Things We Learned » National pointers

National pointers

There were several horses to take out of Monday’s Boylesports Irish Grand National. The winner Shutthefrontdoor was one. He is a bit obvious – most winners are – but he could still be worth following, he could develop into a better staying chaser than people might generally expect.

Fourth in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham last year as a novice hurdler off a mark of 144, there were high hopes at the start of this season that JP McManus’ horse would progress to be one of the top staying novice chasers this term. Things did not pan out quite as predicted, he was beaten by Le Bec at Cheltenham in November, and then he disappointed in finishing fourth of four behind Sam Winner and Le (same) Bec back at Cheltenham in December.

One wind operation later, he didn’t run badly in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham for Nina Carberry in his first-time tongue-tie and cheekpieces. He just didn’t jump as fluently as he might have, and he made a jolting mistake at the second last. Even so, despite the fact that he finished sixth, he was only beaten a total of three lengths by the winner Midnight Prayer. If he had jumped a little better, he would have gone a lot closer.

The fact that he was beaten, however, allowed him race off a mark of 142 on Monday, 4lb lower than his British mark. Given that he won, it was obviously a mark that under-rated his ability, but it was only his fifth chase. He is only seven, and he could be able to progress significantly from Monday’s performance.

The Jonjo O’Neill-trained gelding will be interesting in staying handicap chases next season, but he could be better than a staying handicap chaser. Perhaps unusually for an Irish National winner, connections might be thinking Hennessy and Cheltenham instead of Welsh National and Aintree.

There were others. Golden Wonder ran a cracker to finish second after probably hitting the front earlier than ideal, and Mullaghanoe River was travelling really well when he fell at the fifth last fence. His stamina for the trip was not proven, and we still don’t know if he will get these staying trips, but he was travelling really well at the time, and he remains interesting.

Also, Folsom Blue ran a cracker to finish fifth. Conor O’Dwyer’s horse was more scratchy than fluent over his fences – the ground was probably faster than ideal for him and perhaps that was why he wanted to go in and pop at most of his obstacles – and he was hampered when Mullaghanoe River fell in front of him at the fifth last.

Widest of all into the home straight, the Gigginstown House gelding stayed on as well as any of his rivals to be closest at the finish, and he will be of interest in soft-ground staying handicap chases next season. He is only seven, this was just his eighth chase, and he could be able to out-perform his new handicap mark next season by a fair way, particularly when the ground is soft.

Geraghty tops again

Shutthefrontdoor may have been the best horse in the Irish Grand National at the weights, he may have won with your grandmother on board claiming 3lb, but he may not have, and Barry Geraghty was superb on him.

The Barry Geraghty theme is a thread that has been running for a while now. The Meathman majors in the simple. We have seen it again and again this season. The majority of his high-profile winning rides have a strange habit of lulling you into this false sense that anybody could have won on those horses, that there was nothing extraordinary about the rides that got the horses home. But that’s what makes them so good. That’s what top class sportspeople do.

Watch Xavi pass the ball, watch Colm Cooper pick off another point, watch Rory McIlroy swing a seven-iron. Easy, innit?

Sure, Geraghty is strong in a finish, he had to get under Shutthefrontdoor on Monday, and he had to drive Jezki and More Of That and O’Faolains Boy to victory at Cheltenham, but lots of jockeys are strong in a finish. That is only part of it. It is what went before he sat down to drive those horses out to the line that puts Barry Geraghty up there in a small and select group of National Hunt riders riding at present who are as good as we have ever seen.

If you want to see Geraghty at his best without the need to be strong in a finish, watch Ma Filleule’s victory in the Topham Chase at Aintree again. She’s the grey one.

Mullins magic

You know that Willie Mullins is dominant at Punchestown these days, anecdotally of course, but it is only on looking back down through the list of top trainers at the meeting historically that you realise just how dominant he has been, and for how long.

The champion trainer has been leading trainer at Punchestown every year for the last eight years. The last year that he wasn’t leading trainer at the Punchestown Festival, Rathgar Beau beat Moscow Flyer on the bob of a head in a thrilling Champion Chase and Wild Passion, trained by the leading trainer that year Noel Meade, won the Champion Novice Hurdle.

Not only that, but Mullins has been leading trainer at 11 of the last 13 Punchestown Festivals, and in the last 15 years, only he and Noel Meade have topped the trainers’ charts at Punchestown. Get ready for more of the same.

Punchestown presents

There is some week in store. Quevega going for her fifth, Hurricane Fly v Jezki (the re-re-match), Vautour and Faugheen and Annie Power and perhaps Beat That v Don Poli. Not easy to. (Beat that.)

It’s like Cheltenham with a two-week build-up as opposed to a six-month build up.

At entry stage, it was looking like there was a chance that several novices were going to take that premature bold step out of novice company to take on the championship horses in the championship races. It would have been fascinating to have seen Champagne Fever or Trifolium or Balder Succes take on Hidden Cyclone and Baily Green and Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase, or Morning Assembly take on Boston Bob and On His Own and First Lieutenant in the Punchestown Gold Cup, or Tiger Roll take on Hurricane Fly and Jezki in the Champion Hurdle, getting 8lb.

Champagne Fever and Trifolium were both missing from the Champion Chase list when the five-day declarations were published on Thursday. Balder Succes was still among them, but Alan King said that he will probably stick to the novices’ race now. We may have to wait until next season to see how good this season’s two-mile novice chasers are. (Quite, you suspect.)

Morning Assembly is still in the Gold Cup, however, and Pat Fahy has intimated that there is a real chance that he will run in the race. That is an intriguing prospect. Steve Parkin’s horse’s record at Punchestown reads 13111, and he will be of interest in whichever race he contests, especially if the rains arrive.

Big scoop

If you are thinking of having a go at landing the monster £4 million (or thereabouts, including the bonus, for which you will have to wait a week, but it’s an impressive figure) Scoop 6 today, here are eight things to consider:

1. Finding the winner of the Bet365 Gold Cup is not going to be easy.

2. If you think that finding the winner of the Bet365 Gold Cup is not going to be easy, then have a look at the Visit Handicap at Ripon.

3. If you want to cover all runners in all six races, you need to cover 13,861,120 lines.

4. At £2 per unit, that’s a total of, well, twice that pounds.

5. If you want to cover just four horses in each of the six races, that’s 4,096 lines and 8,192 pounds. (€1 = about £0.83)

6. If you go with three bankers and cover every horse in the other three races, that’s a minimum of 2,548 lines, so the same as having a five grand treble. (Perhaps your average Saturday afternoon bet, just for an interest.)

7. Remember that, last week, there were no units still standing after just four legs.

8. If you do win it, you could be able to pick up The Ulysses cheaply enough. (The yacht, that is, not the book.)

Adh mor …

© The Irish Field, 26th April 2014