Things We Learned » O’Regan a class act

O’Regan a class act

It is never easy for a rider when he loses his job as first or retained rider to a top yard. Denis O’Regan was not the first National Hunt rider whom that adversity befell – ref. Paddy Brennan – nor was he the last – ref. Jack Doyle – and, as long as there are riders with riding boots and jobs, and as long as there are trainers with bills to pay and owners to placate, there will be riders who will lose jobs.

O’Regan comes across as a deep thinker, a stylish rider and a pragmatist. It wasn’t surprising, then, that he conducted himself with decorum when the news broke in April 2010 that he would not be riding for Howard Johnson any more. He said at the time that he would just put his head down, work hard, and pick up whatever rides he can, and that is exactly what he did.

The Youghalman is not everyone’s cup of tea. Probably too quiet a rider for most betting shop punters, more Murphy than McCoy, and probably too quietly-spoken and lacking in effusiveness for most television producers – Dettori he ain’t – his ability in the saddle, you feel, is gradually beginning to become universally appreciated, as evidenced by the fact that, when Paul Webber was looking to change things around a bit with Time For Rupert, O’Regan was the man to whom he turned.

We have seen O’Regan’s skills in different guises over the last couple of weeks. Quietly quietly from behind on Stormy Weather in the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh two weeks ago; quietly quietly from the front on Giles Cross in the Grand National Trial at Haydock last Saturday. The fact that they were two Saturday races, shown live on terrestrial television, has served to heighted the rider’s profile, but he was no less effective on Mic’s Delight at Market Rasen on Sunday or on the 16/1 shot Beamazed at Carlisle on Monday. He is riding out of his skin at present, and he deserves all the success that is coming his way these days.

Common sense (whip) rules

At last, some common sense has been applied to the whip rules across the water. It is not altogether surprising that it has, mind you, given that new BHA supremo Paul Bittar has impressed, in the short space of time since confirmation of his appointment, as a man who seems to find it easy to deal in common sense, a quality that all available evidence suggests was in scarce supply at HQ before his arrival.

Put Bittar into a room with new PJA chief executive Paul Struthers – who took a significant proportion of the total common sense pool with him when he was squeezed out the Authority’s door just when it needed him most – and charge them with shaping the whip rules into a form that makes sense, you can bet a shade of odds-on that they will succeed.

The new revisions are not to everyone’s liking, we are back to a grey area, which is exactly what some people wanted to remove. However, as people have come to realise, a grey area is not a bad thing. On the contrary, as long as you have knowledgeable and confident stewards, a grey area is actually a good thing. It is probably a necessity when it comes to the governance of the use of the whip.

Nicholls worry

It must be frustrating as hell for Paul Nicholls, a veritable clean bill of health all season long, then three weeks to go to the Cheltenham Festival and some of your horses start coughing and sticking runny noses over the half-door. From 31 runners last weekend, only Zarkandar managed to win.

Some of the horses, like Neptune Collonges and Celestial Halo, ran well in defeat, but some obviously performed below par. That’s the thing when you have a bug in the yard: you don’t know for sure which horses have been affected by it, and which horses haven’t, before they run.

At best, it is a speed bump on the tarmacadam driveway from Ditcheat to the Cheltenham Festival, and some horses’ preparations will have to be tweaked. At worst, however, it is a lot worse than that and, as a punter, you have to tread warily for now if you are thinking of backing a Paul Nicholls-trained horse – especially a short-priced one – for a Cheltenham Festival race.

National pointer

If it is clues for this year’s Aintree Grand National that you are after – and let’s face it, who isn’t these days? – then be sure to pay close attention to this afternoon’s Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse. The Midnight Club won the race last year, and was sent off as clear favourite for the National on the back of that performance, while Oscar Time finished an eye-catching third in today’s race before going on to run a cracker to finish second in the Grand National. In 2010, Black Apalachi finished second in the Bobbyjo, then went on to Aintree and finishing second again. The same Black Apalachi won the Bobbyjo in 2009, and was travelling well in front in the National six weeks later when he unseated his rider at Becher’s second time. In 2008, Snowy Morning was third in the Bobbyjo and third in the National, while in 2005, Hedgehunter won both today’s race and, famously, the Grand National. As pointers to Aintree go, the Bobbyjo Chase is up there with the signpost on the Ormskirk Road.

Jewson puzzle

It is hardly surprising that the make-up of the field for the Jewson Chase – occupying, as it does, the middle ground between the Arkle and the RSA Chase – is uncertain for now. Of the top 12 horses in the ante post market at present, four are probable runners, three are possible runners and five are probable non-runners. However, if you think that you are getting serious value if you can happen upon a definite runner, think again – at best available odds, bookmakers are betting the top 12 alone to 109%. At those odds, the least they can do is allow you back your horse with a run.

© The Irish Field, 25th February 2012