It has been a tough week in British racing, with many of the planned meetings cancelled due to Siberian weather. Indeed, it seemed little short of a miracle that some of the action took place at all.
The problem was not just with the state of the tracks but with the ability of humans and horses to get there in the first place. A race meeting involves the attendance of the likes of ambulance staff, stable staff, officials, jockeys and, let it not be forgotten, bookmakers and punters.
Last Friday’s hastily-arranged “bumpers for jumpers” meeting at Southwell – the only meeting in Britain and Ireland that day – was a triumph of contingency planning in many respects, but two normal aspects of a day at the races were all but absent: those bookmakers and those punters.
Reports were that there were just three of the former and 13 paying members of the latter, and yet the “market” at Southwell determined the Starting Prices for use around the country. Whether that should be so is at least a matter for debate.
When contacted about the Southwell scenario, the BHA had the following to say: “It is assumed that when a racecourse agrees to host an additional fixture then it is also confirming that it can provide all of the infrastructure required to host a race meeting, including enough bookmakers to ensure a robust SP…..our integrity teams scrutinize the betting around those races in exactly the same way as every other race. But the integrity of the SP itself is a matter for the Starting Price Regulatory Commission.”
Something rather more prescriptive might be expected of a body which regulates the sport with a Rule Book which resembles War And Peace. Still, at least the SPRC can be trusted to be on the case…
The good news is that the Starting Prices at Southwell last Friday were perfectly acceptable: over-rounds (the theoretical cost of a bet) ranged between 104.8% and 111.6%, though all of the field sizes were small. In two instances out of seven the over-round was less than par, meaning SP punters were, in theory, getting better value than usual.
So, well done to everyone for keeping the show on the road in this instance, and that includes that trio of on-course bookmakers, too.
There may have been little action since the last ATR Sectional Spotlight, but what there was included a meeting at Lingfield Park on Saturday at which there were some standout performances.
If you have not seen the win of HEADWAY in the 32Red Spring Cup then I suggest you check it out. In visual terms, it was stunning, as the William Haggas-trained three-year-old came from several lengths down turning in to win comfortably by a length from the enterprisingly-ridden RUFUS KING.
Thanks to Total Performance Data sectionals we can be sure that it was very much a case of Headway quickening and not of the runner-up stopping. The former’s last two sections of 10.8s then 11.0s would have had him joint-fastest and fifth-fastest respectively of 2494 competitors at the 7f course and distance in the period covered by TurfTrax.
Sectional upgrading points to Headway being a Group 3 or Group 2 winner in the not-too-distant future, and talk of the 2000 Guineas is not fanciful.
Fast though Encore d’Or was late on, runner-up Atletico was even faster: his last two sections of 10.8s then 10.8s would have had him joint-fastest for the penultimate furlong and outright fastest for the final furlong of 700 competitors in that same TurfTrax era.
I have a 118 sectional rating on Atletico (116 on Encore d’Or), which should be good enough to see him placed in the Sprint Final on Good Friday, and getting placed does seem to be something Atletico has become good at.
There was also the rather grandiosely-titled “Road To The Kentucky Derby” Stakes at Kempton this Wednesday, won by GRONKOWSKI with a performance a long way off what would be required at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
That said, he arguably did well to win at all given how hard he pulled, and that he forfeited ground by sweeping through two or three wide on the home turn.
I have a respectable overall time and a pretty sharp final 3f of 35.1s on the winner, which, combined, gives a 105 sectional rating. Gronkowski has a future if not necessarily the future hinted at by the race title.
The last two Fast-Track Qualifiers take place this coming Saturday. While the two-mile event at Chelmsford has drawn a disappointing field, the sunbets.co.uk Lady Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton (due off at 3.15) is well up to scratch.
SECOND THOUGHT is the best of these – having found only Harry Angel too good in a Group 2 last year and having already qualified for Finals Day – but an absence of 108 days and the fact that he is penalised makes it interesting against some able opposition.
However, the race should be teed up nicely for him, with an abundance of early pace likely to suit his more patient style, and he very much looks the one to beat.
Ryan Moore and William Haggas also team up earlier on the card with ORIGINAL CHOICE in the same sponsor’s Lincoln Trial Handicap (2.05). The same concern about an absence (161 days in this instance) exists, but Original Choice won first time up last year, which came on his only visit to this track.
He has proved consistent in a short career to date and this slightly longer trip should also play to his strengths.