Take the 20s West End Rocker for the National

I’m cautiously happy (as with all ante-post bets; they still need to get there) after the easy victory of Prince De Beauchene at Fairyhouse today, having tipped him at 25/1 for the National. He’s now as low as 7/1. Carrying just 10st 6lbs and still improving, given luck, he will have a strong chance.

My other fancy, and one I think will shorten from his current price of 20/1 (with Ladbrokes and Stan James) is West End Rocker. Alan King’s horse has several things going for him as a potential National winner: the primary one is his apparent love of the course. He jumped round in the Becher Chase as though enjoying every minute, a huge advantage. Not many horses love The National fences but those who do tend to run well again and again there.

He first tried these fences last year in the National where he was unluckily brought down at Becher’s.

09Apr11 Aintree   ( 36 Gd )

I was jumping like a buck and thought I was in for some ride but then got brought down – Robert Thornton

Back for Becher Chase in December, Wayne Hutchinson got him into a beautiful relaxed rhythm – probably more important at Aintree than any other track – and he won by 22 lengths.  Hutchinson said:

03Dec11 Aintree   ( 26 Hy ,RPR155 )

I thoroughly enjoyed that, what a ride he was. The key to him is he has to find his gear, he jumps from fence to fence and he wants these big, galloping tracks. I am sure he will be back for the Grand National. – Wayne Hutchinson

Hutchinson has won on all three completed rides on West End Rocker (pulled up in the other one) and, for a long time was a most under-rated jockey.  His talents have been revealed in the past few months when he took over as first jockey at Alan King’s temporarily (R Thornton was out injured).  He’s already been confirmed to ride the horse at Aintree and that’s another significant plus as he will once again try to get the horse switched off and into a rhythm.

Although the Becher victory was on heavy ground, he has no going preferences, another positive in ante-post betting. Over the 3m 5f  Becher trip he was staying on strongly (he’d previously won on heavy over the same trip at Warwick). Stamina won’t be an issue and he has also won over 3 miles so he’s not just a plodder.

West End Rocker has just 10st 12lbs and, with the 25s PDB long gone,  is now the value bet.

Good luck

Joe

Update on 11th April – Prince De Beauchene is out of the race (injured). West End Rocker is now as low as 10/1.

Changes to Grand National Course after review of 2011 meeting

Aintree Racecourse and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) today announced the interim findings of their review into the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National meeting.

The findings of the Grand National Review Group relate specifically to the Grand National Course and its fences, which will be subject to a balanced package of modifications with the aim of enhancing safety for competitors.

The balanced changes to the course and fences follow detailed expert analysis of all races run on the Grand National Course since 1990 (when the course was significantly remodelled).

In addition, consultation has been conducted with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare and invaluable input has been provided by leading trainers and jockeys in conjunction with the National Trainers Federation (NTF) and Professional Jockeys Association (PJA).

Work will now commence to ensure all modifications are fully bedded-in ahead of Aintree’s next race on the Grand National Course, the Becher Chase on Saturday, December 3, 2011.

Julian Thick, Managing Director of Aintree Racecourse, said: “The safety and welfare of horses and riders is always our number one priority at Aintree. This is the latest stage in our continuous drive to make the Grand National Course as safe as possible. The Grand National is an unparalleled challenge over four miles and four furlongs and this unique event is the most famous race in the world.

“It is not possible to completely eliminate risk in horse racing. However, I am confident the course changes we are announcing today will, over time, have a positive impact. We will continue to monitor this carefully and make further improvements and modifications to the course if required as part of our ongoing commitment to safety.”

Jamie Stier, Director of Raceday Operations and Regulation for the British Horseracing Authority, said: “These modifications are sensible and balanced. Aintree, our team of Course Inspectors and our Senior Veterinary Advisor have analysed DVD footage of races and fallers over the National Course since 2000. We have also received a lot of valuable feedback from our sport’s participants and welfare groups. I truly believe it all makes for a strong package of track changes that will enhance rider and equine welfare.”

 

The modifications to the Grand National Course announced today are: 

1. The landing side of Becher’s Brook (fence six on the first circuit and fence twenty-two on the second circuit) will be re-profiled to reduce the current drop (i.e. the difference in height between the level of the ground on takeoff and landing) by between 10cm (4 inches) and 12.5cm (5 inches) across the width of the fence. This will provide a more level landing area for horses. After the work is complete the drop will be approximately 25cm (10 inches) on the inside of the course and 15cm (6 inches) on the outside of the course. This difference in drop from the inside to the outside of the fence is being retained to encourage riders to spread out across the width of the fence and also to retain the unique characteristics of Becher’s Brook. The height of the fence will remain unaltered at 4 feet 10 inches (1.47 metres).

