When Enda Bolger’s Gilgamboa won his first two races over fences, he shaped as a real star of the future.
Gilgamboa began with a smooth success at Navan, but it was his subsequent display at Limerick at Christmas that marked him down as a horse with a real chance of going right to the top.
I have to admit to allowing myself to be a trifle carried away with that performance and gave the seven-year-old a solid chance against Un De Sceaux in the Arkle at Leopardstown last month. Such poor judgement, on a consistent basis, would surely see any punter on the breadline — sooner rather than later.
Gilgamboa went to Leopardstown as a quite brilliant jumper, but banged into the fifth last. After that, he was always on the back foot, eventually struggling home 15 lengths and half a length third behind Un De Sceaux and Clarcam-in a three-horse affair.
One assumed the error was the cause of what was a seriously tame effort and that Gilgamboa, with no Un De Sceaux to worry about, would set the record straight next time.
And so he reappeared at Navan last Sunday, going off a 4-9 shot to beat three rivals, in a Grade 2.
But, horror of horrors, the horse that looked so talented over flights, and in his first two outings over fences, had literally disappeared.
When he won at Limerick there was a captivating electricity about Gilgamboa. His enthusiasm for the game and the way he attacked and bounded across obstacles was a joy to behold.
But it was all gone at Navan. His jumping, at least on occasions, lacked fluency and he came off the bridle so far out that it was difficult to fathom.
In the end Gilgamboa was beaten fair-and-square into second by Rawnaq, the 25-1 outsider — 49-1 on the exchanges — of the four-horse field. He did return with a cut to his off-hind pastern and rider, Mark Walsh, reported that Gilgamboa “never travelled.’’
It was so disappointing for connections, who were more than entitled to dream of possible Cheltenham glory after Christmas.
That dream has been shattered, at least for this year, and Bolger now faces a real task to get Gilgamboa back to his promising best.
Indeed, Bolger said this week that Cheltenham is now off the radar, the horse was taken out of his possible festival targets, and he may aim him at something at home.
Mind you it would be no great surprise should the decision be made to draw stumps for the campaign altogether and start with a clean slate come October or November!
There are those who think that Edward O’Grady’s Kitten Rock could be a live outsider for next month’s Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, but here’s one who cannot see it.
O’Grady has done a fine job with the five-year-old. He has brought him along steadily and Kitten Rock has gradually progressed through the Grades.
At Gowran Park last Saturday Kitten Rock won a Grade 2, the first time he has been successful at such a high level.
He eventually won by 12 lengths, but that reveals little of the true story and the overall impression was that it was a bit of a disappointing effort.
O’Grady’s charge had a big fitness advantage over Abbyssial, who was conceding him 2lbs, on his seasonal debut.
But, at least to my eyes, Abbyssial was travelling better than his rival when falling at the second last.
What would have happened had Abbyssial stood up we will never know, but that’s hardly the point.
The main point is that if Kitten Rock is ever regarded as a real Cheltenham festival prospect then it is more likely to be as a chaser!
How does Willie Mullins manage it? Take his mare, Kate Appleby Shoes, for instance.
Unless I have completely lost the plot, far from a 100-1 shot, all the evidence pointed to her having an aversion to testing conditions.
At Fairyhouse last month, she was brought miles wide up the straight, seeking a better surface, when beaten into second. The ground was soft to heavy.
Prior to that at Thurles (soft, yielding in places), she was again kept wide for much of the race, before trailing in a remote fourth.
And so they were Kate Appleby Shoes’ two most recent outings heading to Gowran Park last Saturday.
The ground was again soft and it was hard to be confident about her prospects. Shortly before the contest, Mullins was interviewed on ATR and opined that she would love the ground. It was hard enough not to topple off one’s chair.
Kate Appleby Shoes was best for money in the market, went off the 13-8 favourite, was in front after half a mile, never attempted to go wide at any stage and won by 34 lengths.
There were 14 others in the race and literally all of them were gasping for breath a long way out. Indeed, it would be no great exaggeration to say that only Mullins’ mare actually handled the ground.
Lesson to be learned? It is that making assumptions when it comes to this man’s horses is a dangerous game.