Top broadcaster Mike Cattermole reflects on the equine influenza fallout, the Grand National weights and the glitz and glamour of St Moritz.
BHA to be congratulated - but timing not good
There have been a few times in recent years when the BHA has come in for some deserved criticism but the recent handling of the equine flu outbreak deserves praise. Credit where credit is due.
The BHA took no chances. Stopping racing and locking down scores of yards was the correct and only thing to do in the circumstances or six days of inactivity could have been so many more if the worst case scenario had occurred.
It was the decisiveness and swiftness about it that impressed. Working closely with the Animal Health Trust, which also deserved the plaudits, both bodies did what they had to do while under obvious pressure.
I accept that horses get ill all the time and the trainer will take the necessary action and move the horse away from the main string while it recovers. So I could see how some thought this was an overreaction to a few negative tests out of a couple of thousand.
Was it not the confirmation of a new strain that originated in North America that caused the circumspection?
Well, maybe it was all an overreaction, ultimately – but that’s only in hindsight as nobody knew what we were dealing with last week. Now we know a little more. Panic over.
Still, it does seem strange that two yards separated by 170 miles were the only ones affected.
With the BHA now ruling that those horses who have not had a booster within the last six months can’t run, some trainers, who don’t vaccinate their horses twice a year, have been blindsided.
This is a critical time of the season with the start of Cheltenham under four weeks away. Even Nicky Henderson, the champion trainer, has been caught out, tweeting that the likes of Santini, Top Notch and Verdana Blue cannot run at the weekend because they have not been vaccinated in the past six months.
Don’t think that the Irish trainers are looking on and licking their lips because they will have to abide by these rules too of course if sending something over the Irish Sea anytime soon.
Having some information about which horses have been caught up in this new ruling would be very useful. I wonder if the BHA would be inclined to disclose this?
National Hunt trainers inoculate their horses during the closed season, i.e. in the middle of summer. Others give them a booster mid-season, such as Paul Nicholls and Alan King in January, which is why those yards are a little quieter at that time of the year.
Given that the weather can be on the harsh side anyway at that time, it seems a pretty sensible thing to do. I suspect that those that didn’t do it before, may well do now.
Of course, some horses, like humans, can react quite negatively to a flu jab. Trainers would no doubt ease off for a few days anyway on those that have been vaccinated – and of course they are not permitted to run until six days have passed after their jabs.
So this is a new and interesting scenario but at least we are back.
Grand National early thoughts
It was staggering to hear that Gordon Elliott could run 10 to 15 in the Randox Health Grand National and indeed, if he runs more than 10, he will beat Martin Pipe’s record.
I have not looked at the weights in massive detail but there are always a few horses that stand out when you glance through them.
Tea For Two, for example, who has been given 10-5 and equivalent to a rating of 149, is attractively weighted – IF he can find his form.
A two-time Grade One winner, it is only two years ago that he defeated Cue Card in the Aintree Bowl which saw his rating shoot up to 164. His form has been more out than in since but he was third to Might Bite in the 2017 King George.
Maybe a run in the Cross Country next month might reignite his enthusiasm.
Then there is Minella Rocco who has been allotted 10-11 and a mark of 155, compared to a career high of 166. He was runner-up to Sizing John in the 2017 Gold Cup and needed his reappearance run badly at Cheltenham last month after a wind operation.
A giant of a horse, he is one of six entries owned by JP McManus and I remain intrigued by another of them in Regal Encore (10-8) who is not especially well handicapped but I still can’t get over his eighth behind One For Arthur in the 2017 National.
I don’t know what the instructions were to Robbie Power that day, and whether he suffered any bad luck early on, but I am convinced he would have finished much closer if ridden just a little more positively.
Anyway, still plenty of time to look further.
May I pass on my congratulations to BHA senior jumps handicapper Martin Greenwood for framing his first National. Martin and I once shared the same desk at Timeform a long, long time ago!
St Moritz races are something else
I visited St Moritz last Sunday to commentate on the second “White Turf” meeting of the year, a card run on the snow-covered frozen lake that had something for everyone.
It featured not just Flat racing but trotting, a pony race and the incredible skijoring where a skier is pulled round the track by the horse.
It’s a bit like water skiing but with a horse instead of a boat and it has to be the craziest “horse race” ever! Christian Von der Recke, the well known German trainer, had three horses in the line up and explained that just being an expert skier is not enough when it comes to guiding horses at speed on a very long rein.
There were 10 runners in the race and it was a very messy affair (I guess they all have that potential) and the veteran skier Alfredo Wolf won it with a last-gasp thrust as he guided the gelding Pinot up the inside near the finish to deny Usbekia and skier Valeria Holinger.
Ms Holinger was not best pleased, to say the least, and was giving Wolf plenty of verbals as the runners came back in! No translations were needed.
The temperatures on Sunday were unseasonably warm and hovering around freezing, although it felt colder because of the wind chill. It was not ideal for the maintenance of the track with some water even seeping through on the far side!
It made for heavy going and some horses were out on their feet as they came home. The John Best-trained Berrahri was a particularly brave winner of the Grand Prix Longines, winning on the snow for the fourth time, and will be back to tackle the Grand Prix de St Moritz this Sunday, which is the highlight and finale of the season.
The Paul Webber-trained New Agenda, who won at the first meeting, is also chasing the prize and the organisers will be hoping for more normal temperatures – of around minus 15 Celsius - so that track rides a little more comfortably and with less of a severe kickback.
However, at the time of writing that looks unlikely.
Since George Baker had his career-ending injury there two years ago, the organisers have been paranoid, rightly so, about the safety of the track and I noticed that between races a tractor was towing a radar on a sledge which monitored the depth of the ice and snow.
I would definitely recommend a visit as it is quite different, with an atmosphere of an upmarket point-to-point but with more fur coats!