Never mind Nahaarr finishing the Ayr Gold Cup like he had been fired from a cannon, the most jaw-dropping race of the weekend was at Navan on Saturday, when Dreal Deal sailed past a bunch of handicap hurdlers as if he had joined in at halfway.
This was a horse who had shown no real promise in seven previous hurdle races, yet he had been backed as if such an effort was expected, from an opening 20-1 down to 6-4.
His performance was the more remarkable because he all but fell at the first flight, losing all momentum and quite a bit of ground, ballooned most of his hurdles thereafter and went widest of all. Yet, at one of the stiffest tracks in Ireland, those problems seemed to have taken no toll whatever as he cantered six lengths clear on the run-in. “We are chuffed,” said his owner/trainer, Ronan McNally, to the Racing Post.
But the mood had changed when McNally spoke to me on Sunday, by which time he says the handicapper had told him how much higher Dreal Deal will now be in the ratings. “He’s going up by 19lb because of this whole storm on social media,” McNally said. “That’s nearly like the horse winning four races.
“What’s the chance of him going and winning off 19lb higher now? His chances have vastly decreased. The media were saying: ‘Oh, he’s won with four stone in hand,’ but they were just saying it flippantly. They were laughing. And then everyone on social media kicked off, big gamble this, big gamble that.
“It’s near impossible, 19lb, Jesus. There’s £6,000 made [in prize money] and now I’m on a hiding to nothing.
“Everyone thinks you have this big gamble landed and you have all this money, that’s totally inaccurate. I’m very frustrated about the whole situation.”
McNally, who says there was sickness in his yard when Dreal Deal ran poorly in the past, backed him on Saturday but insists his winnings will hardly make a dent in the horse’s £50,000 purchase price. He is not, he adds, a big-time gambler and prize money is the income source on which he relies.
“I’m no different to any man, if I think my horse is going to run well, I’ll have a few quid on, that’s what most people in racing do. But if I thought I could run my operation through gambling, I’d be out of business in two days. You have to try and win prize money, jeepers creepers.”
The matter has been passed to Irish racing’s referrals committee for further investigation, so we will see if that process brings any further light. Personally, I reckon Dreal Deal has got off pretty lightly with a 19lb rise. As the Post’s analyst, David Jennings, noted: “He won with at least a stone in hand, possibly two, maybe even more.”
McNally’s operation is a small one but it is only just over a year since his name came up in similar circumstances, when the well-backed The Jam Man won easily at Southwell, having been beaten 98 lengths on his previous start. The trainer also felt that was explicable, mentioning sickness in his stable as explaining the horse’s previous form, and protested when the stewards interviewed him three times during the course of the day, saying it made him feel “like a criminal”, although no action was taken against him.
The Jam Man won his next three races and ended the season on a rating more than two stones higher than the one he had at Southwell. Who would bet against Dreal Deal’s career following a similar arc?
For some committed fans, such events add to the gaiety of racing but I got off that bus a few stops back. Potential new enthusiasts are put off by outcomes that essentially pulp the form book. The cost of Dreal Deal’s win is not only to the bookies.