Trainers question ban on horses being declared twice at the festival
The decision to limit horses to a single Cheltenham Festival outing has been called into question by trainers who have doubly declared, or run a horse twice, at the meeting.
The rule change was unveiled on Monday, along with the news that the second-last fence on the Old course would be moved for the third time in nine years, and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle would for the first time bring the festival to a close.
The reason behind limiting horses to a single declaration was, according to Cheltenham, to provide greater certainty for racegoers, the media, the off-course betting market, and international audience, as well as boosting standards of equine welfare.
However, in echoes of the reaction to the BHA decree that jumps horses should all be shod behind – which trainers felt was a welfare decision they were capable of making, and which has now been delayed to allow for further consideration – handlers yesterday were not convinced there was a need for Cheltenham to act.
Richard Hobson ran Shantou Flyer last March in the Ultima Handicap Chase on the Tuesday, and declared him the following morning for Friday's Gold Cup. Such a move has now been outlawed.
"It depends on individual horses," he argued. "Shantou Flyer is tough and hardy and always holds a bit back to himself. He came out of the Ultima very, very well and there was a possibility he was going to run in the Gold Cup, a strong possibility.
“If it wasn't for the fact he was entered in the Grand National and we knew we were going for the National, he probably would have run in the Gold Cup. Different horses, different athletes; horses take races differently.”
Asked if he thought preventing horses from running twice at the festival was wrong, he replied: "Absolutely, if you have the right horse who can take racing well.
"Shantou Flyer knows the time of day and is as hardy as they come; he knows the game inside out, what he's got to do and what's asked of him. I cannot see why there'd be felt a problem with such horses, but obviously for others it would be completely different as they need a week or two week to get over a race.”
AT THE DOUBLE
Shantou Flyer (2018) – 2nd in Ultima; declared for Gold Cup but NR (Richard Hobson)
Douvan (2018) – Fell 4 out in Champion Chase; declared for Ryanair but NR (Willie Mullins)
Empire Of Dirt (2017) – 4th in Ryanair; declared for Gold Cup but NR (Gordon Elliott)
Quel Esprit (2010) – Fell 2nd in Neptune; 6th in Albert Bartlett (Willie Mullins)
Contraband (2008) – 13th in Champion Hurdle; PU in Gold Cup (Paul Murphy)
Our Armageddon (2004) – PU in Arkle; won Cathcart (Richard Guest)
Generosa (1999) – Won Stakis Casinos [now Pertemps] Final; 3rd in Coral Cup (John Hassett)
Mysilv (1996) – 6th in Champion Hurdle; 2nd in Stayers' Hurdle (Charlie Egerton)
John Hassett, who in 1999 saddled Generosa to win what is now the Pertemps Final and finish third in the Coral Cup 24 hours later, also believes trainers are best placed to make decisions over running a horse back quickly.
Hassett, 82, said: “They’re not seeing the thing from both sides of the fence when they make these rules. It was a bit of a call to run Generosa the day after she won the Pertemps, but we said we’d take our chance.
“It was more insurance than anything to leave her in in the Coral Cup but when I had her so well we decided to run, and she was only narrowly beaten.
"If she’d fallen at the first in the Pertemps, or something occurred, at least we had the option of going to the Coral Cup. We never thought we’d run in the two races but we did and, as we all know, things can change a lot with horses.”
He added: “Trainers know their horses better than anyone, and this ruling takes away options. Who are they to decide this? By all means inspect the horse to see if it's sound enough to run again. That would make more sense, rather than coming up with a rule as black and white as this.”
Multiple festival-winning trainer Tony Martin, who sent out Busted Tycoon to win three times in a week at the Galway festival in 2013, was another with some observations on the new ruling.
“It was before my time but Flyingbolt won a Champion Chase by 15 lengths and went out and finished placed in a Champion Hurdle the next day," he said. "But I don’t know, they’re only trying to make the game safer.
"Busted Tycoon won her first race early in the week at Galway and she had five days to recover before she won again on the Saturday and Sunday. Maybe Cheltenham is a little different.
“It depends on the horse and the owner. Some horses might do more in a gallop at home than they’d do in winning a race. It’s a hard one to call.”
Get exclusive insight from the track and live tipping with our up-to-the-minute service on racingpost.com and the Racing Post mobile app