Flemenstar a serious talent, but stamina sapping tests yet to come
By Pat Keane
If the magnificent National Hunt racing we have been watching over the last week or so hasn’t got the juices flowing then you really are in the wrong game.
Pride of place surely has to go to Peter Casey’s Flemenstar, who was positively awesome on his seasonal reappearance at Navan last Sunday.
This was the horse’s sixth straight win and there is no doubt he is a serious talent. That said, quotes of between 7-1 and 9-1 are surely ridiculous for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
He jumps and travels like a dream through his races and all the evidence so far is that between two miles and two and half are what suits him ideally.
Flemenstar never won beyond two miles over flights, although he did run in just two hurdle races anyway.
But when stepped up to two and a half at Fairyhouse in April of last year, he only managed to finish fourth behind Lambro.
Of course Flemenstar is a much more mature horse now and jumping fences was always going to be his true calling.
But the simple facts as they stand are that he has yet to win beyond two and a half miles over fences.
Those who know far more about the subject than I ever will say he is bred to stay, but then rumour has it that Pavarotti’s brother hadn’t a note in his head!
For the moment, however, Flemenstar is a horse to be enjoyed and the speed and jumping power he displayed at two miles at Navan was a joy to behold.
I know there is plenty of precedent for horses being top-class at the minimum trip and then proving equally, if not more, effective when tackling the three and a quarter miles of the Gold Cup. Kauto Star and Kicking King are the two who immediately spring to mind.
But so what? All that proves is it can be done, but won’t make a jot of difference to Flemenstar the individual when he attempts to make the massive leap up in distance.
Right now the seven-year-old hasn’t even proved he stays three miles. You can keep him as a Gold Cup candidate, until he actually gets to tackle a stamina-sapping test against genuine Grade 1 horses.
If he comes through with flying colours then that will be time enough to be jumping aboard his Gold Cup bandwagon.
It took real balls to do what Robbie McNamara and Patrick Mullins did in that bumper at Navan last Sunday.
McNamara was riding Champagne James for Ted Walsh and Mullins Blackmail for Tony Martin, and both horses were carrying heavy responsibilities.
But by about halfway Noel Meade’s Eligible had established a massive lead, which was all the more worrying considering Nina Carberry was in the plate.
But the two boys remained unmoved, refused to panic, refused to make an effort that might prove premature and how they sat and suffered for so long was extraordinary.
If it had gone pear-shaped then there is no doubt one, or both, would have been pilloried by the public and the press. Their judgement, however, proved almost frighteningly accurate and they gradually closed down the leader.
In the end Champagne James strolled home in front of Blackmail and everything was right with the world! Could this have been a really good race? We won’t know for a while, of course, but the portents do appear reasonably favourable.
The word is that prior to Navan, Blackmail had finished second in schooling bumper to Go Native, with some smart horses behind.
At the line on Sunday Champagne James was far better than him, so we await developments in the coming weeks.
How good is Ned Buntline, who won a bumper at Naas a week ago? Again we will have to wait for some of the horses that finished behind him to run before arriving at firm conclusions, but this was a savagely impressive performance. What was striking was the manner in which they were strung out like Mrs Brown’s washing at the end and that is always a source of real encouragement.
I have a feeling Ned Buntline’s immediate victim, Milan Bound, beaten five and a half lengths into second, is more than useful and will almost certainly want to be with him next time.
Two others who caught the eye last weekend, and have future winners written all over them, are Make A Track and Lord Windermere.
Make A Track was second to Noel Meade’s Texas Jack at Naas and Lord Windermere made an excellent start over fences, and seasonal debut, when mugged by the enigmatic but talented Dylan Ross at Navan.Home