Racing UK

Angus McNae

Gosden and Hannon face a tough task during Guineas lead-in

23 April 2014

To win a race is easy. To progress a horse through a season without breaking him requires a lot more work.

What are we to make of the two recent 2000 Guineas trials?

Let us looks at what difficulties John Gosden and Richard Hannon face as the big day approaches next week.

First up the Greenham Stakes at Newbury. Kingman was an impressive winner. Those that like to rely on visual impressions were suitably full of praise for Khalid Abdullah’s runner.

As I regularly say, visual impressions of something moving at 40 mph have been scientifically proved to be unreliable.

Let me expand on this point. If Usain Bolt rattled past you down an athletic track you could say that he looked like a world beater. You would not know that conclusively without the evidence of the stopwatch. In essence it is impossible to tell how fast a horse or athlete is running with your naked eye. You need a clock.

The visual boys got lucky on this occasion, however, because the clock tells us that Kingman ran a big race.  

The clock told us in the Greenham, and when Kingman won his Newmarket maiden, that he is good and now we must ask whether he can run fast again.

Let us look into his potential to bounce. A horse bounces when he runs hard and fast first time up off a lay-off and then gets turned out relatively quickly and underperforms due to the physical effects of his previous effort.

Given that Kingman ran very fast he is certainly a bounce candidate. It could be argued that given how easily he won he did not exert himself to the maximum, some might say it was a stroll, and consequently he will have no physical effects.

It may have looked to be a stroll but any horse that ran as fast as he did must be putting in a ton of effort, and that horses do not need to be off the bridle to run hard.

So he is a bounce candidate, and one other factor that makes this a stronger possibility is that he has already had physical problems.

The difference between being a candidate to bounce, and actually running poorly lies in the skill of a trainer. One underplayed factor is how their respective careers are managed. Aidan O’Brien is a brilliant trainer because he realizes that horses need to be allowed to progress steadily in line with their own physical and mental maturity.

To push them too hard, and too early, can finish them. At the start of a three-year-old campaign to have them run a big figure and impress everybody can be detrimental to their future development. If they are super talented, as Kingman is, you are faced with a really tough task, particularly after he has flashed his brilliance.

Gosden therefore has a tough job with Kingman if he is to avoid him bouncing, only he can tell us what his approach on the gallops will be, and has been, since the Greenham.

He will certainly not want Kingman to be setting the clock alight at home.

The Craven Stakes at Newmarket was won by Toormore in a good time. This is an example of the eye not understanding what's happened because Toormore did run big on the clock, even though many race readers thought he just ran to par, or, amazingly in one case, was just workmanlike.

He was good, there can be no doubt about that. It has been said that he only beat The Grey Gatsby and that makes his effort ordinary. That is old fashioned analysis at its worst. The facts are that The Grey Gatsby ran really fast at HQ as well.

In running so fast he too could bounce but he looked to be idling in the closing stages. It was an observation that jockey Ryan Moore confirmed after the race, and there is a suspicion that even though he ran hard there may have been a little more in the tank.

If Kingman had a tank of fuel to use, despite visual impressions, he was nearly empty late on. Toormore may have had a bit more gas left and thus is less likely to bounce than Kingman.

Before we surmise that Hannon has an easier task of getting his charge to post next Saturday,

Toormore displayed a persistent tendency to hang left in the closing stages and was not amenable to changing legs.

Watch the race again and you will see Moore putting all of his weight on his right leg to try and help his mount change his lead leg and straighten - he also gave his mount three stern reminders on his left side to try to correct the drift.

Does this lead us to a conclusion that he has a physical problem that is being well managed? It is hard to say, but it could be the case and if so Hannon will have to wrap him up in cotton wool rather than train him.

One thing that will be remarkably different for Toormore in the Guineas is that Moore will not be riding and the returning Richard Hughes will be. This factor is interesting because they have contrasting styles. Moore is the more aggressive rider, the more active, and as a consequence horses have hard races under him. Hughes is the exact opposite, and it may just be that Toormore, if he does harbour a niggling problem, will respond to the kid gloves better than the iron fist.

Both trainers of these colts have a tough task, make no mistake. To trot out the usual line of we will just tick him over until the big day massively underplays the role that trainers play.

Most trainers could have got these horses to win their trials, but what distinguishes the best from the ordinary is their ability to steadily progress horses through the season without blowing the brains or shattering the chassis.

Aidan O’Brien is a master at it, and his horse Australia will ultimately prove his worth somewhere down the line if not on Guineas day. If either Toormore or Kingman are to do the same they will require handling of equal skill. Both Gosden and the Hannon team have shown they can do it in the past, and another big challenge awaits them over the ensuing days.

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