Enable v Winx – Let’s get it on…

Horse racing is a hard sport to promote effectively in advance, due to the sheer number of variables that can end up changing a race or ruling out individual horses at short notice. So it will always prove difficult, if not impossible, to generate a ‘Mayweather v McGregor’ style clash where anticipation can build in the months prior to the event.

That said, the way this flat season has panned out, there does appear to be one heavyweight clash that is just begging to be staged, even if it means holding our breath right up until declaration day. Right now you have the Aussie champion, Winx, on a winning streak of 20 and Enable, the European champion, who has won her last six, including the Oaks, King George and Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe.

At the time of writing, the plan for Winx is to prepare her for a defence of the Cox Plate before potentially gearing up for a three race campaign in Europe next summer, apparently ‘over a variety of distances’. And as for Enable – in the aftermath of her stunning Arc success yesterday, there seemed to be a strong suggestion from her connections that she was very likely to race on at 4yo, with the ultimate goal being the defence of her Arc title.


In terms of their optimum trip, Winx’s best ever run probably came over 10f when winning last year’s Cox plate (and the longest trip she has been successful at Group 1 level is 11f). Enable, meanwhile, has only contested Group 1s over 12f. However, watch yesterday’s Arc back and one of the notable elements of her display was how keenly she raced deep into the race, before she burst clear of her rivals with a telling turn of foot. It’s hard to believe on this effort that Enable would have any trouble whatsoever stepping back to 10f – and there’s also a chance she might prove to be even better over it.

So the obvious ‘fair’ trip for any clash would surely be 10 furlongs. The obvious races? Given Winx’s plans, it could be any one of the big midsummer 10 furlong races – the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown, or the Juddmonte International at York. The prestige of Royal Ascot could make that favourite in terms of where Winx would end up, but given who owns her, perhaps the most likely of the three for Enable would be the Juddmonte International at York. Whatever, maybe in the spring next year when hopefully both horses are on target for the season ahead, connections can pick up the phone and get the race on. It would potentially provide the best Horse Racing match up since Sea Biscuit and War Admiral (and you probably have to be over 90 to remember that one!)

Right now, Timeform have both fillies rated 134, while the Racing Post have Winx’s best effort standing at a Racing Post Rating of 130 and Enable’s at 129 – so it really couldn’t be much closer and with home advantage factored in, Ladbrokes make the match 8/13 Enable and 6/5 Winx should they meet in 2018.

Cracksman decision still wrong…

Inevitably after Enable crossed the line at Chantilly yesterday, Twitter burst into life…

“Cracksman’s amateur race programmers have gone quiet.”

“There’s your Cracksman explanation. Gosden knew he couldn’t beat her.”

Etc etc.

Given what happened yesterday, you’d have to say it would have been unlikely that Cracksman would have won the Arc had he contested it. But – that doesn’t mean the decision not to run him was the correct one.

The problem with decisions is you have to base them on the information you have at the time you have to make the call, not with the benefit of hindsight. I remember Tony Blair making this point ad nauseam during the Iraq inquiry. Regardless of what you think of him or his decision making, he was merely asking to be judged on what he knew at the time, NOT based on what everyone knows now.

At the time the Cracksman call was made, there was roughly a 50% chance that Enable would win the Arc and Cracksman probably had around a 20% chance (in fact, that would have turned out to be lower given how many Coolmore horses showed up – I reckon he’d have been around 7/1 or 12.5%). Was it the right call to skip the race given that information at the time? I’d still say no – and even though he probably wouldn’t have won, his owner didn’t even get the pleasure of finding out, which is surely the point of owning racehorses in the first place!

Plus, now there is a chance that they will turn up at Longchamp next year with 8lb more on their back, no Dettori to ride, Enable in opposition and having to give weight away to some talented three year olds. Doesn’t sound like a situation worth waiting a year for to me…


Crackers not to run Cracksman in Arc

Everything moves in and out of fashion. Right now there is a bizarre (and slightly unhygienic?) trend of men not wearing socks with suits, for example. So if that’s ‘in’, then it seems that logic and reason are firmly ‘out’ – “soooo 2010, darling”. You see, ferocious hurricanes are now caused by lesbian mayors and not by climate change. And depression doesn’t exist apparently – you just have to ‘man up’. People have had enough of experts, so now we just listen to whichever demagogue shouts the loudest.

