Things We Learned » Grade race

Grade race

It is not surprising that the Grade 1 status of last Sunday’s Navan Novice Hurdle has been called into question of late, given the paucity of runners that it tends to attract. However, a look down through the roll of honour screams Grade 1.

The second ever renewal of the race in 2000 was won by Harbour Pilot, subsequent multiple Grade 1 winner and dual Gold Cup third, and he was followed through the noughties by a stream of luminaries: Hatton’s Grace perennial Solerina, who won her three subsequent races as a novice as well, including beating Hardy Eustace in the Deloitte Hurdle, subsequent Champion Chaser Newmill, Deloitte Hurdle and Powers Gold Cup winner Aran Concerto, Florida Pearl Chase and Drinmore Chase winner Trafford Lad, Ballymore Properties Hurdle and Land Rover Champion Novice Hurdle winner Mikael D’Haguenet, and last season’s Deloitte Hurdle winner and Neptune Hurdle moral winner Oscars Well.

This year’s winner Boston Bob might be a bit special, and runner-up Mount Benbulben might not be too bad either. It would be wrong to remove its Grade 1 status, and it is a pity that the race has remained unsponsored for the last two years.

Leopardstown sponsors

By contrast, Leopardstown have succeeded in securing a sponsor for all 28 races at their Christmas Festival meeting, which is a fair effort. The addition of the Racing Post to the sponsors’ roster this year has been a significant fillip, as they have added their name to four of the seven races on the opening day. Also, of course, Paddy Power sponsor all seven races on the second day, so no need for them to rent out a field in the Dublin mountains to get their name

Of the other 17 races, however, 12 are sponsored by non-racing-industry-related organisations, with only five sponsored by industry bodies. Fair play to Thornton’s Recycling and Woodies DIY and Ballymaloe Country Relish and their ilk, but fair play to the Leopardstown executive as well.

Feilden strong

The form of this year’s Gerry Feilden Hurdle, run at Newbury on Hennessy day, looked good at the time, with Rock On Ruby giving 24lb and a six-length beating to his stable companion, Empire Levant, who was actually 12lb well-in, with the pair of them coming clear of their rivals. The time was good, the fastest comparative time on the hurdles track on the day, on a day when Big Buck’s danced home in the Long Distance Hurdle, and almost four seconds faster than the time that Prospect Wells clocked in winning the two-mile novices’ hurdle earlier in the day.

The form looks even better now though. The third horse that day, four lengths behind Empire Levant and 10 lengths behind Rock On Ruby, was Raya Star, who went and won last Saturday’s Ladbroke Hurdle off a 2lb higher mark. Also, the fifth horse in the Newbury race was Alarazi, who was beaten by the bob of a nose for second place in the Ladbroke. Rock On Ruby and Empire Levant are even more interesting now than they were.

Powell play

If you needed any more evidence that Brendan Powell was a rider for the future (one generation on), you got it at Plumpton on Monday. Son of Rhyme N Reason’s rider – who, it appears, had to change his name to B Powell Snr (no booked rides) – and Colonel Frank’s trainer, BP Jnr booted home a treble at Plumpton on Monday, and followed up by giving Only Witness a necessarily strong ride to land the three-mile handicap chase at Ludlow on Wednesday. The 16-year-old’s 7lb claim can’t have much more life left in it, but he is well-bred, he has had the ideal grounding, a combination of show jumping and pony racing, and he already looks like an accomplished rider with, all things being equal, a big future ahead of him.

A child on Christmas Eve

This is where the rest of the season starts, this is where we find out if Long Run can do it again, if he can repeat last season’s heroics, if Kauto Star can go on again from his lung-bursting Betfair Chase effort and win a record-breaking fifth King George, if Sous Les Cieux is as good as he looks, if Grands Crus is as good as he looks, if Bog Warrior is as good as he looks, serious-looking novices all, if Quito De La Roque can do it for last season’s novices, if Hurricane Fly has recovered, if Big Zeb has retained his speed, if Rubi Light truly stays, if First Lieutenant can bounce back, and the rest. Can you wait?