Jordan McCarthy speaks about the recent controversy regarding the Kieran Burke-trained Hunt Ball.
Glazers out! Hicks and Gillet out! Very often do we hear sports fans call for the owners to move on from their club! This week saw another owner being asked to move on, but it was not in Old Trafford or Anfield. No, it was in the world of horse racing as trainer Kieran Burke requested owner Anthony Knott to take stable star Hunt Ball away from his training base in Dorset.
It may have come out of the blue to the owner but to many it was no surprise at all.
This horse has been a revelation for connections. He rose a staggering 73lbs in the handicap over the 2011-12 season. That campaign saw him take the Listed Novice Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham festival and finish a very good third in the Bowl at Aintree. It was by no means an easy achievement.
All seemed well coming into the new campaign. However, Hunt Ball’s owner is one who probably gets too involved. Anthony Knott may be seen as a colourful character in the world of Horse Racing. His horse has been a phenomenal improver and the horse even had a song composed in his honour. However, it was probably all a bit much for young trainer Kieran Burke.
The Cheltenham festival in March was the final straw. There is no doubt about that. Not because the horse had failed to hit the target. It was most likely the pathetic publicity stunt by Paddy Power that sent alarm bells ringing in Burke’s head. The BHA fined Hunt Ball’s connections this week a total of £5,000. The stunt was a disgrace and the sport doesn’t need farcical moments like that during this testing time. The BHA has acted accordingly and Paddy Power has offered to pay the fine.
Nevertheless, rookie trainer Kieran Burke has simply had enough of the media circus that Knott has brought with him. The horse has been released of his care and is now being sent to the sales at Doncaster in mid May. Young Burke has taken the decision in the best interest of his career and a massive amount of respect is owed to the ex jockey for taking such a dramatic choice.
Last season has to be seen as an anti-climax for Hunt Ball’s connections. On the course he did not quite live up to expectations but did finish a good third behind Champion Court at Cheltenham recently. The horse is not the problem though. It is his owner that is proving to be the trouble for Burke.
You would have to feel that the Handicapper has finally caught up with Hunt Ball but it has been an unbelievable rise for a horse tied to a small yard.
So, what next for Hunt Ball? It will be interesting to see whether he will go for a huge sum. He is currently rated 162 and that will mean lugging massive weight in prestigious handicaps. He does not look Gold Cup class and surely won’t trouble the Henderson pair of Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig at the minimum trip. Cue Card has made the area in between almost his own and don’t forget the exciting group of novices we have coming through next season.
However, DBS director Tim Kent feels that the son of Winged Love will attract plenty of support. He is of the opinion that the gelding has plenty of big days ahead of him and will be a big Saturday horse. That may be the case and good ground could indeed see him back to his best. We are not exactly spoiled for choice in the staying division, but the Gold Cup looks a step too far.
Maybe there is another big race left in Hunt Ball. One would hope so as he has been good for the sport. His owner on the other hand has not been so magnificent. The sale of the horse is a great opportunity for an investor and at least whatever trainer is lucky enough to get him won’t have to deal with Knott’s antics. Something tells me Willie Mullins or Paul Nicholls would not have put up with him for so long!
Owners are entitled to their opinion. After all they do pay the bills. However, the trainer is the man in charge and should be allowed to get on with the job. Knott has obviously failed to see that. The great thing about horse racing is that the trainer can tell the owner to move on. Can you imagine a Chelsea manager telling Abramovich to move on!
Look out for lot 330 at the Doncaster sales in two weeks time. It’s unlikely that he will go for a massive sum but it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds. Hunt Ball’s best days are probably behind him but maybe new surroundings could benefit the horse. Whatever the result just please don’t paint his hindquarters again!
Sport Is Everything. Jordan McCarthy.