And our irrelevant little world of Horse Racing isn’t immune to this trend of logic removal either. Take Cracksman. Impressive wins in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York and the Prix Niel at Chantilly today have elevated him to being pretty much the undisputed leading 3yo middle distance colt in training . Young, talented, classy, progressive, handles all ground – you couldn’t wish for much more in a prospective Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe contender.

Alas, there is a problem. Cracksman’s trainer, John Gosden, also trains the favourite for the race – the brilliant Enable – and appears to have sold to Cracksman’s owner, Sir Anthony Oppenheimer, the idea that Cracksman will make a better four year old and that he needs to be protected with next year’s campaign in mind. And Frankie Dettori, Enable’s (and Cracksman’s) regular rider is playing along with this tale. He can’t ride both of them, of course…

Now, it is possible that Gosden and Dettori are correct and Cracksman will make up into a better four year old. It’s great for the sport that he stays in training and let’s hope their judgement is proved to be correct. However, in the context of running in this year’s Arc, this opinion is almost totally irrelevant.

Decisions such as these surely come down to simple risk versus reward. The ‘risk’ of running Cracksman in this year’s Arc is that he endures a hard race in defeat and that this in some way compromises his future career as a racehorse. But this is a minor factor when we are considering a late season race. Whatever happened in the Arc (bar an incredibly unfortunate injury, which could happen in any race), Cracksman would be able to enjoy a holiday over the winter with plenty of time to recuperate and return to his best for next season.

And what of ‘reward’? There is a famous quote from Federico Tesio –  “The Thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended, not on experts, technicians, or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby”. 

I reckon if Tesio were around today, he might revise the last part of that to the ‘the winning post of the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe’, such is the modern day status of the race. Even if he didn’t want to revise it, the fact is that Cracksman failed to win the Derby, but has a massive shot of winning the Arc (he’d probably start at 3-1 or shorter if lining up). History tells us that three year olds have an excellent record in the race – since 1990 the race has been won by them on 19 occasions, compared to just 8 wins for four or five year olds. And it is an indisputable fact that, all other things being equal, Cracksman will need to improve by eight pounds as a racehorse just to stand still in terms of his chance of winning this race next season (as 4yos carry 9 stone 5 lb compared to 8-11 for 3yos).

It is also worth asking whether all other things are likely to be equal in a year’s time. Enable aside (and she’s had a hard enough campaign), this year’s Arc looks incredibly weak. The French barely have a credible contender, Japan’s hope, Satono Diamond, bombed out today and Ulysses and Order Of St George, who feature prominently in Ante-Post lists, would probably be racing at too long and too short a trip respectively. Next year? Who knows, but in an average year you would expect a far stronger field to line up and if a star three year old emerges, then conceding a significant chunk of weight to them could prove an insurmountable challenge, even for an improved Cracksman.

So, it’s really very simple isn’t it? A mind blowingly obvious decision – a horse with a near ideal profile with a great chance of winning the most important horse race in the world.

And for the final irony – surely even Enable’s owner, Khalid Abdullah, would love to have Cracksman in the race? If his star filly fails to win the race, then what better compensation could there possibly be than to see his star stallion, Frankel, land the biggest prize in the sport?

Let’s finish with another quote – from one of horse racing’s greatest orators. (OK, I have doctored it slightly for effect, replacing the words ‘handicap mark’ with ‘hard race’, but who cares…)

I am not worried about a hard race. I think that if you have a mature three-year-old that stays a mile and a half well then you are a bit of a wanker if you worry about a hard race. I prefer in life to throw the big dice.’ –  John Gosden

John – it’s time to roll the big dice…


(Disclaimer – I haven’t backed Cracksman for the Arc and neither company I work for has a significant position on the race either way. I speak only as a fan of the sport)