2. Levelling work will also be undertaken on the landing side of the First fence (fence 17 on the second circuit) to reduce the current drop and provide a more level landing.  By doing so, this amendment aims to avoid catching out horses that may ‘over-jump’ the (first) fence in the early stage of the race. The height of the fence will remain unaltered at 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 metres).

3. The Fourth fence will be reduced in height by 2 inches to 4 foot 10 inches (1.47 metres). It was identified during the review that fence Four and fence Six (Becher’s) were statistically more difficult to jump than other fences in all races over the National fences and this is the reason for this change.

4. The height of toe boards on all National fences will be increased to 14 inches (36cm). Toe boards are the orange board, positioned at the base of the fence and provide a clear ground line to assist horses in determining the base of the fence.

 

British Horseracing Authority Grand National Review continues

 

The BHA has launched a wider review of all operational aspects of the 2011 John Smith’s Grand National in April 2011, which is ongoing. The Review aims to explore all available options to reduce manageable risk to horses and riders in the world’s most famous race. The results of the full review will be published in October.

The Review includes consideration of the pre and post-race care of all horses in light of raceday weather conditions in recent years. A range of procedural modifications will be implemented in time for the 2012 John Smith’s Grand National meeting. The details of these modifications will be finalised and announced in due course. However, the Review Group is considering:

A new post-race horse wash down and cooling area off the course for all horses. 

Flexibility in the Grand National race conditions to allow for the shortening or removal of the pre-race parade. This would shorten the time that horses are mounted before the race in the event of unseasonably warm weather.

Maguire – whip should not be banned

Jason Maguire has spoken about the whip debate, claiming his ban after the Grand National was not the catalyst for the current whip review by the BHA.

“I did not go out to hurt Ballabriggs – we’re horsemen and we love horses,” he told the Yorkshire Post.

“I broke the rules and I got suspended for what I did. I accept that. It happened. But how would people have responded if I had not ridden the horse out – and got caught on the line? I would have been accused of not trying.

“There’s a lot of talk that the review has been pre-empted by my National ride. It has not. The National is just one race. We need to look at the whole sport. If you take sticks away, you will have horses refusing or pulling up before the final fence – particularly at a course like Towcester, with an uphill finish.

“Momentum is crucial to getting over an obstacle – and a jockey knows that the horse must come first. Would people be happy if there were races where no horse finished? You also need them for keeping a true course.”

Full article here

Backhand position only for whip most likely outcome of BHA review says David Muir, RSPCA consultant

David Muir, the RSPCA consultant who works closely with racing on behalf of the charity, has been in the news lately.  David very kindly gave me twenty minutes of his time yesterday to record the following interview. 

“Recent media coverage seems to have given the impression that excessive whip use has suddenly become an issue because of the Grand National and Jason Maguire’s suspension.  The fact is the RSPCA and myself have been concerned about incorrect use of the whip in racing for a long time, and I have done a lot of work on the issue with a number of people.

“Although the RSPCA have always taken a pragmatic view on the whip, and indeed on racing, things are now getting out of hand.  Unless something is done about excessive use of the whip, I can see it being banned completely and that is something I don’t want to see.  The whip is needed for safety and discipline in races but how do you quantify encouragement?  That’s the area that needs addressing.

“I’ve read Mark Johnston’s piece where he says that horses need to feel the whip as they tire towards the finish, for their own safety, to keep them running straight in a balanced fashion.  To a degree Mark has a point but what you can’t do is defend the indefensible.  If the application of pain is a necessary ingredient for racing, then I see racing going into an area that’s problematic.

“The whip is a work in progress.  The one used now in racing bears no comparison whatever to the whip used five years ago. If I’d have hit myself hard on the back of the hand with a whip from five years ago, I’d break all four fingers.  I could do it with the current whip and not even leave a mark.

“The current whip has a cylindrical core covered with foam.  As it tapers down to the part which strikes the horse, it flattens out into a foam covered paddle which gives on contact with the horse and the reduction in pain, compared with the old whip, is dramatic.

“Used in the backhand style, the whip is perfectly acceptable, it’s when jockeys change to the forehand there is an implication that they want to apply as much pain as possible, and that’s where I fall out.

