Good morning all,
I know I've not posted since Manwell landed another gamble on New Years Eve and I'm delighted a few of you were on board, judging by the comments section. We're lucky in that we've cottoned on pretty quickly to a trainer that can clearly ready them for handicaps and have had some decent prices about them, but since then I've been asked a barrage of questions whilst working at Southwell over the New Year as to how this is allowed to happen, seemingly without much being said. It's a fair point.
I've tried to lay the facts out, as I see them. You may agree or disagree, I don't know, but it just how I see things.
Today's selection – some of you might guess what it is, given today's piece – is at the end.
On New Years Eve, whilst most people had already started on the lash or were looking the other way, Samantha England landed another gamble, this time at Uttoxeter, with Manwell. Early quotes of 25-1 the night before had gone by morning – a top price of 18-1 was around when I first mentioned the horse in that morning’s Punt – and a steady stream of money throughout the day saw the horse go off at 6-1 come racetime.
The horse himself, despite some indifferent jumping, came there swinging away in the home straight and only had to be nudged out after the last to record an easy win. “Oh, the money was talking for this horse!” said commentator Darren Owen as he passed the post seven lengths clear of favourite Cafe Au Lait (himself well handicapped, it’s worth noting.)
The win immediately got Twitter in a spin. “200-1 three times, goes off well backed 6-1 and wins. Joke.” cried one. “No better than Jim Best” came another.
How could the horse find so much improvement since it’s last run behind Bandsman one month ago? Here’s the official stewards report….
“The Stewards held an enquiry to consider the apparent improvement in form of the well backed winner, MANWELL (IRE), ridden by Jonathan England and trained by Sam England. They interviewed the trainer who stated that the gelding has been head strong and difficult to train at home, and has recently settled better. The trainer also stated that in her opinion MANWELL (IRE) appreciated the Soft, Heavy in Places ground on this occasion and the drop in grade. Having heard her evidence, they forwarded her explanation to the Head Office of the British Horseracing Authority so that the previous performances of MANWELL (IRE) could be reviewed.”
So there we have it. A drop in grade, heavy ground and settling better seem to be the key to his success. That, and of course, going handicapping for the first time.
There’s the first issue – where did his mark of 85 come from? Let’s face it, the handicapper has had next to nothing to go on. It’s interesting the horse had to have a fourth run before getting handicapped – clearly the handicapper hadn’t seen enough in three runs, yet somehow getting beaten 75l on his fourth run was enough to get a mark.
The next issue – are they cheating? Is this no better than what Jim Best was convicted of just a couple of weeks ago?
To me, getting a horse handicapped by running it in races where it has no chance – in this case, four Novice hurdles on ground (supposedly) too quick for it – is part and parcel to those of us who know the game and how the handicapping system works.
Let’s face it, Sir Mark Prescott’s being doing that for years, and to most in racing he’s seen as “shrewd” and “clever”. I think there’s a world of difference between that and deliberately pulling the high teeth out of one to get a mark. And to me, many of those Best runners should have been capable of better than they were doing in Novice Hurdles. I remember Planetoid rocking up for his first run over hurdles at Uttoxeter and thinking he would have a great chance if he could jump. He was, after all, 85 rated on the Flat, and was in a moderate race. The Post put him in at 7-2 that day – he opened 6-1 on course, drifted like a barge to 9’s and was beaten after two furlongs. That you don’t expect.
Were there any clues Manwell might have been readied for this? Well, as was pointed out, Sam England was 2-2 with handicap debutants, both well backed. Violoniste (to whom nobody batted an eyelid when he won) was backed from a morning 40-1 to 6-1 at Southwell and although the money came late for Cabragh at Sedgefield, come it did, and he duly bolted up. As for Manwell, there was promise in a couple of point runs – one in particular, when second to the useful Front At The Last at Durrow (on heavy), that marked him out as potentially well treated off 85, so to racing folk, there were clues.
However, someone asked me a perfectly valid question at Southwell yesterday. How could you explain to those at Uttoxeter, many of whom were non-racegoers on a regular basis, that this is acceptable? Four duck eggs, well beaten, then wins, well backed. How do you actually explain that to them that that's just how it is? Difficult, isn’t it? And therein lies the problem.
In an age where we are trying to encourage new people into the sport, it’s hard for someone that doesn’t understand racing why this is seemingly acceptable, and I understand that. It may well be why betting turnover on football continues to grow – all the stats are there for everyone, no-one’s trying to hide anything – and continues to decline on horse racing. Who wants to dig through a mountain of form and other imponderables when they know Newcastle are better than Nottingham Forest?
In my view, we shouldn’t be blaming the trainers and connections for gambles like this. After all, all they are doing is taking advantage of a rotten handicapping system that encourages it all to go on. And the handicapper can (and maybe should) keep asking connections for another run, and another, and another ten if necessary, until he’s seen enough to accurately assess it, rather than pull a number out the bingo machine every Tuesday morning. (As an aside, I shall try and get on the next Ask The Handicapper on ATR to put this point to Phil Smith.)
Until we sort out centralised stewarding and handicapping, this will continue to go on, in my opinion. As punters, we have to be aware and know a trainer’s methods. We just have to try to be one step ahead. But how we are to gain new followers to racing whilst it goes on is another issue, and one that may not go away easily.
Today's selection, is, of course, our old friend Cabragh who will find the step back up to 3m in his favour (has been entered up since he last ran over trips in excess of 3 and a half miles) and can get back to winning ways in the 1.15 Bangor. I still think there's a lot more to come from him, and the drop back to 2m4f was very much against him last time at Newcastle. It's a winnable race today, and he's the pick.
Good luck with all your bets today,