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APRIL 2020 HORSES TO FOLLOW
AWAY FOR SLATES     (Milton Harris)

10 year bay gelding     (Arcadio - Rumi)     65241P51//42673P3P/00P21115P-4UU33

The fear with this selection is that there is a degree of taunting in Away For Slate's form that has drawn him into the selection list under false pretences (as far as the future is concerned - the past is a fairly solid edifice). In the early months of 2020, Away For Slates found his adequate jumping skills falling to pieces and in February he unseated in the process of defeat by Finnegan's Garden. That horse should have been on the list at least eighteen months ago for his performances in small fields but as the wins ticked over he climbs the handicap, it looks like the boat has been missed, and he wins again and the cycle of hellishness continues. Thus it is possible that Away For Slates is just a subconscious stand-in for Finnegan's Garden. He has only half of the successes, and the first one, in a twelve horse race for Keith Dalgleish, broke the system anyway. The method is quite simple - the horse considers any race with more than five runners a complete irrelevance. His original trainer found two qualifying events and produced a second and a first. Next stop was Dan Skelton who could not dig out the small fields needed, and the one occasion that he did saw Away For Slates third in the initial try of a brief flirtation with blinkers. Since joining Milton Harris, it has been a hood all the way for the headgear and results in qualifying races of three wins and a close third last time when putting those jumping woes behind him. To prove the point, the record in six and seven horse races is 46325PU. The line of tolerance is very distinct.

Races with up to seven runners

COUGAR’S GOLD     (Peter Bowen)

9 year old bay gelding     (Oscar – Top Her Up)     654/10/44155542/54121414-2UP243

In a rather topical fashion, the problem with Cougar’s Gold is what to do in the event of there being no evidence for certain circumstances and what to do when the evidence rather awkwardly does not fit the policy. Following government lead, with this horse the entry has been over simplified and the bad fits ignored in the hope that nobody will ask tricky questions. In the career of Cougar’s Gold so far there have been twenty-seven races and five wins – 18.5% for those interested but not bothered enough to work it out. When he tackles a chase with no more than seven runners, the score reads 2111423. The only one of his four bumpers with that few taking part was also a win, taking the win rate to a mathematically unchallenging 50%. The problem is that he lost both hurdle races in smaller fields but won a ten horse race on his handicap debut. It is no use just adopting one scenario and assuming that it will apply evenly across all others, such as a the coronavirus distribution model in Italy being applied to all European countries without thought for all of the differing factors involved. But what there is to bear in mind is that having treated novice hurdles as a bit of an irrelevant lark, Cougar’s Gold was extremely well handicapped for that first handicap, had a first time tongue tie and in a spooky echo of the Italian virus scenario, the race was at Cartmel, which is usually a masterclass in things happening that do not equate to what to expectin other locations/on other racecourses. Conclusion – we will stick with the small fields option across all races.

Handicap hurdles or handicap chases with up to seven runners, over 2m 4f or more

FOR JIM      (Jennie Candlish)

8 year old grey gelding     (Milan – Dromhale Lady)     66652/700787-11521923P

How often do we hear people speculate “if only they could talk” in regard to animals. With racehorses it is usually in reference to a horse that has had a couple of disappointing runs for no obvious reason. This may be a breakthrough, as For Jim has a bias towards easy courses, therefore we may determine that in horse speak, Jim means “not too tight, not too galloping.” Or does translation not really work like that? A UK-Jumping correspondent was despatched to get Robert Downey Jr’s view, but he just yelled a drunken rant in a very poor attempt at a Welsh accent, so we are none the wiser. Anyway, the tally with For Jim, is nine races on easy tracks and three wins, leaving a score of 0/11 elsewhere. This in itself does yield a small profit. It would be nice to focus on a slightly more productive stat and the pulled up in his last race was evidence that he is never likely to appreciate four miles around Hexham on heavy ground – and when only good ground is considered, his easy track score reads 071112, with the second place being by a short head. At one stage For Jim was hinting at a must have run in the last three weeks rule but nowadays almost every race he has comes within that range, so it does not help us.

