Mullins and Plumpton: its horses for courses
Horses for courses, says the old adage. Well, there should be another given that trainers make decisions on running plans: trainers for courses. And Wilsford trainer Seamus Mullins on that score would number Plumpton and Fontwell his specialist subject.
I See You Well on Sunday was his fourth winner at Plumpton this term, and more than 50% of his runners at this endearing Sussex course have reached the frame. Sunday's sortie was typical: four runners, one winner, a second beaten a neck and two unplaced efforts. With 15 winners there and 16 at Fontwell in the past 5 years, a Mullins performer at either track should be well respected.
Meanwhile, two other Wiltshire trainers headed successfully across country to Huntingdon today. Neil Mulholland has enjoyed an excellent season without a marquee horse and scored again with Exelerator Express in the handicap chase for Welshman Dai Walters and Jean Potter. After drawing blanks at Cheltenham and Aintree, Alan King was back among the winners too at this rather less well advertised fixture. Alan hasn't hit the dizzy heights of nearly £2m in Jumps prize money he achieved in the 2008-9 season since that momentous season; in fact, this and last season, his efforts have been divided equally between the Flat and National Hunt games. This is an interesting juxtaposition of the relative status of Flat vs jumps 10 years on.
It's long been held that Jump racing afforded the man on the Clapham omnibus a chance to buy a horse cheaply and live the racing dream without encountering the super-stables populated by the most expensive blue-bloods financed with Arabian oil wealth. Yet now, perversely, the reverse is the case.
Jump racing's elite is now dominated by a small cadre of uber-wealthy owners competing with each other: Rich Ricci, Gigginstown, Simon Munir and Isaac Suede, John Hales, and J P McManus, the old evergreen. The best horses are collected in fewer and fewer hands, both among owners and the trainers they opt to send them to. No surprise therefore that those with relatively ordinary affluence cannot find a seat at the top table.
Alan King is one of several trainers of his generation to recognize this and to spread his risk. Because whilst the uber-wealthy owners are more common on the Flat, those folk are now chasing international prizes, leaving some of the valuable handicaps in the British calendar to slip through the gap. Oil and Chinese wealth is tracking the Meydan and Saudi calendar to the Breeders' Cup, rather than the great St Wilfred Handicap (no offence Ripon).
Other contemporaries of Alan are trying different strategies. Sophie Leech and Tom George have stationed small strings in France to avail themselves of vastly improved travel allowances and prize money for modest jumps races.
There's an interesting comparison to be made with the amateur division of Point-to-Point racing where the value of a race is largely immaterial, subsumed beneath the all-important ground factor. Could we create a hierarchy of fixture importance that would manage our horse population better?
The world is certainly becoming a smaller place.