PAT KEANE: Melon form full of holes

Riddle me this, how is Willie Mullins’ Melon still favourite for Cheltenham’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle?

It’s not as if so-called Melon-mania remains in full flow. If punters, often referred to as “shrewdies” by the bookmakers, were still falling over each other trying to get on then surely the layers would have used the good offices of the Racing Post to have let us know by now.

But no, the silence, from all quarters, is simply deafening, with Melon this week essentially the same price as last week, despite the fact we are now aware his form has more holes in it than the Titanic.

Melon was supposed to have been a big festival plunge, after the ex-French horse made an impressive start in this country when taking a maiden hurdle by 10 lengths at Leopardstown on January 29.

Then last Saturday at Navan his immediate victim, Gordon Elliott’s Broken Soul, made his reappearance.

He was 4-11 to land a bad heat, with the mare, Miss Mardan, the only possible danger. Miss Mardan did just about everything wrong through the race, but passed the post four lengths in front of the runner-up, 50-1 shot King’s War with Broken Soul throwing in the towel up the straight to finish a further five lengths away in third.

So, Miss Mardan beat Broken Soul by almost as far as Melon, but I’ll bet if you offered Miss Mardan at 200-1 for the Supreme Novices’, you’d struggle to find a taker!

The form of the Leopardstown contest is simply worthless and yesterday Ladbrokes were only going 100-30 while Paddy Power (3-1) and Boylesports (11-4) were even meaner.

Now, if the race was today there is no way that Melon would be a worse price than what’s currently on offer and that’s even if he is the final choice of Ruby Walsh.

Look down the betting and you will see that Mullins has several other possibilities.

If Walsh was to nod in a different direction, it would be a surprise should Melon go off at less than 10-1.

Then there is the defection of Thistlecrack earlier this week from Cheltenham, which emphasised what we have been saying here literally for months, that he was a joke price for the Gold Cup.

The absence of Thistlecrack is a massive loss to the race, of course, and particularly disappointing for the Tizzards, who come across as decent people.

But if anyone thinks the disappointment will have been universal, then they could not be more wrong.

Those who have been laying the horse, at ridiculously tight odds, will have allowed themselves a little chuckle.

Business is business and all of that, with Betfair reporting this week that £330,000 (€390,000) was wagered on Thistlecrack for the Gold Cup with that organisation. Sympathy can be in short supply when there is money involved.

People who make no effort to be politically correct can be most entertaining and top of the list for me is Ryanair and Gigginstown House Stud supremo, Michael O’Leary.

I have to say I thoroughly enjoy much of what he spouts, while fully aware that a lot of it is just plain daft and said very much tongue in cheek.

Recently, however, he attacked Phil Smith, the senior handicapper for the BHA, regarding the way some of the Gigginstown horses were treated when the weights for the Grand National were unveiled.

Basically, he contended that Smith was making it up as he went along, as he waded into him.

It made for great reading, but when the dust had settled, after both sides had their say, you just felt this was actually a complete non-story and a load of old cobblers.

It prompted one to go and have a look at some of the O’Leary offerings over the years and here are three of my favourites.

Regarding Germans he said: “They will crawl bollock-naked over broken glass to get low fares.’’

Remember when Ryanair was reportedly considering charging patrons to go to the toilet? On that subject, O’Leary said: “One thing we have looked at is maybe putting a coin slot on the toilet door, so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in the future. Pay-per-pee.

“If someone wanted to pay £5.00 to go to the toilet, I’d carry them myself. I would wipe their bums for a fiver.’’ And on the fuel used by Ryanair, O’Leary revealed: “All flights are fuelled with Leprechaun wee and my bullshit.’’

O’Leary has the capacity to be really funny, depending on your sense of humour, obviously, but his outburst against a top man like Smith wasn’t funny at all.

Handicapping is a desperately difficult art and, essentially, a totally thankless task, except for the salary handicappers draw.

There are literally only a handful of people within the industry capable of doing such work with any degree of accuracy.

Over the last few days I went over and back to Germany with Ryanair. The price was right, they left on time, landed on time, both ways, the flights were packed, the staff could not have been more courteous and helpful and the passengers were disembarked almost as fast as you could mutter “Phil Smith.’’

When it comes to aviation, there is no doubting O’Leary’s genius. But, talking about handicapping, I’ll have the pro over the amateur every time. There’s a particular term for such things in the game we love, it’s called horses for courses!



Lifestyle

Making Cents: Planning for your financial future

Dive right in for Christmas swim in aid of a good cause

In the frame during a big year for comics

Musical theatre review: Les Miserables

More From The Irish Examiner