I am fired up! Trying to relax on vacation and Justin O’Hanlon has made me as angry as I have been in a long time. “Who is Justin O’Hanlon?” you may ask. He is a Race Reporter for the Racing Post and his report for the 1.55pm race at Fairyhouse today will win him the award for the Worst Race Report of 2017 together with a collective gasp of “where did that come from?” He either had half his mortgage on the odds-on favourite beaten by a nose or he has such a personal dislike of Kevin Sexton (the rider of the winner) that, when turned into print, it makes him sound ridiculous.
This is what happened:
Kevin Sexton rode a 66/1 outsider ,Discorama, in this 2 mile, 2 furlong maiden hurdle (a race for horses who have not previously won over hurdles). Discorama had had only one previous run in his life, finishing 2nd in a National Hunt Flat race (Bumper), so this was his very first run over hurdles
Blow by Blow was the 9/10 favourite. He had won three Bumpers in the first half of 2016 but did not run again until November 15th this year. One of those Bumper wins was in a Grade 1 and he was considered by many to be a potential Cheltenham horse. He ran ok in his first hurdles race but needed the race and was fully expected to win today.
There were 25 runners and Blow by Blow was prominent throughout. Discorama started in mid-division and occupied that place for the first 2/3rds of the race. He began to move up with half a mile to run, was slightly baulked by a faller at the 3rd last and was left in fourth place. However, the front two had no such obstacles to contend with and began to open up a significant lead. Discorama continued to make ground moving into third between the last two hurdles with Kevin getting into a lower riding position using his hands and heels; Kevin gave him a couple of taps with the whip after the second last but soon put it down as the horse was running on well. He continued to ride him out, got a good jump at the last, switched between the two leaders and just got up on the post to beat the favourite.
Irishracing.com saw the race similarly to myself stating:
The former Grade 1 bumper winner (Blow by Blow) rallied well to get the better of that rival (Roseriver Has – the eventual third) going to the last but couldn't hold the late charge of Discorama.
Kevin Sexton got a good tune from Paul Nolan's charge on the run-in and he just edged the verdict by a nose at the line
Justin O’Hanlon saw it a very different way and decided to take up most of his race report with the following (repeated in full):
Quite an interesting race! The winner hardly felt the weight of the whip in getting up late.
DISCORAMA is clearly a horse of some ability to win this in the manner he did. He made gradual progress through the field and made up his ground without much fuss while seemingly too far off the pace to make a challenge. He was third jumping the last with his rider just nudging him, and really his vigour didn't go up dramatically as the horse closed on the labouring favourite all the way to the line. If the horse had not got up, who knows how the stewards would have reacted as it did not look good. This is a good horse, he will make a bigger mark than this.
Let me paraphrase:
Kevin Sexton tried his best not win this race, did not make any effort to win even when closing after the last and it was only the fact the favourite got tired that allowed him to win the race. A blatant non-trier and he was lucky he won or else the Stewards would have had him on the carpet!
This is just about as excoriating as race reports get in describing a jockey’s performance. However, it is absolute nonsense and O’Hanlon should be ashamed of himself. Like I say, I have no idea what caused him to write it but he would be well advised to count to a 100 (and think of his reputation) before writing anything else so bizarre.
If you would like to watch the closing stages, this link has a video. Click here You can decide for yourself
A few pertinent facts:
1) This was a 25 runner maiden hurdle. There are similar races run every week in which there are ‘non-triers’ for all sorts of reasons; inexperienced horses being given the chance to enjoy racing; horses who need the run for fitness, horses who are being prepared for another race on another day and so on. One thing they all have in common is that they do NOT win! You have to be a pretty poor jockey to accidentally win a 25 runner maiden hurdle – Sexton is not that jockey.
2) O’Hanlon goes racing all of the time and, if he so chose, could list 20 horses a week that were ‘not off’ (ie not trying) across all of the races. The comments he made today are as strong as any he has made and to do so about a jockey who actually won the race is inexplicable
3) But let’s assume he is that jockey and that, by mistake, he found himself too close coming to the last hurdle. I would suggest that that is not the time to sit motionless (as O’Hanlon suggests) and that, instead, you do what you can to win the race. Let’s face it, if the plan was to have the horse finish in the middle of the field, then that plan is already blown apart coming to the last so the jockey may as well try and win; the damage has been done. Even if he was still trying not to win coming to the last he still had options: he could have got him in too close to the last and lost momentum, he could have run him in behind the leader instead of switching him; he did neither.
However, is it not more likely that Sexton, knew the horse was running as fast as it could, was not going to run faster for ‘more vigour’ and was happy to get him to jump the last well, switch position and have the horse ‘pick up’ and go on to run his race?
Whatever the truth it still undermines O'Hanlon's main premise: that at no stage, even on the run-in, did Kevin try to win the race
4) Paul Nolan's stable (the trainer of Discorama) has seen some of it's horses 'over-bet' which would indicate a gamble. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to organize a gamble in Ireland given the disproportionate strength of the bigger yards. Obviously, at a starting price of 66/1, there was no gamble today but I doubt if the horse was being lined up for another race; the fact is that this was only the 4th winner of the season for Paul Nolan and his strike rate is 5%. Like many smaller trainers he is probably happy to win whatever he can and worry about the handicap mark later
5) Kevin Sexton has had a tough 18 months after being banned for substance abuse. He is knuckling down and is riding out at Paul Nolan’s. He has not had many opportunities since he came back from injury in July and this was his first winner since early September. He is trying to reestablish himself and it is not in his interest to ride a poorly judged race or, as is the accusation, not try to win a race.
Anyone who reads this blog will know that Kevin rides Bay of Freedom. I am a supporter of his and truly hope that he continues to knuckle down and focus on racing; he is a very talented jockey and the better rides will come if he keeps his head down. The last thing he needs or deserves is the insinuation that O’Hanlon has cast. I look forward to Kevin riding Bay of Freedom in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas; I would be only too happy if he doesn’t have to move a muscle on him if he wins!