Pat Keane: Power not to blame for Benie Des Dieux’s demise

So, was it Robert Power or Paul Townend who was responsible for getting the “unbeatable’’ Benie Des Dieux beaten in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday? Perhaps it was actually the genius of the remarkable Rachael Blackmore, writes Pat Keane.

Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore (right) beats Benie De Dieux in the Mares Hurdle on Tuesday. Pat Keane believes the runner-up might have been better off running in the Stayers' Hurdle.
Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore (right) beats Benie De Dieux in the Mares Hurdle on Tuesday. Pat Keane believes the runner-up might have been better off running in the Stayers' Hurdle.

Team Willie Mullins certainly did not react kindly to seeing their pride and joy failing to reel in Honeysuckle and Blackmore up the Cheltenham Hill, going down by half a length.

Mullins, all but threw the toys out of the pram in the immediate aftermath, placing the blame squarely at the feet of Power. I thought his criticism was, at best, a trifle unfair.

Power was riding the Mullins-trained Stormy Ireland and did leave a gap big enough for a double decker bus up his inside turning for home.

The trainer reasoned it was something of a miscommunication, that Power may have felt one of the other Mullins runners was behind him, rather than Honeysuckle.

Said Mullins: “It looked like he just gifted the winner a huge gap, while Paul (Townend) was going on the outside. Things happen. We won’t want to watch it again.’’

That seems to me to do a disservice to Power. Stormy Ireland was getting very tired at the time and jumped a little to her right at the second last. That was why the gap suddenly became as wide as the Red Sea.

The notion also that Power should have closed the door on Honeysuckle, and left it wide open for one of the Mullins runners, is called team tactics and hardly within the spirit of the game.

Quite honestly, I don’t think Power could have done a whole lot else on Stormy Ireland, considering she was legless from the back of the second last, before finishing a remote fifth.

Ruby Walsh, not too long gone from the jockeys’ room, and still very much part of the Mullins set-up, didn’t spare either Townend or Power on ITV.

Basically, Walsh felt Townend should have shoved Power in and Power should not have allowed Blackmore up his inside. Now whether you agree or disagree with Walsh doesn’t matter, what matters is he had the courage to say what he said.

A pundit or columnist has to have a strong opinion, and be prepared to express it, otherwise they are essentially worthless.

Blackmore was brilliant, gambling on getting a dream run and being rewarded in a manner that meant the difference between victory and defeat. In the meantime, Townend raced much wider and paid the ultimate penalty

Oh, and here’s another thought, did Benie Des Dieux run in the wrong race and would she have been better suited to the extra half mile of the Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday.

Her two outings prior to Cheltenham were at Gowran Park in January and Auteuil in May. The Gowran contest was over three miles and she won by 21 lengths.

The Auteuil race, a Grade 1, was over three miles and about one and a half furlongs - you can watch it on the Attheraces website - and she scored going away by six and a half lengths. You would have to say on Tuesday Benie shaped as rather one-paced.

We know for sure now, Envoi Allen is the real deal and a horse with enormous potential. It is a well-established cliché, but he could be anything.

I must confess I thought he was in big trouble off the home turn in Wednesday’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, but by the time the line was reached was over four lengths clear of stable companion, Easywork.

To ride him the way Davy Russell did required nerves of steel and those who had the maximum on definitely had some anxious moments

This was a good race on paper, looked even better when it was over, and yet Envoi Allen was backed as if defeat was out of the question.

There were millions for him on the exchanges and he was basically a ridiculous price (4-7) when the starter let them go.

It all worked out fine in the end, but I continue to literally be in awe of punters who are prepared to trade at such odds. And they do it over and over again.

It reminded me of a story a bookmaker told me many years ago, when there was, unlike now, real money wagered in the betting rings of Ireland.

A racegoer reacts during day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse.   Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
A racegoer reacts during day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

This was a major layer, more than willing to do battle with anyone with a wad of cash, who wanted to come out and play.

One night at Kilbeggan, he took on the favourite big-time in the first race on the card, a maiden hurdle.

Turning to face the last flight only two counted, the market-leader and another horse that would win him thousands, if turning over the jolly. 

The bookmaker said: “As they came to the hurdle, I looked up at the sky and promised God if the favourite gets beaten to never behave like this again.

The favourite did get beaten and didn’t I hop back up on the box and carry on the exact same way for the next race.’’

The moral of the story is that old habits die hard. And, of course, punters who love to bet particularly short odds, can reflect on such when they’re broke!

The worst value bet of the week surely had to be Willie Mullins’ Carefully Selected in Tuesday’s three miles and six furlongs National Hunt Chase.

I know it was a weak race, as evidenced by the eventual success of the rather enigmatic Ravenhill, but Carefully Selected was hardly bomb proof. He arrived on the back of justifying odds of 4-6 at Naas at the end of January. 

But that was a bad contest, his jumping technique left plenty to be desired and he didn’t seem overly happy travelling left-handed either.

After Naas, he reportedly schooled well at Navan, but that was hardly enough, you’d have thought, to convince punters he should be regarded as a Cheltenham banker.

But seemingly it was more than sufficient and he was returned at 10-11 and could be laid at not much more than evens on Betfair at the off.

Indeed, at the off €4.7m was matched on Betfair. Carefully Selected then proceeded to run a stinker, never giving those who plunged any cause for optimism.

The ride of the week had to be Barry Geraghty’s extraordinary display in winning on Champ in Wednesday’s RSA Chase.

The crowds were down, but quite extraordinary too, given the continued and utterly irritating corona virus. And something that was, to put it mildly, also utterly irritating was the number of false starts. Just don’t get me started!

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