The Topham Chase next Friday has been Polidam’s aim for a while now and he’s in really good order, writes Ruby Walsh
As a race to watch last Monday’s Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse was a great spectacle, exactly what a Grand National should be.
When they were jumping the ninth or tenth fence all that was taking your eye was all the loose horses, and you were wondering what kind of trouble they were going to cause.
And you could see how much the race slowed down because of the loose horses, because lads didn’t know where they were going to go. They had to second-guess where they might go and, as a result of slowing down, the field packed up. It was like was watching an old-fashioned English National.
There were thrills, spills, drama going to the last, and a brilliant finish. As a race goes, for sheer entertainment it had the lot. It was a handicap, so you weren’t expecting a great performance like you might see in a graded race. There was no expectation that one horse might put in a mind-blowing performance that would make you stand back and go ‘wow!’ It’s a handicap and it’s supposed to throw up a bit of uncertainty.
The beauty of it was that everybody got up – horses and jockeys. Because it was soft, it takes a lot of the danger out of it. For a long way, the class horse in the race, Bellshill, looked like the one, but he threw his own chance away going to the last.
I know what he did but why he did it I can’t figure out. It looked like he pricked his ears and half went to refuse but he shouldn’t have done that because at that stage he had jumped 23 similar jumps and there was no reason why the 24th one was going to frighten him or look different to him.
Ultimately, he caused interference to Arkwrisht, and the knock-on effect was interference with Folsom Blue. The stewards decided to reverse the placings of Bellshill, who finished fourth, and Folsom Blue, who finished fifth. I know how they did so but, to my eye, that’s not the way the rules are written.
I think you had to be certain that Bellshill improved his position, but I think if he didn’t do what he did at the last he would have won the Irish Grand National. Therefore, I don’t think you could be certain he improved his position. I don’t think he did. If anything, I believe he cost himself rather than improved his position, and so the reversing of the placings was a strange decision.
Obviously, the overall result, outside of Bellshill, with General Principle chinning Isleofhopendreams right on the line, was a huge swing in the trainers’ championship. It means Gordon Elliott is now about €550,000 ahead of Willie. There was €170,000 difference between first and second prize, so that’s a swing of €340,000 which would have put a different complexion on the title race.
It’s good to see Fairyhouse as rescheduled last Tuesday’s meeting for next Friday as we looked to have some very good chances on it, and every bit of prize money we can pick up will help.
That said, when you look at what’s on offer at Punchestown you realise the title race is far from over. The winner of each of the four championship races receives €147,000, and if Willie and Gordon were to have the same Punchestown as they had last year, Willie would still win.
And things didn’t exactly go to plan that week for Willie. Djakadam was beaten a short head in the Gold Cup, Nichols Canyon got beaten, Penhill got turned over, and so did Un De Sceaux.
We had plenty of big results but if some of the short heads, necks and half lengths had gone the other way the winning margin for Willie could have been €400,000, not €200,000. There is so much money on offer in Punchestown, it’s huge in the National Hunt season, and huge in the trainers’ championship.
Whatever you look at it, the way the national hunt season has gone the last two months of it have been thrilling. It’s been a pain in the backside for me watching on, but from the Dublin Racing Festival on to Cheltenham, on to Fairyhouse and then Aintree next week and the season coming to a big finish in Punchestown. It’s some season and, by God, it comes to some climax.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be that thrilling without the excitement of Willie versus Gordon in the trainers’ championship, but it should be make for great entertainment.
Aintree is on next week and I can’t imagine Willie or Gordon will have too many representatives. It’s a great meeting, with plenty of money on offer, but unfortunately for Aintree a lot of the Irish big guns will be staying at home because of what’s going on in Punchestown.
But it will be interesting to see Supasundae taking on Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air on Thursday, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Champion Chaser Altior going two and a half miles.
The weather will be fascinating with regard to the Grand National and, with the forecast the way it is, you’d have to look for very strong stayers. When the ground is soft, they go a bit slower, horses have more time to operate and the one I like at a huge price is Carlingford Lough. He’s a very classy horse on his day, a very shrewd man has him, and if he turns up on the day it will be because he’s in very good form.
Before I write here again, when I’ll be going in to more depth about the Grand National, Polidam will have run in the Topham Chase, which takes place on Friday. This has been his aim for a while now and he’s in really good order. I think he’ll like the fences and the trip will suit him. He has a lot going for him, and I think he’ll be a big player.
I was listening to the radio on Tuesday morning and there were a lot of people on giving out about the ground at Fairyhouse. If I had been riding in the race I would have been below at the start with a big smile on my face.
It was loose ground that was really wet, and horses don’t mind it. You have to go slower, and the likelihood of getting hurt is so much lower. They are dream conditions for national hunt jockeys and for horses.
Okay, horses get tired and pull up but there’s no harm in that. I was just a bit bemused listening to the radio and hearing people giving out about it.
The conditions were so much safer than if the sun was shining and the ground rattling fast.
Perception can often be deception, and that is the case in this instance.
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