The 2014 Flat Season
The Moore family had a much better Cheltenham than the Hughes’s and something similar can happen during the Flat season which begins properly with the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster. The all weather has begun but it’s the Lincoln meeting in Yorkshire that marks the start of Flat racing on turf.
Ryan Moore is the son of Gary and brother of Jamie, the trainer and rider of Sire De Grugy who won the Champion Chase. Richard Hughes is the son of Dessie whose festival dreams were totally shattered by the fatal fall of Our Conor in the Champion Hurdle. Hughes is odds on favourite to win the jockey’s championship for the third year in succession but there are valid reasons to oppose him at the relative odds.
Hughes is the stable jockey to Richard Hannon junior who has taken over from his father as the yard’s trainer. The operation is being described as a well oiled machine and the transition is expected to be smooth. However, they said that about David Moyes when he took over from Sir Alex and look what’s happening at Old Trafford
Richard Hannon senior will still have some involvement but ultimately the decision making process is with his son. He has been assisting his father for a number of years and will not introduce any new methods to make an impact in his new job. The elder member of the family will continue to deal with owners but his son has ultimate responsibility for the financial well being of the stable.
There are precedents for a son inheriting the role of trainer from his Dad but the most recent cases are with jumps families. Donald McCain inherited his father’s stable and won a Grand National and races at Cheltenham immediately. David Pipe now runs the family business but Martin is still involved, though everybody knows whose boss. The Pipes had three winners at Cheltenham and David has also already won a Grand National.
However, the transition could be more difficult for a Flat yard. The turnover of horses is greater and there is more emphasis on identifying potential champions. Richard Hannon has 160 two year olds in his stable this season and his father has no experience of training them. A higher turnover of inmates means fresh owners to deal with and that presents more challenges than in a jumps yard that has changed hands.
A jockey needs to be dedicated and hungry for the Flat championship and after two years of relentless pursuit of the title Hughes may not be as committed this year. He is some years older than Moore and might be more focused on winning the best races than building up a huge total of winners. Moore may be more likely to travel to Windsor on Monday nights in the summer.
When quoted in the Racing Post about his prospects of winning the title again Hughes was not too convincing in an assessment of the new season. “ A third title would be nice, but I’ll just play things the same as usual – just try to ride plenty of winners up to Goodwood and then if I have to work a bit harder I will.” he said. I’m sure in the past he’s sounded more determined and proactive in pursuit of the title.
The champion jockey rode his first two winners in English Classics last season and those rides may have given him a taste for the bigger races. Having won the title for the last two seasons he could now put quality over quantity. He rode 17 more winners than Moore last season and that was having dedicated himself to the job. It could be that Moore has the hunger this season to ride more winners than Hughes and looks the jockey to back at the relative prices.
The Lincoln is one of the major handicaps of the season but without the race the start of the Flat is uninspiring. I think the turf season should start later in the year after the Grand National and not so soon after Cheltenham. It seems strange that a major Flat race is being run in between the two major jumps meetings of the season.
The racing and national press will cover the race but most race fans are still in jumps mode and surely it could be better marketed after the National. The Easter weekend can complicate matters but I think the Lincoln should be take place on the next Saturday after the National. Even so finding the winner is devilishly hard whenever the race is run.
At the time of writing 10 days ahead of the race its 16/1 the field and unfortunately my knowledge of the form does not extend to identifying potential winners. A little knowledge could be a dangerous think but I know Levitate and Brae Hill have run well in major handicaps in the past. There also a horse called Haaf A Sixpence that likes a big field and straight track and he will get both at Doncaster.
The subplot of the season will be the race for the jockey’s championship between Hughes and Moore. One significant injury could swing the balance one way or the other but Hughes’ reliance on so many juveniles is an intangible factor and that means Moore is my selection to outscore his nearest rival between now and November.