Fortune favours the brave

BARRY GERAGHTY must have allowed himself a wry smile on Monday, as he flicked through the morning papers.

There it was in front of him, criticism from Michael O’Brien, despite the fact he had won the previous afternoon’s Pierse Hurdle at Leopardstown for the trainer on Essex.

People who claim to know O’Brien will say he isn’t easily satisfied. What we can conclude with a fair degree of certainty is that he calls it as he sees it and is willing to express his opinion, irrespective of who is listening.

“I thought Barry went on way too soon,” remarked O’Brien. It was relatively mild, of course, but if Essex had got beaten then there had to be real scope for something which would have made the opening paragraphs of reports.

Trainers criticise jockeys all the time, but it nearly always remains in-house. Most would run a mile from saying something which would make its way into the following days papers, especially if their horse had actually won a particular contest.

But the reason Geraghty, Paul Carberry, Ruby Walsh and one or two others shot to the top is because they have that ability, that instinct, to make it up as they go along.

Geraghty knew he would probably be in for a hard time from O’Brien if his tactics failed, he clearly didn’t do what he was told, but had the courage to go much earlier than planned on the basis there had been no pace and Essex, as a winner of the Irish Cesarewitch, was guaranteed to stay.

Before the current three top musketeers in this country hit top gear, Charlie Swan totally ruled the roost.

He was an incredible tactician. Swan was too talented, clever and astute, for his rivals for many seasons and, indeed, when I interviewed JP McManus some years ago and asked him what Swan had, he replied simply: “Charlie is his own man.”

Conor O’Dwyer gave, arguably, the best exhibition of all, however, of doing your own thing, getting away with it and then reaping a major dividend.

He rode Imperial Call in the Hennessy at Leopardstown in February ’96. Imperial Call was actually Swan’s ride at the time, but he remained loyal to Aidan O’Brien’s Life Of A Lord.

When the field lined up, O’Dwyer got an absolute flier. He wasn’t supposed to make it, but later reported he just refused to give up what he saw as a softly-gained, but highly important, advantage.

Imperial Call proceeded to give a brilliant display of jumping, except for halving the final fence, and front-running.

The performance washed away any doubts Fergie Sutherland had of going for the Gold Cup, Imperial Call was only seven, the following month.

And the rest is history. O’Dwyer retained the ride at Cheltenham, Imperial Call won the Gold Cup and the pilot’s boldness at Leopardstown previously ensured he ended up landing the greatest prize of all.

Geraghty will partner Essex in the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury, if he wants to! Won’t he?

A couple of races of late in Ireland have shown that the layers are well capable of offering real value, when the mood takes them.

The Phil Sweeney Memorial ’Chase at Thurles a week ago is a case in point. The five-horse affair was won by Scarthy Lad, with the margin working out at around a perfectly acceptable 109%.

Mr Babbage took the seven-runner novice hurdle at Thurles. The final figure here was some 117%, but realistically there were only three possible winners and they bet less than 100% on those.

And there have been several other examples of late, as well, where the punter had a real chance.

The bookmakers’ percentages on handicaps, in most cases, continue to be far too big, but the discerning punter should swerve those races anyway.

Maiden hurdles, novice hurdles, novice ’chases, in short conditions races, are the contests on which to concentrate. The layers are saying “come out and play” and we should oblige them.

NOW and then you like the look of a horse and decide to follow him until beaten.

Ted Walsh’s Southern Vic is one of them. Twice he has justified favouritism at Leopardstown and is so uncomplicated he makes the game appear easy.

The six-year-old couldn’t have been more impressive when taking his maiden and then made the step up in class on Sunday with ease.

It wouldn’t be right to get carried away and he still has it all to prove. But Southern Vic has a way of doing things which is pleasing to the eye-and the pocket.

He jumps beautifully, travels well and seems to get better the further he travels. I don’t think we will go too far wrong keeping him on our side!

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