Things We Learned » Monks could be under-rated

Monks could be under-rated

There were some visually impressive performances at Naas last Sunday, like Sportsmaster’s performance in landing the opening maiden hurdle and Un Atout’s performance in winning the concluding bumper, but the performance that best combined visual impression with substance was the one that Monksland put up in landing the Grade 2 Slaney Hurdle.

Noel Meade’s horse came into the race with two win from two runs on the racetrack on his cv, a bumper in early November and a maiden hurdle in early December.  It was a little bit of a concern that he had run out at the final fence in his only point-to-point at Ballysteen last May, but he had been well-supported, with just cause, in both of his races under rules, and Meade obviously had no second thoughts about pitching him into a Grade 2 race on just his second run over hurdles.

“We thought he’d win,” said the trainer afterwards.  “He’s very good.”  In fairness to the trainer, he said something similar before the race, so it was mildly surprising that he was allowed go off at as big as 6/1, especially given that Boston Bob was absent.

There was a lot to like about Monksland’s performance.  He travelled well through the race, his jumping was more than adequate, he travelled like the most likely winner on the run to the second last, and he picked up really impressively when Paul Carberry gave him a squeeze, an untidy negotiation of the final flight and a semblance of a swish of his tail on the run-in failing to check his forward momentum.

The form of the race is good, well up to novice Grade 2 standard at a minimum.  Runner-up Lyreen Legend had won two of his three hurdle races before Sunday, one of those two victories a defeat of the useful Jenari, and the only defeat he suffered himself was at the hooves of Champion Hurdle aspirant Unaccompanied, while third-placed Dedigout had been two for two over hurdles, and was well-fancied and well-backed for Sunday’s race.  They were both worthy adversaries, but Monksland beat the pair of them comprehensively.

Meade mentioned the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham as Monksland’s probable target, and that makes a lot of sense.  The Beneficial gelding saw out this two-and-a-half-mile trip well, and Meade knows the type of horse that is required to win the Cheltenham race, having sent Nicanor out to beat Denman in the race in 2006.  Also, the Slaney Hurdle has a good recent history as a pointer to the Neptune, with the 2008 Slaney Hurdle first and second, Venalmar and Trafford Lad, going on to finish second and third in the Neptune, and the 2009 Slaney Hurdle winner Mikael D’Haguenet running out an emphatic winner of the Cheltenham race.

Monksland hasn’t really appeared on the radar of the major British bookmakers, he may not run between now and Cheltenham, and he could remain under the radar as a result.  His trainer says that he will be even better on better ground – he was actually worried about the soft ground on Sunday – and best odds of 16/1 about him for the Cheltenham race are fair.

Hurricane back

It was good to see Hurricane Fly working at Leopardstown last week, and it was even better to see Willie Mullins’s demeanour afterwards.  It isn’t that important what the other three horses were, it is important, though, that he came through this semi-public piece of work as easily as he did, and that his trainer was as happy with him as he appeared to be afterwards.

Meydan magic

There are lots of good things about the Dubai Racing Carnival, but, given the time of year, deep in the National Hunt season and just eight weeks to Cheltenham, it is difficult to pay too much attention to the Etisalat My Data Plan 12-furlong handicap.

Jocks rock

First Maurice Linehan, then Brendan Powell, now Jeremiah (say: Jerry) McGrath.  We are used to young Irish (Powell is as good as Irish) National Hunt jockeys making waves in Britain, and McGrath is just starting to cause ripples.

Based with Nicky Henderson, he spent his 21st birthday, 10th December 2011, on a spinal board in Cheltenham General Hospital after Dave’s Dream had unseated him at the top of the hill in the Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase earlier in the day, but he has bounced back from that injury – worrying that it was at the time – to continue to attract attention with his ability in the saddle, riding two winners for Henderson during the week after Christmas, and following up with a double at Doncaster on Wednesday.

Ironically, his horsemanship skills were seen at their best on the day on Loose Preformer in the three-mile novices’ chase, when his sole rival was pulled up going down the back straight, and the rider’s talented but inexperienced partner pricked his ears and didn’t appear to be quite certain what the whole racing-on-his-own business was all about.  McGrath just squeezed and cajoled until Loose Preformer realised that the race was still on, and he ultimately impressed with the enthusiasm with which he jumped the last four fences.

Thoroughbred rankings

According to this year’s World Thoroughbred Rankings, published this week, Frankel is the joint-eighth best horse since 1977, 5lb inferior to Dancing Brave, 2lb inferior to El Gran Senor, and 1lb inferior to Three Troikas, Generous and Peintre Celebre.  According to Timeform, Frankel is the best European horse since 1972, and inferior only to Brigadier Gerard, Tudor Minstrel and Sea-Bird since the war.  Which do you believe?

© The Irish Field, 14th January 2012