Things We Learned » Punchestown or Cheltenham?

Punchestown or Cheltenham?

There was a feast of racing last weekend when Punchestown’s Morgiana Hurdle meeting met the Paddy Power Gold Cup meeting at Cheltenham. Unusually, there were no Irish-trained winners at the Paddy Power meeting. Three days, no winners.

Actually, the Irish representation lacked depth. There were just six Irish-trained runners on Friday and seven on Saturday. Then, after the Denis Hogan-trained Neatly Put was scratched from the bumper on Sunday, there were just two Irish runners on the day – the Willie Mullins-trained Clondaw Warrior, who ran a cracker to finish third in the Greatwood Hurdle, and Pyromaniac, who ran well for Tony Martin to finish third in the Grade 2 novices’ hurdle.

There were other good Irish performances at Cheltenham over the course of the weekend. Uncle Junior – the almost-14-year-old Uncle Junior – ran another huge race in the cross-country chase to get to within a length and a half of Balthazar King. Remarkably, Uncle Junior’s record in the race now reads 1122 and, if it wasn’t for the presence of Balthazar King, Willie Mullins’ horse would have won the last four renewals. Also, the Stuart Crawford-trained Montana Belle put up a nice performance to finish second in the mares’ bumper on Saturday.

Perhaps it is the success of the Morgiana Hurdle meeting at Punchestown that explains the dearth of Irish runners at Cheltenham last weekend. And you can understand trainers’ attitudes.

Why would Noel Meade bring Chancol to Cheltenham to run in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial (worth £18,793 to the winner) when he could stay at home and win €25,675 for landing the Craddockstown Chase? And why should Henry de Bromhead have brought Shanahan’s Turn to Cheltenham to race for £12,512 in the Steel Plate and Sections Chase, or for £12,627 in the Cheltenham Club Chase, when he can win €25,675 for winning the Florida Pearl Chase?

Start times

Sunday’s start times probably do need some tweaking. Relative start times were good on Saturday, when Cheltenham and Punchestown races were spaced at 10 or 15 or 20-minute intervals, but introduce Cork on Sunday, and it all got a little congested.

The Punchestown races were scheduled to start just five minutes after the Cheltenham races, and that is not ideal. Of course, Punchestown is shown on At The Races and Cheltenham is on Racing UK, so there is no scheduling difficulty or split screens for the racing channels. However, there was a difficulty for racing fans and punters, in that the Cheltenham races were just about finishing by the time the Punchestown races were off.

It also had an impact in Channel 4 land. The Morgiana Hurdle was scheduled for 2.15, just five minutes after the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial. It meant that there was room for a build-up of just a minute or two to the Morgiana Hurdle and the much-anticipated clash between Hurricane Fly and Jezki after the horses had pulled up in the Cheltenham race. Surely the authorities can knock heads together and agree a spacing of 15 or 20 minutes between the Punchestown and Cheltenham races on the day, then fit each jurisdictions’ other meetings in around them.

With the Cork races scheduled just five or 10 minutes before the Cheltenham races, it meant that, of the four meetings in Britain and Ireland on the day, the one that had the most room on either side of its races was Fontwell.

Race to watch

The two-mile handicap chase at Cheltenham on Friday, the race that was won by Bold Henry, could be a rich source of future winners. The race was run at a solid pace and in a good time, the best on the day on the main racecourse by some way, with the exception of the novices’ chase in which they ran around half a dozen fences.

There were several horses to take from the race. The winner was an obvious one. Philip Hobbs’ horse made a bad mistake at the third fence, but he made nice progress from the back of the field, and he showed a really fine turn of foot from the back of the last fence to come clear up the hill. He is obviously fragile, and he is eight rising nine, but this was just his third chase, and he may have enough potential for progression to cope with a 10lb hike.

The third horse, Monetaire, is another obvious one. David Pipe’s horse made a terrible mistake at the first fence, he was slightly hampered at the second, and he left his hind legs in the ditch at the top of the hill, yet he still looked a likely winner when he hit the front at the second last fence. His early exertions told in the end as he faded up the hill, but this was still a massive effort on his first run for David Pipe, his first in Britain and his first in 11 months.

