We’ve now seen three of last year’s star hurdlers make their debut over fences and all have come through successfully. Death Duty has won both a beginners’ and novice chase, while Finian’s Oscar never looked to be threatened following the slip from Alcala at Chepstow. This culminated yesterday in Yanworth’s victory at Exeter, where JP McManus literally made a flying visit. For what it’s worth I thought Yanworth was the most impressive of the three. Whist approaching the first few fences with a degree of caution, once he got the hang of it looked like a natural and had plenty left in the tank at the end.
So what have we learned? Well in truth probably not a lot, save that the issues the BHA announced it had addressed back in August have yet to be resolved. In a division dominated by small fields with short priced favourites, the problem was perceived to be that any horse finishing close to a highly-rated winner was then getting hammered in the weights. This provided little incentive to enter and a culture of sitting tight to preserve a suitable mark, once it had been attained. The handicapper, of course, refuted the allegation. In response to this the BHA announced a number of changes. The most notable of these was prohibiting a handicap rating increase in weight-for-age novice chases of Class 2 and below.
Whilst some trainers did not consider this the answer – Donald McCain pointed to a lack of mid tier novice handicap races – the BHA changes largely found favour, with notably both Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls speaking in support.
These changes were cited as coming into effect from October 1st and the evidence so far is that little appears to have changed either side of the Irish sea. Death Duty set off in his beginners’ chase at Tipperary at 1/5 and followed this in a novices’ at the slightly more appealing 4/9 in a field of five, with his nearest rival starting at 7/1. Finian’s Oscar was 1/3 at Chepstow in a four horse race, in which his only realistic rival failed to finish. My view of the 2/7 Yanworth yesterday is that he was never troubled and although six started, to call it even a two-horse race in reality is being generous.
When I was at the Season’s Opener at Exeter recently, by far the most sparse line up was in the beginners’ chase (there was no novice chase), where although competitively raced between the top two in the market, could only attract four runners. By contrast the meeting began with the novices’ hurdle, with an extra race added to the card to accommodate the numbers.
The BHA are to be commended for recognising the problem and seeking to do something about it. There was also no shortage of expertise on their working group which included Philip Hobbs, Emma Lavelle, Dan Skelton and Nick Alexander. However, the jury is still out on whether the solution has been correctly identified and in the meantime watching the newbie chasers at a meeting will often remain the least entertaining event of the day.
My condolences to the Gittins Family and all those connected with Fayonagh