing for life brigade, and in the red corner, the let him learn from his mistakes and do not punish him at all gang – and I can’t agree with either. 

For me, they both brought the sport in to disrepute and need the maximum penalty allowed for that offence, though I suspect that is not as much as many would like to see. No one else that I have read has mentioned the rules of racing (which are too complicated for me), which I am sure will limit the available options to the IHRB and not include the lynching that some would like. Glancing at the rules (which run to hundreds of pages in legalese, by the way), and it appears that nothing is off the table, though a suspension, fine, or both, seem the most likely outcomes. 

When (or if) we all calm down, what did he actually do wrong? There is no evidence that I know of that he was in any way responsible for the horse passing on (sadly, these things happen), so “all” we are talking about is disrespect and bringing the sport in to disrepute. Looking at case studies (I am no lawyer so I am second guessing), and I note trainer Philip Fenton was suspended for three years in 2014 but that was for possessing banned drugs as well as bringing the sport in to disrepute so we should expect a lighter sentence here. 

In England, Lewes based trainer Jim Best pleaded guilty to a disrepute charge in 2016 and received a six month suspension after a charge of telling two jockeys to stop their horses, though that sentence was originally four years to put it all into context. Add those together and if I took a guess I would go for a year’s suspension and a £10,000 fine for Gordon and the same suspension with a smaller fine for Rob James but will the public wear that as being enough – I doubt it, though it doesn’t all end there. 

One of the historical problems with licence suspension is that to save the jobs at the stable concerned, they invariably then grant a licence to someone else to operate from the yard, but who is to say the original trainer isn’t continuing as before behind another’s name and the only real punishment is the inability to attend the races in person. 

Note - Gordon Elliot was suspended for 12 months, with six months suspended, by the IHRB and fined €15,000. He has accepted his sanction and will not be appealing. 

Sticking with trainers and when is a wind operation not a wind operation – when they do not bother to tell you about it. Trainer Phil Kirby (nothing personal Phil, just some comments) has been fined £1300 for failing to declare said operation on Romeo Brown who ran second at odds of 20/1 in late January. I am 100% certain this was nothing more than an admin mistake, but I wonder how many would have backed him at a big price had they been aware of his surgery, and I can but hope this fine serves as a warning to all the trainers out there who fail to keep us punters informed as they should. 

On a brighter note, who would have thought we would ever see a training team of Darryll Holland and Kieran Fallon setting up in Newmarket. Although there is no guarantee an ex jockey will make it as a trainer, they bring a wealth of experience from the saddle with them to their new enterprise, and if they use that to their advantage life could get very interesting in the months and years ahead.

Over to the horses and although I will miss him, at least Thistlecrack has been retired in one piece and will now enjoy life at the Tizzard yard before returning to his owners in the summer. Winning close to three quarters of a million in prize money he owes them nothing, though connections must still feel he could have done so much more had he not had his issues that saw long periods where he failed to see the track. The winner of thirteen races in total including the World Hurdle and the King George over fences we can only second guess how good he could have been barring injury, but he was a personal favourite responsible for many fond memories and I for one will miss his rare racecourse appearances.  

On a week when racing really needed a cheering story for obvious reasons, who else could step up to the plate than the effervescent Hollie Doyle.  Typically modest, she tried without success to play down her five timer at Kempton on Wednesday evening at accumulative odds of 2521/1 and the point behind mentioning those odds is simple enough – only two of them were sent off favourites. As Hollie grabs the headlines she is deservedly getting more and better rides month on month and proving that she is as good or better than most of her male counterparts as well as a breath of fresh air when talking to the media. 

On to the weekends racing as we build up for Cheltenham – not long now! 

Saturday Racing:

Lingfield 2.00pm

Just the one All-Weather race this week but it is a Listed event and worthy of consideration. As you would expect at this time of year we get the usual mix of fit from the All-Weather versus class from the turf versus unexposed with potential, in other words a total minefield for us punters. Magallan is the highest rated after his thirteen length seven in The Futurity at Doncaster in ground he hated and should appreciate this drop in class for the in-form Gosden yard, but I cannot help but wonder if he was a forward juvenile with his best efforts already behind him. El Drama is an unknown quantity having won his sole outing at Doncaster in October, and the fact that he holds both 2000 Guineas and Derby entries has been noted, but if he is that good, why isn’t he waiting for the recognised classic trial on turf instead of making his All-Weather debut for Roger Varian. 

