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Cool cat

It was good to see Argocat back at Gowran Park on Saturday.

The outsider of the four runners, by far the least-well-fancied of the four, he did need to be niggled along by Brian O’Connell in patches, but he travelled best of all into the home straight. His task was made easier by the independent departures of Bog Warrior and Aupcharlie at the second last, but it looked like he had that pair cooked at the time anyway.

Indeed, his main danger from the top of the home straight appeared to be the only other finisher Turban, and he did give Willie Mullins’ horse a chance with a fairly significant error at the final fence, where he lost his hind legs a little on landing. He quickly recovered his equilibrium, however, and he battled on gallantly to the line to win by a half a length.

This was just reward for Tom Taaffe’s patience. An exciting novice chaser last season, Argocat might have beaten Rolling Aces in the Grade 2 graduation chase at Down Royal in November had he not fallen at the last. He broke three ribs in that fall, and he ran poorly in the Kinloch Brae Chase last month on his next run, so his primary mission on Saturday was to prove his wellbeing, which he did emphatically.

It was interesting that Taaffe said afterwards that Jim and Fitri Hay’s horse would by-pass Cheltenham. That makes sense, he never looked comfortable there last March in the Jewson Chase. He had also disappointed in the 2012 Fred Winter Hurdle.

It may be that the Montjeu gelding is at his best going right-handed. All five of his wins over hurdles and fences have been gained at right-handed tracks, and his two highest RPRs by far were recorded at Down Royal and Gowran Park, both right-handed tracks. It may be that he will be at his best at Fairyhouse or Punchestown this season.

However, it may be that he is just hitting peak form now, that he doesn’t have to go right-handed at all. Those highest two RPRs were recorded in his last three runs. Aintree was mooted as an option on Saturday and, if he does go to Aintree, probably for the Betfred Bowl, he could be an interesting outsider against higher-profile horses who are going on to Aintree from the Gold Cup.

Tough week

It has been a tough one for owner Barry Connell. It appeared to start off well, with Foxrock and Inis Meain both winning at Navan on Sunday, but it was on the same day that his Irish Cesarewitch winner Minsk was taken ill with a rare form of travel sickness, and had to be put down shortly afterwards.

On Thursday, after Philip Fenton’s court case had been deferred, the owner made the difficult decision that none of the horses that he had in training with Fenton would run until the issue was sorted out, thereby effectively ruling The Tullow Tank, his Neptune Hurdle second favourite, out of the Cheltenham Festival. Then at Clonmel that afternoon, Double Irish, who had run really well in the three-mile novices’ hurdle before tiring on the run to the final flight, took a crashing fall at that obstacle and took a while to get up.

Hopefully there are better times ahead for the owner, who invests so much in the game, and who has, don’t forget, promised to donate all the prize money that Our Conor earns this season to the Jockeys’ Emergency Fund.

National outsider

There is a notion that seems to be gaining traction, that the Grand National is a more difficult puzzle to solve now than before, possibly because the fences are not as stiff as they used to be. But it may be a misguided notion.

For starters, it flies in the face of logic. If the fences do not claim as many casualties as they used to, if they are easier to jump and if the attrition rate is lower than it used to be, logic dictates that a reduction should follow in the element of chance that invariably goes hand in hand with a horse race in general and the Grand National in particular.

The notion is becoming popular because the last two National winners were sent off at odds of 66/1 and 33/1, and because there was a 100/1 winner five years ago.

However, it is a small sample size. Three big-priced winners do not suddenly mean that a race is unsolvable. Indeed, the other three winners from the latest six-year period were sent off at 14/1, 10/1 joint-favourite and 7/1 joint-favourite respectively.

Also, the placed horses have generally not been too difficult to find. Three of the four horses who chased the 66/1 shot Auroras Encore home last year were sent off at 12/1, 10/1 and 16/1 respectively. Also, the three horses who filled the places behind 33/1 Neptune Collonges in 2012 were priced at 16/1, 8/1 joint-favourite and 16/1 respectively, while the three horses who filled the places behind 100/1 shot Mon Mome in 2009 were sent off at 14/1, 8/1 and 14/1 respectively.

Of the 16 horses who collectively filled the four places in the last four Grand Nationals, 12 were sent off at 16/1 or less. We may have another 100/1 winner this year, but the Grand National is still a race in which the discerning punter has an edge.

Bobbyjo watch

Speaking of the Grand National, it should pay to watch today’s Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse carefully with one eye while keeping the other one trained on the Aintree Grand National market.

Hedgehunter won the Bobbyjo Chase in 2005 before going on to Aintree glory six six weeks later, while Snowy Morning finished third in the Bobbyjo in 2008 before going on to fill the same position at Aintree.

Black Apalachi won the Bobbyjo in 2009 and he was in the process of running a massive race in that year’s Grand National when he got Becher’s second time wrong and unseated his rider. In 2010, Dessie Hughes’ horse chased his stable companion Vic Venturi home in the Bobbyjo, then went to Aintree and chased Don’t Push It home in the Grand National.

In 2011, Oscar Time finished third in the Bobbyjo Chase, then went to Aintree and travelled like a dream down to the final fence in Ballabriggs’ slipstream, but just couldn’t get past. Then last year, the 12-year-old Rare Bob finished fourth in the Bobbyjo and fifth in the National.

It is appropriate that the Bobbyjo Chase should have such an influence on the Grand National.

Adonis pointer

And speaking of pointers, it is perhaps not that surprising that this afternoon’s BetBright Chase at Kempton has not been that relevant a guide to the Festival in recent years.

To what race is it going to point? It is unlikely that it would ever be a pointer to the Gold Cup, as a three-mile handicap chase in which the top weight is usually rated around the mid-150s. The Festival Handicap Chase is the Cheltenham race to which today’s contest should logically point, but who is going to be at concert pitch to incur a 7lb (or so) hike for a Festival handicap two and a half weeks before the main event.

Today’s Pendil Chase was won by Arkle hero Captain Chris in 2011, but it is the Adonis Hurdle that steals the show today as a Cheltenham pointer. In the last decade, Penzance won the Adonis in 2005 and followed up by winning the Triumph Hurdle three weeks later, and Punjabi won the Adonis in 2007 and finished fourth in the Triumph. Then, Binocular won the Adonis in 2008 and finished second to Captain Cee Bee in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, before going on to Aintree and landing the Glen Livet Hurdle.

Soldatino won the Adonis in 2010 on his British debut over hurdles before going on to win the Triumph, and Zarkandar did exactly the same thing in 2011, making his British debut in the Adonis and then going on to win the Triumph.

Alcala and Agreement are the two horses who are making their British debuts over hurdles today.

© The Irish Field, 22nd February 2014