The Curious Case Of Manwell (And Others)

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,





7 Responses to The Curious Case Of Manwell (And Others)

  1. paul petit says:

    Great article!

    My being from the USA makes it even harder to pick up on stuff like this. My main problem is that I could never put in all the work needed to keep track of all the trainers and jockeys, or combinations thereof. That’s why I appreciate your columns and especially your picks because the goings come into play so very much also.

    Many thanks for all your plays.

  2. Chris says:

    “They’re all at it” has been heard across the land for a couple of decades and the BHA’s response – complacency and, in effect, complicity.
    More than a decade ago, I wrote to the BHA about the failings of stewarding and received the well worn reply that they were introducing stipendiary stewards to solve that. Huh!
    If they were serious, they would have swoop squads to question trainers and jockeys about all non-triers in maidens and novices etc on a regular basis.
    The Manwell enquiry was useless as it took place after the events (the runs in maidens) and trainers have a full panoply of reasons why ‘improvement’ happened today.
    How many stewards can spot a non trying ride? Do they receive any training in the dark arts 🙂
    Best of luck in quizzing P Smith and arguing against his rigid views.

  3. Daniel Stone says:

    Hi Darren,

    Very interesting article, and well presented. I believe your comments regarding handicapping is spot on.
    I had already placed my bets for the day and gone out.
    I was not aware of this race until much later that night.

    However I for one have seen countless sums of money come in during the last half hour before a race and dramatically alter the price of a horse just before the off. Everyone is then expecting the horse to romp home.

    I can’t believe the amount of times the horse fails to deliver. We only tend to hear stories like this, but nothing about the failed coups. There’s one of these cases almost daily on the All Weather. I bet the failures far outweigh the successful coups. Thanks for your views.



  4. Stephen Veasey says:

    ‘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.’

    Explain to them how much it costs to keep a horse in training (minimum £18,000 a year)and how much prize money is available in class 4-6 races. Also give them a copy of ‘The Druids Lodge Confederacy’to read so they can see how even bigger strokes were pulled 120 years ago (placed horses in the Derby running off 7st 12lb in the next year’s Lincoln Handicap amongst many other goodies.)

    The handicapping system is utterly flawed because it is not objective. Why bother running a horse openly when the handicapper decides one day to raise a horse that finishes a well beaten third by 5lbs and the winner only goes up by 3lbs? Or you win a race at 25-1 without having any money on at all and the handicapper sticks it up 16lbs in a fit of pique? That horse won’t have a chance of winning again for probably 18 months, given how reluctant the handicapper’s are to lower horses ratings significantly after bad runs.

    You will often see comments in the Racing Post Spotlight analysis like ‘lurking at the bottom of the handicap’ or ‘well in on its best form’ or even better, ‘any market move for x would be significant’ so everybody knows how the game is played….

  5. Greg Phillips says:

    This has been going on for years, SIR Mark Prescott is the master at running horses over the wrong trip to get them handicapped, if you watch Luke Morris (jockey) who rides most of Prescott’s he look’s like he is giving these horse’s the full treatment when they lose./watch him on one that wins, he looks the same even if it wins by 10 lengths. They are both masters at there trade.Betting on horse’s is an education in it’s own right, if new people going racing can’t see a horse being backed off the boards and have their hard earned on something with a pink hat or nice face,don’t moan if you lose and don’t bet.

  6. Jim C says:

    I,m more interested in how they got any significant money on,bearing in mind how its nigh on impossible
    to get a fiveron, particularly at a small meeting in a twopenny ha’penny race.Incidentally the horse came down to 3/1 in morning before returning 6/1 so there was no on course money.

  7. John Roe says:

    Thank you for a very interesting article
    At Newcastle the other day Joe Fanning who I consider to be one of the straightest jockeys currently riding..
    On this occasion he was riding for an outside trainer not Mark Johnston.The horse in question was up with pace but when push came to shine Joe never moved a muscle nor have him a couple of blows to get him nearer the front and give the horse a chanceof winning.The horse got beaten three lengths but to many spectators he could have won with a more vigorous ride.
    It is possible that the trainer gave instructions that the horse should not be whipped and if so should this information not be given to the punters so they bet at their own risk.

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