Things We Learned » Gerry on song

Gerry on song

If you had been shown the line-up for the October Maiden at Navan on Wednesday, with the title and the conditions covered up, and asked what type of race you thought it was, you would probably have bet 4/6 a hurdle race, 9/4 a chase, 100/30 a flat race.

That’s nothing unusual for the October Maiden, mind you. Recent past winners include top hurdlers Back In Front, Donnas Palm, Hidden Universe, Puyol and Fosters Cross, as well as dual Champion Hurdler Hardy Eustace, while National Hunt horses of the calibre of Rare Bob, Magnanimity, Cross Appeal, Macs Joy and Sweet Kiln have all been beaten in the race. As a pointer to the National Hunt season ahead, it is usually well worth the space it takes up on your Sky Plus disk.

This year’s renewal may have been particularly good. There was plenty of talk about the return of Go Native both before and after the race, which is not at all surprising. On his first run since the 2010 Champion Hurdle, Noel Meade’s horse ran a cracker to finish third. He moved effortlessly into the lead at the two-furlong pole, travelling like by far the most likely winner (he traded at 1.13 in-running) before he understandably tired up the hill and faded to finish third. Even so, it was still a most encouraging run.

The 2009 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner is nine rising 10, but he is lightly-raced – he has run just 12 times over hurdles in his life – and, as long as he remains sound, this run suggests that he could be a player among the top hurdlers this season.

As Go Native commandeered the bulk of the post-race column inches, however, the performance that Glam Gerry put up in winning the race may not have been afforded due recognition. Like Go Native, the Colm Murphy-trained gelding travelled really well through the race. He was a little further back in the field than the Meade horse, and that may have helped him ultimately, but he and Go Native were the only two horses still on the bridle passing the three-furlong pole. Pulled to the outside by Billy Lee, Glam Gerry found lots for pressure, and stayed on willingly up the hill to beat the game long-time leader Cairdin by a length, with another length back to Go Native.

Winner of a handicap chase off a mark of 108 at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival last season, Barry Connell’s horse ran out of his skin to finish third in the Byrne Group Plate at the Cheltenham Festival in March off a mark of 130, leaving the impression that he would benefit for a step up to three miles.

This was a most encouraging prelude to the new season for him. With just seven chases under his belt, he has the potential to be even better over fences this season than he was last term as a novice, and he will be interesting in a big handicap chase now off a mark of 129.

Frankel rivals assembling

He will still be long odds-on, but Frankel may not enjoy the accolade-gathering victory saunter that looked in store for him in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot next Saturday.

This time 10 days ago, nobody was certain when we would see Cirrus Des Aigles again, and the Arc de Triomphe was Nathaniel’s sole focus. Now, after his nine-length win in the Prix Dollar last Saturday, we know that Cirrus Des Aigles is back and zinging and bang on track to defend his Champion Stakes crown, while a slight setback ruled Nathaniel out of the Arc, and he too is eyeing up the Champion Stakes, a fresh horse.

As well as that, there is a big chance now that the ground will be soft at Ascot next Saturday, a surface on which Nathaniel and Cirrus Des Aigles are both proven and on which Frankel really is not. The best horse in the world he may be, but the Galileo colt may have to be at concert pitch next Saturday if he is to take his unbeaten record with him to the breeding shed.

Calendar clustering

It never made sense to run the Middle Park Stakes (a Group 1 race for juvenile colts run over six furlongs) and the Dewhurst Stakes (a Group 1 race for juvenile colts run over seven furlongs) on the same afternoon, on the same card, just 35 minutes apart. They got away with it to an extent last year, the first year of the clash, with 16 runners in the Middle Park and nine runners in the Dewhurst, but fears have been realised today with 10 runners in the former and just six in the latter.

You can play the quality versus quantity card if you like and, true enough, with Dawn Approach and George Vancouver and Ashdan in the Dewhurst, it is shaping up to be a high-class renewal, but how much more intriguing would it have been if the Middle Park winner from two weeks ago was also in the line-up, as was the case when Dream Ahead took on Frankel in the 2010 renewal?

It is not an easy task, juggling the top class juvenile races at this stage of the season, given the finite time that is available on the calendar. And it isn’t just as simple as swapping either the Middle Park or the Dewhurst with either the Cheveley Park or the Fillies’ Mile, both Group 1 races for juvenile fillies run at Newmarket two weeks ago, because of the presence of the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes on this afternoon’s card.

However, it used to be the case that the Royal Lodge (a Group 2 race for colts run over one mile) and the Fillies’ Mile (fillies, Group 1, one mile) were run at the end of September, the Middle Park (colts, Group 1, six furlongs) and the Cheveley Park (fillies, Group 1, six furlongs) were run a week later, and the Dewhurst (colts, Group 1, seven furlongs) and the Rockfel (fillies, Group 2, seven furlongs) were run two weeks after that.

What was wrong with that?

Right side of Lord

Sweet My Lord may be better going right-handed than going left. It may be just a coincidence, but he disappointed for the second time in a row at a left-handed track over fences when he finished fourth behind Peter Fahey’s remarkably improved front-runner Pride Of The Artic at Tipperary on Sunday.

Sweet My Lord is now one for one over fences going right, and zero for two over fences going left. Of course, it is a tiny sample size – you would be kicked out of your stats class if you presented this as being statistically significant – but the Willie Mullins-trained gelding did jump a little to his right at both Tipperary and Listowel, and he was very comfortable going to his right when he won his beginners’ chase at Tramore in August. Over hurdles, his record at left-handed tracks reads F0044, while his record going right-handed reads 1F2119, the nine recorded on desperate ground at Galway in August.

The Johann Quatz gelding will be of interest when he goes right-handed again over fences. He is one of four Willie Mullins representatives entered in a Grade 3 novices’ chase at Punchestown on Thursday, and he may be under-rated on the back of two disappointing runs if he takes his chance in that.

Visitors’ draws

There are four Irish-trained horses in this afternoon’s Cesarewitch at Newmarket, and they have drawn stalls 26, 30, 33 and 36. It is difficult to draw stall 36 in a 34-horse race, but I Have A Dream managed it. (Blame the two reserves.)

This in a race in which seven of the last 10 winners have come from the 12 lowest stalls, and in which, remarkably, four of the last 10 winners have come from the five lowest stalls. If you didn’t know better, you would think they didn’t want us.

© The Irish Field, 13th October 2012