Things We Learned » King George cracker

King George cracker

Perhaps it is the same every year, but this year’s King George VI Chase is shaping up to be one of the most exciting races of the season, with an inordinate number of progressive relative youngsters seemingly intent on lining up.

One of the more notable aspects of the race at this stage is the number of horses towards the head of the betting who have not yet won a race over three miles or more. Finian’s Rainbow, Al Ferof and For Non Stop have all won point-to-points, but not one of the trio has ever gone beyond two miles and five furlongs under Rules. Riverside Theatre has won an Ascot Chase over two miles and five and a half furlongs, and he did chase Long Run home in the King George two years ago, but he hasn’t yet won over three miles, while Cue Card, who had the pace to win a bumper over a mile and six furlongs, has never been tried over a distance in excess of two and a half miles.

Even Sizing Europe hasn’t won over three miles. He has shaped like a potential King George horse for a little while now, and he was desperately unlucky not to win the 2011 Chase on his only attempt at three miles, but he is still a maiden at the trip.

The King George is not like the St Leger, in that, if you know beforehand that a horse can stay the St Leger trip, he is probably too slow to win it. The King George is a tougher stamina test than is generally appreciated in which, history tells us, proven form over the trip is a definite asset. You can easily put forward reasons why any of the three-mile virgins should stay the trip, but the fact remains that the 11-year-old Edredon Bleu, the six-year-old Kicking King (like Sizing Europe, runner-up in the Chase) and the ridiculously fortunate Algan are the only three horses who have won the King George in the last 25 years who hadn’t previously won over the trip, and that is a stat that is worth bearing in mind.

Keeping it simple

Ruby Walsh received plenty of plaudits for his victorious ride on Dodging Bullets in the Sharp Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Friday. It is probable that the last place that Walsh wanted to be on the free-going Dodging Bullets was in front, yet, with nobody willing to go on – the field stood still for around 15 seconds after the tape went up (and not even a hint of the riders being hauled before the stewards or bans being dished out) – he allowed his horse stride on and was able to dictate.

Walsh’s ride on Al Ferof in the Paddy Power Gold Cup didn’t receive the accolades, but it was at least as good a ride. Al Ferof was racing over fences for just the sixth time in his life. It was his first run in a handicap, a near-novice who had never faced more than seven rivals over fences before, competing for space and for light at his fences in an 18-horse race against seasoned pros.

Often the quality of a ride lies in its very simplicity, when the post-race story is about the horse, not about the ride, and Walsh kept things brilliantly simple on Al Ferof. No heroics, he just found space and found rhythm, got his horse jumping and travelling, Liam Brady-esque. Brady could always engineer time and space for himself in a crowded midfield, and Walsh was able to do the same thing in the middle of an 18-runner handicap chase. The post-race story was all Al Ferof, not Ruby Walsh, and therein, paradoxically, lies the quality of the ride.

Riders on the storm

On a fantastic weekend of racing, there were other top rides. Mark Enright got a real tune out of Casey Top on his debut on Leonard Whitmore’s horse in the Paddy Power, leading just about until the home turn and keeping on to finish fourth. Rider of Maarek, who finished third in the Ayr Gold Cup in September, there is no doubting the Limerick man’s versatility.

There are few people who ride soft-ground Cheltenham as well as Timmy Murphy. Murphy rarely gives up the outside to anyone at Cheltenham when the mud is rising, and that is generally a lucrative strategy, a fact to which Murphy’s wins on Our Father and Ifandbutwhynot bore testimony.

Davy Russell performed heroics to get Another Jewel to finish at all in the Cross-Country Chase at Cheltenham on Friday, not to mind to finish fourth, while Jane Mangan was dynamite on Beef To The Heels at Punchestown on Sunday. She is huge value for her 7lb claim.

Grounds for optimism

It looked difficult to make ground from the rear on what appeared to be holding tacky ground at Cheltenham on Sunday, much more so than on either of the first two days of the meeting. Horses who were ridden out the back, and who can therefore probably be marked up a fair bit on the bare form of their efforts, include Black Benny and Sam Telm, third and fourth respectively in the intermediate handicap hurdle, the front four clear; Cash And Go, Cause Of Causes, Glam Gerry and Rattan, second, third, fifth and sixth in the Racing Post Hurdle; Bondage and Creepy, second and fourth in the Hyde Hurdle; and The Liquidator and Hannibal The Great, second and third in the bumper. They all may be worth a second look when they run next.

Fakenham fudge

It is bizarre that almost five years after Denis O’Regan rode a finish a circuit too soon, four and a half years after Sam Thomas went inside the fence in front of the stands instead of jumping it, 11 months after Sam Waley-Cohen rode a finish a circuit too early and an hour after Brendan Powell jumped the fence in front of the stands instead of going inside it, there was no admission that something must be wrong from the Fakenham executive, and no intention to do anything.

Pilot error, said the clerk of the course after the race. Complete pilot error.

Brendan Powell has to shoulder some responsibility, of course, just like O’Regan and Thomas and Waley-Cohen had to hold up their hands, but it beggars belief that something – a cone or a bollard or a piece of tape – has not been in place at the offending fence since O’Regan’s mis-hap on Harringay in January 2008.

Even in conceding on Wednesday, after consultation with the BHA, that something would be done, the clerk of the course was not keen to embrace the responsibility.

“When I was asked initially,” he said on At The Races on Thursday morning, “I said it was jockey error, and it is jockey error. You can’t get away from that. But we will see what we can do to help the jockeys.”


© The Irish Field, 24th November 2012