One of the toughest gigs in racing has to be working as a handicapper.
In lots of ways it’s a thankless task, although if it comes with reasonably big bucks that might take a lot of the pain out of it!
Essentially handicappers are in a game where they basically have to express an opinion each and every day. The chances of getting it wrong are clearly greater than getting it right and it is a task that is far beyond the capacity of most — and one I wouldn’t want to do no matter how much dosh was on the table.
Keeping all of that in mind, I have to say the handicapper’s assessment of last Sunday’s Beresford Stakes at the Curragh left this observer seriously perplexed.
I sat down to study the contest and was puzzled that Dermot Weld’s True Solitaire was so far ahead of the opposition on the handicapper’s figures.
I won’t pretend to know how any handicapper arrives at his conclusions, although one supposes a horse’s best piece of form is seriously relevant.
In True Solitaire’s case that came in his previous outing in a Group 3 at Leopardstown when he was beaten a length and a half into second by the 99-rated Johannes Vermeer.
That performance then translated into True Solitaire being rated 108, which you could argue was fair enough considering Sanus Per Aquam (110) was half a length behind in third at Leopardstown. It was logical if Sanus Per Aquam’s mark was actually accurate.
Anyway onto the Beresford and True Solitaire’s lofty perch, so far clear of every other horse in the contest that had a rating.
Two in the race who couldn’t beat him, for instance, were the Aidan O’Brien-trained pair, Port Douglas and Beacon Rock.
Port Douglas was rated 12lbs inferior to True Solitaire and Beacon Rock had a whopping 20lbs to find with his rival.
I mean 20lbs is maybe 10 or 12 lengths and did anyone even remotely believe Beacon Rock was anything like that behind True Solitaire?
If the handicapper’s rating were on the money then True Solitaire was entitled to go off an odds-on shot to beat his eight opponents.
But very few seemed to think the handicapper had got this right and True Solitaire left the gate as the 9-4 joint favourite with the theoretical no-hoper, Beacon Rock.
True Solitaire did beat Beacon Rock, not by 10 or 12 lengths, no, by just a neck. In front of both of them, however, was the 12lbs wrong Port Douglas, who scrambled home a short head to the good over True Solitaire.
The handicapper then moved swiftly to redress the imbalance and Port Douglas was raised by 8lbs to a mark of 104.
That means he is still rated 4lbs behind True Solitaire, so work that out in three throws!
Beacon Rock has been thumped up by a whopping 15lbs and is now rated 103, just 5lbs off True Solitaire.
Was it a good renewal of the race? Well, with less than two lengths covering the first six finishers what do you think?
You’d have to say that Willie McCreery is rapidly becoming the Mick Channon of Irish horse racing.
Channon was a brilliant soccer player back in the 70’s, the colourful striker mostly plying his trade with Southampton and winning 46 caps for England.
When his playing days were over he became a horse trainer and has proved hugely successful in his new career.
McCreery is very much following a similar path. He was once a rampaging midfielder with Kildare and surely one of the best footballers to never win an All-Ireland.
In 1998 he was part of Mick O’Dwyer’s Kildare side that beat Meath in the Leinster final.
It was Kildare’s first success in the Leinster championship in 42 years and McCreery was voted man of the match.
Later that year, Kildare were favourites to beat Galway in the All-Ireland final, having seen off Paidi Ó Sé’s Kerry in the semi, but were beaten by four points.
Successful and all as he was as a footballer, McCreery is now threatening to do even better as a trainer.
In September of last year, for instance, Fiesolana gave him first ever Group 1 victory when taking the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown.
This season it has been a case of steady progress for McCreery, with his charges in fine form.
At Roscommon on Monday, Expreso Brasileiro gave him his 26th winner of the Flat campaign and he is just doing exceptionally well in a pool inhabited by some of the best trainers in the world.
An injury prevented Mark Walsh from possibly being champion jockey last season for the first time, but his terrific campaign was a measure of the progress this talented pilot has made.
He has continued that progress this season and is rapidly being spoken about in the same breath as the likes of his namesake, Ruby, Carberry, Geraghty, Russell and Townend.
Walsh rode a superb treble at Sligo on Wednesday, ending with as good a ride as you will see aboard Shantou Flyer in a conditions chase.
I don’t think Shantou Flyer ever really carried Walsh along, but he kept persuading him, that’s delicate enough, eventually driving his partner to a half a length success over Shadow Catcher.
Is there an element of talking through the pocket, perhaps, at least a little? I’ll leave that to one’s own imagination!
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