Thursday, September 29, 2016
Need for more claimers
The BHA’s announcement of a revision to the weight for age scale came as no surprise to me as I’ve said in this column before that three-year-olds have too big an allowance when they meet older rivals, particularly over middle distances and further.
The narrowing of the allowances is a step in the right direction, but every professional punter out there knows that an improving three-year-old is still going to beat an established older horse every day of the week, unless the older horse is particularly well handicapped.
What I feel would address the situation with all those hard-to-win-with older handicappers is a lot more high-end claimers, and I’ll tell you why.
In mixed age handicaps the older horses often just can’t win. If you have a specialist 7f horse who tries every time he races, which of course the rules say he must do, and the handicapper gives him a rating of say 85, you have to turn an awful lot of pages in the Racing Calendar before you come across a 0-85 handicap for him. You might wait up to four weeks for one, and then, annoyingly, there could be three the same weekend.
If you have a good, honest, genuine horse who does his best every time and finishes maybe second, third or fourth he will not come down in the handicap. The handicapper is doing his job, as he’s aiming to get them all to finish in a line, but that sort of horse will never finish in front of the line.
It’s different if your horse is rated 60 or 65 as there are races for them every day of the week. There are loads of races for lower grade horses and they are almost guaranteed to win races, albeit for only £2,000 or £3,000.
The horse running in a 0-85 might be running for £6,000 or £7,000, but he’s not going to be winning and the owner is suffering. It’s costing him £2,000 a month to have the horse in training, and he’s picking up just a few hundred pounds place money now and again which probably doesn’t even cover the transport to the track.
We need an ‘out’ for these horses in high-end claimers - races designed for horses worth up to £50,000 or so.
There was a claimer at Wolverhampton earlier this month in which my runner, Russian Realm, was claimed for £18,000 by Paul Midgley after finishing third. The winner, Flowers On Venus, and another runner were claimed too, but £18,000 was the maximum claiming price allowed..
Now Russian Realm is rated 92, but he’s turning seven in three months time and I only paid £19,000 for him last October. We had got lucky at Goodwood in the spring and won quite a valuable handicap, so in that instance everyone was happy.
The trouble is, there are so few of those races, and a maximum claiming price of £18,000 really isn’t enough. Those claiming values need looking at, as they’ve barely changed, although a yearling that cost £20,000 a few years ago might be £40,000 now
When we run in those races we are telling the handicapper he’s never going to win off his current mark, but if you are rated 85 and finish upsides two horses rated 75 the handicapper then has grounds to drop you. At the same time you are in there to be claimed for good money if someone fancies you.
If the owner loves the horse and doesn’t want to let it go he can put it in at an inflated value. If he’s not competitive the claiming price can be dropped next time, but at least you have options and matters are more in your own hands.
Claimers work well in America and in other jurisdictions. and we need to try the high end ones again. They weren’t successful last time, but that was years ago.
They are also a good option when you want to move a horse on, rather than waiting until October for the horses in training sale when there are thousands on offer.
It can’t be right that if you love the game and love having a winner you are better off having a horse rated 50 or 60 than one rated 80 or 90.
James Doyle is probably feeling a bit wounded by this week’s events, but I think it will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. It should free him up to take more outside rides.
James was going nowhere when Roger Charlton got him going, but he worked his arse off and it paid off big time. He's down again now, but if he pulls his finger out and grafts he will be champion jockey if he wants to be. I’ve no doubt that he is good enough.
One of his great strengths is that he’s not afraid to lose. I saw that for myself at close quarters when he was riding Kingman a couple of years ago and I was taking him on, first with Night Of Thunder in the St James’s Palace and then again on Toronado in the Sussex.
I did everything in my power to beat him, knowing that he was under a lot of pressure in that first year riding for Juddmonte. I tried to outfox him at Ascot by making the running, but he still dropped out on Kingman and kept his cool.
If the Godolphin job has made him a bit compacement this could be just what he needs.
I rate him.
We had gone two weeks without a winner until Nigel came good for us for the third time this year in the Newmarket Challenge Whip on Thursday, but they’ve been running really well, with plenty of near misses.
With Russian Realm gone Nigel is my highest rated horse apart from Barye, who is an all-weather horse. I got him off 78 and won two handicaps at Brighton with him, but he’s off 85 now and it’s going to be hard for him to win another, so the Whip was ideal.
He didn’t win any prize money, but it’s a beautiful trophy and his owner Philippa Cooper qualified to have a runner because she’s a member of the Jockey Club Rooms. You used to have to be a full Jockey Club Member, but they’ve opened it up and it worked out well for us.
It’s been suggested to me that the modern ‘toe in’ style of riding leads to more hip issues.
I’m not so sure about that, although I do know that when I was riding at my lightest the only thing that would cramp up was my hip. The hip would lock up when I was dehydrated, and I know other jockeys had the same problem, but I don’t think that was anything to do with riding ‘toe in’. More to do with wear and tear, I would have thought, but it’s not a problem for me now.
What I do know is that nearly all sportsmen have to manage physical issues. It’s part and parcel of the job in nearly every sport.
I think with jockeys it tends more to be knee and back issues. Knee problems are especially prevalent in the States, where so much racing takes place on an unforgiving dirt surface and they are always racing left handed. Just look at what Gary Stevens has been through. He’s had terrible problems with his knees.
Most of us get bad backs too, but a lot of that is to do with the hectic lifestyle we lead, getting in and out of the car, getting on and off horses and so on. And unlike most other sportsmen, jockeys tend not to warm up.