Twenty-twenty vision will be needed today if you are to see in advance the winner of the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle, the second race on the card, writes Colm Greaves
The eye of the eyecatcher
Often stereotyped as one of those interesting but unsolvable handicaps of the week, this race can, in fact, be a precursor to a significant career shift for many of the winners.
Recent victors include Delta Work and Presenting Percy, and both now sit close to the top of the betting in tomorrow’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Twenty-six runners go to post this afternoon, only three of which have won last time out, so it’s safe to assume that the main bulk of the field have been minded carefully through the season with today’s big pot specifically in mind.
So, it’s no surprise that many of the main entrants have been running ‘eye-catching’ trials in the qualification heats for today’s big final.
Last year’s winner, top weight Sire Du Berlais, hasn’t won in his four starts since, but one of the benefits of this is that he is only carrying 7lbs more than he did last year.
Gordon Elliot sent him to Warwick of all places in early January to qualify where he finished an easy to back, but eye-catching, fourth.
Elliot also runs The Storyteller who landed a gamble here two years ago in the novice handicap chase and who has been sent back over hurdles recently, catching the eye at Leopardstown at Christmas when staying on well up the straight to qualify in sixth, without being knocked about.
Relegate, trained by the resurgent Colm Murphy, also ran a very likeable trial at Punchestown three weeks ago to get into today’s race and has been backed down from 25s to joint favouritism.
These are just three examples of very similar seasonal profiles and are bound to end with punters self-recriminating when they review the form of the winner post-race, and realise they missed a signal that was hiding in plain daylight. Hindsight is the only 20-20 vision.
It’s an oft-told tale how an illustrious ancestor of Henry De Bromhead was one Gonville Bromhead, hero of the British Empire and winner of the Victoria Cross during the Zulu Wars in South Africa in 1879.
Waterford’s own De Bromhead is developing an equally heroic career which with every festival seems to move up another notch on the trainer’s ladder.
He is now at the privileged top of the scan list when analysing a race and the greatest compliment of all is that he is known to most simply as ‘Henry.’ And more often than not this comes in a familiar pairing with Rachael, as in Blackmore.
Henry and Rachael are having another great week and their win on Tuesday with Honeysuckle is arguably the training and riding performance of the season.
However, it’s still only half-time at Cheltenham and they look far from finished yet. Two of the team stand out today.
His easy win over Chacun Pour Soi at Christmas is by far the best form line today and he looks a banker.
The Mare’s novice hurdle later in the afternoon is a less prestigious contest but may become notable for the graduation of Minella Melody from promising to prominent young horse. Owned, like Honeysuckle by the Alexander family, Melody could add another tune to the repertoire of Henry and Rachael.
Another Magical Thursday?
Some of the nostalgic and sentimental folk are still bubbling about this equivalent day last year and the ‘magic hour’ in particular when Frodon, ridden by the ebullient Bryony Frost, won the Ryanair Chase and this was followed up by Paisley Park winning the Stayers Hurdle.
Paisley Park is owned by Andrew Gemmell, blind from birth but successful and happy in all life throws at him. The potential is real for another tearful Thursday that might even increase the parade ring emotion.
The first race up features Faugheen, who will blow the roof off the stands if he wins again at the festival.
Next up is the Pertemps which could crown the comeback of the popular Colm Murphy to the big time.
Then we have Frost on Frodon against Blackmore and A Plus Tard in the Ryanair as a lead into Paisley Park’s attempt to double up in the Stayers for Mr Gemmell.
Also, in the same race, unnoticed at 14/1, is the once unbeatable and much-loved Apples Jade. A win for her would be almost as popular and a defeat will probably be followed by a retirement announcement.
Each one of these events would be emotionally draining and publicly positive in its own right.
Cumulatively it would be manna from heaven for the festival and the jockey club who have been reeling under punches from animal rights activists who want to ban racing completely and then the more recent and serious threat of the Covid-19 virus and the doubts about the wisdom of proceeding at all with the gathering this week.
Get the tissues on standby, but hopefully for just another magic Thursday and not just to stop the spread of germs.