Six Irish trainers had skin in the game when the cards were dealt at the start of the Gold Cup yesterday and few could have guessed then that Tony Martin would come up with the strongest of those hands.
The Arodstown, Co. Meath stable has endured tough times of late.
Martin has saddled 183 runners at home through the current jumps season and only six have been winners. That’s a hit rate of just 3%.
Willie Mullins, by way of contrast, finds the bullseye three times out of 10 back home.
Martin had enjoyed some success at Cheltenham in the past, the last of his six winners coming just three seasons ago when Rivage D’Or took the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, and he has had previous in Grade One company as well.
Bog Warrior, Dedigout, and Benefficient have all pulled through for him, while Heartbreak City won the Ebor,
Europe’s richest handicap on the Flat, in 2016.
It’s been tough times since and the fact that Anibale Fly was his only runner here this week spoke for that.
“Only runner, yeah,” he said after the eight-year-old came in third.
“We are slow on horses. We have a lot more little Flat horses for the summer, but it has been very quiet there for the last few years, unfortunately. Be nice to have a few, but we just don’t have the ammunition we had.”
Much has been made — until yesterday’s swing toards the home ranks anyway — about how this had been another standout week for the Irish National Hunt scene.
Fifteen wins secured behind the stable doors through the first three days. Yesterday’s record of 19 seemed to be within touching distance.
What those figures hid was the reliance on the usual mammoth operations to carry the flag through Prestbury Park.
Of 141 ‘Irish’ runners here this week, Willie Mullins accounted for 59. That’s 41%.
Between them, Mullins, Gordon Elliott,and Henry De Bromhead made up 85% of the raiders’ challenge.
As with so many sports, there has been a contraction of power and money towards the elite.
There is more money swishing around horse racing these days, but it is shared by a smaller circle and Closutton, Cullentra, and Knockeen hold the whip hand in Ireland right now.
“But sure, that’s it,” said Martin. “It’s tied up fairly good and we’re here for a while, but hopefully we’ll be back with a few stronger next year and the year after. It’s nice to have them here. This lad didn’t let us down anyway.”
Twenty-one other Irish trainers pitched up with contributions for the 2018 Festival, but they had just 37 horses between them.
Fifteen of those trainers were pinning all their hopes on just the one animal.
This, then, was the context as six Irish trainers threw their names into the hat for the Timico Gold Cup.
They brought nine claimants to the starter’s orders and, though Mullins boasted four of them, he never looked like breaking his oft-highlighted duck in the big one.
Runner-up six times in the past, he didn’t even come close to striking the post this time.
Neither did Martin, to be fair.
Native River and Might Bite indulged in their own debate for most of the contest and short thrift was given the suggestion that maybe Barry Geraghty could have persuaded Anibale Fly to make more of a move on that cosy duo.
“Ah, I don’t think so. When Barry tried to get him a little bit closer, coming down the hill at the third last, he made a little bit of a mistake three out. No, I’d have no complaints that way. I’d be very happy, just two very good horses (beat him).”
In hindsight, there were signs that this member of JP McManus’ string could make a mark.
The valuable Paddy Power Chase was claimed in Leopardstown at Christmas and there were positive soundings this week despite a fall two out on his last trip, in the Irish Gold Cup.
Geraghty turned up his nose the chance to partner the more hyped Edwulf as well as last year’s runner-up, Minella Rocco, to chaperone Anibale Fly around in the feature.
It was a hopeful choice, Geraghty had explained. And the right one, as it turned out.
“After Christmas we thought he was a horse with a chance of the Irish Gold Cup and here,” said Martin. “He was just disappointing the last day so it was great to see him bounce back. Sure, that’s where he is. He came across two good ones, but he was a well-deserving third and ran a blinder. “It’s just grand to have a horse here able to run well, that’s all.”
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