The novices' hurdle at Newbury yesterday (1.40, January 16) produced a useful-looking winner in Howling Milan, however the performance of heavily-backed favourite Harambe, and more pertinently jockey Wayne Hutchinson, came under closer scrutiny here at Notebook Towers.
Quite why the Alan King-trained Harambe was such a short priced favourite is open to debate; the six-year-old has not proven to be the easiest to win with, pulling hard under restraint in some races while a change of tactics in a better race last time out over further ended in him finishing a tired fourth.
Reverting back to two miles with a return to 'waited with' tactics looked a sensible option, however Hutchinson, now one of the senior members of the weighing room, and riding the horse for the first time, opted to employ exaggerated waiting tactics in a field of 16.
I timed the gap between the front-running Howling Milan and Harambe at around 3.2 seconds crossing the first hurdle, some 100 yards after the tapes went back, conservatively estimated at about 15 lengths (regular clockwatchers will know what that equates to), a distance that only grew as the race progressed down the back straight.
Spotting a talented horse that much ground over 2m is a dangerous business, and Hutchinson will have known Howling Milan had plenty of ability having done his research on the race, as he finished behind him on the well-backed Reverand Jacobs in its previous race, and upsides on Brigade Of Guards the time before that.
Such a shambolic start to a race can often lend a completely different angle to it and render all pre-race discussion useless, and it was interesting that Premier League race caller Richard Hoiles changed his tone from an early point, implying concern for favourite backers as early as the first in the back straight when saying those at the head of the market (ie Harambe) were "30 to 40 lengths behind the leaders" (I made it 3.76secs or approximately 18L) at that point).
Either the leaders had gone off too fast (Sam Twiston-Davies not noted for getting the pace-setting fractions wrong) or Hutchinson had already thrown his chance away by setting his partner an impossible task.
Now, I'm no horseman (cue; How many winners have you ridden?) however I'm led to believe that many horses settled better racing in isolation than they do in a herd, so to speak. But there were many large gaps in a well-spaced field of runners from early on, although the favourite was buried within a group of what could be described as 'dead wood', with the jockey making no move whatsoever to close down the yawning gap on the leaders the entire length of the back straight.
Hoiles noted Harambe making some ground on the lead out of camera shot as they rounded the home turn but he still had seven in front of him and was a good 10 lengths off Howling Milan, who was not hard pressed to lead three out where the favourite made a slovenly leap that halted any forward momentum he might have been building.
From that point the race was over as a contest for both, Howling Milan powering on and Harambe struggling to muster any kind of challenge, hanging in behind horses after coming off the bridle, eventually trailing home almost 30 lengths (or nearly six seconds) behind the winner.
So, having been around 18 lengths behind on the clock as they crossed the second flight, the favourite was eventually beaten by almost 30 lengths. In very simplistic terms, it could therefore be argued that 12 lengths were lost from that second hurdle - had they been upsides early in the race that would have been the winning margin.
Maybe, maybe not.
Facts aside, the ride the favourite received should have come under closer scrutiny by those in the public domain, notably the stewards and also those covering the race in the media, namely on this occasion Racing TV.
Hutchinson landed a pre-emptive strike by reporting that Harambe ran 'flat', a standard comment from a jockey when an odds-on favourite has been beaten a distance.
That was swallowed by the stewards, who thought not to question why the rider was happy to restrain his horse nearly 20 lengths off an even gallop from an early stage, not to mention the small matter of why he chose to come widest in the straight, when the first race on the day clearly demonstrated the quickest part of the track may have been on the inside (as reported by winning trainer Gary Moore on Racing TV), a line traced by the winner.
This is not meant as a hatchet job on W Hutchinson, who unfortunately finds himself in the line of fire on an occasion when the betting public deserved far more disclosure on a ride that demonstrably wasn't good enough.
A second problem I have with this race is the use of the whip by Twiston-Davies, who was seen to strike Howling Milan twice despite being at least 25 lengths clear inside the final furlong.
Jockeys judge how far ahead they are without having to look round by the clatter of hurdles or fence behind them, so STD must have known he was a mile clear, however the majority of jockeys seem to ride the same finish no matter what the situation.
Twiston-Davies only eased up on the winner when he looked at the big screen, and then looked round to see clear daylight between himself and the rest. He could have done that upon landing over the last, giving the horse a much easier time in the process.
In this sensitive era when the very need for the whip is at the forefront of debate, it simply will not do for a vastly experienced rider to be so negligent in his use of the persuader. Anybody needing to bolster her argument against its value can use this as a prime example of why it need not be carried by jockeys at the end of a race.
I can't say I'm 'au fait' with all the rules of racing but it surely isn't that far-fetched for a more neutral observer to expect both jockeys be stood down for their rides at Newbury; Hutchinson for not riding his horse to achieve the best possible placing, and Twiston-Davies for striking his horse when clearly winning. It's not as if either is without precedent.
For my money, in neither case did the stewards do their job, for the betterment of the sport.