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Winx The Great – But Not The Greatest

 

“Beep, Beep, Beep……” The alarm rings at half past five in the morning – on a Saturday. Autsch!

35 minutes to go until the gates crash open on the other side of the globe: Winx, the Australian wonder mare, is about to bring the house down at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse.

It’s her final final race – number 43, in a career that’s spanning over six years. Quite an astonishing longevity for a horse competing at the highest level of the sport. Even more astonishing: Winx hasn’t lost in 32 consecutive starts.

She’s not letting this one slip – consecutive victory #33. From the widest draw she settles in sixth position, travelling beautifully. The pace isn’t particularly hot, but jockey Hugh Bowman has nothing to fear: three furlongs out he allows Winx to stride on, she’s got to turn four wide, no bother. Once entering the home straight, the star mare hits top gear and sprints home in emphatic fashion.

Impressive: a 25th Group 1 success – no horse won more. Ever. Same goes for the astronomical amount of price money she’s amassed throughout her stellar career.

It was worth getting up early for this wonderful moment of racing history. Winx, now retired, will live on in our memories as one of the great champions of our sport. What she has done, again and again, over such a long period of time – given we know how fragile these creatures are – is simply astonishing.

The Debate: “The Greatest We’ve Ever Seen” ?

Racing fans across the globe arguing for some time about the true merit of her victories. Whether Winx is one of the best – if not even the best ever – or whether she’s merely avoided real competition hence she can’t be “a great”…. the debate is pretty black and white in many quarters.

True, Winx took on the same horses on many occasions. She’s beaten poor Hartnell eight times and Happy Clapper eleven times. We know the competition beyond sprinting trips isn’t quite as deep in Australia as it is in Europe.

Nonetheless, the saying goes: you can only beat what’s put in front of you. And the way she’s done it, backing her performances up on the clock as well, has been pretty sensational.

One number stands out for me: 76 – it’s the number of Group 1 winners she has beaten in her races. It’s hard to argue Winx is not top-class. She is! And with supreme class come expectations that sometimes stay unfulfilled. For example the hope to see her travelling over to Royal Ascot.

I’ve no problem with that. Personally for me it doesn’t diminish her achievements. Seeing them in the right context is vital, though. Because, as mentioned before, the debate tends to be black and white, while the reality rarely is.

In the 2018 Timeform Global Rankings Winx (133) took second place behind Cracksman (134) – there is little evidence to support the notion she’d been worse than that – but also not much better than that – this year. This isn’t a knock on the mighty mare. Winx is a true star of our sport. So is Arc winner Cracksman – greats of their time. But neither is in the category of “the greatest of all time”.

Seeing it this way is a fair and balanced reflection on the achievements of this brilliant mare, in my eyes. It’s what she is – or was; a brilliant, classy and incredibly sound horse, competing at the top level over a variety of trips; outstanding in her part of the world, reigning over any rival who tried to take the crown off her.

Oh so many wonderful moments for the sport of horse racing. Isn’t that what it’s all about? The special bond between horse and human, showing in the affection of the general public for the mare, none more so today at Royal Randwick, where it was – of course – a sellout crowd, and even outside of the racecourse hundreds lined up on the streets lurking through the fences, only to get a glimpse of Winx.

Let’s not argue about good or bad, black and white, best or worst – let’s celebrate the final chapter of a great career of a great mare – Winx, you’re a champion.

…….

Photo Credit: 7HorseRacing

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Tuesday Selections: January, 22nd 2019

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7.15 Newcastle: Class 5 Handicap, 7f

The British Lion won off 5lb higher over course and distance twelve months ago – that form looks strong and has been franked. He never went quite close ever since, though ran a few fair races in better grade and off higher handicap ratings.

The 4-year-old gelding has dropped significantly in his mark, despite two okayish efforts in his last two starts, which came after a break.

He Johnston yard is in fine order right now and The British Lion has another engagement next week Monday – so here are more than a few hints that a big performance can be expected today.

Selection:
10pts win – The British Lion @ 13/2 MB

……

7.45 Newcastle: Class 6 Handicap, 6 furlongs

The drift in the betting is a worry but I feel there is a strong case to be made for Bobby Joe Leg here.

First time blinkered, dropping down to class 6 for the first time, a 1lb below his last winning mark, even though he also was successful off 4lb higher, a CD scorer who has TS and RPR ratings that give him a top chance if he’s anywhere near that today.

