It has become an all-too-familiar refrain now but we remain in some sort of limbo until we get a serious drop of rain. It’s good, good-to-yielding ground, there are people mowing lawns, midges flying around – there’s nothing Januaryesque about it, writes Ruby Walsh.
Willie starts at Fairyhouse today with Great White Shark in the mares’ maiden hurdle. She goes well at home, her schooling has improved every time she’s jumped and her work has improved considerably in the last couple of weeks. Paul rides and we think she’s ready to rock.
I ride La Sorelita in the second. She ran well enough at Christmas on her first run for Willie in the graded three-year-old hurdle, finishing fourth after not getting the clearest of runs between the last two flights.
We think she has improved a bit but she’ll probably have to. I thought Gardens Of Babylon did it very well at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, coming from a tricky looking position in a huge field to win snug enough on the line. The horse he beat, Surin reopposes five pounds better off.
I don’t have a ride in the next but Paul rides Brosna George, who’s after racking up a couple of wins, for Arthur Moore. He seems to be improving and I think Paul will fancy his chances on him.
There are only 10 runners in the Dan Moore Chase, which is a smaller field than you’d normally expect for a €100,000 handicap, but it’s very competitive. A Toi Phil tops the weights and Willie runs Blazer but it could pay to follow the novices.
Duca De Thaix races off 143, Cubomania off 139 and the one I ride for Dad, Kildorrery off 132. They could be the most unexposed and it’s very hard for the handicapper to get a handle on them. They lack the experience but could be on a mark they can win off and I can see one of the three of them collecting.
Kildorrery is quite keen and needs to be dropped out so the 10-runner field should suit as it’s easier to pass nine than 19. It takes the decision-making out of it but you are a hostage to fortune when you’re riding a hold-up horse like that. However, I think he’s capable of running up to a mark of 132.
On Sunday, Willie only has three runners at Punchestown. Patrick rides Undressed in the amateurs’ handicap chase. If he runs to his Fairyhouse form when he was fourth, he has a chance. If he runs to his Limerick form when he was pulled up last time, he has no chance. We’re hoping he didn’t take to the tongue tie and he will race without it this time but we’re only guessing.
I’m on Harrie in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle while Paul rides Buildmeupbuttercup. On ratings, Jetez sets the standard. Harrie looked like he was going to win well in Tramore but after racing keenly, only just got home. Buildmeupbuttercup was the same in Navan. Both will improve a lot for those runs fitness-wise.
Harrie drops five furlongs and we hope a strongly-run race of two miles will suit. He has more experience and is more of a National Hunt horse than Buildmeupbuttercup but she is probably that bit sharper and might have the edge in terms of ability long term.
Their work has been very good. It’s hard to separate them as we don’t know enough about them yet and I’m far from sure I’m on the right one.
Willie has Elixir D’ainay for JP McManus making his racecourse debut in a maiden hurdle.
He’s a lovely big horse, who works well and schools well. Vision D’honneur was fancied out of the way in Leopardstown when fourth to Klassical Dream at Christmas. He’ll obviously have a big shout but we think Elixir D’ainay is a nice horse and he should run a big race.
Earlier in the day, the Grade 3 novice chase is a good race. I think it’s between Winter Escape and A Plus Tard. A Plus Tard was very good at Naas. He only has 10-8 on his back as a five-year-old and could be the one to keep an eye on.
The talking point from a jockey’s point of view has been the two positive tests for cocaine that were dealt with in the IHRB offices on Thursday. I don’t know either individual but they got very heavy sanctions, four and five-year suspensions. The IHRB have to try put sufficient deterrents in for jockeys to stop them dabbling in narcotics.
The worrying aspect of this is that if the number of jockeys testing positive is increasing, what is happening in society in general?
It is very unlikely that it is just a racing problem, particularly when members of the general public aren’t drug tested like sportspeople are.
So from an IHRB point of view, the testing is working. Lads are being caught and they’re upping the minimum ban now to five years, delivering the message strongly that this is not going to be tolerated, while also providing them with the necessary support on the other side, previously through Dr Adrian McGoldrick and now via his successor, Dr Jennifer Pugh.
But does society need to look at what’s going on? The word on the street is that it’s a major problem, so how are we going to address it? Do you start prosecuting users and giving them criminal records? Or do you legalise and tax illegal drugs, to make them more expensive and put the criminals out of business? Have we put so much tax on alcohol that illegal substances have become a cheaper option?
I’m not qualified enough to know the answer. Fair play to the IHRB for handing out big bans but society needs to look at what has happened in racing the last few years and judge if it’s reflective of what’s happening in general. And if it is, what are we going to do about it?