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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 28 February, 2020

Johnny Ward: Curragh punters left in the dark over jockey swap confusion

Incident emphasises how far horse racing bosses still have to go to get the basics right.

Roman Turbo, far right, won the Barronstown Maiden with Masteroffoxhounds (not pictured) back in fifth.
Roman Turbo, far right, won the Barronstown Maiden with Masteroffoxhounds (not pictured) back in fifth.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

MUG PUNTERS TOIL in a never-ending losing battle with conspiracy theories.

Reasons of varying plausibility excuse the latest discarded docket. Frustration is embellished if the relevant horse lengthens in the betting and if most of the horses you back are drifters you have no hope long-term.

On occasion these losing punters have reason to feel let down by the industry, however, and something which happened – and did not happen – at the Curragh on Derby weekend last emphasises how far we have to go in getting the basics right and keeping the racing public in the know.

We may have arrived at a cosy complacency where media rights money ensures that the paying punter barely belongs beyond the category of ancillary revenue – but this week’s news of 700 shops closing on the high street in Britain ought to shatter said complacency.

The Barronstown Stud Irish European Breeders Fund Maiden of last Friday may mean nothing to you and, like the Irish Derby, it will not be fondly remembered by most who bet on the race: it was won by a 25-1 chance. The story of this maiden preceded it.

Aidan O’Brien, who has a billion things to do, tends to confirm riders for his runners as close to the wire as possible on the day before racing. Last Thursday, Ryan Moore was nominated as rider of Masteroffoxhounds in this maiden, with Seamus Heffernan declared for newcomer Royal Dornoch.

Nothing of significance happened until Friday afternoon when, for whatever reason, connections finally asked the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Body would it sanction a straight switch in the race, Moore and Heffernan swapping mounts (at a time when Moore’s horse was roughly 11-8 in the market and Heffernan’s approximately 5-1).

The request was on the stated basis of a clerical error at time of declaration, perfectly plausible, though it came notably late – roughly 24 hours later.

Quite reasonably, the IHRB refused the request, though it was in a bit of a no-win situation. It felt beholden to punters who had already backed Masteroffoxhounds, probably because Moore would ride.

What followed is less excusable.

An hour and a half before racing, “the read” takes place in the weighing room at an Irish meet where a representative of the IHRB calls out jockey changes, non-runners and so on to whoever is there, mainly other members of the regulatory body and the press corps. At “the read” on Friday, notification was made of the request to allow the Ballydoyle jockey change (at which point the decision had not been made).

And that was that.

The problem? No punters were told this. Prior to the race, John may have been stressing to Jane how much he fancied her but mainly how much he fancied Masteroffoxhounds, trying to impress his new girlfriend as to his racing knowledge.

As Jane was shown a betting ring for the first time at the Curragh last Friday, the horses loaded, John may have struggled to explain why Masteroffoxhounds was now the same price as Royal Dornoch on some boards: a desperately weak 5-2 chance.

The Turf Club, now the IHRB, has made glacial progress in the image stakes but it is improving. Since May, its Twitter account tweets information regularly, though its prior dormancy is consistent with the notion of the body as utterly anachronistic.

The understanding is that incidences like last Friday’s will meet with a better response in terms of publicity. Masteroffoxfounds ran a decidedly moderate race and anyone who backed him who felt a bit cheated, in this case, was not far wrong.

On the same weekend as the Coolmore/Ballydoyle axis’ regard for punters was promoted by the story of John Magnier declaring a rag ostensibly with the aim of ensuring three each-way places in the Derby, the operation was less forthcoming when it came to the Barronstown Stud Irish European Breeders Fund Maiden – but the buck stops with the IHRB.

Those who backed Moore’s mount can feel peeved — left in the dark – and the IHRB privately accepts that things can and will get better in ensuring no repeat.

In Saturday’s Eclipse (3.35pm) at Sandown, one can presume with confidence that Moore will ride Magical and man-of-the-moment Padraig Beggy will not be switched from likely pacesetter Hunting Horn as Ballydoyle bids to beat Enable, which is easier said than done.

However, Enable is not unbeatable – she was blessed to win the Arc last year – and 10 furlongs on pretty fast terrain without a run this season means she is a risky proposition at odds-on.

Moore’s mount got pretty close to her in the Breeders’ Cup and, whilst probably not quite as good as her, Magical has already had four runs this campaign, seems sure to run a huge race (to be run to suit her) and is an each-way price.

Bold Statement could be a well-treated horse for one of the rising names in training, Jack Davison, and he can go well in Naas’ CARE At Home Handicap (5.30pm) on Saturday.

Likely a handful at most are relevant in the Follow Limerick Racecourse On Facebook Handicap, rendering an each-way bet on A Step Too Far highly attractive under the in-form Shane Foley on Sunday (1.50pm).

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Johnny Ward

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