Tuesday, 13th April 2021
The big news this morning is that the BHA plans to look at the handicapping system and examine what part it has played in the continued dominance of Irish horses over their British counterparts – a superiority most recently underscored at Cheltenham and again at Aintree….
Dan Skelton’s isn’t the only voice with something to say on this issue, but his has certainly been one of the most prominent. He sums it up for the layman thus:
‘The handicaps absolutely must be a level playing field. They must be fair…. Quality, that can be cyclical. That's fine, we know that goes round. There was a time when Manchester United couldn't be beat, a time when the Chicago Bulls couldn't be beat. What isn't really acceptable is that the handicaps also seem a bit one-sided. That may be for a number of different reasons but that can be corrected because there is human input in the handicapping system.’
This process of assessment and discussion – and any revisions to ‘human inputs’ designed to improve the system and produce more equity – certainly won’t produce any overnight solutions. This is a story to follow over the months (and possibly years) to come….
In the short term, I wonder if Irish dominance in handicaps over the jumps (particularly pronounced at the two recent NH Festivals) will transfer onto the flat….
Might Irish flat trainers fancy their chances of coming over here in greater numbers this summer and plundering all the big handicap pots at Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, and York – just as the Irish jump trainers did at Cheltenham and Aintree?
Or is this issue of inequities in the handicapping system something confined to the jumps game only? I don’t know. But this summer’s handicap programme in Britain offers a testbed situation where we might find out….
I like British horses to do well. But I don’t feel I need to always wear the ‘home’ shirt or wave the right-coloured flag. I’m happy to bet on what gives me the best bang for my buck….
Right now, Irish horses offer plenty of such bang. And Irish raiders in big handicaps run in Britain over the summer are very much on the radar….
Speaking of radars, Arecibo is a horse very much on mine this summer….
You might recall, he came over from France to join David O’Meara’s yard back in the spring of 2019 – starting off his British career at Ripon on a mark of 100….
Two runs in, O’Meara gelded the horse and two runs after that Arecibo won a C3 handicap at Ayr off a mark of 91….
It was the only time he won for the O’Meara yard in 24 runs. It’s fair to say he’s been difficult to win with. The 6yo goes into the new season with a career record that reads just 3 wins from 36 runs @ 8.3% on the turf flat….
But it’s not been quite as bad as the bare bones of that record suggest. There have been flashes out on the track that suggest this horse can and will land a big handicap pot as and when everything falls into place for him….
Like at York in August 2019 – when Arecibo was 3rd of 22 in the Sky Bet And Symphony Group Handicap and beaten less than a length off a mark of 98….
Like at Doncaster later the same summer in the Portland – when the horse was 4th of 22 and beaten just 1-length off a mark of 100….
Like back at York for last year’s renewal of the Sky Bet And Symphony Group Handicap – where he was 4th of 21 and beaten less than 2-lengths off 94….
Like in the Ayr Gold Cup last September where he ran 7th of 24 – beaten just under 3-lengths. It could have been so much better – he had no luck in running and had his run blocked several times….
He’s only had one run since that unlucky performance at Ayr. So – make no mistake – Cowell isn’t inheriting a horse that has gone at the game. Arecibo is still ‘live’. He’s still a big player in the sprint handicap mix….
This term he starts out on an official rating of 91 – as low as he’s ever been rated in Britain. And that’s an eminently workable mark. He’s potentially very well handicapped at that assessment….
Think of it this way. With a bit more luck in running he could have been last year’s Ayr Gold Cup winner. Had that happened he’d be rated 100+ now. For sure….
And it isn’t just the official rating that he’s got in his favour. He starts the new season in a new yard. And not just any yard. He’s gone to Robert Cowell – a trainer who specializes in sprinters and who has a strong track record of revitalizing cast-offs from other yards….
If you’re looking for a recent illustrative example of Cowell’s prowess in that field – think Raucous….
That sprinter was on the skids when Cowell inherited the horse from William Haggas. A sometime Group horse, he’d won just once in 8 during his final season for Haggas – finishing well down the field and well beaten in the last 4 of those races….
He looked like a horse on a terminal decline heading into Cowell’s yard. But within 18-months he’d banked a stack of prize money for his new connections and gone very close to winning a Wokingham and a Stewards Cup – the top races on the sprint handicap scene….
The new owner that sent Raucous to Cowell was Mr T W Morley. He’s the guy who bought Arecibo in October (50,000 guineas) and sent him to Cowell. So there are omens at work here too. They’ll be looking to repeat the trick….
Under Cowell, Raucous got from a mark of 94 all the way back up to his career high mark of 106. That’s revitalization in action – expressed clearly in numbers….
The bottom line is that Arecibo couldn’t be in better hands this term. There are no guarantees, of course. No trainer is an out-and-out miracle worker. But if you’ve got a talented sprinter who hasn’t quite delivered on his promise, Cowell is a handler who can make it happen. And that mark of 91 is a great place to start from….
The pair take the first steps together this afternoon at Newmarket in the 11-runner bet365 Handicap over 5f – with Oisin Murphy in the plate for a first-time ride on the horse….
You could play stop-at-a-win with this horse this term if you were so minded. But I don’t feel any need to get involved today. Certainly not at the 7/2….
I see this C3 race where the winner takes home £6.7k as a starting point – and I’m mindful that the horse hasn’t been ultra-competitive on his seasonal debut in past seasons….
If he wins, he wins. No problem. It won’t be the end of the story – or of the opportunity. Arecibo is capable on his day of winning a proper BIG handicap pot. Cowell will know that and whatever happens today, the horse isn’t going to be reassessed to a point where he can’t go on again….
For me it is the proper big-field races where this horse is of most interest….
He’s had 10 goes in races with 20+ runners and he’s been – by my reckoning – competitive in half of those without managing to win one. If he’s going to reward punters at a big price, I reckon it will be in that type of race….
I’ll watch today’s race at Newmarket with interest. For me, it’s an information-gathering exercise – with a long season full of potential opportunities ahead….
That’s all from me for today. I’ll be back tomorrow. Meanwhile….
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Until next time. Stay tuned.