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Call to tackle small fields

An increase in novice handicap chases, rather than handing inexperienced chasers too stiff a task in graduation chases, could lead to bigger fields, according to trainer Brendan Powell.

Monday's card at Kempton came under fire as it featured two match races with two runners and another with just three, with trainer Nicky Henderson calling it 'embarrassing', but Powell does not see whatcan be gained from running lesser-rated horses in races like the graduation chase won by Whisper.

Henderson's winner had an official rating of 155, and defeated the 154-rated Clan Des Obeaux by half a length.

"I'd love to have something to run in that," Powell said. "But all our horses are rated between say 100 and 125-130. I saw that race reopened and I've a couple of horses who could run in beginners' chases, but there's absolutely no point taking on horses like Whisper, getting nowhere near them andgoing round for third prize. Owners want winners."

Powell also thinks overfacing horses can increase the risk of an injury and added: "If you've a horse running faster than it would normally, the chances of getting an injury are quite high."

While accepting that graduation chases have their place, Powell would like to see more handicap chases for novices with tighter bands.

"If they had more novice handicap chases, that's what the likes of us are looking for," he said. "There's a lot of handicap chases, but not many novice handicap chases, 0-145, 135 or 125. Races like that would fill up and they would be very competitive."

Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers Federation, is an advocate of graduation chases, however, as he feels they fulfil an important purpose in shaping a horse's career.

"Nicky Henderson made the point that trainers with those types of horses need those types of races," Arnold said. "For chasers who lack experience you need those types of races even though there aren't that many horses who require them. It's important for the public and racecourses to understand that, particularly with jumping, there's always going to be certain types of race that won't attract large fields.There's always going to need to be a small number of races that are not there as a betting product, they're there to develop the horse.

"Without that those horses don't end up at Cheltenham, providing the spectacle everybodyloves and appreciates."

For Ben Pauling's exciting novice chaser Willoughby Court, a graduation chase could be an option at some point in the six-year-old's career, and the trainer would run him in such a race if it suited.

"The reason they're used predominantly by Nicholls and Henderson and the like is because they have the most horses they've got to find races for," Pauling said. "If you owned Whisper or Clan Des Obeaux and were a smaller trainer with only a handful of horses that good, you might be looking at better targets earlier in the season. Those who do have strength in depth have the option of cherry-picking certain races."

However, Pauling expressed disappointment at the lack of entries for Kempton's race and added: "It's a shame people weren't prepared to put horses in.

"If I had ahorse looking for that sort of division this season– and Willoughby Court could run in one this year if we wanted him to– I would definitely run them, as they have good money and are generally run on nice tracks."


14 November 2017

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