Partly in response to how well the Irish horses performed at Cheltenham, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) will be making changes to the handicap system, expected to take effect in 2022.
It can get a little tricky, but the gist of it is that they will lower the ratings of their horses more readily to reflect their ability, and they hope not to have their horses ‘over-rated’ when competing with the Irish.
A bit like devaluing a currency, it’s a complex debate, but any tinkering must not lose sight of the fact that Ireland simply has the best horses.
In the space of a generation, we’ve gone from a situation where a big-race success for an Irish horse abroad was rare, to one where it’s almost expected at all the main festivals.
It’s a little more complicated on the Flat with the big British names such as Appleby and Gosden still holding a lot of sway, although it’s very noteworthy that in the last decade the majority of the Epsom Derby victories have gone to Irish-trained horses, thanks mostly to Aidan O’Brien.
When it comes to the handicaps, there will always be debate about whether the Irish horses are well handicapped and on better terms when racing across the water, although I try not to get involved too much in these arguments. As a punter, it’s my job to simply assess the situation as I find it, and try to make a few bob out of it if I can.
On that front, I’m wondering if a profitable angle I’ve often followed for some time will soon become redundant. While I’d always do some further research and try narrow down the bets, as it stands, it’s actually profitable to simply blindly back Irish-trained horses in British handicaps.
Readers should note that the profit is to Betfair SP and not traditional SP, but since 2012, some 5,867 Irish-trained horses have raced in handicaps in Britain (all codes) with 703 winners (12pc). Had you put a tenner on each, you’d be up €4,470 after commission, and made a profit in seven of the 10 years analysed.
When you compare that to British-trained horses in Irish handicaps which produced 53 winners from 789 bets (7pc), and heavy losses from a betting point of view, you can begin to understand why British trainers tend to be scared off from our races.
Anyway, before they make changes, there might be a few good bets left, and one that catches the eye at Aintree is Espion Du Chenet, which was trading at 5/1 yesterday for the eight-runner Betway Supports Safer Gambling Week Handicap Chase (2.50), under Ryan Treacy.
Trained by Louise Lyons, who grew up in England but is now based in Kilkenny, Espion Du Chenet runs off a rating of 119 which seems quite reasonable to me, having won a handicap at Down Royal last week.
While he was perhaps a little lucky in that race with the favourite unseated at the first, he’s a reliable sort who is usually thereabouts and it’s interesting that connections eventually saw fit to make the trip across the water after 25 career runs, 19 of which were over fences.
Former Henry de Bromhead gelding Arvico Bleu is the main threat and will probably go off as favourite around 9/2, having won his first race for Ewan Whillans last month.
We’ve a couple of Irish runners in the Betway Grand Sefton Handicap Chase (2.15 Aintree), namely Spyglass Hill and The West’s Awake, but I’m happy to side with Hogan’s Height, which is 7/1 at the time of writing for Lambourn-based Jamie Snowden.
He’s been given a recent spin over timber to shake off the cobwebs, and his last win was in this race in 2019 when rated 134, which is 4lbs lower than today. He’s got a great chance if running to form.
At Wincanton, Paul Nicholls has two runners in the Grade Two John Romans Park Homes ‘Rising Stars’ Novices’ Chase (1.50) and as promising as he looks, I just can’t have Bravemansgame as short as 1/2. Instead, stable-mate Mick Pastor gets the nod at 11/2 which isn’t bad in a six-runner field. He may have been racing in small-field contests, but he’s done nothing wrong this year, winning all four races since July.
Another one at Wincanton I like is Alan King’s Sceau Royal (5/4), which is hoping to repeat last year’s victory in the Grade Two Unibet Elite Hurdle (3.35). A decent chaser, he looked in good shape when winning a Listed hurdle at Kempton on his seasonal debut last month.
Finally, the flat season finishes up at Doncaster, and Charlie Fellowes’ Mr Curiosity gets the nod at 9/1 or thereabouts in the November Handicap (2.40).
A son of Frankel, the four-year-old is up 8lbs to 95 following a handy enough win at Redcar recently but he looks like he’s got more room for improvement, and I suspect that he’s got more wins to come before the assessor gets a handle on him.