Things We Learned » Cue caution

Cue caution

Cue Card was mighty impressive in landing the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on Tuesday. Sent straight into the lead from flagfall, his jumping was fast and accurate, and he had his four rivals in trouble long before he wheeled around the home turn. He stayed on well all the way to the line to come home 26 lengths clear of Edgardo Sol, who regained second place from Menorah after that horse had made a bad mistake at the last fence.

Colin Tizzard’s gelding also posted a good time, by far the fastest comparative time of the day and almost six seconds faster then the time that his stable companion Theatre Guide clocked in winning the novice chase over the same course and distance a half an hour later.

The talk afterwards was of the King George, but that might be dangerous talk. Cue Card did prove on Wednesday that he could go well at a right-handed track – it was his first run right-handed – but the step up to three miles would be a big worry were he to be aimed at the King George.

Admittedly, he has won over two and a half miles both over hurdles and over fences, he won the Cheltenham Bumper as a four-year-old, a race that is usually more about stamina than speed, and his dam, Wicked Crack, won three times over three miles over hurdles. However, the balance of his form in general, and his performance on Tuesday in particular, suggests that he is much more about speed and pace than he is about stamina.

That old adage that, if they are going to stay three miles anywhere, they are going to stay it at Kempton, is not borne out in the King George. The St Stephen’s Day feature can be a real grueller, you usually have to truly stay the trip to win it. From Sabin Du Loir and Remittance Man through Travado and Voy Por Ustedes and Racing Demon and Azertyuiop, all the way to Somersby and Captain Chris, the King George road is lined with top class two-to-two-and-a-half-mile chasers who didn’t quite make it. Edredon Bleu is really the only King George winner in recent times who had a big question mark over his stamina for three miles going into the race, and he was a trends-buster on several fronts, a 25/1 shot and the only 11-year-old winner between Desert Orchid and Kauto Star.

Cue Card could be a big player this season, but he may not be a player over three miles. Winner of a bumper over a mile and six furlongs on his racecourse debut, he looks much more a Ryanair Chase horse at this juncture than a King George horse.

Slow Cup

The slow pace in the Melbourne Cup in the small hours of Tuesday morning seemed to be the undoing of many a fine European challenge. And it wasn’t just that the pace was slow by European standards, it also appeared to be slow by Australian standards, with Michael Rodd and Damien Oliver among those riders who pointed afterwards to the unusually slow early fractions. It was no surprise, then, that the race was won by a horse who was essentially a 10-furlong horse when he raced in Britain, who won over a mile at Flemington in March and whose only toe-dipping foray beyond a mile and a half resulted in him finishing 12th of 13 in the Group 3 Lexus Stakes at Flemington last October.

The European assault on the Melbourne Cup has strengthened both in breadth and in depth since Dermot Weld won the race with Vintage Crop in 1993, and they put it down to a freak occurrence until Weld went and won it again with Media Puzzle in 2002. There were eight European runners in Tuesday’s race, and five of them occupied the top five places in the pre-race market. There were also five others who were balloted out of the race.

If European trainers are serious about this Melbourne Cup business – and it looks like they are (surely Luca Cumani didn’t mean it when he said that that he wouldn’t be going back) – then it may be time for a stop and a think. European horses constituted such a large proportion of Tuesday’s field that there was a good chance that the race would have been run like a European two-mile race, a true stamina test, instead of as an Australian quick-slow-sprint two-mile race. Alas, it wasn’t. The race was even more Australian than an Australian race.

You can’t run pacemakers in Australia, but you can run true two-mile horses who get the trip well and who can trap along nicely at two-mile pace, not at three-mile pace. The inclusion of a horse like Il De Re or Electrolyser or Chiberta King in a Melbourne Cup could have a profound influence on how the race is run.

Two other options: (a) ensure that it rains all day in Melbourne on the first Monday of November, or (b) start sending down milers.

Oxx jocks

Who knows who will replace Johnny Murtagh as the retained rider for John Oxx or the Aga Khan in Ireland next season, but it looks like somebody will, and it is an interesting sidebar.

Just four jockeys had more than four rides for Oxx during the 2012 Irish flat season: Johnny Murtagh, Niall McCullagh, Ben Curtis and Declan McDonogh. Oxx ran seven horses during the last 10 days of the season, Curtis rode three of them, McDonogh, the 2006 champion, rode three of them and McCullagh rode one of them, If Or When, owned by Mark Gittins. All three of McDonogh’s rides in that period for Oxx were for the Aga Khan, whereas just one of Curtis’s were for His Highness, Mourani, who finished sixth in the seven-furlong maiden at Leopardstown last Sunday, a race in which McDonogh finished fourth on Timikar, also for Team Oxx/Aga Khan.

At Naas on 21st October, Oxx’s sole Aga Khan-owned runner, Karamaya in the Birdcatcher, was ridden by McDonogh, while Irish St Leger-winning rider McCullagh, who had ridden Karamaya in the Moyglare, rode Angela’s Dream for Ger Lyons in the same race. Oxx’s other runner on Birdcatcher day, Maniereee, was ridden, as ever, by McCullagh. And just to add another dimension to it, Shane Foley has ridden the majority of the Michael Halford-trained Aga Khan horses in the last two months.

A decision could be imminent.

Iron man

We learned once again, in case we didn’t know it already, that AP McCoy is made of something unusual. Titanium or graphite or diamond or quartz or something even harder – it certainly isn’t bone and muscle.

Exactly 24 hours after he had been unshipped from Mr Watson before the start of the opener at Wetherby last Friday, sustaining lacerations to his face that required 20 stitches, with some remedial dental work thrown in to boot, he was weighing out to ride Swincombe Flame in a beginners’ chase at Ascot.

The last thing any normal person would want to be doing after sustaining the injuries that the champ sustained is getting up on a horse having his first run over fences in a beginners’ chase. But McCoy is not a normal person. You don’t win 17 championships in a row if you are a normal person. A half an hour after Swincombe Flame, he went and won the novices’ hurdle on My Tent Or Yours. Hospital tent, no doubt.

He took Sunday off though, right? No chance. He went up to Carlisle (any further north than Carlisle is Scotland) for one ride.

Inis interesting

It was interesting to read in Dave Keena’s ‘Talking Trainers’ piece with Denis Hogan last week that Inis Meain is all set to resume his hurdling career. Ability in one sphere doesn’t always translate to ability in another, but the son of Bernstein has improved from a mark of 47 to a mark of 99 on the flat since he last raced over hurdles and, if he can translate even some of that improvement back to the winter game, then even his new hurdles mark of 120 (just 3lb higher than his mark when he last raced over hurdles in Ireland) could significantly under-estimate his ability.

He has a hugely likeable attitude, he handles soft ground well and, having raced just six times over hurdles, he still has significant scope for progression. There could be a decent handicap in him back over hurdles now.

© The Irish Field, 10th November 2012