Hurdles or chases on an easy track on good ground

MISTER TICKLE     (Martin Smith)

6 year old bay gelding     (Morozov - Tatiana)     U52-255

It would have been a nice pun to say that he landed a touch in winning his sole Irish point, but odds of 4/1 suggest that the money was not piled on, although it was a race where the first five in the betting were priced between 3/1 and 4/1, and the other three were all at 6/1. The runner-up Eclair Des Sablons has already graced (not quite) this site for eleven months and third was second to Shishkin in his next race, although his novice hurdle exploits this season have not been inspiring and Ben Pauling was impressed enough with his pace to start him in a three miler. Back to the low down on the tickle, he also got sent immendiately into staying company and was running a big race on hurdles debut when blundering and unseating three out. Two decent tries after that got him ready for handicaps, and with cheekpieces added Mister Tickle was beaten by just a head at Fontwell over 3m 2f. The winter campaign, cheekpiece-free, was an utter failure. Maybe he needed the run on his belated return in December, and he really did not fancy the job in his chase debut next time. But those verdicts may be harsh as both were on heavy ground and Mister Tickle was operating on good ground when doing better in the first half of 2019. It is hardly conclusive evidence but Martin Smith's jumpers tend not to have hectic schedules forced upon them, so we may a long wait before the facts give a decisive (tickly) take on Mister Tickle. If he runs enough, the ground cut off and chasing skills will be monitored and adapted to.

Handicap hurdles or chases over 2m 7f or more, not on soft or heavy

ROCKLIFFE     (Micky Hammond)

7 year old bay gelding     (Notnowcato - Hope Island)     44/90611/P3461533-470

A quick look at Rockliffe's most recent hurdling form may convince the reader to run a mile when his name is mentioned but he is not really the sort to mess about with high strike rates, and the races that he does win are the sort to prompt a nice starting price. Also, when racing resumes he is likely to find them easy to come by for a few weeks. Although connections keeping bashing away with him as a flat horse, Rockliffe has only one win from thirty-five tries in that discipline, although a couple of very close seconds imply that it could have been a slightly less dismal strike rate with a touch of luck. His score of three wins from just eighteen hurdling spins counts against writing him off as a win shirker. And he has managed those successes in big fields, when a proper dodger would get their odd success in small fields where a bad attitude may be a lesser issue than those affecting the enemies. In line ups of ten or more, Rockliffe has results of 9011P3461470, for a level stake of +25 points and two of those were on soft ground, which does seem to scupper him completely . The only real challenge is where to make the cut off on field size. The smallest race that he has won in had thirteen runners. A twelve horse race has never been found. In eleven runner affairs he has a defeat on soft and a fourth, although it was a wide margin one. When ten run Rockliffe has a third, a fourth that is almost his best run in defeat and a disappointing handicap debut. So ten is the magic number.

Handicap hurdles with ten or more runners

STEEL HELMET     (William Bethell)

6 year old chesnut gelding     (Helmet – Marine City)    89P/2-4

Just as he was getting the hang of it, he was sent off to do something else. This could be seen as a summary of classic trend of business mismanagement. It seems quite common in racing and racecourse administration too. For Steel Helmet it was a case of him putting behind him three modest juvenile hurdle runs and then a second to a 1/16 favourite in a three horse race to show up better on handicap debut. Although last of four, he only succumbed by seven lengths and a last flight mistake cost him closer and a better final position. The impression given was that he needs further than two miles anyway. Eschewing the obvious next step (although chewing a steel helmet is not an appetising thought), the horse has not raced over hurdles since, instead going flat racing. The decision has been justified as Steel Helmet has won three out of six races in the job, a rather dramatic improvement on his previous one triumph from twenty-five flat runs. That has included flat staying success twice, further confirming that when he is back hurdling, long races will be his style.

Handicap hurdles over 2m 4f or more
In the absence of any proper pictures to liven up April (had a For Jim one, could not now find it), thes will have to do
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