Balnaslow’s success in the Foxhunters’ Chase at Aintree last April appears to be at risk, according to comments made this week by connections of the two horses who fought out the finish. The Antrim-trained horse finished strongly to score by two and a half lengths from Bear’s Affair but the owner of the runner-up suggested at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day that the result may yet be reversed.
“We were second in the Foxhunters at Liverpool,” George Barlow reminded a group of reporters, adding that he had been told to expect he would be awarded the Aintree race. “The Irish horse is being thrown out, apparently. But I haven’t officially been told. It’s common knowledge in the racing world but they haven’t actually told me. I might get a letter any day. I’ve been waiting 230 days for the official result.”
Graham McKeever, who has trained Balnaslow for the past two years, gave a short response when asked on Wednesday about possible disqualification. “I don’t really want to talk to you about it,” he replied. “Thanks for the call.”
Barlow was speaking in the aftermath of Beware The Bear’s victory at Cheltenham, a first at the track for the veteran owner. Bear’s Slipper carried his blue and red colours to victory in the Cheltenham version of the Foxhunters in 1973, only to be demoted for bumping a rival on the run-in.
Rumours are said to have been swirling around the Irish point to point scene for the past two months that Balnaslow is at risk of losing his April victory, the most significant of his long career, which began almost eight years ago. The bay had been a strong-finishing runner-up in the Aintree race the previous year and was a popular winner in the 2018 edition, for which he was second-favourite at 11-2. It was also an emotional moment for those connected to Balnaslow whose owner, Peggy Hagan, had died the previous November.
The British Horseracing Authority has a policy of not commenting in such cases. It gave its stock response when asked if there is any concern about Balnaslow’s win: “The BHA does not comment on investigations or speculation surrounding potential investigations.”
If Balnaslow were eventually to be disqualified or demoted that would not necessarily imply any fault on the part of his connections. McKeever has a good reputation among his peers, one of whom expressed sympathy for his situation on Wednesday.
Frost covers went down at Sandown on Wednesday in an attempt to ensure that Saturday’s meeting goes ahead. Sharp frosts are forecast for Thursday and Friday nights but Andrew Cooper, clerk of the course at the Surrey track, is very hopeful of racing going ahead unless temperatures are not much lower than expected.
If so, punters may get a first glimpse this season of the second-favourite for the Champion Hurdle, as Laurina is entered for a hurdle race on the card. The going on the hurdles track is still mostly soft, which is important, as her connections would not want to risk her on a drying surface.