Ut Majeur Aulmes travelled like a good horse down the hill and Sew On Target looked the most likely winner jumping the last fence, doing well to last as long as he did given that he was up there at the head of the main body of the field from early in a race that favoured the hold-up horses. (The winner and third were second last and last jumping the last fence on the first circuit.)

De Faoithesdream was one of the horses who set that fast pace, and he put up a big performance to finish fourth. He is less obvious than most, so he could be the best betting angle for the future.

Evan Williams’ horse was one of the two horses who set the early fast pace. He and Next Sensation got into a little bit of a duel for the early lead, as was anticipated, and they were eight lengths clear of the main body of the field as they ran up past the stands first time.

De Faoithesdream’s jumping down the back straight was good, and he quickly had Next Sensation’s measure. He travelled well after that in front, he jumped the third last fence well and travelled well enough around the home turn for Paul Moloney to allow himself a little look behind him to check how everyone else was travelling.

It was not surprising that his early exertions took their toll after that. He was joined at the second last fence, where he put in a tired jump and lost momentum. Even so, even after he was passed – he dropped back to fifth place at the final fence – he stayed on well again up the hill to wrest fourth place back from Ut Majeur Aulmes.

The Balakheri gelding is eight years old, but this was just his eighth chase, he still has scope to progress again, and the handicapper has left him on Friday’s mark of 130, which is 2lb lower than his hurdles mark. Given how well he jumps his fences, you have to think that he is capable of going beyond his hurdles mark over fences now. He should be better on better ground, and it may be that a step up in trip would suit him well now. He is a point-to-point winner, and he may have just got out-paced here around the home turn before keeping on.

Stats attack

Paul Nicholls has run 10 horses in the Betfair Chase, and five of them have won. His strike rate in the race is 50%, and he has won 56% of the renewals from just 17% of the runners. (Points to Silviniaco Conti.)

Also, French-bred horses have won 56% of the nine renewals (five) from 37% of the runners (22). (Points to Silviniaco Conti.) And the previous year’s King George winner has won the race twice (22%) from just six (10%) attempts. (Points to Silviniaco Conti.)

But dig a little deeper. Nicholls has won the race five times, true, but he has only actually had two individual winners, Kauto Star four times and Silviniaco Conti himself in 2012. The French-bred stat is a decent stat, but there are four French-breds in today’s race – they make up almost half the field. And, while the King George stat is also interesting, it was the brilliant Kauto Star who was responsible for both wins. (Stats, eh?)

RSA pointer

The Albert Bartlett Hurdle run at the Cheltenham Festival last March just continues to grow in strength as time moves on.

Kings Palace, sent off the 5/2 second favourite for the Albert Bartlett, ran out an impressive winner of the three-mile novices’ chase at Cheltenham on Saturday, beating Sausalito Sunrise – sixth in the Albert Bartlett – into second place. On Friday, Champagne West, fourth in the Albert Bartlett, was also an impressive winner of the two-and-a-half-mile chase, the Steel Plate and Sections Chase, a race in which Albert Bartlett seventh Urban Hymn finished third.

Albert Bartlett winner, Very Wood, had already won that beginners’ chase at Galway that always goes to a top-class staying chaser in-waiting, when he beat The Job Is Right, pulled up in the Albert Bartlett, into second place. Okay, so Very Wood was disappointing at Punchestown on Sunday, but that was simply not his true running. Then on Monday, Albert Bartlett runner-up Deputy Dan beat the talented Far West in a Class 3 chase at Plumpton, despite jumping a little to his right throughout.

Here’s another stat: four of the last five RSA Chase winners had run in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham the previous season. Weapon’s Amnesty, Bostons Angel, Bobs Worth, O’Faolain’s Boy. The only one of the last five RSA Chase winners who did not run in the Albert Bartlett is Lord Windermere. He was busy winning a two-mile novices’ hurdle at Naas instead.

© The Irish Field, 22nd November 2014