Australia went to last Saturday’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on the back of massive hype and no little expectation, but even though he performed well to finish third, you were left feeling just a trifle deflated.
Basically, when talking about a true champion, you are hoping for a three-year-old who has so much class that he can prove equally effective from a mile up to 12 furlongs.
We know that horses like Sea The Stars arrive all too infrequently, but that was the level to which we hoped Australia might aspire.
Well, we now know that at a mile he’s a decent horse, but essentially no more than that, unless he goes and improves dramatically at the trip down the line.
Of course the world and its mother is aware Australia won’t come into his own until stepping up to ten furlongs and, possibly, even more so when travelling a mile and a half.
After all he is by Galileo out of Ouija Board, who won the Epsom Derby and Oaks respectively.
Obviously, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Australia could go and win at Epsom by half the track.
All the talk heading into Newmarket last weekend was that he was a far better horse then his stable companion, War Command, and that certainly proved accurate.
But, with War Command struggling home in ninth place, it wasn’t actually the greatest recommendation in the world! Anyway, we mustn’t be too critical, because the way these horses are trained at Ballydoyle means they often improve in leaps and bounds as a campaign progresses.
One other interesting point to emerge from Newmarket is whether a horse should be given a race before tackling the first classic of the season? Of the 14 who faced the starter, four of them were making their seasonal debuts and two of those represented Ballydoyle.
Six of the first seven home all had an outing under their belts going there, the exception being Australia.
The other two horses that went to Newmarket without a run were Kingston Hill (eighth) and Outstrip (14th).
Those who took the short odds about Magician, the likes of 1-5 and 2-11, at the Curragh on Monday, clearly have a lot more money than sense.
We have seen long odds-on shots from Ballydoyle get beaten, in the early part of the season, in ordinary races before and this could very well have been another.
Magician was ridden with one thing in mind, the future, given plenty to do, not knocked about and only got on top through the last hundred yards.
If he had got beaten the silly punters who thought they were buying money, at little or no risk, would have been left to whistle the Polish national anthem! I am a huge fan of Magician, ever since he literally exploded up the Curragh when winning the Irish 2000 Guineas.
But, on his bare neck defeat of Parish Hall (rec. 3lbs),who is rated 14lbs below him, in that Grade 3 on Monday, Magician is a horse going nowhere fast.
You can, though, bet every euro in the old pocket that such thinking is a million miles away from the true story.
Just watch, when the Grade 1s come into focus, the box of tricks Magician may well have at his disposal.
Those attendance figures at Punchestown were nothing short of sensational, with 106,619 on site for the five days.
I think the 26,282 on Friday and 29,042 on Saturday were really impressive. I mean, it is very hard to get people in this country to go racing, particularly on a Saturday, and to fall just short of 30,000 was truly mind-boggling.
The vast majority of top horses who run at Punchestown immediately head for grass, so that’s always a mild downer. But there is one at the meeting who shone out like a beacon, with the immediate future in mind, and that was Willie Mullins’ Arctic Fire. This is a horse that likes nice ground and so is likely to be heading to the Galway Hurdle.
He scored at Punchestown on the Friday, beating Richard Lee’s English challenger, Gassin Golf, by seven and a half lengths.
Arctic Fire was perfectly entitled to do what he did. The third, for instance, Sizing Codelco, was beaten eight lengths at levels and was rated 22lbs below Arctic Fire.
The handicapper, essentially, given his ratings, had mapped Arctic Fire as a certainty in that Punchestown race and so it proved.
He couldn’t very well penalise the five-year for the success, you would have thought, and that was very much his thinking and he left him on a mark of 147.
Now, the Galway Hurdle is nearly always won by a horse carrying less than 11-0, and a mark of 147 will definitely equate to Arctic Fire having to hump in excess of that at Galway. But ‘nearly’ is the operative word and it can be done. For instance, Pat Hughes’ Quinze defied 11-12, and in some style, in 1999.
Donald McCain’s Overturn won with 11-6 in 2010 and only two years ago Michael Winters scored with Rebel Fitz under 11-5. What those horses had was a real touch of class and there is every chance Arctic Fire may well fit into a similar category.
A year ago another Mullins inmate, Drive Time, ran off 147 in the Galway Hurdle and finished a creditable fourth behind Missunited.
I think we might rate Arctic Fire a better horse than Drive Time and, hopefully, he will run, because it is going to be fascinating to see how the contest shapes up.
Imagine, thinking we have the Galway Hurdle cracked so many months in advance.
Simple game or what?