PAT KEANE: Three trainers face a real test of their skills

There are three admirable horses a lot of punters will not want to touch with a forty foot pole the next time they appear, namely Sizing Europe, First Lieutenant and Long Run.

All three were in action last Saturday and performed more or less in the same manner, miles below the standard we have come to expect from them.

Sizing Europe, given how consistent he has been over many seasons, produced an inexplicable display at Down Royal in the JNwine.com Champion Chase.

He was beaten 13 lengths into second by Roi Du Mee, who was rated 15lbs inferior going into the race.

Horses frequently leave their rating well behind, so that’s no big deal, but the way Sizing Europe actually performed clearly is.

He ran almost on instinct, leaving his best qualities solidly behind. His jumping was moderate, he travelled with little enthusiasm and put the icing on the cake, so to speak, when battering into the final fence.

In a couple of weeks, Sizing Europe will be a 12-year-old and, perhaps, this was his way of telling us all that he has had enough. If Sizing Europe was disappointing then it was nothing compared to the shocking display produced by First Lieutenant.

On Saturday morning he had to be regarded as a genuine Gold Cup possibility, given that come March will be a nine-year-old and entitled to be at his very best.

But he didn’t want to know literally from the start and gave Davy Russell a nightmare time of it.

Russell was niggling, flicking and cajoling throughout and First Lieutenant kept spitting it back at him.

From the fourth last there was no possibility of the horse being involved at the business end and he crossed the line fourth, beaten 26 lengths, and legless.

Long Run ran a shocker at Wetherby, although there is some comfort, I suppose, in the fact he scoped badly subsequently.

Nevertheless, this was a particularly poor start to his campaign and it would take a brave punter to want to be with him next time, no matter how positive the soundings coming out of Nicky Henderson’s were.

And that is a comment that can be equally directed as well at both Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant. The three trainers involved don’t half face a real test of their skills.

Aidan O’Brien has done many remarkable things in a relatively short career, but to produce Magician to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita has to figure among his finest achievements.

Here was a horse who was untried over a mile and a half, ten furlongs was the furthest he had previously travelled, who went to America on the back of a dreadful effort at Royal Ascot and hadn’t run for 137 days.

Now, Santa Anita is on the west coast of the United States and a hell of a long way to travel with a horse that had been off for so long.

If O’Brien had sent Magician up the road to the Curragh and got him to win, following such a long absence, it would still have been a very fine feat indeed.

But to take on the best the Americans had on offer, as well as John Gosden’s brilliant mare, The Fugue, and beat them, under the ride of the meeting by the wizard, Ryan Moore, was quite extraordinary.

As usual, after the race, O’Brien thanked all and sundry, those at home, the owners of the horse and, by the time he was finished, it was as if he had practically nothing to do with the success of Magician.

Apparently, it was the owners, led by Michael Tabor, who had the courage to step the Galileo colt up to 12 furlongs, if it was left to him then he’d have bottled it.

Aidan, come on, can you do us all a favour in the future and bottle the bull? You’ve been beating this old drum for too long now and no one takes it seriously any more.

Most of us think you are a bloody genius and no amount of waffling will ever change our minds.

Cork spent plenty of money marketing its Grand National meeting last Sunday and was rewarded with a disappointing attendance.

I know there were local GAA matches with which to contend, but this was a decent National Hunt card and the track surely deserved better.

You could argue that the afternoon turned out to be rather nasty, but since when did a drop of rain ever deter the hardy souls who love jump racing?

Certainly the betting ring lacked any sort of atmosphere and that wasn’t good.

But it is just a further indication of the malaise that afflicts racing in these islands now.

Sitting at home with the heating purring, if you can afford it, with all the racing on the relevant channels and the computer on the lap seems to represent the here and now and, sadly, the future.

The likes of Lots Of Memories, Azorian and Sizing Rio were especially impressive and it was nice to be on site to see them strut their stuff.


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