Events at Navan on Saturday have stirred up some extreme reactions from punters on social media, but what interests me more is the reaction of the wider racing public.
It strikes me that there is a distinct air of hypocrisy in how many of us judge the working practices of trainers up and down the land.
The same people who have castigated Ronan McNally, who orchestrated a successful gamble on Dreal Deal, don’t think twice about gushing over the shrewdness of his colleagues like Sir Mark Prescott, whose general modus operandi is to get a horse so well handicapped that they are able to rack up a sequence – which was even easier before the age of cumulative penalties.
Even this week we have seen Rodrigo Diaz, trained by David Simcock, win his third successive handicap with plenty to spare. He was awarded a mark of 59 after being hammered in three one-mile novice and maiden races but was sent off just 3/1 on handicap debut and will likely be rated near 80 by the time he is reassessed.
I have not read or heard a single negative comment about the way David Simcock campaigns his horses.
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When you break it down, it’s all about getting the horse as well handicapped as possible before ensuring that the animal is primed both physically and mentally to take full advantage, and trainers that operate this way should not be treated differently.
Of course, it doesn’t look great when a horse backed from 20/1 into 6/4 wins as easily as Dreal Deal did – the handicapper has decided the horse won with 19lb in hand, and it’s under these sorts of circumstances that the most serious questions are asked of the handicapping system.
Critics of such events should at least take solace from the fact that most gambles of this ilk go down the pan and the money ends up staying in bookmakers’ satchels.
However, in this particular instance, connections had been so patient with this horse – it’s around a year-and-a-half since he showed ability in points, that I almost feel that their patience deserved reward.
The Bigger Picture
The focus, though, should be on the broader picture, and on the way the sport is policed.
It’s never going to look great when a horse with form figures of 000088 wins pulling a cart, but the authorities could do a lot more to instil faith that the sport is being policed thoroughly – and that means asking a lot more questions about controversial rides and performances than are currently being asked.
I will give you an example of a recent ride that, in my opinion, quite clearly needs some sort of review but absolutely nothing was done by the stewards on the day.
On September 9th, a horse called Flying Dragon finished 13th of 20 in the Mondialiste Leger Legends Classified Stakes at Doncaster. Jockey Pat Dobbs reported to the stewards after that he was ‘denied a clear run’.
I didn’t back this horse so I am not talking through my pocket and I am by no means singling Pat Dobbs out – there are countless examples of the shoddy way this sport is policed.
I defy anyone to watch a replay of that ride and not want to query why Dobbs was sat motionless throughout the contest until approaching the furlong pole, at which point he falls out the back of the TV. Of course, Dobbs would most likely say ‘what could I have done’, but the fact that the authorities aren’t even bothering to investigate such obvious cases is concerning.
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So as things stand, when the jockey reports that he was denied a clear run, the matter is pretty much immediately swept under the carpet – but that quite clearly should not be the end of it if racing is going to truly earn the trust of punters.
Now it may be that all of this is just time consuming. It is almost certainly the case that race day stewards do not have anything like enough time to repeatedly watch reruns of races in order to ensure they are satisfied that every effort was made to ensure each horse obtained the best finishing position.
It is also the case that they may not have the skillset required to perform such a task. Race reading is a skill that is honed over years of watching races and isn’t a career that anyone can just waltz into and instantly be an authority.
There is a Raceday Integrity Team, but their remit appears to limited to the reporting of irregular betting patterns and not necessarily focusing on what happens on the track.
So maybe there is a case to be made for outsourcing this particular expertise to an experienced group of race readers who can devote the time and experience to the role that it so clearly demands. It is surely worth looking at as a possibility because as things currently stand, the policing of the game just isn’t good enough.