Marten’s Perspective: The All-Weather Programme – A Cheater’s Charter?

December 7th, 2012 | Marten's Perspective

For those of us unable to enjoy the delights of a short break in the West Indies there would, at first sight, appear to be little to sustain our interest from the UK racing programme in the early weeks of the New Year.

The weather invariably plays a part as far as the jumping fixtures are concerned and, in recent years, we have even seen interruptions to the all-weather programme. This is, though, a time of great interest for those, like me, who like to seek out ‘plots’.

Even as I write there are horses running on the all-weather which are fast approaching winning marks. Certain trainers keep horses back for a mid-winter campaign. Tony Carroll has certainly been most effective in this respect over the years, while John Butler also seems to be doing something similar.

Although the majority of owners probably don’t bet seriously – at least that is my experience – there are undoubtedly a handful of horses which are primed with a view to landing a touch.

The connections, though, need to have a fine understanding of the all-weather calendar because the horses in question are mainly older handicappers who tend to win only when they drop to their mark. Furthermore, they don’t have many chances because due to their age they are unlikely to have the scope to improve sufficiently to win from a raised mark.

The market is not always a guide, as I have written on previous occasions, but in the case of these horses it has to be respected.

Regarding the manner in which the horses are campaigned for the majority of the time, it would probably be fair to say they are brought along with one day in mind.

I have long said that a good trainer needs to be able to train a horse to lose. This may seem perverse, but whenever I have shared this view with trainers renowned for their shrewd placement of a horse they have not disagreed.

Blatant stopping by a jockey is, in my experience as an owner and racing professional, quite rare. It does not happen as much as the conspiracy theorists would have you believe. Even if a jockey is aware that his mount is not fancied or ‘wanted’, I know of very few who would actually make efforts to stop it from winning if faced with that prospect.

However it is not uncommon to see horses given a ride which is against their best interests.

For example, a horse which needs to be held up may make the running, in the knowledge that it is not fit and will probably tire and weaken. One trainer renowned over the years for landing massive touches often has his unfancied horses ridden this way. Indeed, there have been occasions when I have seen them a few lengths clear turning for home only to weaken quickly shortly afterwards and finish last.

Horses can be left in their box for a few days and miss work. Others are raced over the wrong trip, either short of their requirements or over a distance beyond their best. Then there are some with a preference for racing one way round, say left-handed rather than right-handed. The surface can matter as well.

More essentially horses of this type need to be in their grade.

Obviously there does come a point when a horse cannot drop any lower. One trainer renowned for his touches told me that 48 was his favourite mark for a horse. This is 2lb inside the 0-50 bracket and there is not really any lower for the horse to go.

Another important factor is the jockey. One rider who seems to be very popular on horses of this type is Adam Kirby. He has developed into a very good all-weather rider in recent seasons and is invariably the man trainers go to if they have one ready. He has a fine sense of pace and judges his finishes to perfection, often coming from well behind.

The all-weather programme is designed to offer opportunities to low-grade horses. Such animals win only rarely and have to take their chances when they can.

Regarding the subject of this piece, there is certainly what I would describe as ‘creative placing’ in many cases but I would not say that amounted to ‘cheating’. Punters will inevitably be backing horses which are neither fancied nor, in some cases, even fit enough to win. However anyone who takes the trouble to look into the history of the horse in question will not be backing it.

As for horses to watch for, here are a few names to keep in mind for the next few weeks.

Pipers Piping now looks poised to win. He caught the eye when making late headway from off the pace last time at Kempton and will drop from 58 to around 56 following that run. He has won eight races in his career, from marks of 52 to 65, so he is now comfortably within his winning weight range. Five of those victories have come at Wolverhampton and since moving to John Butler from Alastair Lidderdale he has beaten home just seven of the 61 rivals he has faced.

The Bay Bandit, also a winner at Wolverhampton last season, is another to note. The handicapper has not been very considerate in his case, holding him on 53 despite finishing in mid-division in his last three races. In fact since winning in March he has been beaten five times, finishing third, second, seventh twice and eighth, but has not dropped a pound from 53. He is, though, one to keep tabs on for a return to form soon after Christmas.

Douze Points was another who found his winning form at Wolverhampton last spring. That was from a mark of 48, after which he was raised 13lb to 61. After twice finishing second, off 61 and 63, he was raised to 66. He is now down to 64 and I expect to see him return to form when he drops to a mark around the mid 50s.

The horse I am most looking forward to this winter is Prohibition. Formerly trained by William Haggas, who thought quite a bit of him, he won twice for Alastair Lidderdale last March off 52 and 56. After a few more runs he switched to John Butler, for whom he has run three times finishing last of 10, last of 13 and seventh of eight. He is now down to a mark of 53, from a high of 61, and so falls nicely within his strike range.

Youm Jamil has won only one of his 22 races but he has dropped 9lb, from 68 to 59, since joining Tony Carroll from Fergal O’Brien. Connections may want him to qualify for 0-55 grade before having him ready to win.

Shalambar has landed touches for his owner when wanted, most notably when he won over hurdles at Doncaster in January, 2011. He followed up a fortnight later at Warwick and was then prepared to win on the Flat, making all to win a 1m 4f 0-55 at Kempton in November, 2011, from a mark of 55. He won again there in March, off 65, and he is now down to a mark of 67. Shalambar is a horse that has served his connections well since coming over from Ireland. I have little doubt that he will soon be winning again.

I hope these six horses provide you with a little interest in the weeks to come. Each one is either fast approaching its winning range or is already there. Keep tabs on the market for early clues.

Bye for now

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