IN THIS game, we move forward so quickly, we hardly take time to properly examine what’s gone before. When a meeting like Cheltenham throws up more questions than answers, maybe it’s worth a second glance over the shoulder for further deliberation.
The performance of Kauto Star in the Gold Cup was clearly a big setback for me. Yes there were other disappointments at the festival – the ground was obviously too quick for Master Minded for instance – but the Gold Cup rankles.
The irony is the horse was flying in the early stages, and everything was rosy in the garden until that first mistake. From that moment on, we were struggling, I was off the bridle squeezing him along. But we were looking out for the fences instead of waiting for them to come. It was wrong, all wrong.
There’s another thing. I don’t know how much of a factor this was, if at all, but was I guilty too of getting sucked into the whole Denman-Kauto Star circus? It wasn’t that my focus was off, but when everything is focused on one other horse, then sub-consciously you’re an inch off where you should be.
We were all guilty of buying into the hype of that great face-off, and promoting the thing as best we could because that’s what we tend to do – we try to capitalise on the good PR the racing game gets at festival time. But that was an insult to Paul Townend and Cooldine, and to Paddy Brennan and Nigel Twiston-Davies with Imperial Commander, among others. The form lines were there, they were a threat, and perhaps the focus on the Kauto-Denman head-to-head was just the edge they needed.
Certainly that seemed to be implicit in what Paddy and the trainer were saying afterwards. They were probably entitled to have a little pop, but maybe I wouldn’t have gone about it in the same way.
Talking of our brethren in the saddle, I’m sure Brian O’Connell isn’t too fogged up by the controversy over Dunguib, caused by John McCririck’s comments. I’d have to say, when he went past me in the festival opener, Dunguib was a bit wide, but it didn’t pick up well enough to make Brian’s handling an issue. Okay, if it was beaten a head, you’d be having a look, but I was disappointed with the horse to be honest – I thought it would have had more to offer.
Cheltenham will do that to you, anyway – everything is magnified, slip-ups and success alike. That’s why returning to Cork last Sunday has a quaintly comforting feel to it – you’re back doing what you do, without having every moment studied in microscopic detail. However, we all happily make the pay-off every March because a winner at Cheltenham is something only those who have experienced it can adequately describe.
Ask my little sister. Katie was in dreamland after bringing home her first Festival winner – and then to repeat the dose on Friday! I know how hard it is to win at Cheltenham. It’s not about getting a Kauto Star and showing up on the track. It’s infinitely harder than that, a dream that we all indulge in from the time we can climb aboard a horse, but few ever realise. It’s the young footballer’s dream of getting a trial at Man Utd – and having Sir Alex Ferguson offer you the contract personally. So just as I know and share Katie’s thrill, I’d be lying if I said there’s been no sense of frustration since.
I don’t think you’ll see Kauto Star again this season, to be honest, and the same goes for Master Minded. Kauto is fine now, but was quite sore and wouldn’t be racing tomorrow or any time soon anyway.
I was in Newbury yesterday with a winner in the first and I’m back for a rare All-Ireland weekend today and tomorrow. I’ve five mounts in Navan today, but the one I’m most energised about is Glencove Marina in the second last.
Its had its injury problems going back to 2008 and was only out once last year, but Willie Mullins really has it starting to look well, and it’s worth a look today.
Gagewell Flyer did alright in a maiden hurdle at Naas earlier this month, and there’s been an upward graph in form since, so it should go close. I expect the ground to be too heavy for Lilywhite Dancer.
I head north tomorrow to Downpatrick and am quite sweet on a jumping debut for Final Approach (Sean Graham Bookmakers Maiden Hurdle, 2.15) which looked good as a flat horse out of Kevin Prendergast’s yard, and has gone well since for Willie Mullins.
But as Cheltenham proved once again (as if it was needed), favourites and fancies fall down and disappoint.
There is no such thing as a good thing.
I CONFIRMED yesterday with Paul Nicholls that I’ll be aboard Big Fella Thanks for the Grand National at Aintree in a fortnight.
I had a choice of four for the race, but the horse has been motoring well and had a good look around the course last year as a novice. He started this season off 150 and has been given 146 in the National and you would hope he will prove extremely competitive, especially after his impressive victory over an inadequate trip at Newbury recently.
He’ll also be on the right side of 11 stone, so I reckon there’s a good chance we’ll get around and leave a few behind us.