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Angus McNae

Angus McNae - Friday 8th November 2013

Flat season review: Drugs, sectionals, the French and two jockeys with contrasting fortunes

The Flat season is drawing to a close and with that in mind I think it is a pertinent time to reflect on what has been an interesting season, both on and off the track.

The whole campaign has a massive cloud hanging over it in the form of the Mahmood Al Zarooni scandal, and the subsequent Sungate investigations.

When a leading trainer who trains horses for one of the biggest owners in the world is warned off for administering illegal drugs to his horses you have a massive story, and a negative one for racing.

The facts of the case have been written about endlessly, but few have been willing to see this as more than an isolated incident. I am afraid that such an approach is naive. If a trainer who has some of the best bloodstock in his yard is prepared to use illegal drugs, surely others who are not so fortunate and are struggling for winners could also be tempted to fill the syringe.

I believe that the Al Zarooni affair was just the tip of the iceberg, I wrote it at the time, and that there will be others. Paul Bittar, chief executive of the British Horse Racing Authority, admitted as much, also. As such, the issue of drugs in racing may well dominant the headlines next year as well.

My suspicion is that just as in other sports the cheats are ahead of the testers. To believe otherwise because this is British racing, and that kind of thing does not happen here, is to live in denial just as the authorities in cycling and athletics did for years.

It has not been all doom and gloom this season though. The increased use of sectional times, courtesy of TurfTrax, this season has brought with it a great analytical tool for the punter.  More people than ever seem to want to learn about using the times.

has embraced their use and James Willoughby has decoded them for anybody who wants to understand. Simon Rowlands in his Betfair column has also championed their significance and finally it feels as if we are beginning to work out as a racing nation that opinion-based analysis must give way to fact. I am sure that those who have recently become familiar with sectional times enjoyed the Breeders’ Cup a whole lot more than would have otherwise been the case.

Whilst the action on the track in this country has been exciting, and at times top-class, this has to be the year of the French.

Their three year olds were better than ours as evidenced by Treve and Intello, and with due respect to Champions Day, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Sunday was one of the best days racing we have seen for many years.

Treve was brilliant in the Prix de l'Arc Triomphe itself and Moonlight Cloud was just out of this world in the Prix de la Foret. The Gallic two-year-olds look good as well.

Vorda, trained by Philippe Sogorb, won the Group One Cheveley Park Stakes and Miss France looked a hot prospect when winning the Oh So Sharp Stakes for Andre Fabre. With Treve to stay in training, the French look to have a very strong hand to play again next year. 

Treve should have been ridden by Frankie Dettori, rather than Thierry Jarnet, but in a rather cruel twist of fate he broke his ankle at Nottingham a few days before the Arc. His roller-coaster year ended on even more of a low when Olympic Glory won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Champions Day.

These would have been two high-profile winners that would have launched Dettori back into the big time. This was another gut-wrenching setback for the Italian in a year to forget for him and despite his foolish dalliance with the dark side I cannot help but feel the season would have been set alight in even more dramatic fashion if he had been aboard Treve. Jarnet may not agree.

At the other end of the spectrum from Dettori is Richard Hughes.

Hughes is set to be champion jockey yet again and he thoroughly deserves that accolade.

He wanted it more than Ryan Moore, and has beaten him comfortably. Becoming champion jockey does not mean you are one of the best out there, because the title is directly related to how many rides you get and your strike rate. Many champions have not, shall we say, gone on but Hughes is different and he is indisputably a class act.

He understands horses and the vagaries of pace. His win on Olympic Glory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes told you all you needed to know about his ability to judge pace and he should not be acclaimed as just a champion jockey, but as a world-class operator.

In some quarters he gets criticised for not riding out for a place, this is palpable, pedantic nonsense. If he believes a horse has no more to give he does not punish them and that seems eminently sensible.

It has been a good season and an enjoyable one for me personally. The highlight being a pre-Arc trip to Chantilly, which you can read about in a previous article I wrote entitled Mission Planet Turf in which we learned all about Treve. You can read part one here and part two here. As for the future, well, the Dubai World Cup Carnival is just around the corner and I cannot wait. 

 

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