Both have their good points and their bad but are heading the market as I write, and I prefer a small stake each way risk on the Richard Hughes trained To The Bar, the wide margin winner of his last two races at Southwell and then Wolverhampton. Stepped up in class here, he has plenty to find on that form and needs to move up a gear but he has beaten lesser horses with ease over this trip and deserves to take his chance. A double figure price seems about right but he could well lead them all a merry dance from the four stall under Shane Kelly and will hopefully take some catching. 

Kelso 1.30pm

A decent Kelso card with plenty of prize money sees plenty of southern trainers spending their diesel money on long trips north to try and get their hands on the cash including Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton whose horses dominate the market. My Drogo has done precious little wrong with wins at Newbury and then in the Kennel Gate Hurdle at Ascot and deserves to be as short as he is on that form, but he won’t get things all his own way at the heads of affairs with the unbeaten Bareback Jack in the field, and I wonder if they could worry each other out of it over this extended trip. 

Ever the optimist, I will have a very small bet on rank outsider Alright Sunshine at 16/1 or bigger in a seven horse field. With very little logic I note that Tritonic is all the rage for the Triumph Hurdle as a decent flat horse now going over hurdles, yet Alright Sunshine is currently rated his equal on the flat and has been rated far higher in the not too distant past. Admittedly he has not shone the same form over hurdles yet but he did win three bumpers and wasn’t disgraced when runner up to Rockstar Ronnie here on his hurdling debut. He does need to jump better but is entitled to still be learning, and although he isn’t entitled to win this, it is an insult to put him in at 16/1 and I am hoping if not confident of a good run for our money at the very least.  

Kelso 2.40pm

A smaller field than I hoped for but an intriguing contest regardless though I cannot for the life of me see why Two For Gold is favourite. He did win last time out at Warwick when all out to hold off Aso by a neck, yet he meets that rival on nine pounds worse terms here so, in theory, there is no way he can beat the Venetia Williams trained rival today even over this longer trip. I did come mighty close to going for Aso I admit, but in the end, I have come down on the side of the three years younger Cloth Cap, a winner at Newbury last time out and seemingly on an upward curve. He made all that day over further and will take some catching of the same tactics are employed today, and although this is asking for a little bit more, he does have age on his side and I feel could be better than the bare ratings suggest.

Newbury 3.40pm 

What a disappointing field for a Saturday at one of the Country’s fairest tracks but a great opportunity for Hitman to get back to winning ways. Paul Nicholls has always thought highly of the five-year-old who won over fences at Ffos Las by an easy thirty lengths before a solid second to Allmankind at Sandown, but he did blot his copybook a little last time out when falling at the twelve back at Esher when travelling as well as any in the race won by Sporting John.  Given a month or so off he will have been well schooled at Ditcheat since and is by far the likeliest winner where you are basically betting on a clear round – if he jumps round without mistakes it is close to impossible to pick any holes in his form but if you want to bet at odds on for a horse that fell last time out, you are a braver man than I am. Main rival and stable companion Getaway Trump is far more likely to go to Doncaster making this even more farcical, and we could get close to the minimum odds of 1/10 by race time for the favourite.

Doncaster 2.20pm

Mares only for this Listed novice event over three miles plus and with nine runners we could actually have a sensible each way bet if only I can find one. Stamina may well be the big question for most of these with forecast favourite Wynn House a very decent daughter of Presenting, but for me she has questions to answer. Wins over shorter at Bangor and Ludlow were followed by an acceptable fourth at Cheltenham to Make Good, but she made plenty of mistakes that day and needed to be treated for heat stress post race. Whether that was a lack of stamina (when they tire they make more errors as do  we all) or not, only time will tell, but at the predicted odd of 2/1 she is not for me. That said, in seven runnings nothing bigger than 4/1 has come home in front  but stats are there to be broken and on a day when I seem to be avoiding most favourites, I will have a small punt on Dragon Bones at 20/1, obviously each way. She stayed on well to win her bumper at Worcester on October 2019 but wasn’t seen again until her return over two miles at Market Rasen in January this year, again in a bumper. 

