This Is Getting Personal …

September 21st, 2020 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

I have seen some clever touches landed in my time in racing, but in the majority of cases I have been able to account for them logically.

For example take the case of a relatively well-rated horse, who was then run down the field for a year, only to collect when wanted from a much lower mark.

This applied to many of Barney Curley’s touches, in his case running German Group winners in claimers, with their marks dropping 5 to 10lb a race until being found a 0-55 or lower rated contest and returning to winning form.

With this particular type of touch it’s simply a question of knowing, or guessing, when the day has arrived. The market is, invariably, a strong guide.

However in the case of last week’s Navan handicap hurdle winner Dreal Deal there was nothing to go on, a 12-race maiden beaten 34 lengths, 75 lengths, 66 lengths, 58 lengths, 61 lengths, 64 lengths and 51 lengths in his seven previous starts over hurdles.

Furthermore, three of those last four starts were in handicaps, off 88 and twice off 87, with a few sketchy jumps thrown in.

He had, in fairness, displayed a modicum of ability when running for the fourth time on the Flat in a 7f 45-65 at Cork in August, outpaced at halfway before staying on under hands and heels inside the final quarter mile.

He had also shaped quite well when runner-up in a maiden point-to-point at Ballindenisk, staying on to go down by a length.

So there was something to work from, but that would apply to almost every horse if you were subject to ‘confirmation bias’ – the tendency to favour and recall information that confirms one’s prior beliefs or values.

Yet even allowing for that slim evidence of ability, it was the manner of the five-year-old’s victory that set the tongues wagging, chiefly due to his having been backed from 20/1 the night before to 6/4.

Stepped up to 2m 6f for the first time, his chance was almost lost at the first when he forfeited about six lengths with a bad mistake, almost unseating his rider and dropping back to last.

However thereafter he travelled smoothly on the bridle before winning by six and a half lengths, with something to spare.

Trainer Ronan McNally, to his credit, spoke to Nick Luck on his Sunday programme about the gamble, stating that he backed the horse at 3/1 and again at 9/4.

Dreal Deal has been raised 19lb following this victory, around 7lb more in my estimation than you would expect for a victory of this nature.

McNally has since said that he is “totally disillusioned” and that he only “trains horses for fun”. He believes that he has been made a scapegoat, with “one rule for the bigger guys and one rule for the small ones”. He has since updated his recollection of his bets, saying that he “thought” he had backed the horse at 3/1 but on looking at his account the biggest price he backed him was 9/4, and then again at 6/4.

That is, to my mind, of no great issue. Everyone has friends who are only too willing to help things along when it comes to getting a slice of the early action.

To my surprise McNally says he paid 50,000Euros for Dreal Deal after he ran second in his point-to-point. He added that he didn’t have a winner from November to July, in part due to the presence of aspergillus in the hay which made the horses sick. Since then they have recovered, with The Trigger landing five victories in a row.

This is a tricky one to resolve.

The case has been passed on by the Navan stewards to the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board referrals committee for further investigation. We await their findings with great interest.

What we can be sure of is that the race would not have attracted such a furore had it not been for the market move. If the horse had started at 20/1 or more, as his form suggested he should, then nobody would have said a word.

It’s the implication that someone has ‘had it off’ by deceiving the ordinary punter in concealing a horse’s ability.

I have said for a long time now that a good trainer has to know how to train horses to lose as well as win. Sir Mark Prescott is good at it. So was Martin Pipe.

There’s no suggestion of deception. In their case the horse in question was probably not capable of winning over that trip or because of its condition at that time.

The difference with Dreal Deal is that the form the horse showed at Navan bore no resemblance to the form shown over hurdles on his previous starts. And the market support clearly indicated that someone was anticipating a more positive display. The step up in trip was a factor, but then looking at the race the horse would probably have won at two miles.

Punters will put up with canny placing and a long-term plot but they don’t like feeling deceived.

This has touched on emotional sensitivities.

It has become personal.