“We need to make sure that the correct balance is reached in whip design and in its use by jockeys. Doubling the foam-covering for example would make the whip useless for correction and discipline purposes.  But used in the backhand position, I can never see a point in the future where I, or the RSPCA, would have a problem with the whip and that is the way I think the BHA will go with this.

“The only alternative I can see to that is that the whip is to be carried for safety and correction only, as in the current hands and heels races.

“The whole point of me, and the RSPCA working side by side with racing is to try to help understand both sides of the issues as we work to improve the welfare of horses.  It’s alright standing outside and criticising racing but when you are working with racecourse management and the BHA, as we do, you see the problems they face.

“For example, I’m working closely at the moment on a hurdle design project with students at Southampton University, which is due to finish next month.  For a year we’ve been looking at hurdle design. Along with four graduates, we’ve been examining design to see if we can improve safety in hurdling and reduce fatalities.  I’m not in racing simply to criticise, I’m there to work with those involved to try to improve things”.

On the question of disqualification of a horse if its jockey is found guilty of improper use of the whip, David said:

“The Jockey should be disqualified, not the horse. Disqualifying the horse affects many other people; owners, trainers, punters, the whole system of betting.  Just imagine a jockey who wants to actually lose a race, he knows excessive use will get the horse disqualified”.

I asked David if he was involved in the decision to ask jockeys to dismount immediately after the Grand National.  He said:

“This is another issue that’s been taken completely out of context. I’ve been involved with the National now for fourteen years.  When I first went there I fought like billy-o to get loads of water and I’ve got it now, about a hundred buckets and big tanks full of water with ice-bags in them.

“When the horses come in after four and a half miles, they’re very hot.  Tim Morris (equine science and welfare director for the BHA) gave an instruction this year to jockeys to get off as soon they got in, get the saddles off and get water on the horses to cool them down. It wasn’t just the winner that got the treatment, I must have thrown water over twenty or thirty horses.  It’s a welfare issue and a good thing for racing to do”.

Asked about the image the hurried scrambling with water gave to the public, David said, “I think there was a major PA problem there.  They should have explained what was going on.  It’s a bit like when the screens go up on the course; everybody just assumes it’s a dead horse but that’s not always the case.

“Racing needs to take another step forward in explaining things.  The whip is a classic example.  Most people don’t know about the structure of a whip and how it behaves in use.  We need to be more open and help people understand things much better”.

We touched on the situation in Australia where the RSPCA were instrumental in getting NH racing  banned in all but two states.  David made the point that there’s almost no resemblance to jump racing there and in the UK, in the quality and type of horses used.  He said:

“I can never see a situation where the RSPCA would support a call for the banning of National Hunt racing in Britain. Remember, what we are about is the prevention of cruelty and the definition of cruelty is ‘the gratuitous application of pain for the enjoyment of the person who’s doing it’. Now where in racing does the term ‘cruel’ fit?  Tragic?  Yes. Cruel? I can’t see that. The RSPCA does not try to justify the deaths of racehorses, but we will work tirelessly to reduce them. It’s a high risk sport and the RSPCA’s position in it is to help make it as risk-free as possible”.

On Towcester’s decision to have only ‘hands and heels’ races from October 5th onwards David said, “It’s a brave and positive way forward and I congratulate them on their courage and tenacity in the face of these recent concerns about whip use”.

Sam Waley-Cohen’s Aintree ban ‘denied common sense’ says his father

In an Oxford Mail interview concentrating mostly on the point-to-point interests of the Waley-Cohens, Robert Waley-Cohen commented on son Sam’s Aintree ‘offence’  Having fallen from Turko in the Fox Hunters’ Chase, Sam was among four jockeys who were handed suspensions for remounting and returning to the unsaddling area without their horses being examined by a racecourse vet.

Robert said, “I thought it defied commonsense,” he says. “At Aintree the distances are huge and I am glad to say in point-to-points riders are allowed to self-certify and remount their horses and ride back to the paddock.”

I commented on this blog and on twitter at the time the ban was announced that it seemed trivial, and, more importantly, inconsistent.

Had the incident involved the same four jockeys and horses but had taken place at a point-to-point, there would have been no offence and no punishment.  The BHA regulates both codes and it is silly inconsistencies like this which help prevent racing from presenting itself to potential customers as a fair and sensibly regulated sport.

If you can’t get the small things right, what chance have you with the Grand Nationals?

