Altior and Henderson Furore Raise Wider Questions

What followed the withdrawal of Altior was a broader discussion about how the National Hunt season is becoming more and more geared towards the Cheltenham Festival.

Altior and Henderson Furore Raise Wider Questions

Nicky Henderson has been getting pelters for taking Altior out of Saturday’s Tingle Creek but I’m struggling to see the big deal to be honest. If the trainer and his owners don’t want to give the horse an overly hard race on seasonal return, then that is their prerogative.

What was more alarming was that one of the highest-profile trainers in the sport was adamant that ground conditions at Sandown were much worse than they were being officially described.

It's a concern because, as ever, it’s punters that are once again the ones most affected. Henderson's comments inevitably led to widespread conjecture about the actual state of conditions, which is such a critical factor when assessing races.

GoingStick readings can often make matters more confusing and are at times laughable. A GoingStick reading of 5.0 could indicate heavy ground at one track, but good to soft at another. It has become patently obvious that GoingStick readings are not transferrable and can only be used as a point of reference against previous meetings at that track.

Official times on the chase course on Saturday suggested Henderson had exaggerated matters, which must have been an annoyance to Sandown clerk Andrew Cooper, who is generally regarded as one of the best in the business.

At the end of the day, Henderson and the owners are entitled to run their horse wherever and whenever they want. However, what followed the withdrawal of Altior was then a broader discussion about how the National Hunt season is becoming more and more geared towards the Cheltenham Festival.



Ironically, much of this debate is being fuelled by the very people that have done more than anyone else in the game to effect such change.

This is what we have now: Cheltenham Festival microsites up and running months before the meeting takes place, constant reference to ante-post festival prices from the moment anything half decent crosses the winning line, framing trainer interviews around possible festival targets and routes to that meeting, Road to Cheltenham blogs everywhere you look etc etc.

And don’t even get me started on the proliferation of Cheltenham Festival preview nights. The gravy train for horse racing ‘experts’ knows no bounds. Let’s face it, they are glorified piss-ups.

If a horse picks up an injury in January or February, the go-to headline for the racing press is ‘horse x set to miss Cheltenham Festival’, unless it’s a horse whose primary objective is the Grand National. That’s pretty much the only race that avoids being overshadowed by those four heady days in March.

More preview shows than you can shake a stick at, wall to wall coverage via every media on the planet and bookmaker promotions coming out of our ears. Don’t tell me that Royal Ascot gets the same level of focus. The intensity of Cheltenham Festival coverage is on a different level to every other meeting, whether it be Flat or Jumps.

The best analogy I can think of is football media coming together almost as one to berate VAR because it is ruining football. Of course, they are right, but they are happy to ignore the fact that we are now in this position because of their relentless criticism of referees over the years. Yes, they played a major part in fuelling the fire that led to the introduction of VAR.

The racing media are now in the same boat, or ship and it’s the one that has already sailed, but please don’t patronise punters by ignoring the fact that you have played such a major part in this sorry affair.

Team Moore flying ahead of big Goshen assignment

If trainer form plays a big factor in your search for winners (and why wouldn’t it?), then you may well be purring at the prospect of seeing Goshen back at Cheltenham on Saturday.

His trainer, Gary Moore, has burst into life with six winners in the last five days and that bodes extremely well for the horse that Moore has, on more than occasion described as ‘the best he has ever trained’.

No one will ever forget Goshen’s final flight catastrophe in last season’s Triumph Hurdle but nor should they forget the sensational way they he had cleared away from his rivals to get into that position.

That form was questioned at the time but doesn’t look too bad now with the likes of Aspire Tower and Allmankind going on again this term, and Goshen has been sharpened up with a couple of spins on the Flat this autumn.

I may be falling into the Cheltenham Festival trap that I mentioned earlier, but Goshen looked a Champion Hurdler in the making last year so he really needs to go and win the Unibet International Hurdle in receipt of weight from most of his rivals. One race doesn’t shape a career, but there will be some long faces in Moore’s West Sussex yard on Sunday were Goshen not able to seize this opportunity.



The Peterborough Chase but not as we know it

I can understand the will, especially from a sponsor’s point of view, to get the Peterborough Chase rescheduled but I feel like it is setting a dangerous precedent in running races on completely different types of tracks to the ones that they are ordinarily run at.

The Peterborough Chase is being run at Cheltenham on Friday. Yes, Cheltenham – an undulating left-handed track that provides a completely different test to that of the flat, right-handed circuit of Huntingdon.

So, are we now saying that it doesn’t matter where races are run, and the types of test that the track provides, is irrelevant as long as the race takes place?

In that case, no one will mind if we run next year’s Derby at Ascot. After all, it’s a much more authentic test than the idiosyncratic demands of Epsom.

It could be caviar all the way for Al’s backers

Saturday’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup is traditionally one of the bigger betting races of the National Hunt season and this year’s renewal looks as tough as ever.

Master TommyTucker is undoubtedly the improver now that his jumping has come together and he’s trained by a genius in Paul Nicholls, who has been responsible for four winners of this race in the last decade.

However, the combination of top weight and the hussle and bussle of a big field will really put the spotlight on his ability to negotiate the formidable Cheltenham fences and I’m not convinced that he will stand the test, for all that he’s probably got more ability than any other horse in the race.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a new favourite on the day, and it could well be Al Dancer, who ran such a good race in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time and can race off the same mark.

The key factor with him is the switch to the New Course, which provides a stiffer test to that of the Old Course, and that will really help this 7yo, who hit a bit of a flat spot last time before staying on again.

His form has gone to a new level this term and I get the feeling there is still more to come granted the kind of stiffer test that this race provides. He won’t mind if the ground deteriorates, we know he handles the hurly-burly of a race competitive race and he’s my idea of the winner.