The National Hunt season that has just finished was a very strange one. At times it felt like the season would never get going as we waited and waited for the skies to open. For us in racing, they never really did, but hopefully for the flat season ahead they won’t open now.
Willie Mullins dominated the season like Aidan O’Brien probably will all summer. Gordon Elliott, Henry
de Bromhead and Noel
Meade created competition for Willie like Dermot Weld, Jim Bolger and Ger Lyons will for Aidan
And Joseph O’Brien and Jessica Harrington will be hoping they can have summers to match their winter months of glory.
Paul Townend and Rachel Blackmore went toe-to-toe for the jockeys’ championship, just like Donnacha O’Brien and Colin Keane are likely to for theirs.
Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy will be replaced by Chris Hayes and Oisín Orr as reliable men to follow. Shane Foley will take over from Robbie power at Jessie’s, while Barry Geraghty and Mark Walsh will be substituted for Ryan Moore and Seamie Heffernan in different but equally famous sets of silks.
Across the pond, English racing will be hoping Enable can replicate the wonderful season Altior Just had, and that Stradivarius can dominate the staying division like the remarkable Paisley Park did over hurdles.
Flat racing will struggle to find a story like his, but it will be hoping not to suffer the same blow as the national nunt has with the slow but definite departure of one of its major backers.
Ballydoyle will target the Derby just like Willie Mullins did the Gold Cup and Irish fans will be hoping for an Al Boum Photo-like result. They will also be hoping that one of our smaller yards can match Gavin Cromwell in claiming a major championship race, Madhmoon impersonating Espoir D’Allen would be perfect.
For the future we have Delta work, Klassical Dream,
Chacun Pour Soi, Duc Des Genievres, Le Richebourg, City Island and Minella Indo to name a few, eating grass and getting ready to try and stake a claim for next season’s major prizes.
Who knows by October what the next Anthony Van Dyck, Broome, Magna Grecia or Too Darn Hot will be? Some of those will blow out like Samcro, did but that’s racing.
The flat probably never will have a Tiger Roll story, the early magic of Apple’s Jade, the longevity of Un De Sceaux, months of build up to one meeting that defines the whole season, but it does have its own special occasions: Royal Ascot, Champions Weekend or Arc weekend to name a few.
But, for now the dream is alive for National Hunt fans, the action is hotting up for their flat counterparts.
For racing fans all that changes are the names. The action just keeps coming.
Meanwhile just when you think National Hunt racing was going to the back burner for a while Willie Mullins has sent 11 horses across the Irish sea through the UK and under the English Channel to contest the Grande Course de Haies, Prix Alain du Breil and Grande Steeple-chase de Paris.
In today’s champion hurdle Willie runs Benie Des Dieux, Bapaume, Yorkhill, Mr Adjudicator and Melon. The step up in trip should suit Melon, while Mr Adjudicator was an impressive winner of a handicap in Punchestown.
Yorkhill has had a very light campaign, but Bapaume has to overcome a disappointing effort on his last start. Therefore, for my money Benie Des Dieux, who is the choice of Paul Townend, is the one to be on. Hopefully the quick turnaround from Punchestown won’t catch her out.
In tomorrow’s four-year-old champion, French Made flies the flag for WP. She was third to Fusil Raffles in the Grade 1 over two miles at Punchestown, and the extra three furlongs should help her.
The feature race of the weekend is the French Gold Cup, in which Irish Grand National winner Burrows Saint, Rathvinden, Pleasant Company, Acapella Bourgeois and Total Recall represent the Closutton yard. For the huge prize money on offer they are all entitled to take their chance.
I have ridden In this race on a few occasions, never troubling the judge and am not certain what is required to win this very unique and demanding contest.
Burrows Saint is an improving seven-year-old with French chase form and may well be best placed to go closest of our five. Rathvinden ran a blinder behind Tiger Roll at Aintree, Pleasant Company is a good jumping, stout stayer and so too is Acapella Bourgeois, but Total Recall probably has to come back to his best to have a chance.