The jockey booking isn’t inspiring, which is a concern – but James Sullivan only comes here for this one ride – let’s hope he make it count.

Bobby Joe Leg usually goes from the front. This looks to be a fast race. He stays a bit further as a strong 7f effort here at Newcastle last year proved. He may the answer to a tricky race.

Selection:
10pts win – Bobby Joe Leg @ 18/1 PP

Wednesday Selections: January 16th 2019

Newmarket Rowley Mile Winning post

6.00 Kempton: Class 5 Handicap, 6 furlongs

Another chance for Miracle Works after his recent third place finish at Newcastle over 5f. I was keen on him that day and that hasn’t change ever since, as he is stepping up to 6f again today.

The minimum trip was a bit too sharp as it turned out, nonetheless this imposing grey ran a fine race in a competitive race, finishing strongly to claim third.

Even though he continues to be a maiden, this is only his fourth Handicap start and the fact remains his handicap debut last year over course and distance off 2lb higher rates super form in this field.

Now the third time running after a break as well, after a pipe opener and the recent excellent performance, up to what appears to be his optimum trip off a mark he could still better – Miracle Works has a fine opportunity to get finally off the mark today.

Selection:
10pts win – Miracle Works @ 8/1 MB

Friday Selections: January, 11th 2019

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Finally a winner again after hitting the post a handful of times lately – The Right Choice (11/1) was the right choice indeed! He drew clear in the closing stages to land the 6f sprint after a hectic race that saw him under pressure at the back of the field right from the start.

……

6.45 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 2m ½f

Thresholdofadream looks certainly well in here of a rating of 55 after two highly promising efforts in October and November, her first tries on the All-Weather as well stepping up significantly in trip.

She was arguably unlucky not finish closer over 14f here at Wolverhampton and subsequently she should have won at Lingfield the way she finished, if not for her poor positioning way too far off the pace.

This race is in fact even weaker, so given Thresholdofadream remains unexposed on the AW and the trip as well as being still lightly raced, there is every chance for more natural improvement.

The only issue is the wide draw and her running style, which caused her to get into trouble the last two times. Drawn in 11 may see her confronted with the same sort of scenario. Thankfully top man Joe Fanning is on board.

Selection:
10pts win – Thresholdofadream @ 7/2 MB

Wednesday Selections: January, 9th 2019

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5.45 Kempton: Class 5 Handicap, 1m 3f

Distingo looks the dark horse, potentially well in here on his return to the All-Weather. But at given prices I’m even more interested in long-shot Gendarme.

Rossa Ryan, a good job jockey, has a fine record on Hannon runners, rides this lightly raced gelding for the first time on what is Gendarme’s second start after a break and gelding operation.

You can easily disregard his comeback run over too short 7f. He steps up to 1m 3f which will much more what he needs. The son of Lawman tries the AW for the second time in his career, a surface that should suit also.

On turf he ran well enough of his allotted marks; a 3¾ lengths beaten 5th in a hot 10f Leicester handicap on June is the pick of the form; he ran to TS 71 and a career high RPR of 78 – the forms holds up well.

Now down to a handicap mark of 69, the 4-year-old could be well handicapped with a good draw, track and trip likely to suit, so a big run is on the cards, and he could pay handsomely for it.

Selection:
10pts win – Gendarme @ 20/1 MB

…..

6.45 Kempton: Class 6 Handicap, 6 furlongs

Totally speculative but not without hope is Delagate The Lady here in a poor race. The filly hasn’t shown anything to the form book of note in five career runs. However, on her handicap debut over 7f at Lingfield recently she outran her 50/1 price tag significantly in my view.

She tracked the eventual winner and pace setter for most parts of the race – the winner wasn’t to catch, but she showed fair early speed crossing over from her 8 gate after the start and stretched the rest of the field by half a dozen lengths until turning home, still in front – bar the winner – entering the final furlong.

This daguther of Delegator drops to 6f which is a trip more to suit, her dam was an AW winner as well, and her mark is down to a lowly 48 now.

The draw isn’t ideal, but Kieren Fox makes the trip here for this only one ride. So hopefully that a good sign for the chances of Delagate The Lady today, on what is her second handicap start.

Selection:
10pts win – Delagate The Lady @ 23/1 MB

Opinion: Racing’s Problems bigger than ATR vs RTV

The TV landscape has changed and we’re now well within the first week of these new times.

