Things We Learned » Triumph catchers

Triumph catchers

The general feeling before Sunday was that the British juvenile hurdlers were better than the Irish ones, and the general consensus was that that hypothesis was more or less proven by the outcome of the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.

The argument goes something like this: Countrywide Flame finished third in Ireland’s best juvenile hurdle, yet Countrywide Flame was put in his place by Hollow Tree in the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow on Welsh National day, and Hollow Tree couldn’t get close to Pearl Swan and Grumeti in the Finesse Hurdle at Cheltenham at the end of last month, ergo the British hurdlers, or at least that British pair, Grumeti and Pearl Swan, are better.

There is a chance, however, that that reasoning may just be a little simplistic. The ground was desperate at Chepstow on Welsh National day, which suited Hollow Tree well. It was much better at Cheltenham for the Finesse when Donald McCain’s horse just couldn’t match Pearl Swan and Grumeti for pace. Even at that, however, he was only beaten three and a half lengths into third place.

The annual default position on the juvenile hurdlers is that the British are better than the Irish, which is probably understandable given that we haven’t won the Triumph in a decade. However, it may be that Sunday’s race was a better race than most people think.

Significantly, the race was run in the fastest comparative time of the day – a day of top class racing with four Grade 1 contests – six seconds faster than the time that it took Dul Ar An Ol to win the handicap, run over the same course and distance later on the day, and the first three finished clear.

Hisaabaat was admittedly a maiden over hurdles going into the race, but it was significant that Dermot Weld fitted blinkers on Sunday for the first time over hurdles, a trick that brought about considerable improvement in Dr Ronan Lambe’s horse on the flat, so it wasn’t that surprising that he was able to produce the best performance of his hurdling career by some way. With blinkers on, he is a player in the Triumph Hurdle picture for sure.

Runner-up Shadow Catcher may be an even bigger player in the Triumph. Gordon Elliott’s horse, making just his second appearance over hurdles, travelled strongly through the race, perhaps a little too keenly, he was in front from a fair way out, yet he still may have won had he not made a mistake at the final flight. Odds of 16/1 and 20/1 respectively about the first two home for the Triumph look a little generous at present.

Capable Cooper

Bryan Cooper’s talents as a rider have been recognised for a while now, but they came into sharp focus with his high-profile ride on Benefficient in the Deloitte Hurdle on Sunday. Riding a 50/1 front-running apparent no-hoper, he got the fractions spot on, he stacked his field up leaving the back straight, then kicked around the home turn. Of course, he had to have the horse under him to last home as Sous Le Cieux closed, but in giving his horse the ride that he did, he played to his horse’s strengths and maximised his chance of winning. He is a quiet, stylish rider who seems to ride with bags of confidence. He has an excellent base with Dessie Hughes, but outside demand for his talents should continue to increase.

Raiders missing

It is difficult to understand – especially with all the weather-based uncertainty surrounding racing in the UK for the last couple of weeks – why Synchronised was the only intended British-trained runner in Sunday’s Hennessy Gold Cup from a long way out. Grade 1 races with nearly €100,000 for the winner and no horse in the race with an official rating of higher than 154 don’t come along very often. Perhaps they got the decimal point in the wrong place in the currency converter.

Easy in hindsight, but surely Leopardstown would have suited Argento Chase flop Diamond Harry better than Cheltenham did. Paul Nicholls could have sent What A Friend or Tidal Bay, David Bridgwater could have sent The Giant Bolster, who would have had 6lb in hand of his closest rival, instead of having 22lb to find on Long Run at Newbury yesterday when racing for a fraction of the prize money.

Also, the Hennessy would surely would have been an ideal race for Grands Crus – ideal ground, ideal trip, test his Gold Cup credentials in a small field – who, with an official rating of 159 after just three races over fences, would have been a short-priced favourite for the race. It is surprising that the Hennessy was never really mentioned even as a possibility for the grey, given that David Pipe seems to be warming to Ireland, as evidenced by the Notus De La Tour and Sona Sasta projects.

Martin motoring

It has been a fine season so far for Tony Martin, Grade 1 races like 16As, none for a lifetime and now Benefficient goes and follows up Bog Warrior’s Drinmore Chase win.

As well as Bog Warrior’s rejuvenation at Naas last Saturday and Benefficient’s Deloitte Hurdle win, a lot of the trainer’s recent runners – like Redera, Saddlers Storm and King Of The Refs – have run well in defeat. It could be a bountiful spring for the Summerhill trainer.

Weighty issue

It’s turning into a bit of a perennial now, but explanations for the reasons for the need for a special handicap for the Aintree Grand National – a race in which, uniquely, horses race off special one-off discretionary Grand National marks, which are often at (slight) odds with official handicap marks – are still less than convincing.

Of course, it is a unique race – regrettably becoming less unique with every passing year – but if the main reason for compressing the weights at the top of the handicap is because it is run over four and a half miles, and because heavy weights are difficult to carry over marathon trips, then surely you should be compressing the weights at the top end of the handicap for the Midlands National, the Scottish National, the Welsh National and the Eider Chase.

The latest attempt at an explanation came from the BHA’s head of handicapping at the Grand National lunch on Tuesday. “Take Synchronised as a good example,” he reportedly said. “He’s rated 167 but will race off 161. Typically we put a horse up 7lb or 8lb for a victory, so we’re asking him to run up to what he’s capable of if he’s going to win. If he ran off his true mark we would be asking him to run up to a mark of 174ish, which there is no evidence for.”

Very strange.

If the real reason is so that we can have a bit of a jamboree at the announcement of the weights, a couple of interviews and the generation of some column inches and air time for racing, why don’t we just say so?

© The Irish Field, 18th February 2012