Ashforth’s Angles: Loopholes remain classified

Sir Mark Prescott: The master of finding loopholes

  PICTURE: EDWARD WHITAKER  

W C FIELDS hated Christmas Day, particularly Christmas Day 1946, the day of his death. Shortly before he died a visitor was surprised to see Fields, a dedicated atheist, studying the Bible. “Just looking for a loophole,” Fields explained.

Drink killed him, just as it gave him his bulbous nose and difficulty behaving as film directors wanted him to. A misanthropic comic genius, Fields came up with some wonderful lines, many of them his own. In Tillie and Gus (1933), playing Augustus Q Winterbottom, Tillie asks him “Do you like children?” “I do if they’re properly cooked,” Gus replies.

It was said to have been Fields but probably wasn’t who remarked, “Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”

Loopholes

But back to loopholes. Not W C Fields but Wilfred Underwood and his Memorial Classified Stakes at Pontefract (4.40). Classified Stakes have a special place in the history of loopholes.

Introduced in 1998, they are conditions races with a maximum handicap rating, 75 in today’s race. Since, apart from penalties for winners, runners of the same age carry the same weight you need a horse to be on or close to the maximum rating. No surprise, then, that all eight of today’s runners are rated between 72 and 75.

Yet it took a long time for many trainers to appreciate the folly of running horses rated much lower, a course of action very unlikely to result in victory but if the horse ran well quite likely to lead to a hike in its handicap mark, usually unwanted.

Take the 0-80 Classified Stakes race run at Brighton in October 2001. Six of the 14 runners were rated between 30 and 56. Unsurprisingly, none finished closer than seventh. For sharper minded trainers, as a bonus, fillies got a 3lb allowance. Sir Mark Prescott and Mark Johnston ran three-year-old fillies rated 80. Sea Vixen, Prescott’s representative, won and Early Morning Mist, for Johnston, finished second.

The loophole has since been closed – but not entirely. In Class 3 and above Classified Stakes races fillies still get a 3lb allowance. In September, Ascot stages two such races, both for horses rated 0-90. A three-year-old filly rated 90 will carry 3lb less than a three-year-old colt rated 90. Can someone please explain why? What is certain is that Prescott and Johnston will have taken note.

Prolific winner

It wasn’t a Classified Stakes race but which horse running at Musselburgh has won on the beach at Laytown? The answer is Seamster (8.40), a stalwart sprinter although also a winner over seven furlongs.

A Godolphin reject, Seamster has won for every trainer he has been with, apart from Saeed bin Suroor. Mark Johnston, Richard Ford (for whom Seamster won at Laytown in 2014), David O’Meara and David Loughnane have all won with the nine-year-old. Seamster has twice won two races in a row. Can he do it again?

And can Josephine Gordon, having her fourth ride for Sir Michael Stoute, have her first win for him on Third Rock at Windsor (7.25)? I think so.

 

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