It’s been a terrible few days for British horse racing, as the sport was shut down for at least a week due to an outbreak of equine flu.
Late on Wednesday evening the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced three cases of equine flu, which we later found out had come from the Donald McCain yard, which led to the cancellation of all horse racing in Britain on Thursday.
Events moved quickly with the BHA announcing on Thursday: “Precautionary measure to restrict the movement of thoroughbred race horses and prevent any further spread of the virus”.
Over 100+ stables were effectively put in lockdown, and couldn’t have runners until their yards were confirmed to be free of the infection.
BHA also announced there would be no racing in Britain until Wednesday 13th Feb at the earliest.
The early consensus was of the opinion that the BHA has acted promptly and efficiently. To lose a weeks racing, with the bigger races possibly being rescheduled, seemed a small price to pay to help deal with the spread of such an infectious disease.
Doubts Are Voiced…
However, some in the racing world seemed to voice doubts about racing’s shutdown.
Nigel Twiston-Davies told the Racing Post’s Graham Dench that ” It’s a massive overreaction. All horses are vaccinated, and so when they do get it, it’s not really anything to worry about. They get sick, but not that sick – just a snotty nose and temperature.
I should think every trainer in the country has a horse with a snotty nose, and what you do is take blood tests, take tracheal washes and take their temperature, and if they’re clear they’re all right.
Flu is endemic in the whole horse population and what I think the BHA will find is that they’ve opened a can of worms and that every trainer has two or three”.
To a certain degree I can see where Twiston-Davies is coming from, but how incompetent would the BHA have looked if they had allowed racing to resume at the weekend and then other cases of equine flu started popping-up in horses that had run, which then went on to expose it to more horses back at their stables.
The priority of racing authorities was surely to contain and isolate the spread of the flu, and if that meant suspending racing until those stables has been cleared then it seems a correct decision to take…
…But Hopes Rise That Racing Will Return Next Week
At the time of writing this post on Saturday evening some 174 active racing stables were effectively in lockdown, until tests had been carried out on all their horses.
On Monday the BHA will decide if a resumption of horse racing can take place on Wednesday.
By Saturday evening results of the tests were coming through and with no new cases of flu from the third of horses tested by the Animal Health Trust the numbers are good news.
The ever excellent Chris Cook in the Observer reported “ A midweek resumption for horse racing appears a lot closer following news on Saturday that no new positives have been found for equine influenza, after scientists had worked night and day at the Animal Health Trust to process swabs taken from hundreds of racehorses”.
Still, with the results of two thirds of horses yet to be reported, we can’t say that all horses will be free of the virus.
The quandary for the BHA will be what to do if there are few more cases found in the final horses to be tested?
Surely the racing show will return, if not Wednesday, at least for the weekend. If any cases do come to light, as I am sure they will, the sensible decision would be to shutdown the stables concerned for a few weeks.
I do think that racing will return this week, maybe not on Wednesday, but certainly by Saturday. If it doesn’t, I’m not sure when the BHA would be in a position to bring it back.
Cheltenham Festival 2019
Last Monday, I began a series looking at a Cheltenham festival race from an ante-post perspective. The Champion Hurdle was the race in focus. This week I am looking at the Ryanair Chase.
Ryanair Chase – Ante Post Preview
Last year’s Ryanair was won by the sponsors with the Henry De Bromhead trained Balko Des Flos.
Min, trained by Willie Mullins, became the race ante-post favourite for the race after his win in the 2m 1f Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival.
I have yet to be convinced that in a championship race like this, 2m 5f plays to his strengths. He takes a strong hold in his races, and the Cheltenham Hill takes some getting used to especially if they have gone a decent gallop.
I’m not saying he can’t win a Ryanair, I am just saying that his best distance is a strongly run 2m. For that reason, I think he can be taken-on from a value perspective.
Mullins could also saddle Footpad and Un De Sceaux. There is nothing really between them and Min, although Un De Sceaux really needs soft ground to win at this level these days.
Monalee, trained by Henry De Bromhead, who was runner-up to Presenting Percy in last year’s RSA Novices Chase, looks set to take his chance here. He was backed in the ante-post market last week.
The 8-year-old is a bold jumper, and has a good chance of giving his trainer another win in the race, but he looks plenty short enough in the betting now.
Waiting Patiently, may not even run, but he would need soft ground if he’s to take his place. There’s no doubting he has the class to win the race, but I am not sure a track like Cheltenham really suits. Politologue is also definitely classy enough to win, but he’s a better horse on a flatter track.
So, with doubts about the market leaders, at bigger prices I like the chances of the Gordon Elliott trained pair Shattered Love and The Storyteller.
Shattered Love is owned by the sponsors, and won the JLT Novice Chase at last years’ festival. The 8-year-old ran Min to 1 ½ length in the Garde 1 John Durkan back in December. She was well beaten in the 3m Garde 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas. Questions to answer after that run, but at least we know she likes Cheltenham.
The Storyteller won the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase over C&D at last year’s Festival. Previously, he been a very lucky winner of the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival.
The 8-year-old wasn’t beaten far by Min and Shattered Love in the John Durkan. He hasn’t been disgraced in two subsequent runs in Grade 1’s over 3m on his last two starts. He looks to be heading to Cheltenham after a decent preparation, and the return to C&D will be very much in his favour.
Ryanair Chase Verdict
Min looks plenty short enough in the betting to me, although he’s more than capable of winning the race. At an each-way price I like The Storyteller. Granted ,he needs to find more to win a race like this, but his jumping has been better this season, and the 33/1 available with Bet365 (NRNB) looks great each way value to me.
Given the uncertainty about racing taking place next week. It’s not really worth going into much detail about next week’s stats. But I have one Irish trainer whose worth noting should he have runners in the next week or so.
Liam Cusack is the trainer, and it’s worth looking out for his National Hunt runners who finished outside the first three on their last start, but are well fancied 12/1 & under on their next start.
Since the start of 2015 the trainer has produced the following set of results:
12 winners from 45 runners 27% +35.75 A/E 1.9 26 placed 58% (+56.88).
Compare that with his record with runners 12/1 & under that had finished in the first three on their last start:
8 winners from 40 runners 20% -7.08 A/E 1.1 19 placed 48%
Clearly, Liam Cusack is a trainer whose runners can bounce back from a moderate last run especially those that are well backed before the off.
Until next week when, hopefully, I will be reporting on some actual racing.
All the best,
for The Race Advisor