Well it has not been the best of weeks for racing in my view with the news that the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) have decided to reciprocate the France Galop ban on Robbie Downey after he tested positive for cocaine after riding at the wonderfully named Lion d’Angers in June last year. I will not pretend to be any kind of legal expert other than watching CSI or the like on the television now and then, but it does appear to me that technicalities have seen the young jockey hung out to dry ahead of what I perceive as justice.
Although open to correction, my understanding is that after the so called findings young Robbie sent off hair samples to independent laboratories that came back negative for any traces of cocaine to prove his innocence, yet because he failed to use the correct terminology or afford to hire an expert at his hearing, the original guilty verdict still stands. I do accept the BHA’s hands are tied thanks to the legalese involved, but I cannot understand that common sense has failed to prevail and that a young man who was only at the start of a promising career will now have what seems to be an undeserved reputation, and we can but hope that does not deter him from continuing in the sport.
Elsewhere in the big wide world of racing, the Dubai Carnival has moved up a gear with some of the better horses aiming for a berth on World Cup night at the end of March going through their paces this week, though thanks to the Mrs' booking a holiday I will not be in attendance at Meydan this year which is a bitter pill to swallow.
Godolphin trainers Charlie Appleby and Saeed bin Suroor had two winners each on Thursday night with six-year-old Benbatl looking good ahead of his defence of the Dubai Turf after a casual stroll against inferior opposition in the Group Two Singspiel Stakes. Personally, I learned that he still has four legs with the form and the time nothing special to write home about and he will need to improve on this to take the big one come race day.
One horse I did take out of the evening was Zakouski, a son of Shamardal who was having his first start since a gelding operation when strolling home in the first division of the mile handicap on grass. It was not much of a race on form with runner up Yaalail’s last win at Abu Dhabi, but his was the only success on the card faster than standard, and he could have gone quicker had he needed to. His next contest remains an unknown, but this was just his third career start at the age of four, and I suspect he may well be able to hold his own in far tougher company in the season ahead, either in Dubai or back in Newmarket with Charlie Appleby.
One more horny subject and a marmite moment back home with the scratching of Altior from the Unibet Chase at Kempton on Saturday afternoon. A massive drifter in the pre-race market before being pulled out by trainer Nicky Henderson, the question being levied elsewhere is whether those holding ante-post vouchers (which are now losers with most books) were sold down the river or not.
No-one is suggesting any conspiracy that I know of, but the fact is someone appeared to know something in advance, why would a horse with a record of fourteen wins from fifteen starts over fences drift so ominously otherwise, and I am a firm believer that perception is even more relevant than fact these days. If I was in charge then I would want an explanation of why said bookmakers lengthened their odds before any announcements were made – I doubt anything would come to light, but perhaps it would put a few punters minds at ease and stop any accusations on social media. Some feel trainers and jockeys should not be allowed to have a “sideline” writing for bookmakers, but who are we to say they can’t earn some extra money here and there, and with the public wanting to read their opinions all it needs is fractionally better regulation.
On to the racing this weekend which after the poor results last week gets an even smaller percentage of my word count here than normal, and many will be extremely grateful to me for that small mercy.
Those willing to get up early (or place their bets Friday night, of course) could do a lot worse the Tony Cruz trained Private Secretary in the 9.00am (UK time) from Sha Tin in Hong Kong on Saturday. Previously trained by John Gosden in Europe, the son of Kingman won three races at up to listed level before a solid fourth to Japan in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot last year over a mile and a half. Intriguingly dropped back to the mile for his Far East debut after six months off he came home a length clear at Happy Valley despite looking as if he would come on for the run and if he improves as expected, this ought to be little more than a stepping stone to Group company over the months to follow.
At Lingfield it may, only may, be worth a small each way bet on the Owen Burrows trained Bustaan in the fillies’ novice stakes due off at 3.10pm. Quietly supported before her last start she failed to run anywhere near as well as hoped, but is working like a far better horse at home and if she settles better here she could well hit the frame at a decent price, despite having to give lumps of weight away to her younger rivals.
Lastly, it is mid-Winter so we ought to have one horse over the jumps even if the pickings look particularly slim at Kempton this afternoon. Top Notch has been backed down to odds on in the absence of Altior for the Silviniaco Conti Chase over two and a half miles at 2.05pm. According to official ratings he has a bit to find with Frodon at these weights and although my suggestion hasn’t been at his best so far this season, he may yet be the value call. Capable of front running when he feels in the mood, this small field may let him do just that without too much pressure, and if Bryony Frost can get him in to a decent rhythm throughout then he may well prove impossible to catch – that’s the theory anyway in a race well worth going to watch.
Private Secretary 9.00am Sha Tin Saturday
Bustaan each-way 3.10pm Lingfield Saturday
Frodon 2.05pm Kempton Saturday
Private Secretary, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club