Things We Learned » AP on the run-in now

AP on the run-in now

Difficult to believe, but today could be the final day that we will see AP McCoy ride. If he happens to win the Crabbie’s Grand National on Shutthefrontdoor, if he manages to nurse and cajole JP McManus’ horse around the near four and a half miles and over the 30 fences, and if he drives him home from the last around the Elbow and up the run-in in front, that will be it. And what a way that would be to go out.

In one sense, you would love to see it. You would give anything to see it. In another, however, you are not really ready to say goodbye to AP McCoy, the jockey. You want to see him going on, riding next week, riding on, going on to Sandown at least.

But will you be more ready to say goodbye then? Will you ever be ready? Like it or not, he is not going to ride at Punchestown, and the 2015/16 National Hunt season will set off without the champ. There will be a new champ, and the National Hunt scene will be a lonelier place for that.

The thing that makes it difficult to take is the fact that AP is riding as well as he has ever ridden. Watch Sir Scorpion’s victory in the novices’ handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday, watch Gilgamboa’s victory in the Ryanair Gold Cup, and try to convince anyone that the rider did not make the difference.

But console yourself with the thought that this is exactly how McCoy wanted to go out. Riding as well as ever, still as sharp as ever, still as fit as ever, still as strong as ever. If he continued riding into next season, there would be no offers about him being champion again. There is no question that he could go on for a year or two, possibly even more.

But that is to miss the point. This is how AP wanted to do it, this is his decision, and you respect him even more for all of that.

Ladies’ day

Fairyhouse has been a happy hunting ground for trainer Sandra Hughes. It was at the County Meath track that she sent out her first winner when the Gigginstown House horse Sub Lieutenant landed his maiden hurdle on the first day of the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle meeting last November, and it was there that she saddled her first Grade 1 winner when Lieutenant Colonel landed the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle itself the following day.

There was no lieutenant theme on Monday, but there was a Gigginstown House theme, and it was a fine training performance by Hughes to bring Thunder And Roses back from a disappointing run in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham to land the Irish Grand National.

The National Hunt Chase has been a good springboard to the Irish National in recent years, but Butler’s Cabin won the Cheltenham race before coming on to win the Irish National in 2007, while Niche Market did not get the run of the race at Cheltenham in 2009 and Shutthefrontdoor was only beaten three lengths in the National Hunt Chase last year before he went on and won the Irish National.

Thunder And Roses really ran no race in the National Hunt Chase. He made several mistakes, he never got into a rhythm, and he was well behind when he made a mistake and unseated his rider at the final fence, the usual second last. To get him back from a performance like that, and send him out to win the Irish Grand National just four weeks later, was a massive feat.

It was also a fine riding performance by Katie Walsh. The winning trainer said afterwards that the rider simply got on with the horse, and when you watch the race again, you can see what she meant. These long distance chases are often all about rhythm, and Thunder And Roses ran with rhythm for Walsh.

Around the outside from early with plenty of racing room, his jumping was good, he was tight and safe, nothing exuberant. With the possible exception of the second and third fences running away from the stands on the second circuit, he was sure-footed. Walsh sat fairly still until after they had jumped the fourth last fence, the last before the turn for home, and after that she asked him to improve. Her horse responded, and stayed on best of all to land a famous victory.

It was the third time that a lady rider had won the Irish National, after Anne Ferris on Bentom Boy in 1984 and Nina Carberry on Organisedconfusion in 2011, and female trainers Jenny Pitman (Mudahim, 1997) and Dot Love (Liberty Counsel, 2013) have won it in the past, but never before have a female trainer and a female rider teamed up to win it.

National stories

Continuing the female theme, it is surprising that Nina Carberry is the only lady rider with a ride in today’s Grand National, but there would be stories all over the place if she happened to win it on First Lieutenant.

For starters, of course, there is the fact that no lady rider has ever won the National. Katie rode Seabass to finish third in the race in 2012, but that is as close as any rider has come.

Then there would be the Carberry connection. Nina’s dad Tommy rode L’Escargot – who was trained by his father-in-law Dan Moore, Nina’s grandfather – to win the race in 1975 to become the first Irish-trained winner of the race since Mr What in 1958. The next Irish-trained winner was Bobbyjo in 1999, and Bobbyjo was trained by Tommy Carberry and ridden by his son Paul.

