Talking Horses: Master Debonair has Festival in sight after Power charge

Greg Wood at Ascot
<span>Photograph: Hugh Routledge/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Hugh Routledge/Rex/Shutterstock

For a race that is billed, by its current sponsor at least, as a trial for the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, the Grade Two novice here on the first day of the Christmas meeting has a distinctly lacklustre record as a pointer towards the future. Its winners often go on to run well at the Festival less than three months later, but -generally do so without ever seriously threatening to trouble the judge.

Master Debonair could yet prove to be another of those nearly-horses. He did enough in an eight-length defeat of the odds-on Ribble Valley, though, to suggest that a place in the frame at least will not be beyond him in March.

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Robbie Power seized the initiative immediately on Colin Tizzard’s gelding and barring a slightly clumsy leap at the final flight, never looked likely to surrender the lead. Ribble Valley, possibly the best two-mile novice on the northern circuit with a couple of clear-cut wins under his belt already, travelled well enough but looked painfully laboured by comparison with Master Debonair when asked to pick him up.

Heavy ground at right-handed Ascot is unlikely to bear much -resemblance to the conditions at the spring Festivals, but Tizzard is already plotting a path through the big meetings next year with only one more stop for Master Debonair before the Supreme, for which he is now quoted at around 20-1.

“He is a beautiful young horse,” Tizzard said. “He looked to me to be a better horse today than he was last time [at Ascot]. He won equally as well, and he was hardly blowing. He had really good bumper form and we were trying to hold him up. Now we drop him out in front, he drops the bit and then Robbie got a blow into him and he came right away again. It’s lovely to see.

“He’ll have one more run and then go for the Supreme. There’s been talk about running in a handicap but I’d love to keep him to novices this season to keep him fresh for Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown.”

Angels Breath was the winner of this race 12 months ago and set off as a well-backed 6-1 chance in the Supreme Novice Hurdle in March, but finished only seventh of 16 -runners. Ascot, however, seems to suit him perfectly and he took his record here to three-out-of-three as he beat a solitary opponent in the Grade Two Noel Novice Chase.

The victory came at a cost, however, as Angels Breath was dismounted on the track and returned with a cut on his off-fore leg.

“We’ve not brought him in [to the winner’s enclosure] as there’s a cut on the back of his off-fore tendon,” Nicky Henderson, Angels Breath’s trainer said. “They are going to clean it and wrap it up and take him home. Cleaning it is the most important thing as there’s a lot of muck out there.

“He’s done nothing wrong the whole way around [but] he was a bit untidy at one fence coming up the hill and that’s probably where he did it.”

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Some traders are ‘unregulated’, says BHA report

Some participants in the buying and selling of bloodstock in Britain are “in practice, entirely unregulated” and the whole process is in urgent need of “transformational and once-in-a-generation change”, according to a long-awaited report into sales industry practices published on Thursday.

The report, commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority and conducted by Justin Felice OBE, a former chief superintendent of Lancashire police, includes recommendations that all bloodstock agents should be licensed and that the BHA should take on overall responsibility for the regulation of bloodstock sales.

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Failure to act on the recommendations, Felice warns, would leave the industry “at serious risk of being publicly exposed by investigative media and/or those who have fallen victim to some of the improper practices [detailed by contributors to his report]”.

This, in turn, “would be likely to seriously damage the bloodstock industry’s reputation”.

The report lists four practices – secret profiteering, dual representation/commission, “luck” money and bidding up – which, though not described as being “endemic” in the sales process, are “unethical” and, in some cases, “potentially criminal” breaches of the Bribery Act (2010), the Fraud Act (2006) or the Criminal Law Act (1977).

Secret profiteering involves collusion between a bloodstock agent and a vendor to ensure that a purchaser pays more than the market value for a horse, with the agent and vendor splitting the difference.

In an example included in the report, a buyer might tell an agent they are willing to pay £200,000 for a horse when the vendor accepts its market value is £100,000. In agreement with the vendor, the agent will then ensure the bidding goes up to around £175,000. As a result, “in addition to the agent’s commission (usually 5%), the agent earns a secret profit of £37,500. The vendor also earns an additional £37,500 above the fair market value of £100,000 [while] the purchaser believes they have bought a horse that is below their maximum bid, so is happy and will use the agent again.”

Dual representation occurs when an agent acts for both vendor and purchaser while one or both parties are unaware of the potential conflict of interest, while “luck money” is a payment – in effect a “cashback” of up to 5% of the sale price – which is demanded from a vendor by an agent after a sale has been completed.

Many of the “improper practices” detailed in the report can involve bloodstock agents, whose activities – along with those of other stakeholders in the bloodstock industry – are currently self-regulated via the Bloodstock Industry Code of Practice, which was most recently updated in 2009.

The BHA, Felice says, should in future take charge of the regulation of all participants in the bloodstock industry, replace the 2009 code with a new version, which is “more robust and fit for purpose”, and introduce a licensing system for agents, with sanctions including fines and suspensions from auctions imposed for breaches of the rules.

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