Monthly Archives: February 2014

Is the Cheltenham Festival tempting us to allow rule-bending by trainers?

binocularsThe love of money is the root of all evil, so say some. Is our collective love of the Festival causing blind eyes to be turned to the rules by many of us, the BHA included?

How many horses are truly being run on their merits throughout the jumps season? In this week’s Weekender, Alan King says . . .

A King, Weekender, 26th Feb

“We train our horses to progress as the season develops”  Is that within the rules?

BHA Rule:

45.3 A Trainer must not send any horse to race with a view to schooling or conditioning the horse.

There’s the matter of fitness, readying horses to peak at a particular time, and, crucially, timing medication to be out of their systems so that the doping rules are not infringed come race time.  If this is what we have come to, perhaps we should be honest about it and the rules modified to fit. Some might gladly agree to such a compromise for that glorious week in March; I might even be one of them. But we need a degree of  openness about it.

Should trainers be required to declare a quantifiable fitness assessment for each runner before a race?  Rather than: ‘He’ll be doing his best, but I’d expect him to come on for this,’ something like, ‘I’d say he is 80% fit.’  It would then be up to punters to decide whether that 80% fit horse has enough natural talent to beat another in the race who’s been declared 95% fit. Doubtless trainers will win with horses declared as 70% fit and plenty will lose with horses deemed 100% fit. But at least the information is in the open. It is then up to punters to decide what to do with that information. Of course there is also the question of the judgement of the trainer and the honesty of the trainer. But as things stand, there’s a level of compulsory dishonesty anyway, if many horses are running in races with the intention of preparing them to win another race.

Or, if NH racing needs prep races for horses, then perhaps the Jumpers’ Bumpers should be properly structured, and horses who are being openly prepped, confined to those races until declared 100% fit and ready to win over jumps.

It’s a tough problem with many facets,  but as the Festival’s influence grows, it’s going to have to be faced at some point.


A big-priced weather-based double for Cheltenham

10570720-1600x2400Cheltenham’s superb drainage will be sorely tested if this weather doesn’t relent very soon. The potential silver lining on the storm clouds is that two particular horses are only likely to turn up for the big week if the going is soft or worse – Harry Topper in the Gold Cup and Melodic Rendezvous in the Champion Hurdle.

Betvictor offer them at 2o/1 and 25/1, non runner – no bet. If the trainers stick to their plans (the Festival is always so tempting if a horse is well, no matter the going), then both will start quite a bit shorter than their current prices.

Harry Topper has the slight disadvantage in that he seems to close his eyes approaching a fence, but he clocked an excellent time at Newbury when winning the Denman Chase, running the trip 18 seconds faster than Smad Place did later that day.blind horse

I’m not sure how good Melodic Rendezvous is – he tends to run in snatches at times, but he’d be staying on just about the best of them on deep ground. He’s due to run at Wincanton on Saturday and should win there.

Anyway, they’re well worth a speculative EW double, in my opinion.

Good luck


Tidal Bay, aged 43 and a half, the choice for Crabbie’s Grand National

Tidal Bay

Tidal Bay


That’s the age in human years that Tidal Bay is, according to research by equine vets (see table below).

Tidal Bay’s horse age is 13. All racehorses have their official birthday on January 1st.  He was born on May 12th 2001 so is ‘actually still 12 – confusing, eh?).

Tidal Bay first ran in March 2006. Thirty-six horses in the original list of  115 entered to compete against him in the National weren’t even born then.

Tidal Bay has always been in the headlines.  Here’s his form for the first three seasons : 22/111221/111211

And yet it wasn’t long before he was branded with the Timeform squiggle – a symbol denoting unreliability. He’d developed the habit of dropping himself out of contention, no matter how hard his jockey worked to keep him interested. Frequently, he’d decide very late in a race, ‘Oops, time I was cracking on!’ And he’d tear through the field to either win or finish very close. His formline during that period was: 122345/24174/3226U/32541

In many outings, his jumping was suspect, losing ground at fences but always managing to find a way over (he has never fallen).

After unseating his rider in the 2011 Grand National, Tidal Bay  left Howard Johnson to join Paul Nicholls. Mr Nicholls took a few races to find the key to TB’s character: here’s his formline since joining the yard: 32541/121-1532

Tidal Bay, unusually for a  top class horse has always mixed ‘chasing and hurdling. He’s won 8 over fences and 7 over hurdles, among those races, three Grade 1s and three Grade 2s.

So why should he be my choice for the Crabbie’s Grand National? Because if with everything you knew about Tidal Bay, you were to sit down and design the perfect race for him, I believe this is it. The 2014 race will be much different from the 2011 one, where he unseated. Since then, the wooden cores of the fences have been replaced with pliable plastic and the fences are much less punishing.

It’s unlikely that TB will have an error free round, but the loose green spruce which makes these fences look so big, is easily brushed through, these days (rightly so, to preserve the future of the race). Far fewer horses will fall and that means the chances of TB or any other horse being brought down is much reduced.

But the key to him is that he has the class to either lie up with the leaders, or, if the pace is too hot (which I think it will be ), to sit in his favourite position near the back and switch on his cruise control. He’ll drift through the race taking little out of himself and as the last fence looms, cruise control will be switched off. Approaching the Elbow, overdrive will be engaged and I expect to hear the biggest cheer at Aintree since Red Rum’s third National victory in 1977.

If you need further persuading, Tidal Bay will carry half a stone less in the National than he would in any other handicap ‘chase. This is because the Grand National is treated as an extraordinary race by the handicapper. Not reason enough to merit favourable treatment for the best horses, but that’s an argument for another day and in this case, I’m happy to take advantage of it.

Tidal Bay, with top weight of 11.10, is officially the best horse in the race. He will carry 7lbs less than he should in a ‘normal’ handicap. The track and distance are tailor-made. He will need some luck in running but not nearly so much as he’d have needed previously.

Tidal bay can be backed at around 20/1. But Betvictor offer 16/1 with the concession of a free bet to the value of your stake if he is a non runner (in all ante-post bets without special conditions, your money is lost if the horse doesn’t run).

Ladbrokes offer an outstanding 25/1 which is sure to disappear in the next 24 hours, and I think it’s worth taking the chance he’ll definitely run for the sake of grabbing this huge price.

The greatest test of a horse’s popularity is the number of people cheering him home when they haven’t backed him. Don’t be left out, add a bet to the cheer!  Good luck to Tidal Bay and all other horses and jockeys in this great race, the Crabbies Grand National on April 5th.

Horses v Humans age scale

Horses v Humans age scale