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Jamie Lynch's Weekend Preview: Horses for some courses

Ascot plays host to the Betfair Ascot Chase on Saturday.

"Unfairness is the essence of the horses for courses notion, that suitability is subjective, and I had a hunch that Ascot, the principal stage for this weekend, was more biased than most tracks when it came to horses giving their running..."

Looking ahead to Saturday's action, Jamie Lynch, with a little help from his friend, examines whether Ascot fits the 'horses for courses' model of discriminatory tracks...

The car crash is still revered as the king of uncomfortable fascination, but comments posted on YouTube have the same involuntary pulling power, to look when you know you really shouldn't, and I've seen nine motorway wreckages in my life whereas I watch clips on YouTube thirty times a day, twenty of them usually the enduring 'McCririck goes mental' compilation. I'm thirty-five and look at me.

Betting without the trolls, the comment-posters seem to fall broadly into five categories - the likers, identified by words such as 'awesome' and 'lmfao'; the haters, for whom things tend to suck; the defenders, those who deal in the noble art of countering the haters, often armed only with a 'get a life'; the incongruants, who dip in from left-field in with random musings; and the detailers (lol @ 1:21).   

It would take 1,700 years to watch every video on YouTube, each having an average of fifteen comments, mostly people disagreeing to disagree. You can quickly filter a lot of the rubbish, like a first sweep of the World Hurdlefield, by downloading the YouTube Comment Snob, a tool that automatically seeks and destroys illiterate or profane postings, but it's not for me, as that's exactly where I pan for gold, and YouTube - or 'the tube' as the kids call it - would be better off simply putting a 'horses for courses' disclaimer alongside every video, reminding that one man's meat is another man's poison, although Bute and Tesco have seen to it that one man's meat can now be the same man's poison courtesy of horses for main courses.

The term 'horses for courses', once the preserve of British racing, took on a life of its own through the last century to enter popular, global vernacular, to the extent that Prime Minister Harold Wilson described using the special knowledge of individual ministers as 'horses for courses' in the 1970s, while nowadays in Hollywood it's the go-to phrase for smart casting.      

Despite its proliferation, the concept of horses for courses is still alive and well in racing, brought into sharp focus this week by the low-key, dignified affair that is the announcement of the Grand National weights, where ratings are 'tinkered' by not the Hand of God but the Handicapper of God, who accounts for horses for courses through the phenomenon of the 'Aintree Factor' whereby those who've run well there in the past are liable to be hit harder in the one-off weightings ladder; not the same ladder that Paul Nicholls seemingly walked under at the start of a season in which he's lost Big Buck's, Al Ferof and now Tidal Bay, who carried my cash to pick up the £1m prize along with one dropped bollock. Encouraging top horses towards Aintree is one thing but making Tidal Bay 9 lb well in, 4 lb lower than the Hennessy, is discrimination bordering on the unfair.

Unfairness is the essence of the horses for courses notion, that suitability is subjective, and I had a hunch that Ascot, the principal stage for this weekend, was more biased than most tracks when it came to horses giving their running. That's the point I turned to Michael Williamson, Timeform's very own Sheldon Cooper and the man behind such internet hits as Jockey Ratings and Ruby Walsh: A Statistical Analysis, both of which used a sophisticated ratings-related calculation for revolutionary measurements, and both of which had the likers and defenders overwhelming the haters. 

Within five minutes, whizz-kid Williamson had come up with a table that he was at pains to stress was a first stab and dangerously unrefined but what mere mortals like me can barely get their tiny head around. And, needless to say, it proved me wrong. As wrong as wrong can be, in fact. 

Again, it must be emphasised that the study, at this stage, is not near so polished as the definitive one we hope to wheel out, but it was revealing in that, far from languishing near the bottom, Ascot featured in the top four for hurdles (incidentally behind Musselburgh, Cheltenham and Taunton) and top five for chases (hot on the heels of Lingfield, Sandown, Warwick and smaller-sampled Ffos Las) for jumps courses at which horses have performed to expectation since the year 2000. Equally enlightening is that there seems to be something in the 'Aintree Factor', given it is at the very bottom on both lists. 

The relative impartiality of Ascot does suggest that, in the feature Betfair Ascot Chase, it needn't be a hindrance to Cue Card that he hasn't been there before, even up against a couple of nigh-specialists in Finian's Rainbow and Somersby.   

Somersby in particular has shone whenever he's come to Ascot, including twice chasing home Master Minded and beating Finian's Rainbow (with Al Ferof third) in last season's Victor Chandler. Finian's Rainbow more than redeemed himself when winning the Champion Chase on his next start, but it's a braver man than me - albeit roughly 94% of the male population - who backs him here after flopping on his reappearance in November, since when he's had a breathing operation. One horse's flop is another horse's gateway, and Captain Chris built on that success (on his only Ascot start so far) to make Long Run run long and hard in the King George, but I've already pencilled in 'possibly not over Kempton exertions' on Saturday's report for Captain Chris, whose record last season suggests a gut-tearing race, as the King George was, might upset him. 

Cue Card had already run his race by the time guts were really wrenched at Kempton, and my gut feeling is he's as good as he looked at Exeter, and indeed in last year's Arkle, when he was the only horse that day, and possibly any day, to in any way live with Sprinter Sacre. He's never been to Ascot, as we've said, but that might not matter, as we've tried to establish. 

Whatever the track, strong form is strong form, and it's coincidental, if a positive coincidence, that the strong piece of form to The Rainbow Hunter's name came at Ascot. That was in a handicap in November, when he beat three horses who've all gone in since, namely Loch Ba, Politeo and Carrickboy, and The Rainbow Hunter is back over the same course and distance in the 14:40. Chepstow in the mud just a fortnight after Ascot was all too much for The Rainbow Hunter next time, but he's been given a break since, and the presence of Jason Maguire, on him for the first time, is another positive. 

I'm suggesting that you back The Rainbow Hunter, and praying to see comments underneath this article of 'awesome' from the likers rather than 'you suck' from the haters in the aftermath.

You can now follow Jamie on Twitter - @LynchyJM

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15 February 2013

Jamie Lynch

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