With the ground the way it is, this is going to be another quiet weekend for the stable. There was rain due yesterday evening, more today and by tomorrow we could even be thinking we should have had more runners declared but, as it stands, the ground at Fairyhouse and Navan is too dry, writes Ruby Walsh.
Cheltenham changed its ground back to good yesterday and good for today, and that’s why Laurina didn’t go - we’ll have to find a new target for her over the New Year. We’re just so short of rain, I guess everyone is starting to wonder what Leopardstown will be like next week.
I was there during the week and the track is in great condition and it’s ready for rain, but it’s going to take a good drop of rain to get it where national hunt horses need it.
The longer the season goes like this, the less exposed the horses will be and that will make it tricky for punters trying to pick the right ones for the Cheltenham Festival. The horses will be fresher and less exposed, and it will make for interesting racing.
I was supposed to be in Cheltenham today but now have the day off. Willie has three runners in Fairyhouse, and the first is Farid, a three-year-old owned by J P McManus and ridden by Mark Walsh. I schooled him last week, he jumped really well, works nicely, and I’d be hopeful of a good start.
We run Pont Aven in the two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle. He got balloted out in Tramore the other day. He hasn’t run since making his debut in a good bumper at Fairyhouse in April, but he jumps well, and our horses are in great form so hopefully he will run well. But it’s a hot race and I’d expect him to come on for the run.
We run Fasola Tido in the four-year-old fillies’ bumper. She’s not the biggest filly in the world but she’s quite strong. We’re happy with how she has been working, and I think she’ll run a very big race here.
I have two rides tomorrow at Navan, starting off with Easy Game in the Grade 2 Novice Hurdle. We run two here and, on Listowel form, our other horse, Getareason, probably has the beating of Easy Game. But he has been disappointing in two runs since, whereas Easy Game looks to be improving.
He did well to get up the last day as I got caught quite far back in a slowly run race. Western Victory is a confirmed front runner and hopefully he will ensure a decent pace. All that said, if all the rain that is forecast falls, I don’t know if Getareason or Easy Game will handle really soft ground, but as it stands they’re both entitled to take their chance.
We also run two in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle, but there’s a huge field for this. I ride Calie Du Mesnil, who did well on her first two starts but seems to have plateaued a bit now. Orion D’aubrelle is on a bit of a retrieval mission, having disappointed over fences on his last start. Prior to that he won in Listowel and his last run over hurdles was okay, when he was placed in a handicap at Punchestown.
Both of our horses have a nice racing weight, but you’d have to think that somewhere in this field there lurks a horse better handicapped than them.
There’s good racing today in Cheltenham, and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup looks a rematch of the last day, in the BetVictor Gold Cup, in which Baron Alco beat Frodon. Doing the double is difficult – I think Exotic Dancer was the last to do it – and I don’t know if Baron Alco is Exotic Dancer, but I think both have a great chance.
Rather Be also runs, and he was going well when brought down in the BetVictor and is favourite to gain compensation. There was plenty of trouble in that race but Baron Alco and Frodon showed they can cope in that sort of race, and I expect they will go well again.
Obviously, I’m very disappointed Laurina isn’t in the International Hurdle. It’s a competitive renewal but is there a serious Champion Hurdle contender in the field? I don’t think so.
Summerville Boy has huge questions to answer after his comeback run behind Buveur D’Air, but he did improve for a run last year and this track will definitely suit him. They are on the new course today and there’s less jumping on this track than there was in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. There are only two hurdles in the final seven furlongs, and that will suit Summerville Boy.
Last Saturday I was in Sandown to ride Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek, and Altior proved he was too good for him.
It’s a while since I was racing in England on a Saturday, a while since I rode in a meeting like that. I wasn’t riding until late so I didn’t get to the meeting until close to the first race, but to look at the crowd going in on a Saturday and to see the age profile of those going racing was very encouraging.
There was a huge number of 25-40-year-olds going there for a day out. There was no sideshow – no concert, no best-dressed, not even a playground at the track. These were people going for the sport, for the entertainment that was going on on the track.
I know you had a headline act in Altior, and Un De Sceaux taking him on, but Sandown had a great crowd there to watch it.
Even after riding Un De Sceaux and coming second on him, a large crowd tracked him all the way from the course to the unsaddling enclosure. They were genuine racing fans, there to watch the racing.
I just marvelled at the core age of the audience, and it reassured me there’s a future there, attendance-wise, for English racing.
During the week, the BHA released their 75-page review of the Cheltenham Festival and their recommendations for what went right and wrong. An awful lot of work went into it, but the basic answer looked obvious before it started: putting more water on the course is what it came down to.
If you make the ground slower, horses have to go slower and fewer things go wrong. You can’t put a speed limit on the track, but if you make the ground slower the horses have to go slower, or they won’t complete.
That was the basis of what I read, and if Cheltenham fulfil the recommendations of the report the ground will be slower at Cheltenham in March than we are used to. And I think they’d be right to implement that. National Hunt racing is, by and large, a winter sport, and should be played in winter conditions.