Jack Frost has raised his head and started his winter ice game. I wouldn’t say I like the cold, in fact I hate being cold and even thinking about being cold, and I have long preferred donning my wet gear over my thermals.
Yet, last Sunday you needed both in Fairyhouse, and still a crowd poured into the venue to see all the things that are Honeysuckle. I stood elevated on a TV presentation position that allowed me to watch racegoers throng the parade ring to see her, Rachael and the De Bromheads, and I watched as they disappeared off to the grandstand side to enjoy what they had come to see.
Sport is as harsh as the weather, and the fairytale of Honeysuckle found a pair of villains on the Fairyhouse track. When she swept to the lead off the home turn, the noise rose in expectation and belief. That jump two out, high and left, raised the pitch, but her landing realigned it to belief.
Then the challengers appeared, and Teahupoo and Klassical Dream swept past her on the approach to the last. Shock, silence, fear and disbelief were omitted from the crowd before there was the briefest of rallies as the hero blew life back into the grandstand.
But that life whistled straight through the building and carried most of the crowd with it when the realisation dawned that the day nobody came to watch had just arrived.
The reality is, of course, that this day is always going to come for National Hunt horses, but that doesn’t stop you from hoping it won’t or believing that this could be the one that doesn’t lose.
What last Sunday delivered was a relief for those involved in her. They probably don’t see that yet, but when she lines up at the Dublin Racing Festival, it won’t be the pressure of expectation or the stress of perfection that weighs on them in the run-up.
Her next start will be the pressure of proving a point, not to any of us, but one they will all feel needs correcting, and that’s far more enjoyable. Fallen stars get warmer receptions - only God knows why, but that’s human nature.
hat exact nature will lead to moans of dissatisfaction when some of the inspections scheduled for all the turf meetings fail to beat the frost.
They won’t be called early enough for some people and won’t have been given enough time to thaw by others before those in charge call it - damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Navan was forced to postpone today’s card and will aim to reschedule at some point during the coming week. One suspects Punchestown could have to make the same decision today at noon, but thankfully the flexible Irish calendar will make space for the John Durkan card next week too.
Rescheduling is not a luxury many British racecourses have, and the effort Cheltenham racecourse was making yesterday to deal with the frost was quite impressive. They covered 45 acres of turf through the week to race yesterday and repeated it all as the sun set in an effort to race again today.
If they do race, the International Hurdle is the best of the action, and the Constitution Hill effect is already kicking in. Epatante would ordinarily go from her debut in the Fighting Fifth to the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
However, such was the beating Constitution Hill gave her in the northeast two weeks ago, she has been rerouted to this race. The penalty structure of today’s Grade 2 suits her well, as will the stiffer New Course used in December, and I think she can repel her three younger rivals.
Should Punchestown fail to beat the frost, Cork will take centre stage on Sunday and could even see it host the RTÉ Racing show for the first time.
Sean O’Keefe will be praying Punchestown is on, so Paul Townend stays there to ride Galopin Des Champs and doesn’t get a chance to reroute to Cork and move Sean off Energumene.
They combined to win the race last year when Paul was injured, but regardless of who gets the privilege of doing the steering, Energumene should collect. The Mares’ Novice Chase that precedes the Hilly Way is a classy contest, too, and I thought Dinoblue was impressive at Cork on her chasing debut and could bag this graded contest.
At Punchestown, the John Durkan is the highlight, with the reappearance of Galopin Des Champs.
Add in Flame Bearer, Appreciate It and a host of hotly contested maiden hurdles and the week ahead could be really hot, even if the weekend is freezing.