Greater scope to improve can see Formentera prevail

Duca De Thaix and Davy Russell jump the last to win the Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Steeplechase at Fairyhouse in January. The horse can win the Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan today. Picture: Healy Racing

We’re very light on runners this weekend but that’s not unusual for us so close to Cheltenham. Being just seven or eight days out from the Festival, we mightn’t be too busy at the tracks, but we’ll be flat out on the gallops.

We have three runners in just two races today at Navan. In the four-year-old hurdle we run Fenta Des Obeaux and Formentera. Paul has gone for the former, but she has been a bit disappointing, you would have to say, and the form of the Punchestown race in which she finished fourth to Carlo Biraghi hasn’t worked out all that well. She’ll have to improve to win.

I think Formentera, with a run under her belt — albeit she fell at the last at Fairyhouse — could run a lot better, provided she settles a bit better. Paul had the choice and I can understand the difficulty he may have had, as they’re hard to split and they’re two hard horses to ride. They’ll both have to improve to win, but I think Formentera may have the more scope to do just that.

Our other runner today is Great White Shark, which Paul rides in the day’s second maiden hurdle. She improved hugely from her first run for us to her second. She has to take another step forward, but she jumped much better in Thurles than she did at Fairyhouse, and she could get into the money today.

Looking at the remainder of the card, I think Duca De Thaix will win the Flyingbolt Novice Chase. I think this race has been affected by moving off the same card as the Ten Up Novice Chase. Had it been a fortnight ago, you would have enticed some of the Cheltenham horses to run.

Mr Diablo will be hard to beat in the veterans’ chase. 

He has good course form and a reproduction of his Troytown run, when he finished runner-up to Tout Est Permis, would definitely see him home in front.

We don’t have any runner on tomorrow’s card in Leopardstown, but, on ratings, the first race looks at the mercy of Tombstone. With a mark of 146 he’s a long way clear of the other three runners, headed by dad’s horse, Oscars Den, on 127, but who knows what can happen in four-runner races?

Dad also runs a horse, called Dewcup, in the bumper. It’s a winners’ race, but there’s no winner in it, so it might as well be a maiden race. He’s a nice horse, but it’s hard to know what to expect from four-year-old bumper horses. These races can be hard to predict, but hopefully he’ll run well.

The build-up to Cheltenham continues and there have been plenty of preview nights, and plenty of chat about everything festival related. You could listen to everyone’s theory of what’s going to happen, but I think this Cheltenham is going to be difficult.

With the winter we had, the ground we had, there’s so little form on offer, but I wouldn’t be reading too much into stats about how many runs horses need to win at the Festival.

It’s a completely different year than previous ones. Most times, when you look at a horse that’s had only one run in the season, it’s because of an issue, but this year they’ve all been in training since the start of August and just haven’t got the opportunities to run. For that reason, the lightly raced horses won’t lack for fitness. They’re in training plenty long enough, so I wouldn’t be passing too much heed on that stat. Presenting Percy and Al Boum Photo are two good examples, ahead of their Gold Cup bids. If you’re fancying horses and they’ve had that sort of light preparation, you shouldn’t let it concern you too much.

Putting a number on the whip rule is easy way out

I read with interest that the IHRB is planning to introduce more stringent whip rules and introduce a limit on the number of strikes.

I am certainly pro whip rules — I have never been any other way — but I think putting a number on it is the easy way out for authorities. It doesn’t require policing, it’s only a matter of counting. I don’t think such a move is proactive, and I don’t believe it is the right thing.

There are times when two strikes are too many, and there are times when nine are acceptable. I think all must be judged as individual cases, judged on the horse, on the rider, and on what your eyes are telling you. By

following Britain and France to setting a number, I think Ireland is taking the easy way out.

In the same press release, I also read about the increase of more than 400% in the positive tests returned in horses last year. It was five in 2017, but 27 last year, and one would have to question who was doing the testing in 2017?

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