I see Nigel Twiston-Davies is now concerned about the drying track at Haydock for tomorrow’s Betfair Chase. I hope he runs Bristol De Mai, not so much for the betting side, but he is a fascinating horse, the kind I like. The straightforward ones are the horses you want to own. They consistently run to their mark leaving little detective work to be done for the punter. They’re a joy, but boring. You can’t beat a good mystery like Bristol De Mai.
Treating Bristol De Mai as a suspect in a fictional story, what would Sherlock Holmes say? He has a solid report full of evidence and the starkest fact confronting him is that Bristol De Mai shows what seems his true character only at Haydock. This is obvious and unarguable. The question is why does this happen?
Many of Sherlock’s contemporaries believe that it is not so much Haydock as a track, but the deep ground there he likes. BUT, he has failed to reproduce his ‘evidence’ on deep ground elsewhere. Either the ground at Haydock plays a much smaller part than has been allowed for, or the texture of Haydock’s deep ground differs so significantly from similar going at other tracks that it stands on its own. The trouble with the latter assumption is that our only witness here is Bristol De Mai, and nature has imposed an eternal Fifth Amendment on him.
What of the other matters the horse cannot discuss? Those stomach ulcers. Are they made much worse by racing? Could it be that after a Herculean effort in bad ground that those ulcers flare up so badly the horse needs a long rest before he is comfortable enough to race again? Was his final run at Aintree last season some evidence of this theory? And does the fact that he ran so comparatively poorly immediately after his last two Haydock victories lend that theory even more credence?
Well, you might say, after his first Haydock win he won again. Hmmm, but that was three years ago; were the ulcers there back then? Also, that race was comparatively short at 20f compared to the stamina tests of the other two.
Let’s return to the known evidence – the steeplechase track at Haydock. If we set aside the ground for now, what is it about Haydock that makes it different from the tracks where he hasn’t run so well?
1 It’s left-handed
Interesting . . . 9 out of his top 10 Racing Post Ratings have been achieved going left handed. The only right handed course, Sandown, was down in joint 9th/10th.
2 Haydock’s a galloping track, owing to its long straights.
All but one of his top 10 Racing Post Ratings (Aintree the exception) were gained at galloping tracks.
3 Haydock has easy fences
Does it? They are portable fences, which can be made just as stiff as permanent fences. Not enough evidence at hand of casualties at Haydock or elsewhere to provide any insight.
4 Haydock is a flat track
Of his top 10 Racing Post Ratings, the top four were at flat tracks. Some evidence there but inconclusive.
(NOTE: all Racing Post Ratings based on chase form only)
What of the horse’s style of running, might Haydock particularly suit his natural stride length, especially in the positioning of the fences?
The only evidence to support this would be that Bristol De Mai jumps Haydock better than he does any other track, and gets into a sustained rhythm there that he has never been able to produce elsewhere.
Form detectives will have their own opinions on what aspect is most important in staying steeplechases. My own is that rhythm, by which I mean a sustained rhythm for as long as possible, is the most important aspect – all else being equal. Sustained rhythm cannot happen without good jumping, so that quality is assumed.
So, aside from the solid evidence that he is better going left-handed, the chief suspect in Bristol De Mai’s top performance level is not so much tied to a particular track, but to achieving sustained rhythm. It is likely, I think, that Haydock’s layout and, perhaps the makeup of its fences, provides Bristol De Mai with the ideal conditions to establish a rhythm early in the race and sustain it to the end. His strong record on galloping tracks lends credence, I think, to the benefits of rhythm in staying steeplechases.
Over to you my learned friends.