Skip to main content

Denman shows why jumps racing is king in the UK

Went to the races as a paying punter today for the first time in ages. UK racing isn't cheap at the best of times, flat racing doesn't have the excitement most of the year and it's rather cold during jumps season. TV coverage is decent enough if you can't get to the track as often as you'd like.

The two main races today at Newbury, the Long Distance Hurdle and the Hennessy showed just why National Hunt racing is miles ahead of flat racing in popularity in the UK & Ireland. Big Buck's is the best staying hurdler in training, he won the top races at Cheltenham and Aintree in his class, and is going around again to repeat the feat. He faced a small, but quality field at level weights and won very, very easily. Special thanks to the bookies who put up 1/2. It is very rare I bet at those odds, but this horse should have been 1/3 at best, so the value had to be taken.

The Hennessy is the best handicap chase of the season. Note that key word which some purists detest... 'handicap'. We saw a Gold Cup winner line up, carry 12lb more than any other horse in the field, and beat the lot of them to win this race for the second time in three years. And this was no bunch of hacks he beat, there were numerous Grade 1,2 and 3 winners in the field and Denman gave most of them at least a stone in weight. Punters backed him into 5/2 after as much as 9/2 was available in the morning, and the crowd went nuts when he fought off the challenge of What A Friend (who I'd backed) to win.

The champions of National Hunt racing come back year after year. They take on all-comers in handicaps and set weights events, not sticking rigidly to their own sex, age group or WFA races. They are prepared to take on the best to be the best. Flat racing is full of flash in the pans who have one outstanding season and then nick off to stud. Flat racing panders to the breeders - there are Group 1 races for every category and little incentive to leave their comfort zone - it might endanger the precious studbook records. And don't get me started about overly precious owners who pull their horses out if the ground isn't exactly right.

As much as I've bagged Aussie racing in the past for having handicaps as Group 1s, perhaps there is some merit in it. The 'big five' races in Australia are the Melbourne Cup (3200m handicap), Golden Slipper (1200m 2yo set weights), Cox Plate (2040m WFA), Doncaster Hcp (1600m handicap) and the Caulfield Cup (2400m handicap). Only one of those races can be won once. The truly great horses who win the other four races are those who come back and defend their crown. And each of those handicap races attracts the cream of the crop at that distance, they are quality fields.

Sea The Stars was an aberration. Next year we'll be back to a crop of good 3yos without a superstar capable of taking it to the older brigade in Britain, Ireland and Europe. But until a horse is prepared to take on allcomers, giving away weight, and coming back to defend a title once, twice or even more, then does that horse really deserve the title of champion? Roger Federer is not a champion because he won Wimbledon once. He's a champ because he came back and did it again. And again. And again.

Breeders are as responsible as anyone for flat racing's malaise. Too many horses being bred, too many inflated yearling prices and too little of that money going back into prizemoney. Racing For Change has a lot of work to do. If they want to build emotional attachment to flat horses like the jumpers, then break down the wall between set weight and handicap races, and the ridiculous separation of colts and geldings in the classics. Get some high class handicap races on the calendar and create incentives for the cream of the crop to get in there. The public loves a good handicap race - it gives the underdog a chance, the small budget owner and trainer rather than the mega-rich sheiks and super stables. Can you guess how many times Sea The Stars conceded weight to another horse? Even at the next level down, the 'mere mortals', it is extremely rare you ever see them compete in a handicap race. There's a huge class divide that never seems to be crossed, or at least crossed over and then back. Flat racing has to dissolve the class divides.

Championship races at level weights too often have small fields, or only a handful of runners capable of winning in a big field. You'll get a longshot winner like Mine That Bird (Kentucky Derby 2009) or Rebel Raider (Victoria Derby 2008), but usually they'll just be written off as a fluke or a poor crop of horses that year. Handicaps balance it up, and give the beaten contingent hope for another crack at it next year. But most of all, they give the public a chance to cheer for the underdog or give a rousing ovation to the champion who was prepared to give weight to all challengers and still greet the judge first.

Handicaps will never replace the championship races - but they do deserve their place at the top end of racing so we can see which 'champions' really are prepared to do it tough, not just competing when everything is in their favour. If racing wants the public to pay for the 'show' (as they must if bookmakers are to return more to the industry), then give them what they want and stop pandering to the breeders.


  1. Hi Scott,
    forgive me for going completely off topic but I saw on another blog you mentioned you didnt like the passing lane concept in harness racing. Im just interested in why you dont like it. It appears initially to a novice such as myself as a good idea to open up the final sprint home.

  2. It removes all incentive for a driver to lead when a weaker opponent can get a soft run behind him, knowing he will get out at the right moment. Takes the skill of dictating a race away in my book.


Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments, but if you're a spammer, you've just wasted your time - it won't get posted.

Popular posts from this blog

lay the field - my favourite racing strategy

Dabbling with laying the field in-running at various prices today, not just one price, but several in the same race. Got several matched in the previous race at Brighton, then this race came along at Nottingham. Such a long straight at Nottingham makes punters often over-react and think the finish line is closer than it actually is. As you can see by the number of bets matched, there was plenty of volatility in this in-play market. It's rare you'll get a complete wipe-out with one horse getting matched at all levels, but it can happen, so don't give yourself too much risk...

Racing has a Ponzi scheme - and the fallout will be enormous

When the term 'Ponzi scheme' is mentioned these days, the names Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford instantly spring to mind. The pair of them ran multi-billion dollar frauds (US$60bn and $8bn respectively) that destroyed the lives of thousands of investors who had put their life savings into a 'wonderful' investment strategy. How so many people were sucked into the scheme is baffling to those on the outside. The lifestyle, the sales pitch, the success stories of the early investors - I suppose it all adds up.

So where does this link to racing you ask? A prominent Australian 'racing identity' this week has been reported to have lost access to a bank account with punters' club funds of $194m in it. Firstly - is there a worse term for anyone to be labelled with that 'racing identity'? It ALWAYS ends up meaning shonky crook! Secondly - who the hell has a punters' club with an active bankroll in the tens of millions? It simply can't be done.


Gimcrack Stakes preview

The final day of the Ebor Festival has a great spread of races, and just one of them could be described as having a clear-cut favourite. A solid reward for anyone who can find a winner.

The 2yo feature of the day is the Gimcrack Stakes, and saddling up again for the preview is Darren Goodbody, @DarrenPGoodbody. You can read more of his work here.


Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Gimcrack Stakes
Group 2, 6f, 2yo C&G
1510 local 0010 AEST

What a week it has been on the Knavesmire, some impressive juveniles to keep on the note book especially Tasleet of William Haggas's and Wesley Ward's Acapulco who impressed me taking on older horses, but even though with the 29lb allowance he could not over come proven Group 3 winning sprinter Mecca's Angel.

Mark Johnston has not improved on his six percent average here at York and I have reservations that it is going to improve with Buratino or Ode the Evening. The Listed Woodcote Stakes and Group 3 Coven…