Runaway leading Cheltenham Festival owner JP McManus this week ruled out several of his horses from taking part at this year’s meeting, trained by different handlers, over a feeling that some of his Irish-based horses have been badly treated by the handicapper.
Already the Limerick man had scratched top names Jezki, Ivanovich Gorbatov and De Name Escapes me from their respective engagements and as of Tuesday the name of Off You Go, a leading fancy for the Coral Cup, has been added to his own list of Festival absentees.
Trainer Charles Byrnes announced that Off You Go will now not be running at Cheltenham over concerns he’s been unduly given too much weight by British handicappers and instead will be aimed at a meeting at Fairyhouse. The six-year-old gelding had beaten Jezki in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown and had been on many punters’ shortlists.
Byrnes was not too scathing of the handicapping system publicly, simply stating this week that Off You Go is at the “wrong end of the handicap” for the Coral Cup and so he’ll wait for Fairyhouse instead which presents a better opportunity.
Off You Go is rated 151 in Ireland but given his form with Grand National hero Tiger Roll, now rated 156, from the Boyne Hurdle at Navan the British assessors have decided to hand him the same rating in the UK meaning his trainer believes he is at least 5lbs wrong in the weights and thus is at a disadvantage.
Ivanovich Gorbatov’s trainer Joseph O’Brien stated that he believed his horse was indeed badly treated, though he was at pains to say this was the case versus other Irish-trained runners. His horse had been given a mark of 145 compared with a rating of 137 in Ireland making his task on paper in the County Hurdle, Martin Pipe Hurdle or Coral Cup much more difficult.
Noel Meade’s De Name Escapes Me was given a mark 7lbs higher than his Irish rating with the handicapping team in Britain admitting he was “the trickiest horse to assess”, while Jezki, a Champion Hurdle winner in the past, is again rated 7lbs more than at home and so has been pulled out of the Coral Cup and County Hurdle.
Not everyone has sympathy with McManus or his trainers though. Gigginstown Stud owner Michael O’Leary last year had similar concerns about his Tiger Roll and others runners in terms of their Grand National weights and threatened to pull his horses out of the Aintree spectacular.
As it turned out, Tiger Roll romped home to land the prize and was clearly not badly treated, so adding to this the fact that Irish runners have done particularly well in England in recent times it seems if there is an anomaly in their ratings it may not be coming from east of the Irish Sea.
Other people to lose out here may be ante-post punters who had already placed bets on the four McManus runners to have been pulled out. Save for a ‘non-runner, no bet’ deal, backers may be out of pocket now having thought those horses still held a major chance at the Festival regardless of their British handicap marks and it must be said that this move leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth ahead of the jump racing spectacular.
All four of the McManus runners to be scratched from their races were high up in the betting, some were even favourite, meaning bookmakers, punters and many a tipster did not believe the theory that the handicap marks they’d been given by Dominic Gardner-Hill and his team.