I spent Thursday night in London, at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, attending a testimonial dinner for Ronan O’Gara.
I have to say this was a good evening, full of great craic. There must have been some 800 at it, certainly every time you turned around all you could see was people.
There were buckets of well-known names at the dinner, although many of his old rugby colleagues were missing, because they are on international duty this weekend.
You still had lots of rugby men on site, however, the likes of Peter Stringer, Rob Henderson, Donncha O’Callaghan, Dougie Howlett, Tomas O’Leary, and Serge Betsen.
Ex-Ireland soccer manager Mick McCarthy was also present, as was now retired Kerry footballer, Paul Galvin, as well as Tony McCoy and Barry Geraghty.
Some pundits might think I skipped Clonmel on Thursday and opted instead to head for the bright lights.
But that wasn’t the case. I intended to go to Clonmel, and then London afterwards, but didn’t have a ride at the Tipperary track.
Anyway, yesterday morning I caught the 8.50 out of Heathrow to Dublin and then made my way down to Thurles.
Today, I’m at Fairyhouse, where Willie Mullins didn’t half set a poser by declaring three horses for the opener, a Grade 3 hurdle for three-year-olds.
I thought long and hard before coming down on the side of Adriana Des Mottes and it will be no surprise if I’ve got this completely wrong.
Adriana Des Mottes is a recruit from France, who won by 18 lengths for me on her Irish debut at Punchestown.
But Willie’s other two horses, Abbyssial and All Pepper, have both won twice over hurdles.
Abbyssial was very impressive for Paul Townend at Fairyhouse and then I won on him next time at Gowran Park. He is a strapping individual.
All Pepper has scored twice in France, at Nantes, and, while far from flashy at home, should not be underestimated.
It was a most difficult decision and, in the end, I was swayed by the fact that my horse will be in receipt of the 7lbs allowance for mares.
I have to fancy my chances aboard Beluckyagain in a mares’ maiden hurdle, although the evidence so far is that she is no star.
But Beluckyagain has been progressive in bumpers, has schooled well at home and this does shape like a weak contest.
I’m on Wicklow Gold in a handicap hurdle, but feel he’s harshly treated off a mark of 125.
I know he won by 27 lengths at Tramore, but that looked a weak enough race. I hope I’m totally wrong and that the handicapper, Noel O’Brien, is right.
The Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase is the feature and I team up with the dual Thyestes Chase winner, On His Own.
He will handle the ground, likes going right-handed and is very fit, so has to have a serious chance.
But, in what looks a good heat, you’d have to say that Mount Benbulben is the class act. His issue, of course, is jumping, which has often let him down in the past.
He is, though, taking a fair drop in class, having emerged with credit from the King George at Kempton, where he was fourth behind Silviniaco Conti.
We will certainly be travelling a lot slower in this race and that will give Mount Benbulben more time to measure his fences.
If there is a genuine Grade 1 horse in this then it is him, but On His Own is far from without hope.
Kalmann, Willie’s Mount Benbulben, runs in a beginners chase. His problem too is his jumping, although he did do better at Thurles last time, compared to Clonmel previously. Basically, I’m no more than hopeful when it comes to him.
Willie introduces a nice newcomer in Westhorpe, who is by Westerner, in the bumper and he is certainly working well enough to be competitive.
I’m at Naas tomorrow for just two rides, starting with Vicky de L’Oasis in a Grade 2 novice hurdle.
She is a useful enough mare, who will be much better when it finally stops raining and good ground is again available.
Vicky probably had a hard enough task trying to give another of Willie’s, Gitane Du Berlais, 11lbs at Fairyhouse and never really looked like managing it up the straight.
Willie also runs City Slicker, who will be ridden by Tony McCoy, but I think he is better suited to a right-handed track.
I fancy I’ll win a Grade 2 chase aboard Twinlight, who has to leave a bad third to Captain Chris at Kempton behind.
He is normally keen, but gave me no feel at all that day, so perhaps the travelling or just being away from home got to him. Twinlight is also better going right-handed, but it may be no bad thing, given how testing the surface is likely to be, to race wide. He has been going really well at home of late and I’m reasonably confident.
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