Psycho gamble foiled by new rule
Although, in the current social climate of rights for all it may appear that punters demand to be spoon-fed rather too often, as a group they probably had a genuine grievance yesterday, for the sound that echoed over Leopardstown during the morning was that of goalposts being dismantled and re-erected.
Their dismay was prompted by the defection of top-weight Newmill from the Pierse Hurdle, one of the most competitive gambling contests of the Irish season. If the top horse in an Irish handicap is withdrawn, the burdens carried by the remaining runners rise (a rule introduced to prevent a cunning trainer from manipulating the system, heaven forfend!) and the significant effect yesterday was to ensure that all 29 runners competed off their correct marks.
This made the playing field level again for the seven who had been out of the handicap but for those analysts who had weighed up the race in advance the target had changed from a football net to rugby posts. And of course, the law of sod being what it is, the result confirmed the chagrin felt by many.
The 50-1 shot Penny's Bill, the lowest-rated horse in the field, held off the heavily-backed 11-2 favourite Psycho by a head.
The victory of Penny's Bill, worth £64,000 and cheered almost exclusively by bookmakers, was by far the most important in the career of Liz Doyle, who has a small string at Crossabeg, Co Wexford. It was also only her second of the season, following a bumper win from Cloone Stream at Cork the day after the Derby.
"The weights going up really helped us," admitted Doyle with some understatement. "But it's a race I like – I used to work for Pat Hughes, who won it twice – as it gives a great chance for a relatively ordinary horse to win a big pot."
Penny's Bill, most competently ridden by Sean Flanagan, was scoring for the first time since taking his maiden 14 months ago, but had shown a glimmering of form at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. "I've been struggling with the health of the horses lately and have had only a few runners," added Doyle, "but this one ran well at Christmas after a break, and I felt he could be competitive if he'd come on for that."
Flanagan, who claims 3lb, was not winning the two-mile feature out of turn, having been collared close home 12 months ago on another outsider, Brave Right. He gave Penny's Bill a similarly positive ride yesterday – he was never worse than third as two other lightweights, Lakil House and Superior Ben, took the field along at a brisk pace in filthy, rain-lashed conditions – and this time it worked, just.
"It was sweet to come back and get it right," said the young rider. "He travelled into the straight doing handstands and when he winged the last it was a great feeling. But Newmill coming out was probably the winning of the race for me."
Psycho, trained by handicap king Tony Martin, suddenly had to carry 11st 4lb instead of 10st 10lb and to give Penny's Gift the equivalent of a golfer's 17 shots instead of nine. He tried gallantly under Davy Russell, finishing clear of Carthalawn (20-1) and Splurge (14-1), who finished strongly from miles off the pace, and his supporters may have a chance to recoup losses at Newbury next month, in the Totesport Trophy.
But any frustration felt at Leopardstown was properly put in perspective by events at Lingfield. Four days ago horse-mad 15-year-old Jamie Yeates, who worked for Carmarthenshire trainer Alison Thorpe, was stabbed to death at his home in South Wales. Yesterday his hero Jamie Spencer marked his memory by winning on Thorpe's charge Dishdasha, a horse the teenager should have been leading up. Wearing a black armband, Spencer saluted skywards as he passed the post for his poignant victory. "Life's precious," said the jockey, "and this was just a young lad, starting out. It's very, very sad."
*Amy Baker is starting to make a name for herself as a female jockey to follow and she drove 16-1 shot Kinsman to strike for Surrey handler Tim McCarthy in the Gara Classified Stakes at Great Leighs yesterday.
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