Hoping for the best, but fearing the worst for the jump season

In the so-called good old days, Listowel was always regarded as the real start of the National Hunt season.

Hoping for the best, but fearing the worst for the jump season

But that is no longer the case and, hugely successful and all as the recent festival was, you would be hard pressed to name one National Hunt horse of note that turned up at the meeting.

That is not to be in any way critical of Listowel, it is just the game has changed and so long has the campaign become that trainers have to see the bigger picture.

What it means is having their top horses ready to rock and roll so early no longer makes sense and it will actually be a little while yet before we can say the game is well and truly up and running.

Essentially, the National Hunt season now runs all the way to next June, to Auteuil in France. That is some stamina test.

So what can we expect? Well, there are two absolute requirements over the coming eight or nine months and they are competitive racing and a relatively benign winter.

We all know the majority of punters in Ireland prefer the jumping game and will be eagerly looking forward to the reappearance of the many superstars that are now housed in this country.

But, at the risk of repeating oneself, watching the likes of Faugheen, Annie Power and Douvan completing laps of honour, for huge money, has started to more than wear a bit thin.

That has been a major problem for National Hunt racing over a number of seasons now and the worry is the situation is, if anything, about to be exacerbated. The latest running of Champions’ Weekend in Ireland, at Leopardstown and the Curragh, saw a massive scattering of prizemoney and no one stable brushing the rest aside.

A similar Champions’ Weekend over jumps would almost certainly see Willie Mullins completely dominate.

Gordon Elliott is likely to offer plenty of resistance, but it is well to remember he will be challenging without Don Cossack, you’d imagine, and the highly promising No More Heroes, killed in action at the Cheltenham festival in March.

We are well aware Mullins has staggering material at his disposal and only he could have slotted in a horse as talented as Annie Power to win the Champion Hurdle, after losing, to injury, his hot pot Faugheen on the lead in to the race.

Watching great horses in action is enjoyable, but only when they have something worthwhile to beat. There is just so much waffling one can stomach, after a Grade 1 candidate coasts through a contest to beat a handful of much inferior rivals. The fear has to be that we are going to suffer a number of those going forward.

The weather will play a big part in just how successful and enjoyable the season will be. Winter racing in Ireland can be rather irregular anyway and the last thing we need is even bigger gaps between racing days.

It will be very interesting getting a handle on Mullins’ priorities. I cannot, for instance, believe he will go all out to win the trainers’ championship in Britain.

I felt last season he did a few things he wouldn’t normally have done, when the championship became a realistic proposition.

But surely having another go will be relatively low on his list. After all it is merely of prestigious and symbolic value and pales into insignificance compared to winning a first Gold Cup and having a typical Mullins Cheltenham.

Indeed, you could describe that British championship as a distraction, an irritation and almost an irrelevance.

Those at the top of the National Hunt tree in Ireland are set for a terrific time, the likes of Mullins and Elliott, a handful of jockeys and Gigginstown, J P McManus and Rich Ricci. But what will be left for the rest?

The shock news yesterday that Colm Murphy is to quit the training game is indicative of so much of what is wrong right now.

On top of that young jockeys, such as Jonathan Moore, Adrian Heskin and Shane Shortall, have already pulled the plug and are heading to Britain.

Davy Russell is set to go over and back, knowing full well the system in Ireland ensures that virtually all of the top horses are not within his grasp.

Will it be a great season, providing patrons with what is required in any sport, real competition? We’ll be hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

AH yes there we were last Saturday morning preparing to pull the trigger with the Joseph O’Brien-trained Aspen Colorado in a modest maiden hurdle, the opening contest on the final day of the Listowel festival.

This was a bad race and you could only conclude that any offer in the vicinity of evens was a good price.

After all the Galileo gelding was the winner of two bumpers and taking on horses that, all the evidence told us, might have difficulty running fast enough to warm themselves!

But then the news began to filter through that the vibes regarding our potential hero were rather negative. He hadn’t much work done, hadn’t schooled well, to go with this, that and the other.

When the rumours were matched by an alarming drift on the exchanges and, obviously, a corresponding drift on track, then one simply had to take note.

Aspen Colorado, of course, is owned by J P McManus and so we waited for the market to correct itself, anticipating that the four-year-old would soon find favour.

But it never happened and a horse that, realistically, was entitled to go off at 4-6, was returned at 6-4 and available at even bigger on the exchanges.

Aspen Colorado then proceeded to travel and jump nicely through the contest and won cosily in the end. How did this game ever survive prior to the birth of Betfair?

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