At the time of the bans, I had a lengthy debate with the BHA’s head of communications, Paul Struthers, asking him the question ‘Is the welfare of horses in point-to-points less important than those running at Aintree?”

I am still awaiting an answer.

UPDATE: Paul Struthers contacted me on twitter after redaing thsi and here is his verbatim response:

I really don’t recall an extensive conversation on that topic. If we have had one I’m sorry but I just don’t remember it. You certainly asked if I’d respond to some of the post-Aintree blogs but I’ve simply not had time I’m afraid, there’s just been too much on. As for RWCs quote, I very much disagree. And we do not regulate PTP in the same way as racing at all. We very much believe that the same rule should apply but the Point to Point Authority doesn’t currently agree. As for Aintree incident, what is so hard about waiting for a couple of minutes, having caught your horse, for the vet to clear the horse as fit to be hacked back?

You can follow me on twitter here

Joe McNally

Grand National ‘cruelty complaints’ from BBC viewers more than 10 times higher than last year

The BBC press office confirmed today that, from a peak audience of 8.8 million, they received 313 complaints about the Grand National, up from just 29 complaints last year.

After the 2011 Grand National, complaints regarding animal cruelty were at their highest in 10 years, mostly directed at the coverage of the horse deaths. The breakdown:

161 about coverage of horse deaths
103 people felt the BBC should not cover GN
8 from viewers unhappy with whip usage

The BBC press office points out that the degree of  general media coverage after the Grand National might have played some part in the increase in the volume of compaints.

Here is the BBC’s response to viewer complaints about the coverage of the deaths of Ornais and Dooney’s gate

We have received some complaints from viewers who are unhappy with how we covered the death of two horses during The Grand National on 9 April 2011.

In covering The Grand National, we have to strike a balance between covering the race as well as reflecting incidents that occur on the race track.

We reacted with as much care as possible given the very sad circumstances surrounding the death of the two horses.

We used the wide helicopter camera to cover any distressing scene as this provided the most distant angle available to us. We knew families with young children could be watching the race, so we tried to cover the deaths of the horses with as much sympathy as we could to ensure we minimised the distress this may cause our viewers.

Ultimately, our aim is to bring our audience the most comprehensive coverage of The Grand National; and we acknowledge that, when such sad events happen, it is hard to satisfy everyone with the manner in which they are covered

The breakdown of complaint categories from the BBC figures differs substantially from those reported by Channel 4 and the BHA where the main issue for complainers who contacted those organisations was whip use in the Grand National.  Full article here

The BBC also commented on another article I wrote prior to the Grand National regarding the effect of their coverage on the non-racing public.  Here is that article.

You can follow me on twitter by clicking here

Thanks

Joe McNally

 

Peter Toole critical but stable. Aintree provide racecourse cottage for Peter’s parents

Peter Toole remains in a critical but stable position in the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Liverpool following his fall at Aintree on Grand National day.

The 22-year-old suffered bleeding on the right side of his brain when Classic Fly fell at the first fence in the Maghull Novices’ Chase.

A statement issued by the Injured Jockeys Fund reports Toole has not yet regained consciousness, although he is able to breathe independently and is making slow but steady progress after being taken out of a medically-induced coma last Thursday.

He was visited on Wednesday by his boss, trainer Charlie Mann, together with jockeys Noel Fehily and David Crosse.

Crosse said on his Twitter page: “Just left hospital from seeing Peter Toole, he is making slight progress everyday, he is moving his hand and squeezing it when you hold his hand.

“Getting stronger in his grip everyday. He remains asleep but looks like he could wake at any time.”

Peter’s parents are staying in a cottage at the racecourse provided by Aintree and are said to be overwhelmed and comforted by the number of cards received.

Wellwishers have left messages on a Facebook page called “Get Well Soon Peter Toole”, which has 3,295 members.

About 1,700 posts urging him a speedy recovery were left.

Dominic Spiller wrote: “come on pete your a fighter and we all prayin 4 u at this most difficult time.”

Yvonne Davies said: “Come on peter want to hear you are up and about and making a nusiance (sic) of yourself by chasing them nurses round the ward!!!!”

Another by Ginny Bloomer added: “Thinking of you as always my friend. The weather is glorious and everywhere is so beautiful. My dearest wish is to see you enjoying the world. We and the horses need you. Sending love and hugs from us all xx.”

Angela MacDonald said: “Hello Peter, my daily get well message and hoping that today finds you still improving. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your family and all of your friends. God Bless x.”