The Ruby Walsh column: Handicap system favours young horses on up

By Ruby Walsh
Wed 14 Feb 2018

Racing UK ambassador Ruby Walsh gives us his views on the handicap system, the Grand National weights and the possible return of Douvan this weekend.

By Ruby Walsh

Kalashnikov was a very good winner of the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday. The race clearly suited him and Amy Murphy had him in great form, while Jack Quinlan gave him a super ride.

But I suppose if you are training hardened handicappers you are probably finding these kind of results quite frustrating.

Kalashnikov had only the three runs over hurdles and novices cropping up in these big handicaps and winning them is hard on the horses who are handicappers.

Do the seasoned horses get a fair crack of the whip?

That’s a difficult one, but I’d say it’s impossible to try to put a rating on a horse like Kalashnikov and that the handicappers have been asked a very unfair question to try to figure out - by watching him three times - what he is.

Betfair Super Saturday - Newbury Races Kalashnikov was an emphatic winner of the Betfair Hurdle (PA)

I know handicapping is only an opinion, but that’s asking for it.

Does there need to be the introduction of slippage in the handicaps during the summer, with handicappers slipping back 5lb or 6lb every year to balance things, as happens on the Flat in Ireland?

Look at the English system: the veteran chases are great but they had to be introduced because the 10-year-olds and 11-year-olds could not be competitive in the handicaps.

That is not right.

They should be able to be competitive and should not need a series of their own.

You have to wonder where the system is not working correctly. It’s easy to go up in the weights, it’s quite hard to come down.

It’s the young horses coming through that are always catching you out.

It makes you wonder. Do all the older horses need pushing back every July or August?

Cleverer people than me will try and work it out, but there does seem to be something there that needs to be fixed.

Blaklion has plenty going for him in Grand National:

The Grand National is an iconic race and it was fun to be in London on Tuesday night for the reveal of the weights.

I’d say Blaklion is a worthy favourite because he ran a blinder when fourth in the race last year and looks even better this season.

Some horses do not always enjoy returning to Aintree but he again seemed in his element there when landing the Becher Chase in December.

Total Recall Limerick 2 Total Recall is not the biggest and needs the Aintree weights to stay put (PA)

He jumped and travelled so well that day and it was a matter of “how far” from some way out. He’s not a flamboyant jumper but is so nimble, quick and economic.

Willie (Mullins) has several entries, including Total Recall.

He is a bouncy, honest horse but his weight has crept up above 11st and he’d probably need Definitly Red, the present top weight, to run to have a chance because he’s not that biggest and the more weight he has on his back, the harder it is going to be for him.

With regard to carrying weight, it is no different to you or I carrying a bag. For 100 yards it is no problem but if you to have carry it a mile then you know about it.

The bigger the horse, the easier he will find it to carry more weight. The smaller the horse, the harder he will find it.

Bellshill and Pleasant Company have been allotted less.

The former was third in the RSA behind Might Bite and Whisper last season and that form looks strong.

We haven’t seen him for a while but he’s entered at the weekend and seems in good form at home.

Whether he would get the trip at Aintree I don’t know, but he could potentially be nicely in.

Last year the race was run at a very strong pace and Pleasant Company got lit up early on and raced too keenly from Becher’s to Melling Road on the first circuit.

I thought he lost more chance doing that than when making a mistake at Valentine’s second time round.

Hopefully, he will relax better this year and he has an ideal weight. If he does things a little differently and the ground is good he’d have an obvious chance.

Expect a late decision over Douvan’s weekend date:

Willie Mullins Stable Visit - Closutton Douvan is forward enough to warrant a weekend entry (PA)

Douvan is entered in the 2m5f Red Mills Chase this weekend but I don’t know if he runs or not.

I think Willie said he said he would make his mind up later in the week - and knowing him that will mean about two minutes to 10 on Friday!

It’s possibly his last option to get in a run into Douvan before Cheltenham. There is another race in a fortnight at Naas - the Newlands Chase over two miles - but that is getting quite close to Cheltenham.

I wouldn’t read anything into the trip on Saturday. It’s just a conditions chase that has cropped up at the right time. Had it been over two miles, it would have been the same.

Douvan’s in good form and I know Willie’s happy with him - every day he does a bit more with him.

It’s just great that he’s forward enough to have an entry and hopefully he will keep progressing.

Vroum Vroum Mag, who is entered on Sunday, is also progressing nicely.

Like Douvan it’s a case of day by day. It would be wonderful if we can get her back and I would not be worried about her going to Cheltenham first time, but it’s going to be a tall order to beat Apple’s Jade.

And finally...:

My leg is good and the doctors are happy with it. I’m itching to get back but they are keeping a hold on me and don’t want me doing too much for another ten days. We’ll see how we go.

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