Would Thomas have been on Noland if Smith owned him?

YOU would like to think that those who tried to make Sam Thomas’ life a misery over the last couple of weeks were hanging their heads in shame after Noland had won the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on Tuesday.

Thomas had been the victim of a tabloid media frenzy, into which, sadly, Paul Nicholls allowed himself to be sucked in.

Nicholls, unfortunately, added fuel to fire by literally offering one of the tabloids a story about contacting Alex Ferguson regarding getting Thomas back “scoring goals”. That really took the biscuit.

Anyway, as we all know, it came to a head when Thomas was jocked off both Master Minded and Free World at Sandown last Saturday, with Tony McCoy replacing him.

Free World was beaten and Master Minded scored in a canter. Afterwards McCoy, with typical honesty, said a half-fit Ruby Walsh would have won on Master Minded.

Fast-forward to Punchestown and Thomas’ performance aboard Noland showed just how competent a jockey he is and how unfair so much of the criticism levelled at him was.

Thomas himself is on record as saying he is not lacking in confidence and has just been “unlucky.’

There aren’t too many holes you can pick in that argument, with the exception of coming wide into the straight on Big Buck’s in the Hennessy at Newbury, when he had been told not to leave the inside.

Thomas gave Noland a copybook drive, in a contest in which The Listener ensured that no prisoners were taken by setting a spanking gallop.

He gave his partner plenty of time to get into a rhythm, moved up at precisely the right time and made the decisive move when The Listener blundered four from home.

We shouldn’t read too much into the times of National Hunt races, but it is still worth noting how quickly Noland ran the two and a half miles.

His time was almost eight seconds faster than Kilcrea Castle in the following handicap chase and over twelve seconds faster that Joncol in the beginners chase.

Thomas emerged from this with great credit and reputation enhanced. But the question has to be asked: If Clive Smith, of Master Minded and Free World fame, owned Noland, instead of the sporting John Hales, would Thomas have been in the plate at all?

It will be a surprise should the form of the Durkan not prove rock solid in the months ahead.

It is always encouraging when horses are spread out like Monday’s washing and the contestants finish just about where the form book tells you they should.

And War Of Attrition? Connections have every reason to feel mighty pleased with his third placing.

He has never really been capable of winning top races in testing conditions and this effort was far in advance of his easy victories in egg-and-spoon heats at Punchestown and Thurles previously.

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SPEAKING of jockeys, anyone else think Davy Russell is simply getting better and better?

He rode four winners at Navan last Saturday, producing a couple of absolutely magical displays.

His victory on Made In Taipan, in a novice chase, was straightforward enough and raw power saw him get Clan Tara up in the final stride to take a novice hurdle.

But his riding of Nuvelli, in a conditions chase, was pure artistry and you could watch him winning on Chelsea Harbour, on the tape, over and over again.

Chelsea Harbour had to carry the steadier of 11-10, in a three mile handicap chase, and gave Bronx Girl 28lbs and a neck beating.

It was the way Russell saved every bit of ground all the way round, and the patience he showed at vital stages of the contest, which made the difference between victory and defeat.

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IF Willie Mullins decides to run Mikael d’Haguenet, against Pandorama, in Sunday’s two and a half mile Barry and Sandra Kelly Memorial Novice Hurdle at Navan then we are going to have a smashing pre-Christmas treat.

Pandorama is the best staying novice hurdler in the country right now and the most exciting young horse we have seen in a fair while.

But in the ex-French, Mikael d’Haguenet, he might finally be taking on a horse who could at least get him off the bridle.

Remember, Mullins’ charge landing a fair old morning-price gamble on his Irish debut when strolling to victory in a maiden hurdle at Navan last month? He has also been entered in a two-miler at Navan.

Cork also race on Sunday and deserve to attract a bumper crowd. There are five non-handicaps, on a seven-race programme, and that usually means punters have every reason to be optimistic.

The Grade 2 O’Connell Logistics Hilly Way Chase has attracted just about the best two mile horses this country has to offer right now and it looks as if that splendid mare, Pomme Tiepy, will be coming south for the Grade 3 O’Connell Transport Cork Stayers’ Novice Hurdle.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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