Saturday 7 December 2019

Julian Muscat: Final flight blunder a massive 'own goal'

julian muscat

No matter how spellbinding the action, every racecourse executive should reflect long and hard on what they have just served up to the paying public. This annual ritual is performed at Cheltenham with the same forensic scrutiny deployed by punters in the unequal struggle to find winners. Rarely have I encountered so many potless people at the end of a festival.

There is always room for improvement, and one aspect Cheltenham must revisit is the decision to resite the final hurdle so close to the winning post. With a run-in of less than a furlong, it was utterly predictable that the leader over the last flight would land the spoils. And so it proved. Boringly so. A massive own goal.

The decision to drastically shorten the run-in was taken in an effort to reduce whip bans that have become a regular feature at the festival. But that's like putting the cart before the horse.

Why should one of Cheltenham's unique characteristics -- a long run-in where fortunes can change dramatically -- be eliminated just because jockeys can't control themselves in the heat of the moment? It's a nonsense that betrays the mess racing has got itself into, not to mention its desire to pander to jockeys, when regulating whip use.

The best finishes invariably came in the steeplechases, for which the fences mercifully cannot be moved at will. Ballabriggs' pulsating Kim Muir triumph on Thursday, with two others bearing down fast on him, was the essence of Cheltenham. And Great Endeavour's Byrne Group Handicap Chase victory was equally dramatic. No race over hurdles came close.

The message is plain. Put the final flight back where it belongs, and let the drama unfold.

Synchronised fresh enough to go distance

Perhaps it's a coincidence, but Irish representation in the John Smith's Midlands Grand National (3.15) has been seriously diluted since the Cheltenham festival became a four-day gig in 2005.

Perhaps the festival's marathon nature has everyone begging to sleep in their own beds rather than stop off at Uttoxeter on the way home. Shrivelled livers need the chance to rehydrate. Aching limbs must be rested; a complaint that also will afflict every runner to complete today's four-mile marathon.

With Badgerlaw the sole representative from the Jessica Harrington stable, we are obliged to look a little harder for the winner. And it quickly becomes obvious that hardly any horses in the line-up have been laid out for the £80,000 feature.

One exception is Synchronised, which missed his engagements at Cheltenham and is therefore fresh for the arduous challenge he now confronts.

The same cannot be said for some of his most dangerous opponents, notably Le Beau Bai. And I've finally given up on L'Aventure, which invariably struggles at halfway in races against quality stayers before plugging on thereafter.

Synchronised, by contrast, has yet to tackle this trip. Last time out he was undone by a combination of Fontwell's switchback circuit and an inadequate trip of two miles six furlongs.

Yet by ploughing on manfully into third place, he left the impression he would stay much further.

Richard McLernon rode him to victory on his penultimate start, and with the promising claimer taking a valuable 3lbs off Synchronised's back, the combination has a winning look. Ballydub is an each-way alternative.

Justice can justify faith

Also at Uttoxeter, Summery Justice can build on his winning chasing debut in the opening Novices' Handicap Chase (2.05). Having got up close home over two and a half miles at Kempton, he should progress again for the move up to three miles here.

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