Thursday, 28 November 2013

Stopping Trains

The handicapping of horses is relatively simple; or at least the method of slowing them down is simple – we pack flat pieces of lead into a thin “satchel” that slips beneath the saddle, which we call a weight-cloth. 

There is an old saying in racing that “weight stops trains” and, as if proof were required, a recent item in the national media caught my eye: Kevin Chenais – who suffers from a hormone imbalance and weighs in at 500lb (nearly 36 stone) – was not allowed to board the Eurostar train that was intended to take him back to France. In fact the papers reported that he was also “too fat to fly”, suggesting that weight stops planes too, so it is little wonder that it stops horses. 

All of which is most relevant to this weekend’s feature race, The Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. Top-weight for the £175,000 handicap chase is Cape Tribulation who has a handicap rating of 158 and will carry 11st 12lb. The 132-rated Whodoyouthink, carries 26lb less, the minimum weight of 10st. In theory, all of the horses rated in-between have been given an equal chance and will pass the post in unison – by which I mean together, not members of a new equine trade union. The thing is of course, we know that won’t happen – so which of the 21 declared runners has managed to get away with an inadequate load? 

Starting with the horses with the lowest handicap ratings, I like Loch Ba who carries just 10st 1lb. He may have unfulfilled potential and he ran out of steam during a recent prep-run at Bangor on soft ground. He’ll be fitter for that run and I can imagine him fighting out the places at a big price.  

Also on my shortlist are Merry King (10st 8lb) and Invictus (10st 13lb). Both horses have shown promise, but Invictus is perhaps the most interesting as he has been off the track for nearly two years. When last seen, in his novice season, he comfortably conquered last year’s Hennessy winner (and Cheltenham Gold Cup hero) Bobs Worth - who is now officially rated 180. A strict interpretation of the form could leave Alan King’s charge more than 2 stone better off than the competition. 

Closer to the head of the weights, Prince de Beauchene (11st 9lb) and Lord Windermere (11st 8lb) are both high class performers with scope for improvement. Both are well fancied and will be among the favourites for the race. But the horse that I am going to recommend is not one of the young, unexposed, brigade...  

Imperial Commander is a 12-year-old, former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, who sustained a leg injury in 2011. He ran a blinder to finish a half-length second to Cape Tribulation on his return to action ten months ago, before being pulled up in a speculative attempt at the Grand National. At his peak he earned an official rating of 185 and sneaks into this race on a very generous mark of just 153, converting to a weight of 11st 7lb.  

In the absence of Kevin Chenais, who eventually made it home to France on a ferry and was reportedly unable to make the weight, Imperial Commander will be reunited with his Gold Cup winning jockey Paddy Brennan.

Win, lose or draw, Imperial Commander will be retired after the race on Saturday and so I’ll be backing him with my heart as well as my head.

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