The saddest part of the Charles Byrnes doping scandal is that there will be almost no one within the sport that is surprised.
Byrnes is adept at executing handicap coups and he’s even said publicly that such gambles were what kept his yard in business.
Punters fall over themselves in admiration of trainers like Byrnes but this week’s IHRB report into events surrounding Viking Hoard at Tramore in October 2018 lays bare the depths to which those that don’t want to play by the rules will plunge.
To be clear, there is no evidence linking Byrnes to the lay bets placed on Viking Hoard that day, one of which had a liability of €34,889 to win €3,200, nor is there any evidence that Byrnes had any part to play in the administration of huge amounts of the sedative ACP, but the report concluded, rather damningly, that ‘it follows as a matter of probability that Mr Byrnes’ general mode of operation permitted such a strategy to be viable’.
A horse that was about to run in a handicap hurdle had been pumped with enough sedative to be over 100 times the legal limit. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from this quite astonishing piece of information is that such an act shows that we are dealing with people that have absolutely no regard whatsoever for the animal in their care.
Furthermore, it also shows scant regard for jockey Kevin Brouder who was sent out to ride a horse whose chances of taking a nasty fall had been severely increased.
We’ll likely never know who administered the sedative to Viking Hoard but not just because we are dealing with a bunch of shrewd operators who are always one step ahead of the authorities.
Irish racing is guilty of being asleep at the wheel. In Britain, every racecourse is required by the BHA to have CCTV security cameras that oversee every individual stable yard and that has been the case for many years.
However, the only Irish racecourse to have full CCTV of their stable yard was, until very recently, Leopardstown and although cameras are now finally in operation at Tramore, such dithering means that we are never going to be able to firmly establish who accessed Viking Hoard’s stable and administered the sedative.
This would have been a crucial piece of evidence given it was the assertion of the IHRB’s chief veterinary officer Dr Lynn Hillyer that the administration of the sedative had taken place close to the time of the race.
Because of this gaping hole in the prosecution case, the report could only conclude that the horse had been ‘nobbled’ by a third party.
In the long term it might do the sport good to shine a light on the ugly truth behind the way these supposedly ‘shrewd’ yards operate, but Irish racing needs to pull its socks up if it is going to give itself any chance of being able to bring about meaningful convictions in the future.
Royal Ascot Expansion Looks The Right Move
The expansion of Royal Ascot to seven races each day has been met with almost universal positivity and on the face of it, you can see why.
The shrewd move here is the addition of a race each day as opposed to increasing it to a six-day meeting, which would not have been welcomed.
The biggest surprise of all is that it has taken until now for this move to happen. Somehow, Royal Ascot has up to now, managed to avoid the insatiable corporate appetite to continuously squeeze more out of every cash cow.
Six-race cards at big meetings are a thing of the past, indeed racegoers could have been forgiven for thinking they had been a bit short-changed by just six races.
Fortunately, the five races being added to the programme are all handicaps so ought not to detract from the established Group races that light up the week.
The meeting is already the biggest betting week of the Flat season so we know it’s an event that captures the attention of punters.
Extra races should generate additional betting levy which will hopefully filter down into lower-level prizemoney in the future, although forgive me for my scepticism on that – I don’t recall any noticeable increases in prizemoney in the lower tiers of the sport after Cheltenham added a fourth day to the festival back in 2005.
Furthermore, because the additional races are big-field handicaps, there is greater opportunity for owners in the middle tier of the sport to have a runner at this most prestigious of meetings.
There is one note of caution though. Ascot has seen its fair share of trouble in recent years and the addition of a race to each day effectively means additional drinking time. There is obvious potential for this to lead to trouble but hopefully Ascot have learned lessons from recent history and there is a more visible stewarding and police presence.
Expansion of the highest profile meetings in the sport is often met with scepticism but on this occasion, it feels like the right move for everybody involved.
Defi A Clarence House Conundrum For Punters
I can’t think of a higher-rated horse to have hit the buffers in the way that Defi Du Seuil has in the last 12 months.
Roll the clock back almost a year and Defi Du Seuil was sweeping past the mighty Un Des Seaux like he was a mere handicapper in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot. It was such a dominant performance that it meant he was sent off a short as 2/5 for the 2020 Queen Mother Chase but, as we all know, the wheels came well and truly off on the biggest stage of all.
Such was his strength in the market ahead of his Shloer Chase return at Cheltenham in November, it appeared that Philip Hobbs and his team had their star two-mile chaser back to something like his best. However, despite taking on inferior rivals, it was clear from four-out that the old sparkle was still missing.
So, there is a major dilemma facing punters at Ascot this weekend. On the figures, Defi Du Seuil is the nearest challenger to warm favourite Politologue, while his performance in this race last year will live long in the memory but, on what we have seen since, Defi has lost his appetite for the game.
He is no 7/2 poke on the pick of his form but even his most ardent of followers must be having serious doubts that we will see him at his best again.
It’s a head scratcher, even for a master trainer like Philip Hobbs, but one thing is for sure, there will be no more poignant winner this weekend, given Defi Du Seuil’s ownership, should Hobbs and his team to find the key to this hugely talented horse.