Entitled to need the run after over a year off the track, she made most of the running before fading in to fourth and to be fair, she isn’t the biggest either, but she is closely related to Yala Enki who is rated 160 over fences and has won over marathon trips. That is what caught my eye as she steps up considerably in trip for her hurdling bow this afternoon and if her last race has taken away the buzz so she settles better, she could surprise a few and sneak in to the places at a big price. Phillapa Sue is another of interest on her first run for Graeme McPherson having placed regularly in Irish bumpers and will be better suited to this trip while Airgead Suas is the only distance winner in the field and worthy of consideration for that reason alone. 

Doncaster 3.30pm

Our obligatory once a week handicap and although last week was a disaster for me, those who listen to the podcast will have done considerably better thanks to my partner in crime Ron Robinson who gave out not one but two handicap winners last weekend. When he works through the stats he finds winners and somehow I don’t, but I am trying to learn from the master of Post Racing, and will give it another go today. 

I “only” have the nineteen renewals worth to work with, but for starters, only one winner of this contest failed to finish in the first four home in their previous race assuming they managed to complete, and to my amazement and amusement that instantly puts a line through six of the seven runners, leaving Canelo as the only one to pass that particular filter, and it could be as simple as that. Beware The Bear has to shoulder top-weight off a rating of 153 which would mean he has to be the highest rated horse to win this, while eight and nine year olds dominate rent renewal which again point to Canelo. Fourth to Takingrisk here over two furlongs shorter last time out he is not certain to get home here, but with a lack of in form rivals, I still cannot bet against him, with Chef D’Oeuvre my idea of the one for the forecast off bottom weight and with first time cheekpieces following a wind operation.  

Navan 3.58pm

Nine runnings of this to work with and just the one successful favourite but plenty nearer to the head of the market to suggest odds don’t really give us too much of a pointer here. Scarlet And Dove is the one for me for trainer Joseph O’Brien and jockey Donagh Meyler with the seven-year-old mare getting three pounds or more form all her rivals. A very easy winner at Limerick over further in December she looked to have very chance of a follow up or at least a second to Colreevy at Thurles before falling two out, and a repeat of that run minus the tumble could well be good enough at these weights. The clear round is all important and I am relying on further schooling to keep her on track with Epson Du Houx the likeliest to take full advantage if the selection fails to get round.

Meydan in brief

Super Saturday from Meydan in Dubai is something not to be missed (if only we could travel) but with seven races, it seems sensible to keep it fairly brief and even miss out a race or two. 

You would think the Listed race at 12.00 midday would be one to pass over but I love it as we see Uruguay’s best El Patriota up against the unexposed but eye catching Panadol who is only having his second run. I cannot for a moment pretend I am up on Uruguay form because I am not, but he did win over course and distance in late January and is clearly pretty decent, but Panadol sent local tongues wagging when running away with a mile maiden by close to eight lengths from the short priced and more experienced favourite. He obviously has to step up to get competitive here but I liked what I saw and will be following the son of Flatter until beaten. 

Personally, I am inclined to avoid those races here where Godolphin are mob handed and with four of the seven runners the 12.35pm deserves nothing more than a watching brief, while the dirt sprint at 1.10pm is beyond me though I will be watching the ex American Premier Star with interest as he makes his Dubai debut for Doug Watson who has the first two in the betting here. 

I do not have a strong opinion on the 1.45pm, Godolphin appear to own the 2.20pm with six of the last eight winners but three runners in 2021, but I will have a small each way bet on Dubai Mirage at 20/1 in the 2.55pm, the Group One Al Maktoum Challenge Round Three. Upped a furlong this afternoon after a pair of seconds since arriving from Newmarket that could be just what he needs, and with Frankie Dettori riding for Saeed Bin Suroor on Godolphin’s only representative, he does look overpriced and should go a lot better than his odds suggest. Fourteen runners in the last race, but with seven of them owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum and three by Godolphin, nothing at all would surprise me and I can settle for just the two small bets on the seven race card. 

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Sean’s Suggestions:

Panadol 12.00pm Meydan Saturday