Things We Learned » Aga Khan Triumph

Aga Khan Triumph

Diakali was deservedly fast-tracked towards the top of the Triumph Hurdle market with a thoroughly impressive performance in winning the Grade 3 juvenile hurdle at Punchestown last Saturday.

The Willie Mullins-trained gelding’s jumping wasn’t flawless, and he was out to his right at one or two of his obstacles, but it can’t have been easy for him, making all the running on just his second run over hurdles. He only had three rivals to beat, but runner-up Flaxen Flare looked useful when he won the Paddy Power three-year-old maiden at Leoapardstown’s Christmas Festival, a race that is already working out well, and Diakali came away from him fairly easily around the home turn, clocking a useful time in winning, despite the fact that he was eased down late on.

Interestingly, Diakali is an Aga Khan-bred gelding, his dam was a Group 3 winner over a mile and a half and, as such, he is of automatic interest for the Triumph Hurdle, a race that habitually places high stamina demands on the juveniles, despite the fact that it is run over the minimum trip.

In the last four years, eight Aga Khan-bred horses have lined up in the Triumph Hurdle: Zaynar (who won), Mourad (who finished third behind Zaynar), Simarian (7th), Ebadiyan (ran out at the second last when still in front), Barizan (second), Alaivan (third), Zarkandar (won) and Darroun (13th).

So from just eight representatives among a total of 78 runners in the Triumph Hurdle in the last four years, HH The Aga Khan Studs have provided two winners, a second, two thirds, and one horse who would surely have been involved but for that mis-hap at the second last. That’s a fairly remarkable record.

New favourite

There is no question that The New One looked good in winning (one of) the Neptune Investments Novices’ Hurdle(s) at Warwick on Saturday, but his promotion to 4/1 and 5/1 favourite for the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham was surely an over-reaction.

Saturday’s race lacked substance. The defection of At Fishers Cross at the overnight stage turned what would have been a fascinating match-up into a his-to-lose contest for Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse. As well as that, his main market rival, Dursey Sound, didn’t run his race, and it was left to a mare rated 13lb his inferior and a gelding rated 14lb his inferior to follow him home. Moreover, while he could have gone faster if he had been pressed, the time was still poor, the slowest comparative time of the day with the exception of the Class 6 bumper, on a card that included two Class 2 contests, a Class 3 contest and a Class 4 contest.

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davis says that The New One could be the best that he has ever trained, and that is significant coming from a man who has trained Gold Cup and Grand National winners and who doesn’t engage in hyperbole. However, you suspect that The New One’s contracted odds owe as much to his trainer’s comments as they do to his actual performance on Saturday. He may well win the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham, but if he was a 16/1 shot for the race on Saturday morning (and he was), it doesn’t make sense that he is no better than 5/1 now.

Quito vito

This game is stranger than fiction sometimes. In the week when Colm Murphy’s stable star Voler La Vedette was retired from racing, up pops her rejuvenated stable companion Quito De La Roque to win the Matty Ryan Memorial Kinloch Brae Chase over two and a half miles at Thurles on Thursday.

Common consensus for some time now has been that Quito De La Roque is a thorough stayer, that he needs every yard of whatever distance you care to name, and that any race that he would win would be a race in which stamina would be at a premium, not a race over an intermediate distance at a sharp track. As well as that, he was apparently only the third Gigginstown House string in the Kinloch Brae, Paul Townend wore the blue cap, not even the white cap.

Perhaps stamina was at a premium at Thurles on Thursday, perhaps the testing ground meant that, even over two and a half miles, you needed to stay well. However, Murphy has always maintained that the Saint Des Saints gelding is not slow and, in his second-time cheekpieces, he seemed to fully appreciate dropping down in distance and being ridden aggressively.

Quito De La Roque hadn’t run over two and a half miles since he won his beginners’ chase at Clonmel in December 2010. However, his record over distances between two miles and four furlongs and two miles and six furlongs now reads 22111. Also, his record at right-handed tracks now reads 21111131, and the four highest RPRs of his life have been recorded at Down Royal (twice), Punchestown and Thurles, all right-handed tracks, which is significant given that he has run nine times at left-handed tracks and just eight times at right-handed tracks. He could be a horse for Fairyhouse and Punchestown this year more so than for Cheltenham and Aintree.

If he were to go to Aintree, the Grand National, not the Betfred Bowl, would surely be the race for him if connections were so inclined. The Grand National track is two and a quarter miles in circumferences so, even if he does have a preference for going right, he would not be greatly disadvantaged on such a wide galloping track. The British handicapper would surely give him a mark that would be significantly lower than the mark of 169 which he appears to have been allotted when he ran disappointingly at Aintree last month. His Irish mark of 155 would be more than workable in the Grand National, given that the last three winners of the race have been rated 153, 150 and 157 respectively.

It may also be that Quito De La Roque has been buoyed by the rich vein of form that Colm Murphy’s horses appear to be going through at present. Murphy has sent out just three runners in 2013 so far, Quito De La Roque (won at 12/1), Mister Hotelier (won at 5/1) and Dangan Daylight (second, beaten a half a length, at 20/1).

Eras ending

Sad to see, in one week, the retirement of Weapon’s Amnesty and Voler La Vedette, the deaths of Trapper John, Katchit and Generous and the downgrading of Dancing Brave and some fellow heroes of yesteryear.

I suppose, given that the purists haven’t been happy with Dancing Brave’s exalted rating for many a year now, if there was a year in which to downgrade him, it was the year in which another horse of his owner’s could be acclaimed the greatest.

Honour roll

Barneys Honour wouldn’t be the first horse to improve dramatically for a move to Gordon Elliott’s yard, but Anthony Deegan’s gelding looked mighty impressive in winning the two-mile handicap hurdle at Navan on Sunday.

Always travelling well under Paul Carberry, the son of City Honours could have been called the winner from a long way out, and he gave the impression that he had plenty left to give, despite the fact that he came home four lengths clear of his closest pursuer Chestnut Charlie, with the rest of the field strung out like mucky football jerseys on a line behind them.

This was just Barneys Honour’s second run for Elliott. He had shaped with a lot of promise on his debut for the yard when he ran on to finish third in a handicap hurdle on the final day of Limerick’s Christmas Festival last month, and this performance was not entirely unexpected, as evidenced by morning odds of 11/2 that were whittled away to an SP of 3/1.

The handicapper has raised Barneys Honour by a stone for this but, in truth, you wouldn’t have been blown away if he had raised him by even more than that, and his new rating of 115 may still under-estimate his ability, especially on soft ground. Also, he looks like an improved horse now, so a chase mark of 102 looks very interesting indeed.

© The Irish Field, 19th January 2013