Philip Fenton, one of the quiet men of Irish racing, hasn’t half emerged with real credit over the last ten days or so.
You would have to say his handling of both Last Instalment and Dunguib has been nothing short of exemplary.
Horses, especially the National Hunt variety, are fragile beasts and rarely far away from an injury that can see them spend a long time on the sidelines.
Fenton, a talented trainer, who wouldn’t have a massive amount of horses in his care, has had to sit and suffer with Last Instalment and Dunguib for a very long time.
These two are highly talented and would have been a severe loss, even in a yard that housed far more inmates.
When Last Instalment reappeared at Thurles on Thursday week, it was the first time he was seen in public in 704 days.
Dunguib returned at Naas last Saturday and that was his first outing in 1,040 days.
That the two horses performed so well was surely testimony to the splendid skills of their handler.
Last Instalment ran a cracker at Thurles, only tiring from the back of the final fence when a close third to Texas Jack and Baily Green.
He is still only a nine-year-old and it is certainly far from too late for him. Watching the horse at Thurles you almost despaired that he had been injured for nearly two years. There seems little doubt that, had things gone smoothly, he would now be talked about as a live Gold Cup candidate.
Last Instalment might well still be, of course, following next month’s Hennessy at Leopardstown, but that’s getting too far ahead of ourselves.
I thought Dunguib got the most beautifully sympathetic drive from Brian O’Connell at Naas.
Dunguib ended up running a grand race to finish third to Rule The World and Jennies Jewel and was not subjected to, quite rightly, any sort of unnecessary driving in the straight.
A spectacular winner of the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in 2009, he is now an 11-year-old, so anything achieved from here on can only be regarded as a bonus.
But you know what, it doesn’t rally matter whether Last Instalment or Dunguib ever win another race.
They are true warriors of a game to be cherished and to see them back on a racecourse healthy and well was just uplifting and a credit to Fenton and his team.
Ted Walsh has trained just one Cheltenham festival winner, Commanche Court in the Triumph Hurdle in 1997.
Five years later, the same horse almost gave him the ultimate Cheltenham prize when chasing home Best Mate in the Gold Cup.
That day in ’97 ranks as one of the highlights of the festival for many of us, because here was one of the great characters of racing enjoying a great day.
I vividly remember the crowd’s reaction and the way it moved Walsh, who proceeded to enjoy every minute of it.
Norman Williamson did the driving and he delightedly remarked in a television interview immediately afterward that “not alone can Ted talk, but can train as well” or words to that effect.
Anyway, a trainer and television commentator, who could never be accused of erring on the side of political correctness, thank God, is on the trail of more Cheltenham glory with Foxrock.
This tough customer showed he has all the qualities needed to be a real force in the four-mile National Hunt Chase when producing a dour staying performance to win a three-mile Grade 2 at Naas last Saturday.
I have a feeling that if Walsh’s daughter, Katie, manages to guide the progressive six-year-old to success in March that the enjoyable scenes of ’97 may well pale by comparison.
And have no doubt about it far worse horses than Foxrock have won this grueller, when some luck in running can often play a crucial part.
The hardest result to swallow in a while came in that bumper at Fairyhouse last Sunday, won by the Tom Mullins-trained Grand Partner, who popped up at 25-1.
At the off, he was 59-1 on Betfair.
There is no denying that we were thoroughly enjoying our weekend, with results at Naas on Saturday and then Fairyhouse going very much the way we would have wanted.
The last play was Gordon Elliott’s Lord Scoundrel in said bumper and this was set to be a delightful top-up.
But Grand Partner swamped him in the closing stages, beating Lord Scoundrel going away by a length and a half.
Even accepting that Stephen Clements should have made more use of Lord Scoundrel, who had shaped like a solid stayer in his two outings previously, this was most disappointing on the part of the favourite.
Grand Partner had run four times prior to Fairyhouse and had been beaten by 22, 50, 26 and 42 lengths. That made a grand ( get it) total of 140 lengths.
So will we be running around trying to get on Lord Scoundrel next time? In one word - no.
Could the Naas winner, Ivan Grozny, be the best juvenile hurdler we have seen this season?
The way he quickened from the final flight to score by 12 lengths was visually hugely impressive, although we won’t know whether the race was any good or not until some of those who filled the minor placings run again.
I have a feeling, however, that Indian Icon (second), Halling’s Treasure (third), and Wood Breizh (fourth) are all winners in waiting.
And then there was the fifth horse, Arthur Moore’s Sea Beat. Give yourself a treat and watch the race again. Was he an eye-catcher or what?
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