There would also be the Gigginstown House story. Michael O’Leary’s operation have never won the Grand National, so it would be a first for them, just five days after they had the 1-2-4 in the Irish National. When was the last time one person owned the winner of the Irish National and the winner of the Aintree National in the same year?

Then there would be the Mouse Morris story. It can’t have been easy for the trainer, watching two of the three horses that he saddled in the Irish National jump the last fence in first and second places, only for the two of them to get run out of it. Racing can be stranger than fiction sometimes, and wouldn’t an Aintree National be ample compensation?

It could happen too. First Lieutenant has more weight than ideal on 11st 3lb, but Don’t Push It and Neptune Collonges both carried more. And First Lieutenant is that classy type of horse who could carry a big weight to National victory. He is a Grade 1 winner over hurdles and fences, he is trained by a top trainer who can ready one for a big day, and he will be ridden by a top jockey who was superb over the big fences on On The Fringe on Thursday. He is racing off a mark that is 16lb lower than his peak, he will love the good ground, he is the ideal age for the race, and he shapes like the extreme trip could be the thing for him now.

Silver lining

While most eyes in these parts were on Irish Grand National day at Fairyhouse on Monday, Silverwave was busy winning the Prix La Force at Longchamp, and it might be an idea to make a note of that.

There is a chance that the Silver Frost colt’s performance will be under-rated.  Silverwave is trained by the largely unheralded Alain Couetil and he had done all his running as a juvenile in the provinces.  Also, the general opinion afterwards seemed to be that favourite Epicuris went too fast in front, and that that set it up for Silverwave, that the winner was flattered by the result.

However, that may not be the case.  Epicuris is a front-runner.  He made all when he won the Group 3 Prix de Conde at Longchamp last October, and he made all when he won the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud at, well, Saint-Cloud in November.  Okay, so Montalbano kept him company through the early stages of Sunday’s race, but he always had the inside rail, he settled nicely in front, and he never appeared to be going any faster than Thierry Thulliez wanted him to go.

Silverwave was second last of the seven runners in the early stages of the race, and he came under pressure fairly early, but he responded well to that pressure, he picked Epicuris up just outside the 200-metre marker and he powered away to win by four lengths from Epicuris, with two and a half lengths back to the third horse, the useful David Brown-trained horse Medrano.

It is strong form. Epicuris, unbeaten in three, a Group 3 winner and a Group 1 winner, set a high standard. Also, the winning time was good, the fastest comparative time on the day at Longchamp and a half-second faster than the time that multiple Group 1 winner Al Kazeem clocked in winning the Group 2 Prix d’Harcourt run over the same course and distance an hour later.

Al Kazeem won well in the end, but he was pushed out all the way to the line by Ryan Moore. Also, he is a battle-hardened seven-year-old, and he was carrying 5lb less than Silverwave carried. If the pair of them were to meet under weight-for-age terms over 10 furlongs at this time of year, Al Kazeem would be conceding 13lb to Silverwave.

Silverwave’s trainer said afterwards that the Prix du Jockey Club was his horse’s target now, and that makes a lot of sense. The big field that the Jockey Club usually attracts should generate the fast pace that suited him well here. He is now unbeaten in four runs, three as a juvenile and now one as a three-year-old, and he is worth a shot at the Classic. Remember that Saonois, from another relatively small yard in Jean-Pierre Gauvin’s, won the Prix La Force in 2012 before going on to spring a 25/1 shock in the Jockey Club.

Guess the distance

Here’s another game you can play at home: Guess the distance of the Haydock race. Before you start, here are three questions to get you warmed up.

Q. How many distances are there for each National Hunt race at Haydock?

(a) One (b) Two (c) Three

A. (c) Three (no kiddin’)

Q. Is the actual distance longer or shorter than the colloquial distance (it’s a term, honestly), and is the colloquial distance longer or shorter than the advertised distance, and how is each of the three distances determined?

A. Nobody really knows for certain.

Q. Is this good enough in this information age, in which precision and timeliness are the norm, not the exception?

A. That depends on how highly you regard the racing and betting public.

© The Irish Field, 11th April 2015