Whips, Brexit, Gogglebox and The Trials

Those that inhabit the rather strange world of Horse Racing social media may have found themselves getting involved in various debates over the past week, relating to how the sport – the ‘great game’ as we all like to call it – could better itself. (Blame the Racing Post by the way. They started this…)

You’ll probably be relieved to know that this blog will avoid the ‘W’ word, other than to say this -> No, the whip should not be banned – and racing should categorically not pander to public opinion (or perceived public opinion) on this one. Remember, the general public voted for Brexit 52% to 48%. That means at least 48% were wrong, in your opinion. So, they simply can’t be trusted. What is needed here is what was needed there – and that is facts, education and adult debate and absolutely not succumbing to fears based on hyperbole. Read Jim Boyle’s thoughts here – I think he’s pretty close to the mark.

Right, that’s enough of banning the whip…

Of all the other ideas suggested, the one that caught my eye was that of Racing Post scribe, Lee Mottershead, who mooted the idea of Time Trials in his Racing Post column – it’s towards the bottom of this piece.

Is this a good idea? Well, actually No – according to 64% of the 618 people who took part in the Racing Post Twitter poll on the subject today. But hang on – 64%? Does that mean not doing it is a better idea than Brexit? Or worse? And was that a good idea? Wait… I’ve confused myself now.

The bottom line with this, as with so many other things, is that none of us really have a clue.

Just imagine if someone had pitched the idea of Gogglebox to the same 618 people prior to that programme screening.

“Look – we’re going to film people watching stuff on TV. Different people sitting in their front rooms watching the same programmes. Every week. Yeah. It’ll be great… “. (Silence)

My guess – probably less than 10% would have thought Gogglebox was a good idea – but viewing figures of 4 million suggest it was actually inspired from whichever bright spark at Channel 4 dreamt it up.

And so, what about Time Trials? Or put another way – which horse can run, on their own, from A to B, the fastest?


The main objection that people seem to have would be that they – The Trials – would be boring & that watching a horse gallop on its own against the clock would be as much fun as watching paint dry.

I disagree. The key would be smart presentation both in terms of on screen information and engaging commentary. Watching, say, a 4 furlong breeze, with sectional updates after every furlong giving context as to how far in front or behind the current leader the horse is, would be the Horse Racing equivalent of Ski Sunday or a Formula 1 qualifying session. Give it a good theme tune and we’d have those two cooked…

What it would also have is the betting element & there is no reason why there couldn’t be a market on the fastest Time Trial (and maybe even derivative markets like fastest individual furlongs) which could be kept open in-play as the horses roll down the straight.

For the idea to get off the ground, it feels like the concept would need a backer for a trial series. All Weather tracks would provide a consistent surface for runners, so they’d provide the obvious venue and given that Time Trial runners may potentially be missing a real race in order to compete, the sensible place to start in terms of horses would be at the bargain basement quality level. If you own a 0-60 quality sprinter, running in a Time Trial for a reasonable pot may hold considerable appeal – and maybe a smart backer would close the series with a relatively valuable ‘Win and You’re In’ Horse Race for all the animals who had been successful in a Trial.

Of course, the Time Trials would be as much about riding ability as equine talent – probably more so – and they would surely prove to be great training ground in terms of jockeys learning about efficient pace. And for the ambitious future champions, the Trials could prove to be a great shop window where they could demonstrate to influential trainers that they can nail the fractions better than anyone else.

And all of the time the racing public would be becoming more cognisant of the clock, sectionals and the dynamics of horses running fast. Hey, it would almost feel like Horse Racing had entered the 21st century.

Sure, it wouldn’t be for everyone, but the Trials need not interfere with a day’s racing for those who aren’t interested. A 10 runner 4 furlong ‘Breeze-Off’ would probably take around 15-20 minutes and could easily be tucked away either at the beginning or the end of a card.

And maybe the whole thing would fall flat on its face – a failure never to be repeated and an opportunity for a thousand ‘Told you so’s on Twitter. But if so – simply drop it and try out the next bright idea that someone comes up with. Maybe one day, one of them will prove to be as popular as Gogglebox. Then we’ll all be laughing.