Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

Drinking The Churchill 'Kool-Aid'

Mon 8th May 2017, 08:42

Churchill and Ryan Moore winning at Newmarket
©Healy Racing Photos
It's fair to say opinions are divided on Churchill's Guineas success. Either he's the next great or he got lucky. Dismissing as lucky a champion juvenile who proceeds to win the 2,000 Guineas seems very harsh indeed. Neither however can anyone pretend Churchill stunned Newmarket with his flamboyance on Saturday. But maybe showy brilliance is simply not his thing. To use the cliché, maybe he really is one of those horses who only does just enough.

One very knowledgeable racing professional says that's only proof I've swallowed the Coolmore 'Kool-Aid' about their latest big commercial proposition. In fact he's convinced this is prime example of how the Guineas really is every generation's last big two year old race: big, powerful Churchill got everything tactically perfect on the day and his less physically mature rivals got too much wrong. As for winning the Derby, well, they're still peeling him off the floor.

And there's no doubt Churchill is an imposing slab of a horse. He was physically precocious at two and hasn't exactly faded away over the winter. Just the shape of him alone makes one wonder about middle-distances, never mind whizzing around Epsom. Maybe all fingers at Ballydoyle are being kept crossed the upcoming trials provide them with a viable Epsom alternative to a colt whose relaxed style might be encouraging but whose pedigree is all speed on the dam's side.

There's also little doubt the way the Guineas played out will encourage the Barney Roy and Al Wukhair camps especially that circumstances conspired against them and they can get their revenge on Churchill if they ever meet again. Plenty did go wrong for them, some of it at least related to a pace scenario dominated by Ballydoyle through the fourth horse home, Lancaster Bomber. And yet I suspect Churchill would find a way again if they ever meet.

It mightn't be in Frankel fashion - and by the way can this fetish of viewing everything through the Frankel prism please stop - but it doesn't have to be. Wide-margin victories might get handicappers all a fluster but that's not the be all and end all. Giants Causeway barely won by more than a neck but kept winning. Sea The Stars would tail anything at his ease and then go no more than a couple of lengths past. It's substance that counts. Style is always optional.

In fact Churchill's performance was so un-showy it allowed attention drift to the tricky subject of pacemakers and how they might be perceived through the prism of the new Rule 212 here. Lancaster Bomber's form is largely all from the front, including when he won his maiden, so it was legitimate for him to help tow the field along. But how are horses who are there purely for pace-making purposes to be treated in future under the new rule.

Can the reasonable and informed member of the racing public be presumed to automatically write them off or is it potentially more problematic. For pacemakers not to be ignored they can't be just no-hope rags anymore. So that raises relevant questions about horses not only running on their merits but being seen to run on their merits which looks something of a technical minefield should problems ever arise.

Another potential minefield during the upcoming summer action is surely the issue of what constitutes suitable ground conditions for National Hunt racing.

Punchestown once again watered throughout the recent festival to ensure a good to yielding surface. That's considered the optimum too at Cheltenham and there are sound reasons for believing so in terms of horse welfare. So if that's the optimum it leaves the rather obvious question as to why the desire for such premium going seems to be optional at other less high-profile fixtures.

Of course the argument goes that at many Irish dual-purpose tracks it's simply not practicable to water for National Hunt racing and also provide proper fast flat racing ground. Roscommon's first fixture of 2017 for instance has a ground forecast of 'good, good to firm in places' for the flat and 'good to firm' for the jumps. It's hard to know what else they can do but should such conditions be acceptable for National Hunt horses.

Because if there's an obvious question there's an equally obvious answer which basically comes down to the lesser value of the horses racing on it. And that's hardly something racing wants to find itself standing over.

And finally I know it's over a week old but it's impossible not to hark back to Homesman's race at Limerick and ponder what it says about the interference rules that he was allowed keep it.

The Ana O'Brien ridden winner veered dramatically left in the straight, barged into Buffalo Blues who in turn hopped off Modern Approach, knocking her off balance. Nevertheless Modern Approach rallied to close to a neck of the winner at the line. Even by the arbitrary standards of the interference rules here a reversal of the placings looked to be a relatively straightforward decision.

However the stewards left things stand because they couldn't be satisfied the winner had improved its finishing position as a result of the interference. And if they couldn't be satisfied in these circumstances then it's reasonable to assume they're Jaggerish in their capacity to get no satisfaction. So that leaves us interference rules which basically says anything goes which is wholly unsatisfactory on any number of levels.

O'Brien had an unenviable job on her hands with a far from straightforward ride and in the circumstances a one day ban for careless riding had a perfunctory feel to it.

But it isn't a huge leap for riders in other circumstances to believe it worth their while to take a chance in a race, perhaps with serious consequences for others around them, since any token suspension will be regarded as a slap in the wrist in comparison to winning and keeping the race.

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