Talking Horses: Timeform urges BHA to rethink approach on welfare

Tony Paley and Chris Cook
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The extremely welcome announcement last month that dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll is on target to try and win an unprecedented third straight win in the world’s most famous race next April ensures racing will potentially have its biggest single day in living memory, one that may stand comparison with the spring afternoon over 40 years ago when Red Rum completed his hat-trick of victories.

The unequivocal statement from the horse’s trainer, Gordon Elliott, put paid to concerns that the horse would duck the challenge, which had been prompted by comments from Tiger Roll’s owner Michael O’Leary and his brother Eddie, the Gigginstown Stud racing manager. The O’Learys warned the National hero may not be risked and, further, that he may not line up unless shown leniency by the race’s weights compiler, who can, for this one race in the jumps season, adjust what the top-weighted runners have to carry in relation to others in the 40-strong field.

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Tinkering with the National weights was introduced by the previous chief handicapper Phil Smith but the practice has been used less in recent years after the adjustments to the fences over the years and which, from 2013, have radically altered the Aintree spectacle.

Indeed, the respected ratings organisation Timeform categorically state in their new ‘Chasers & Hurdlers’ annual, out this week, that comparisons between Tiger Roll and Red Rum are “not useful” because the “fences are a far cry from those of yesteryear”, repeating their well-rehearsed argument that since 2013 the National has taken on the defining aspects of other conventional long-distance staying chases.

This year’s Aintree meeting still featured three deaths, including Up For Review at the first fence in this year’s National, and, featured, as Timeform point out, “a particularly grim sight for ITV viewers as Forest Des Aigles suffered an untreatable fracture approaching the final fence in the Topham Trophy”.

Horse welfare has become an increasingly hot topic and is the burning issue that takes up the bulk of the annual’s introduction and a number of Timeform’s traditionally long essays on the leading combatants in the latest jumps season.

Timeform urge the British Horseracing Authority to be more pro-active on the issue. Equine welfare is the BHA’s main priority and an industry-wide welfare strategy is expected by the year end with the way racing’s welfare standards are communicated a key part of the planned report.

Racehorse fatalities for 2018 were the highest for four years but, as Timeform point out, the “fatality rates are extremely low … and hardly warranted the headlines and attendant bad publicity generated by the BHA’s press release which should have given more emphasis to put the increase into some kind of perspective”. The long-term trend, they point out, has seen fatality rates fall to the current five-year average of 0.2%.

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“The BHA pledged to ‘stay ahead of public opinion’ in the wake of the latest increase, chief executive Nick Rust being acutely aware of the power of social media,” state Timeform, who conclude: “If the BHA feels and acts as if public opinion is snapping at its heels, it runs the risk of being chased into a corner form which it cannot escape. Rather then running ahead of public opinion, the BHA perhaps needs to do more to ‘protect the brand’ and even change public opinion.” Tony Paley

Timeform’s Chasers & Hurdlers 2018-19 is published by Portway Press at £75.

Champions Day action moves to inner track

Ascot has announced that the three round-course races on Saturday’s immensely valuable Champions Day card will be staged on the inner track, where hurdle races are run in the winter. The normal flat circuit remains waterlogged in places and officials now accept it will not be raceable by the weekend. This will be the first time the inner track has been used for Flat racing.

Wednesday’s best bets, by Chris Cook

Hurray for the return of jumps racing at Wetherby, where Sky Pirate (4.00) is the most interesting runner in the Bobby Renton. He took well to chasing without winning last season. Jonjo O’Neill has had this race in mind for some time, reasoning that a step back in trip might help this strong traveller. He’s 3-1 from the opening 5s.

It’s disappointing that Beakstown (2.55) is odds-on from the opening 9-4 but I guess this reflects a lack of confidence that Sam Spinner, his main rival, will thrive over fences.

The 11-2 is fair about Sir Egbert (5.05), who should be helped by the return of the hood and showed at times last season that his jumping can make a difference.

Bath 1.40 Hieronymous 2.10 Jeanie B 2.45 Stag Horn 3.20 Diamond Hill 3.50 Quel Destin 4.25 Lady Alavesa 4.55 Manucci 

Wetherby 1.50 Paricolor 2.20 Maria Magdalena 2.55 Beakstown (nap) 3.30 West Cork 4.00 Sky Pirate 4.35 Victarion 5.05 Sir Egbert (nb) 5.35 Antunes

Nottingham 1.55 Zegalo 2.30 So I Told You 3.05 King’s Charisma 3.40 Junooh 4.10 Ventura Flame 4.45 Afandem 5.15 Valentino Sunrise

Kempton 4.40 Twilighting 5.10 Pepper Bay 5.40 Pearl Jam 6.10 Cobber Kain 6.40 Khuzaam 7.10 Redemptive 7.40 Sagittarian Wind 8.10 Mabo

Southwell 5.25 Vallarta 5.55 Born To Destroy 6.25 Awa Bomba 6.55 Samovar 7.25 Lofty 7.55 Feebi 8.25 Break The Silence

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