It has been all about Cheltenham this week, obviously, but first things first and the quite extraordinary action taken by the stewards at Gowran Park last Saturday.
Remember when the stewards at Dundalk on February 24 acted under Rule 212 and inquired into the running and riding of the Johnny Murtagh-trained Tobacco Bay, who finished fifth in a maiden won by the hot-pot, Zinat?
They didn’t like what they saw and fined Murtagh €2,000, suspended rider, Seamie Heffernan, for five days, and ordered him to forfeit his fee, and suspended Tobacco Bay for 42 days.
It represented swift and decisive action on the part of the stewards, offered real hope for the future and neither Murtagh or Heffernan appealed the decision.
The Gowran contest in question was a four-runner beginners’ chase, which saw the 7-4 second favourite, Dicosimo, fall when in front at the sixth.
That left the 8-15 shot, General Principle, in front and he duly made the rest to beat the no-hopers, Cloudy Morning and Theturnofthesun, by nine lengths and half a length. As a race, it was a non-event and hardly worth a second glance.
But the stewards thought otherwise and, after inquiring into the running and riding of both of the placed horses, they fined Cloudy Morning’s trainer, Declan Queally, and Theturnofthesun’s trainer, Matthew Smith, €2,000 each.
The jockeys, Barry Foley (Cloudy Morning) and Andrew Lynch (Theturnofthesun), were suspended for five days and the horses suspended for 42 days.
This Rule 212 was badly needed and shaped as a real positive for racing. But the action taken by the Gowran stewards is surely best described as extreme and just seems ridiculous.
Watch the contest as many times as you want and make a case for either the second or the third finishing an inch closer. You will fail and fail dismally.
My belief is that if Dicosimo had stood up, he might have won by half the track, because General Principle was less than enthusiastic for much of the journey.
But General Principle is a 140-rated chaser and was in a different league to the other two. Cloudy Morning has a hurdles rating of 111 and Theturnofthesun, who was making his debut over fences, is a paltry 99.
Did the stewards take any notice of the body language of Bryan Cooper aboard General Principle all the way up the straight?
He asked his charge for the bare minimum, giving the impression that, at least at this stage of the race, there was loads more in the locker, if it was required.
It wasn’t required and the winner passed the post with any amount in hand. I would contend that Cloudy Morning and Theturnofthesun actually performed better than could have been anticipated and there was a reason - it’s called form - why they were 25-1 chances in a four-horse affair.
It is no surprise that all connections involved have decided to appeal, but it will be a surprise should the somewhat draconian penalties be allowed to stand.
CHELTENHAM observations: It may not have actually been the changing of the guard, but Gordon Elliott’s exploits at Cheltenham this week at least represent an equalling of the guard, as he continues to emerge as a massive challenger to Willie Mullins’ long-held dominance of Irish racing and, indeed, National Hunt racing in general.
As I watched Altior’s less than impressive success in the Arkle on Tuesday, I remember thinking he wouldn’t have a prayer against Mullins’ Douvan.
Then on Wednesday, in the Champion Chase, Douvan proceeded to run in a manner that defied all logic. An absolutely brilliant jumper, he completely failed to measure most of the fences and came up the straight like a drunk. It was quite obvious that something was amiss.
As you know, we were very much against Melon in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, simply on the basis that the form he brought to the Cheltenham table was worthless.
But here’s the thing - had eventual winner, Labaik, with a history of refusing to start, dug his heels in again one more time, Melon would have won half the track. Everyone would now be raving about Melon and, not for the first time, I’d be eating a large slice of humble pie.
And let’s here no more rubbish about how badly treated Irish horses are in British handicaps.
We won our share of those races this week and on Thursday it would be no great exaggeration to say that both Presenting Percy and Road To Respect might have won with an extra 10lbs.
HOW good is Rachael Blackmore? Brilliant I think is the best word to describe her and she is more than holding her own against some of the biggest fish in racing, as a professional riding in Ireland.
She is so neat and tidy on a horse, is tactically clever, clearly has a good clock in her head and isn’t found wanting when it comes to riding a finish.
Rachael was superb when guiding Abolitionist to success in the €59,000 to the winner Leinster National at Naas on Sunday.
She was good through the three-mile grueller, but particularly impressed with the manner in which she switched her whip from the left hand to the right on the run in.
I HEARD a tale this week about a race in Ireland in the not too distant past, centering on a horse that was supposed to be glued to the ground.
The jockey asked the trainer (I know both), what the story was and the trainer told him that today wasn’t the day and to see “the bigger picture.’’ The jockey listened intently and then proceeded to drive his mount home in front. The irate trainer was none too pleased and questioned the pilot as to why he failed to grasp the concept of “the bigger picture.’’
The response? “I did see the picture, but couldn’t see myself in it.’’