Talking Horses: Tiger Roll and the whole compression aggression

Chris Cook
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: David Davies/PA</span>
Photograph: David Davies/PA

After all this week’s palaver about whether Tiger Roll’s rating would be compressed for the Grand National, and if so by how much, I thought it would be good to seek some clarity on the whole issue of compression. I’ve always liked the basic idea as a necessary means of making the race more fair, but the way in which it has been applied from one year to the next has seemed capricious and unpredictable.

There is not just the question of how much the top-rated horse should be indulged with a reduced rating, but how many of those below him should be compressed. The answer has tended to sound like: “I’ll let A have 7lb, then B 3lb and 1lb each for C and D,” with no sign of anything like a mathematical formula.

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The lack of certainty leads to argument and then ill-feeling if connections don’t get the outcome they were hoping for, as we have seen over Tiger Roll. So why can’t we lay out specific guidelines for compression, somewhere on the BHA website, so that people have a clear idea what to expect?

Related: Talking Horses: Tiger Roll 50-50 to run Grand National after weight decision | Greg Wood

I was thinking of something like a sliding scale, so that, say, horses rated 170 or up might have a default compression factor of 5lb, declining to 1lb for those rated around 160. This works if, like me, you see compression as a final factor to be applied to a rating that you are comfortable with, a means of compensating highly-weighted horses for the expectation that weight will make more of a difference in such an extreme stamina test.

But the response I got from the BHA’s head of handicapping, Dominic Gardiner-Hill, suggests the compression factor depends very largely on the horse’s profile. “There are a number of factors taken into account when considering the possible reduction in a horse’s rating for the race,” he said. “High on the list will be profile of the horse concerned and previous course form.

“A well-exposed horse whose recent form has not been up to previous levels might well have his rating compressed slightly, as might a horse with no previous experience of the course, but horses with proven form over the fences are unlikely to dropped as much (if at all) and, in some cases, might even be raised a pound or two to reflect their course form relative to their park course form – this has been known as the ‘Aintree factor’.”

This muddies the water and kills my hope of clarity as to how compression will be applied in the future. It means the handicapper’s impression of a horse will rule supreme, even though that is already baked into the horse’s pre-existing rating.

I would have thought the effect of weight over an extreme distance would be something that would affect all horses, justifying a consistent use of compression in the National. The BHA approach suggests it affects some, but not others. It also marks the return in a big way of the “Aintree factor”, even though the handicapper, Martin Greenwood, told me last year that it was an outdated concept, “something a bit more from yesteryear”.

We can look forward to more compression aggression next year.

One For Arthur ‘better than before 2017 National’

One For Arthur is having a better buildup to April’s Grand National than in the year he won the race, his trainer suggested on Wednesday. Fife-based Lucinda Russell is enthused about the veteran’s chances and hopes to see a big run from him when he lines up at Haydock on Saturday, his first outing after a wind operation.

So much debate has been focused on Tiger Roll since the weights were published on Tuesday that it could be said none of the remaining 102 entrants are getting the attention they deserve. But it may be a mistake to overlook One For Arthur, whose handicap rating has dropped to 148, the same rating from which he won the 2017 National by four lengths.

A tendon injury kept him off the track for the next 20 months and he has had just five runs since but Russell said: “In my mind, he’s better than he was before he won the National, at the same stage of the season. The runup that we’ve had, he’s been feeling great. When he came back in the summer he was better then than he’s ever been and I think he’s continued that.”

<span class="element-image__caption">One For Arthur won the National in 2017 and trainer Lucinda Russell said: ‘When he came back last summer he was better than he’s ever been.’</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images</span>
One For Arthur won the National in 2017 and trainer Lucinda Russell said: ‘When he came back last summer he was better than he’s ever been.’ Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Thursday’s best bets

Sensationally, Leicester has passed a raceday inspection for once and we have jump racing. I’m enthused about the chance to back Everlanes (2.30) again after her emphatic win at Taunton, for which an 8lb rise was reasonable.

She had already shown in defeat on Boxing Day that she was going to be a lot better over fences than hurdles and there is chasing blood in her pedigree. Odds of 9-4 in a four-runner race seem very fair.

The market likes Quick Wave, which surprises me. Yes, she’s going right-handed after spoiling her chance by jumping to the right around Warwick. But, setting aside the tendency to go right, her jumping was less than impressive in other ways and she hasn’t been seen for nearly three months, during which time the Venetia Williams yard has gone a bit off the boil.

I was interested in Donatello Mail, who showed such improvement on his chasing and handicapping debut last time, but his odds are sliding out in a manner I find frankly discouraging. So my only other interest on the card is Vocaliser (2.00), who had been out of form for a couple of years until running second at Sedgefield last week, a breathing operation having possibly helped along with a declining handicap mark. He’s 2-1.

At Chelmsford, William Ashford (6.00) is interesting at 20-1 with Ben Curtis up. He’s very nicely treated on the pick of his old Irish form and his effort under a claimer last time was not entirely devoid of promise.

Vocaliser 2.30 Everlanes (nap) 3.00 Caltex 3.30 First Flow (nb) 4.00 Donatello Mail 4.30 Kashmir Peak

5.30 Garsman 6.00 William Ashford 6.30 Grandee Daisy 7.00 Solar Heights 7.30 Lucky’s Dream 8.00 Pitcher’s Point 8.30 Temujin

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