Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

'Allez France'

Mon 7th Oct 2019, 09:11

Waldgeist (right) comes late and fast to collar Enable
©© Photo Healy Racing

If nothing else comes out of yesterday's Arc can it be the putting out to grass of that phrase about a good horse going on any ground. Any horse can go on any ground. It's the velocity at which they go that counts. Enable came up short in her hat-trick attempt simply because of the extreme conditions. They used to be common for the Arc and the odds were they were due. The odds also were that even a supremely versatile talent like Enable would struggle to properly go on them.

That only Waldgeist managed to deprive her of the fairytale outcome testifies to Enable's quality. She had winning Group One form on soft ground. But any horse able to perform so fluently on fast summer going was in all likelihood going to find it difficult at Longchamp yesterday. Form rarely translates across all surfaces.

Yet she came within an ace of pulling it off. Once the emotion is removed that will raise her even higher in estimations that factor in non-statistical elements such as courage and resilience.

Some of the post-mortems will probably look at Frankie Dettori's ride and whether he committed too soon. All that's hindsight stuff. In reality Dettori didn't look comfortable soon after the start, an early sign that Enable was ill at ease. Her perseverance was to her credit. But in the circumstances she was always going to be vulnerable to a horse that relished the conditions.

Waldgeist was that horse and the fact he'd been soundly beaten three times before by his rival emphasises how crucial a role ground played.

The local horse could operate at his optimum while the visiting 'Rosbif' superstar was blunted. In many ways it was hark back to how the first Sunday in October at Longchamp used to be, in the days when Andre Fabre's dominance was absolute. An eighth Arc for perhaps the most singular figure in French racing history is a remarkable record.

The Arc weekend results also indicated reports of French racing's demise to be very premature indeed. Victor Ludorum looks another top class Fabre two year old although his Prix Jean Luc Lagadere victory only deepens the anticipation surrounding Pinatubo's reappearance in this weekend's Dewhurst Stakes. Armory finished less than a length behind Victor Ludorum despite being ill-suited by both pace and ground. It was a long nine lengths to Pinatubo at the Curragh.

The fact Pinatubo is due to line up at all is a positive step. It isn't that long since that sort of spectacular National Stakes display would have had such a valuable proposition handled with the sort of kid-gloves that would make a Dewhurst follow up commercially dangerous.

It's not just a parochial lense however that makes Albigna's Boussac victory on Sunday all the more significant. It came in the context of what Jessica Harrington is achieving with her team of two year old fillies all season. Their statistical strike rate was a feature through the summer and is now being translated into Group One international success. Albigna came a week after Millisle's Cheveley Park and the unbeaten Cayenne Pepper- maybe the best of the lot - is to come at Newmarket on Friday.

Pointing to Harrington being 72 years young flirts with probably more than just one 'ism.' But it's relevant in the context of a career which not so long ago was mostly focussed on the National Hunt game. That was a garlanded and pioneering career which could validly have allowed Harrington rest on her laurels. Instead she has transformed her operation.

It is now one of the most significant in Europe, not just Ireland. Should Cayenne Pepper win the Fillies Mile it would make for a hugely significant hat-trick on its own.

One last note on Arc weekend is the paltry two day suspension for careless riding Dettori got after winning a Group One on Anapurna. A lengthy stewards enquiry allowed Anapurna keep it, presumably because she was the best horse in the race, something that might help explain Dettori's late manoeuvre in veering dramatically left towards his two closest rivals.

Christophe Soumillon on Delphinia had to take swift action and did well to stay on board as the Ballydoyle filly got taken onto Enbihaar on her outside.

Under the old French rules it's likely Dettori wouldn't have dreamed of making such a move. Far from being careless it looked a calculated manoeuvre of a kind that's effectively encouraged by rules which invariably favour the transgressor because it's all but impossible to say with confidence what might have happened otherwise.

Jamie Spencer reacted furiously when squeezed up in a race at Lingfield last week, pointing out how the interference rules need to be examined but bemoaning how that probably won't happen until something dreadful happens. Sadly, he's probably correct.

Tuesday's budget will be keenly monitored given that last year the rate of betting tax got increased to two per cent. Horse Racing Ireland estimates that has resulted in an almost doubled tax take for the first eight months of 2019, also calculating that, applied across a year, it would produce a yield of nearly €95 million. That the move has put a lot of small independent operators under pressure will no doubt be irrelevant to those within racing who once again want such yields ring-fenced for them.

Such wishes are once again unlikely to be met, just as the implication that tax revenue covering the Horse & Greyhound Fund means the sports are somehow self-financed from betting is unlikely to persuade. The central point remains that Irish racing generates a fraction of overall betting turnover. Yet it receives the bulk of tax revenue through government largesse.

Next week jockeys riding at Canada's biggest track, Woodbine, will begin a two month experimental period when whip use will be restricted to the underhand position. Hits to a horse's belly or surrounding area will also be prohibited although that really should be a superfluous regulation anyway. Forehand strikes won't be permitted.

It will be interesting to see what reaction will be to the measures although it still feels like a halfway house step.

In terms of the whip, and establishing public perceptions of its use, the real experiment has to be in relation to ruling it out for anything but safety reasons. A time period when the whip is restricted to that will be a really valuable test. And considering whip use is such a pressing issue in this part of the world then there's no reason why such an initiative shouldn't be taken much closer to home.

That clearly will infuriate many within the horse game but there's a much wider public perspective to this. An indication of just how shifting the ethical sands are can be gauged by a recent missive from the US animal welfare group PETA who bemoaned the fate poor old Justify is enduring at stud as a "sex slave." Cruelty clearly has many faces!

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