Racing UK has taken over the rights to show Irish racing (as well as Chelmsford), while At The Races, the long-standing television partner of Irish racing, is gone from the scene there – they’ve bagged themselves the prestigious courses of Ascot and Chester in turn.

There is a rich history of why the rights have moved in first place – you can dig into all the wonderful details here.

I’m more interested in how this first week went and what it means or doesn’t mean for the future of racing.

From all what I could gather up until this Saturday it was a pretty unspectacular change. The horses still ran at Fairyhouse, Tramore and Dundalk – in fact the evening coverage of the County Louth track on Friday was fairly good with the likes of Gary O’Brien and Kevin O’Ryan providing insightful thoughts and analysis.

Today, the first Saturday of the new year, I had the chance to watch the now re-branded Racing TV throughout a complete day – a busy enough day, where they showed live racing from Kempton, Sandown, Wincanton and Cork.

Apparently there was a bit of moaning going on after Racing TV’s New Year’s Day coverage, which was equally a busy day, where it all was put to the test for the first time. And I can see why, as today was probably not a different experience to the one RTV viewers were treated to last Tuesday.

It was race after race after race. Bang, bang, bang. A little bit of analysis squeezed in before and after some of the races, mainly around Sandown, to a lesser extend Wincanton, where commendable Lydia Hislop did her magic with the little time she had – as she usually does!

In truth, this sort of experience isn’t anything new, compared to the busy days on the flat throughout the summer. What is different now: Irish racing. It has to be squeezed in as well.

And that is a bit of a problem. Simply because there was little to no time to squeeze any sort of meaningful analysis of the Cork races in. Certainly not before their respective off. At least afterwards we got to enjoy a few words from the guys in the studio.

But what can you really analyse if you’ve got the maximum lengths of four of five sentences to say before it’s off to somewhere else, because the next race is waiting in line?

It’s a tough spot for RTV on days like this, so I wouldn’t knock them for the coverage. They tried their absolute best. Ultimately we were able to watch all the races. At least that!

In saying that: you do not need a proper TV channel (an expensive pay-TV one that is) for a glorified live stream of all the races. The expectations on a TV channel, particularly a specialist channel like Racing TV, is one that does provide expert commentary, meaningful insights and proper analysis to all the races it shows.

I wouldn’t say that’s always what you got on At The Races in the past. But of course Irish racing was a premium product for ATR, so they gave it ample airtime – even during the busier days.

This is where Irish racing and Irish racing fans do miss out, if the setup remains as it is right now: i.e. all on one channel. I don’t think as negatively about the fact that RTV is behind a paywall, though – I did so in the past; not anymore.

Yes, ATR is much easier accessible as it comes with your standard TV bundle in most cases. But that doesn’t mean its audience figures are anything to shout about.

Anywhere between an average of 40-70.000 people turn in for ATR’s most viewed weekly shows with a paltry average viewing time of 1 minute (weekly, per person) according to BARB figures. Racing UK in contrast has about 50.000 subscribers.

So the notion that there’ll be much less eye-balls on the Irish product may not be totally wrong, but is probably exaggerated at the same time.

Least we forget that, at least in Ireland, the biggest race days and Festivals are shown on RTE. That’s not to say the “accessibility” issue is a non-issue. It’s real and in truth makes it more difficult for someone to discover racing zapping through the channels.

I would argue the problems of the sport of horse racing in general and Irish racing in particular are bigger than that, though. Because in earnest, those who already have an interested in the sport will find a way to watch the races regardless. Either subscribing to RTV, or by watching the ‘free streams” bookies offer if you have a bet in a race.

In fact, I have a few friends who live outside of the UK and Ireland and therefore have zero access to either channel on TV. Guess what? They still find ways to watch the races they care about as well as ATR and RUK. It’s not that difficult if you want it.

In my view the currently (still) ongoing discussion doesn’t tackle the real problems at all. The situation with the TV channels appears to be simply a ‘nice’ distraction. Something to talk about that anyone can have an opinion on even though in reality it isn’t really changing all that much that radically and certainly won’t impact the sport in such a negative way as some commentators want to make us belief.

There are issues, though, that do have a very real impact on the sport in the long run:
race day experience for race goers and owners or the changing public perception against racing horses – accompanied by a lack of public knowledge/education on things like the whip – which is directly in line with the most fundamental questions:

How to attract a younger audience?
How to create a steady flow of (new) racing fans moving forward?
How to create a better betting product?
Which in turn is also about this point: the availability of more data for punters and racing fans. Sectional times, as one example.

