There were many good aspects of last week’s Cheltenham Festival and a few bad ones, among the latter being the high equine fatality rate. Six horses died across the four days, including three in the concluding 22-runner Grand Annual Handicap Chase.
Many within racing have so far refused to acknowledge the strong and enduring correlation between field size and the proportion of fallers, while it is obvious that there will be some sort of a link between fallers and fatalities. A degree of self-examination is needed and sounds as if it will be forthcoming.
One event that many will have regarded as an overwhelming success was the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is a strong candidate for the title of Race of The Season.
It was a gripping drama, not least in terms of the tactics and excellent pace judgment employed by Richard Johnson on the winner, Native River. This was covered in the last of four special daily sectional blogs on these pages.
There was a downside to the race, however, with Johnson fined £6,550 and given a seven-day ban for excessive use of the whip.
I will leave it to others, for now, to discuss the rights and wrongs of allowing a horse to keep a race when its rider has broken the rules. But the technology already exists to identify when whip transgressions have been deliberate and were not just an oversight in the heat of the moment.
And the news is that the British Horseracing Authority is already looking into it.
The Turkish company WhipChip has developed a “smart” whip which records the strength and frequency of each whip stroke, and which can alert the jockey – through an LED display – when a horse is being “over-whipped”.
It should not require much modification to warn jockeys when they are approaching an agreed limit, and not just when they exceed it, while a vibration, or similar, could be added as a back-up to the purely visual warning.
WhipChip showcased their product at the Asian Racing Conference in Mumbai in 2016, after which I drew it to the attention of the Professional Jockeys Association here in Britain.
Further enquiries now reveal that the BHA has met with the designers of WhipChip and that they express themselves “always open to considering technological innovations”.
Perhaps the future will be one in which a jockey in a big race puts down the whip – by this point flashing and vibrating – halfway up a run-in while a rival jockey goes past having kept within the rules. It may not be quite as silly – or as unlikely – as it sounds!
There have been a fair few performances of sectional interest in the fortnight since this column last looked at the all-weather, and the following can be called out in particular.
SPRING ROMANCE did too much too soon when favourite at Wolverhampton on the 14th, including a 10.7s second furlong on Total Performance Data figures, and did really well to finish runner-up despite treading water with a 13.6s (90.6% finishing speed) final section.
Sectional upgrading has him winning this by a length or two, and, with the overall time pretty good (his timefigure was 68 on my calculations), he can hopefully make amends before long.
G EYE JOE was another to pay for his early exertions in fourth at Newcastle on the 9th, when the surface was a bit more testing than usual, putting in four successive sub-12.0s furlongs but ending up running the final one in 14.2s (89.0% FS). He is unlikely to be better than modest but has it in him to be there or thereabouts next time.
REGINA PACIS had been a major eye-catcher on her debut at Lingfield in January and was arguably only workmanlike when landing the odds at Newcastle on the 13th. But the pace mid-race was so soft that it would have been difficult to be impressive, and her last two furlongs of 11.3s and 12.1s were pretty sharp.
The Roger Charlton-trained daughter of Acclamation should make a fairly useful handicapper at up to a mile.
The four-year-old Spare Parts has been one of the equine stars of the All-Weather Championships and recently registered his seventh win of the year already: a remarkable achievement by him and by trainer Phil McEntee!
He goes again in the 3.10 at Lingfield on Saturday but looks to have his work cut out under a penalty and a mark in the 90s for the first time in his career. My preference is for POET’S SOCIETY (got into a bit of a speed duel last time) and MY TARGET (a regular winner here in the past and well treated after a quite promising effort at Wolverhampton recently).
“Dutching” the pair – that is, splitting your stakes to return the same sum whichever one wins – makes plenty of appeal, and hopefully their combined odds will be 2/1 or bigger.
An oversight by my parents 55 years and roughly nine months ago, when they failed to foresee the calendar position of the All-Weather Finals Day at Lingfield (or my future interest in it), means that I will be celebrating my birthday abroad when that superb event takes place next Friday.
Much that unfolds will depend on things like the effect of the draw and the likely distribution of pace, so now is not the time for confident predictions. But it does seem to me that KACHY will take all the beating in the Sprint Final if he gets the rub of the green (and possibly even if he does not).
He banged out a 119 timefigure by my calculation when winning in January and one of 111 when overcoming a poor draw to follow up in February, both at this course and distance. He has just a bit more stamina to go with his early pace these days and is made for a race like this.