What What did we learn from the Christmas racing period? Lots we already knew, and a few things that we should have known.
Paul Nicholls has a hold on the King George like Lester Piggott had on the Derby. It might have been what I and many others considered to be his second string but plenty with good punting brains picked Clan Des Obeaux out as the value bet a long time ago and how right they were proved when Sam Twiston-Davies powered clear aboard the well backed seven-year-old to give Paul his 11th win in the race.
Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead enjoyed big race success at Leopardstown, but that has been the case for the last few Christmases too. And, whilst Willie Mullins trained the most winners at Leopardstown, reverses in the big races over the festive period are not unheard of for him in recent years.
Delta Work gave Gordon his third Savills Chase in five years, Apple’s Jade continued her dominance in the three-mile hurdle at this meeting, winning it for the third year in a row and giving Gordon his fourth win the last five renewals. And Abacadabras ended Willie’s run in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle, WP having won the previous four.
Willie enhanced his record in the December Hurdle, winning it for the seventh time in 10 years, and Faugheen gained revenge for Getabird’s defeat to Gordon’s Hardline 12 months earlier in Limerick’s feature.
But Laurina followed Vautour and Champagne Fever’s route to defeat rather than Min and Footpad’s route to victory in the two-mile St Stephen’s Day feature. And Chacun Pour Soi followed Min and Footpad in becoming a short-priced loser rather than Douvan and being a short-priced winner in the Paddy Power Rewards Club Chase.
So, Gordon leads Willie a merry dance out of Christmas again but, on the final day at Leopardstown, the chase course had the word ‘good’ in the going description.
Willie Mullins, Noel Meade, Henry De Bromhead and Joseph O’Brien all withdrew their intended runners from the Neville Hotels Novice Chase. True to form, Gordon Elliot won it with Battleoverdoyen, thus giving him the winner of this event for the fifth time in the last six years. But it was reminiscent of last year’s Irish Gold Cup. There were seven decarations last week and three runners. Ten were declared last February and there were just four runners.
Early next month all eyes will focus on Leopardstown again for the third running of the Dublin Racing Festival, which last year had its fields decimated by non-runners due to unsuitably fast ground.
Only 147 horses contested the 15 races over the two days. Fourteen of those have not run since, 13 have only run once, and 20 have run twice in the last 11 months. That means nearly one third of the runners have managed a maximum of two outings since last February.
Leopardstown is not in control of the climate or the weather and, like all tracks, they face tricky times watering in summer months, when watering followed by rain leads to harsh criticism. However, at this time of year, however much they water and whatever rain may fall, no one ever says it’s too slow for jump horses.
National Hunt racing is a winter sport and needs to be played on winter ground. Please Leopardstown, turn the taps on now, get it back soft now, keep on top of it and don’t give us excuses in four weeks’ time. We all want a competitive Dublin Racing Festival.
Willie brings four horses to Cork this afternoon and runs two of those, Golden Spread and Minella Encore, in the three-mile maiden hurdle. Minella Encore was disappointing in Punchestown when beaten a long way behind Drury.
I know she has since franked the form, but it’s hard to get away from the fact he was disappointing.
We haven’t yet had much success with the former Supreme Horse Racing horses, but Golden Spread probably faces an easier task than did some of those that have run. He was a good bumper horse last year and the trip will really suit him, so hopefully he will give the new syndicate members a winner.
Guard Of Honour makes his debut for Willie in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle. We don’t know much about him. We’ve had a bit of success for the syndicate which owns him, but this fella is going to have to be very well handicapped to beat Snugsborough Hall, who is running off a hurdle mark 28lbs lower than his chase mark. The West Awaits runs in the bumper. Our bumper horses have been hit-and-miss.
The ones that have been winning have been really good, but plenty have been disappointing. This mare goes well and hopefully she will get the ball rolling again.
Willie has five runners tomorrow, and starts with Good Thyne Tara, who looks a banker in the mares’ beginners’ chase. It’s a five-runner race but really there are just two to concentrate on and, over two miles around Naas, I think Good Thyne Tara will be too quick for Caravation.
We have two in the novice chase, but it’s a cracking race. A lot of the winners-of-one novice chases have been done away with but this one is a strong argument for bringing them back.
Four of these are really good horses: Tornado Flyer, Cash Back, Dunvegan and Zero Ten. Whatever wins is going to make a good case for itself for the Arkle Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Cash Back was good in Navan and Tornado Flyer is two from two having won in Naas and Navan, but I just worry about the trip for him on good ground. He was a better novice hurdler than Cash Back so you can see why Paul went for him.
But I just think Dunvegan is a really good horse. I think he had the measure of Breaken when that one departed at Punchestown. It’s a race well worth watching but if you pushed me for one, I might just side with Dunvegan.
I had plenty of luck when I rode for Pat Fahy and if you give him a good horse, he knows what to do with it.
The Grade 1 is all about Envoi Allen. Samcro was hyped as the next superstar, and racing does need superstars, and we’re looking for another one and this guy could potentially be that. He was a brilliant bumper horse and has been very good in his two novice hurdle runs.
He’s 1-3 and deserves to be so. His form is rock-solid. He beat Abacadabras in Fairyhouse and the runner-up franked the form in Leopardstown.
There’s nothing not to like about Envoi Allen. Everything he does, he does in a professional manner. He’ll take beating but, from a betting point of view, I can’t believe Elixir D’ainay is longer in the betting than Longhouse Poet, and I fully expect him to uphold the Naas form.
We run Asterion Forlonge in the two-mile maiden hurdle. He won a bumper in Thurles and I think you need gears to do that. He had to battle hard to win but himself and the runner-up were a long way clear of the third. Ideally, he would like a bit further but, having won a Thurles bumper, I think he should be good enough to win a two-mile maiden hurdle.
Dad runs Hardwired in the bumper. He’s by Fame And Glory and he goes well at home, but there is no form on offer in this race and so it’s hard to know.