Things We Learned » Walsh wonder

Walsh wonder

When a rider produces a power-packed finish and gets a horse up on the line to win by a short margin, natural inclination is to conclude that the ride was top class. Brilliant ride, we usually say. Ride of the week, we often say, if not of the season.

It is not always an accurate conclusion. It doesn’t automatically follow that, just because a horse gets up on the line, he was the beneficiary of a top class ride. However, with all three of Ruby Walsh’s winning rides on Lexus Chase day at Leopardstown, it did.

You will rarely see three winning rides of this quality in the space of 65 minutes, especially on such a big day. The finishes generated the headlines, it is the run-ins of each race that will be played as a demonstration of the quality of the rides, but there was so much more to each ride than just the finish, each one tailored to the needs of each horse.

On Supreme Carolina, a five-year-old mare who hadn’t run since June, with just three previous runs over hurdles to her name, Walsh bided his time. He settled her out the back and got her jumping, got her confident at her obstacles, before making his ground around the outside, forsaking ground but avoiding the hurly-burly to which she could have been subjected among seasoned handicappers had he tried to make ground closer to the inside rail. Then he conjured that power-packed finish to get her up by a half a length.

Back In Focus in the Topaz Chase was different, he is all stamina, three miles on ground that is no worse than soft is a minimum for him, and he needed riding accordingly. Even so, jumping the final fence, after his stable companion Aupcharlie had eased past him, he was a 149/1 shot. Walsh said afterwards that he didn’t think he was going to get there, and not many would have.

Tidal Bay was a masterclass. Even his trainer Paul Nicholls said afterwards that he thought that Ruby had the horse too far back jumping the second last, which was probably around about the time that he traded at 94/1 in-running. But that didn’t allow for the rider’s knowledge of his horse, the track, the opposition, the pace they had gone, how Tidal Bay has to be ridden. A sloppy jump at the last almost ruined the end of this story, but this was Walsh’s day, all the way to the threading of the needle between Flemenstar and First Lieutenant when a run down the outside instead could have seen him finish third or fourth. You couldn’t watch the replay of this one too often.

Lexus fall-out

Still on the Lexus, you can see where Peter Casey and Stephen Curran are coming from, planning to give Flemenstar another stab at three miles in the Hennessy Gold Cup. Had the Lexus been run over two miles and seven furlongs, he would have been an easy winner of the race. It was just the final furlong and the final hill that was his undoing.

Perhaps Flemenstar will settle better in the Hennessy with this first experience over three miles under his belt. Perhaps Andrew Lynch will hold onto him for longer than in the Lexus, plan not to hit the front until after the last. If they ride him like that, it is possible that they could eke another 200 yards out of his stamina pot.

That said, if Cheltenham is the ultimate goal, it is very difficult to imagine that they could eke out the extra three and a half furlongs that would be necessary to win a Gold Cup. And if he isn’t going to run in the Gold Cup, surely now is the time to drop him in trip, run him in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown and then decide Champion Chase or Ryanair?

Finally on the Lexus, I wouldn’t go tearing up my Gold Cup ante post voucher on Sir Des Champs (if I had one), despite the fact that he only finished fourth. He didn’t jump with his usual fluency, possibly because of the soft ground. He should be a better horse on the better ground that he will probably get at Cheltenham, and over the two-and-a-half-furlong longer trip. You can be sure that Willie Mullins has been training him to peak on Gold Cup day since Jewson day last year, and remember, he is a dual Cheltenham Festival winner.

Henderson watch

Given the strength in-depth that Nicky Henderson has in his yard at present – two of the first three in the betting for both the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup, as well as the long odds-on favourite for the Champion Chase – initial reaction to the 9/1 that the bookmakers are offering about the trainer saddling the winner of the Champion Hurdle, the Champion Chase and the Gold Cup this year is that it looks generous.

However, taking Betfair prices (market prices of supply and demand as opposed to prices offered by bookmakers), the following are the odds on offer about Henderson’s main contenders in each of the championship races:

Champion Hurdle – Darlan (5.0), Grandouet (8.8), Oscar Whisky (28.0), Binocular (28.0)

Champion Chase – Sprinter Sacre (1.6), Finian’s Rainbow (18.5)

Gold Cup – Bobs Worth (4.1), Long Run (8.8), Finian’s Rainbow (300), Burton Port (180)

Taking those odds as a guide, Henderson is almost 13/8 (2.6) to win the Champion Hurdle, almost 1/2 (1.47) to win the Champion Chase, and almost 7/4 (2.73) to win the Gold Cup. That makes him almost a 19/2 shot (10.43) to win all three, so the 9/1 is actually just about right.

World watch

With the colossus that is Big Buck’s regrettably on the sidelines, the pretenders to his crown are lining up. Oscar Whisky, Tidal Bay, Reve De Sivola and even Quevega have all emerged as possibles if not all probables at this stage, and Monksland threw his hat firmly into the ring when he won the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown last Friday.

Noel Meade’s decision to step the son of Beneficial up to three miles was completely vindicated, as he stayed on best of all to get the better of the highly-talented Zaidpour inside the final 150 yards. Patricia Hunt’s horse has only just turned six, he has raced just six times over hurdles in his life, and he has significant scope to progress further, especially at the longer trip. He didn’t run at all badly when he finished an admittedly remote third behind Simonsig in the Neptune Hurdle last March on his only run at Cheltenham, he looks like a better horse this year, and he is a player in the World Hurdle picture now, no question.

Welsh bets

Strange decision by most bookmakers to make ante post bets stand on today’s Welsh Grand National, despite the fact that the race has been re-scheduled and re-opened. Good news if you have backed a runner ante post, bad news if you have backed a non-runner. Worse news if you have backed Alfie Spinner, Quartz De Thaix, Major Malarkey, Royal Charm or Katenko, all of whom were high in the betting until Thursday morning.

Bad news also, incidentally, if the horse you have backed ante post finishes second to Master Overseer, who was put back into the race after it was re-opened.

Fair play to Ladbrokes, William Hill and Betfred, who allowed punters to void ante post bets placed after the six-day declaration stage. No good if you backed Roalco De Farges back in November, but at least it is the fairest course of action.

© The Irish Field, 5th January 2013