x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The luck of the draw is not so important at Meydan Racecourse

The gate matters less to the competitors at Meydan Racecourse than has been suggested especially if the pace of the contest is right.

The ‘Arabian Adventures’ race kicks off at Meydan Racecourse in November last year. Experts disagree with a point of view that horses on the outside gates are at a disadvantage.
The ‘Arabian Adventures’ race kicks off at Meydan Racecourse in November last year. Experts disagree with a point of view that horses on the outside gates are at a disadvantage.

Sir Henry Cecil, the leading British trainer, says he believes horses who start from the outside gates at Meydan Racecourse are saddled with a big disadvantage.

When Twice Over, his Dubai World Cup entry, failed to contend after being drawn wide in the last two runnings of the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) race, Cecil said he had no immediate plans to return to the track.

"It is a marvellous race; I may contest it again one day. But Twice Over doesn't deserve that again," Cecil said. "The start must be further back before they get to the bend. Where I have been drawn I've got no chance at all."

The World Cup, at 2,000 metres, is run around two turns of Meydan's Tapeta track. A horse drawn wide must cover more ground than a horse drawn on the inside rail, and the short distance to the first turn can make positioning difficult.

But jockeys, while acknowledging that an inside gate is advantageous, say the pace of a race has more effect on the outcome than a wide draw.

"A low draw is certainly a bonus, no doubt about it, but for me the best horses have been winning around Meydan," said Tadhg O'Shea, who leads the UAE jockeys championship with 24 wins this season. "Over any trip, if it's a false-run race [a race with a slow pace], no matter what the track, you are going to struggle in a wide draw.

"But if they are going quick, and you are on a decent horse, you usually find that you can slot in somewhere before you make your move."

Others who disagree with Cecil's opinion point out that Twice Over won last year's Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3, the World Cup dress rehearsal over the same distance, from gate 13.

On that occasion, Twice Over overcame the second-widest draw of all, galloping four wide into the finishing straight to win by almost three lengths. He also stopped the clock at 2 minutes 5.44 seconds, faster than Victoire Pisa's 2:05.94 World Cup-winning time.

Tom Queally, who rode Twice Over in that race and in his two World Cup tilts, said a wide draw could compound problems in a slowly-run race.

"A good draw is fairly important on a tight track as taking back from a bad draw makes you vulnerable in a race when there is no pace on," Queally said.

Mirco Demuro steered Victoire Pisa to last year's World Cup victory with one of the most astute tactical rides of the season. Missing the start after his horse clunked his head on the starting gate, Demuro found himself last.

Demuro was trailing the rest of the field coming off the first bend, but he realised the leaders were setting a dawdling pace and made a decision that won him the race.

"My horse usually starts very well, but this time we missed it," he said. "They were going so slowly and I was in last position and I knew that we had no chance in that situation, so after another 50 metres I decided that we had to make a move."

Demuro pulled his horse wide and accelerated into second place along the back straight and was in a prime position to challenge for the lead in the home stretch.

His winning time was the slowest over the distance that season, and 3.54 seconds slower than Golden Sword's course record.

Twice Over, a multiple Group 1 winner and a double Champions Stakes winner, finished ninth after jumping from gate 12. In the 2010 World Cup, he drew the 11th gate and finishing 10th.

Patrick Cummings of dubairacenight.com said he compiled statistics for the 2010/11 season and found no disadvantage to the outside gates.

"I don't believe there is a draw bias for the 2,000-metre races at Meydan," he said. "In consecutive years, horses drawn in 13 for the third round of the Maktoum Challenge have won, and both horses, Twice Over and Red Desire, suffered wide trips.

"It doesn't get much tougher than that, and they still overcame the draw to win. Twice Over, specifically, had a wide run around the first turn last year in his Carnival win, and overcame that."

Cummings said his research shows horses with different running styles have been able to win over the 2,000m distance.

"Over the 13 2,000m Carnival and World Cup races, there have been two winners that made all, two settled forward, six raced midpack, two came from well off the pace," he said.

"Factor in Victoire Pisa's crazy last-to-first rally whipping around the entire field on the backstretch and you get a diverse set of results.

"In the end, I believe the Tapeta plays fair related to draw. In the World Cup there is $10m in play, if that isn't the time to take a chance, I don't know what would be."

sports@thenational.ae