These are real issues. Or at least question marks. The problem of the future isn’t whether Barry in Newbridge can watch the 6.45 from Dundalk on his TV for ‘free’. Because he’s watching it on his mobile in the DART on his commute home anyway.

Now, coming back to Irish racing on Racing TV – I actually do trust RTV to figure out how to give Irish racing proper airtime, even on busier days. Maybe a second channel? Potentially a digital one?

Who knows. Times are changing. TV isn’t everything these days. Sport goes digital as well. In a few years, Terrestrial TV won’t have anywhere near the importance it still has at this moment in time.

One thing that Racing TV and all the relevant stakeholders involved have been rightly criticized for this week: the replay shambles!

Come on, you guys had months and months time to sort this out! It shows a general disregard for racing fans. The fact historic (prior to 1st January 2019) replays of Irish racing + Chelmsford are gone right now is not acceptable in this day and age. In any other industry heads would roll for this type of stuff.

At least, so it seems, light is at the end of the tunnel and a temporarily solution has been found.

With that, I am moving downstairs again to enjoy the rest of the Kempton card. A rather sedated experience with only one race every half an hour to prepare for, compared to the frantic pace of the early Saturday afternoon.

 

Saturday Selections: January, 5th 2019

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1.45 Lingfield: Class 4 Handicap, 1m 4f

Only three horses that realistically appear to be handicapped to go close here in my book: the short priced favourite, only his second AW start could defy the slight rise in the weights for his winning debut in autumn with a first tongue tie applied this time.

Trallee Hills is dropping down to a rather manageable mark if he could translate his turf form to the sand. Certainly Nylon Speed is the more interesting individual, but no value at given prices.

Really the most compelling case can be made for top weight Dutch Uncle. He changed yards over the summer after a pretty decent – albeit winless – winter campaign, mostly at Lingfield over 10f, finishing 3 out of 6 times in the money in much more competitive races than this one here.

A run to blow the cobwebs away on his Olly Murphy Debut, was followed by a much improved display in an Apprentice Seller at the end of last month. Obviously he was well entitled to win that one.

He did it in style, hard on the bridle. Judged through the runner-up this form looks good and proves Dutch Uncle is as good as ever, certainly on nearly the same level of form as last winter.

That is good, because he stays over 12f at Lingfield, a trip he’s not been racing often over, but he’s got a 2:1-2 record over. The most recent outing wasn’t the fastest race, but the way he saw it out incredibly strongly, accelerating easily without breaking sweat in the final two furlongs suggesting this could be his ideal trip round Lingfield, a place he always performs well at.

Dutch Uncle doesn’t need to improve to win this, he simply needs to run to his mark – which, he is well capable of seemingly.

Selection:
10pts win – Dutch Uncle @ 7/1 VC

…….

5.15 Kempton: Class 6 Handicap, 1 mile

More often than not I get it wrong when saying it – of course, this is horse racing, it’s hard to be overly confident – but I’m excited as heck because I feel Blue Harmony could be supremely well handicapped in this race!

The equation is a simple one: the filly has been dropped dramatically in her handicap mark, mainly on the basis of a string of poor showings which – in my view – came on the back of marks too high as a result of her maiden win and a couple of subsequent decent handicap efforts. It took a while to get the weight down.

But now, second third for a new yard after a bit of a break, she drops to a more realistic distance plus got another few pounds off thanks her most recent 7th place finish at Wolverhampton.

Looking back at race, for the first time of a rather realistic mark, but probably a trip still too far, things didn’t go to plan early on when the inexperienced apprentice jockey removed the hood way too late, the filly bumped into a couple of horses and was lit up.

She dropped over the next furlongs back in the field, finding herself turning wider than ideal for home and when attempting to make a run, she lost her footing, stumbling, losing all momentum.

She still managed to finish 7th in quite a hot contest – the form has worked out rather well for that type of low grade race.

Now down to a mark of 53, one has to remember Blue Harmony has been running to a TS 69 rating in the past and to RPR’s over 53 on on six out of nine occasions on the All-Weather.

Even more significantly she gets the assistance of competent 5lb claimer Megan Nicholls and has the additional aid of a good draw. The price on offer is way over the top I feel given how well this filly could be handicapped.

Selection:
10pts win – Blue Harmoney @ 15/1 VC/PP