Things We Learned » Flemenstamina


Not so much what we learned last week as what we learned six weeks ago and what we will learn more about today: Flemenstar’s stamina.

It is difficult to argue the case that Peter Casey’s horse stayed the three-mile trip in the Lexus Chase, so what is going to be different this afternoon? Tactics are going to be key. They have to ride him differently. They have to be definite in what they are going to do.

Two options. First option: be aggressive, allow Flemenstar stride along, use the potent weapon that is his jumping to maximum effect, and hope that he has saved enough energy relative to his rivals by the time they reach the back of the last fence to see him up the hill.

Second option: conserve him, hold him up. And don’t hold him up on the outside of runners, seeing daylight the whole way. Hold him up proper, bury him in behind horses, insofar as you can bury a horse in a five-runner field, and limpet-like against the inside. Hold him up until you can hold him up no more, then hold him up again. Don’t ask him for his effort until you can almost reach out and grab the winning post.

It’s a tall order though. In your guts you just feel that, all things being equal, if Sir Des Champs and all the protagonists run their respective races, if it develops into a battle up the final hill, Flemenstar won’t win it. If the son of Flemensfirth is going to win today’s race, he is going to have to do it relatively easily, and not many Hennessys are won relatively easily.

National trials

There were some significant Grand National pointers around this week, and Ted Walsh, trainer of 2000 Grand National hero Papillon, was responsible for two of them.

On Sunday, Colbert Station followed up his Paddy Power Chase win by landing the Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown. It was no more than JP McManus’ horse was entitled to do, he was racing off a hurdles mark that was 27lb lower than his new chase mark. But these things don’t always work out as you would expect, and the manner in which he battled on over the final hurdle and up the run-in told you that he had recovered well from his Paddy Power exertions.

His new chase mark of 146 is a stone higher than the mark off which he won the Leopardstown race but, with just five steeplechases under his belt, he still has the potential to be significantly better than that mark. There is a chance that that inexperience could count against him in the National, but he is nine years old, he is no gawky adolescent, and he shapes like a hardy character who may not be fazed by Aintree.

Then on Tuesday at Fairyhouse, Seabass put up a hugely encouraging performance on his seasonal debut, staying on takingly to split Rock Critic and Make Your Mark over a trip that was shorter than ideal and over obstacles that were lower than ideal. Third last year in the Grand National off a mark of 149, when he looked a likely winner rounding the home turn, the Aintree handicapper can’t give him much more than that this year, and he is again a big player in the race that has surely been his exclusive target since April last year.

Sizing target

Sizing Europe looked good in winning the Tied Cottage Chase over two miles at Punchestown on Sunday, but surely his chance of winning at another Cheltenham Festival will be maximised if he takes his chance in the Ryanair Chase, not the Champion Chase.

An Arkle winner, a Champion Chase winner and a Champion Chase runner-up, you can understand the temptation to run in the two-mile race again this year. However, not only does Sprinter Sacre lie in wait in the Queen Mother, but there is a chance that, at the age of 11, Europe’s blinding two-mile pace is just not as sharp as it was.

The great Moscow Flyer is the only horse aged older than 10 to win the Champion Chase since Skymas, and so comfortable did Henry de Bromhead’s horse look at two-and-a-half-mile pace in the Clonmel Oil Chase, and so well-suited is he by Cheltenham conditions, that there is a real chance he could blow a high-class Ryanair Chase field away.

Rays of light

In an eminently forgettable week for JP McManus, there were rays of light. Colbert Station’s performance in victory was one, Alderwood’s performance in defeat was another.

The Tom Mullins-trained gelding looked the most likely winner of the Dan Moore Chase at Punchestown on Sunday on the run to the final fence before he just gave best to Lastoftheleaders on ground that should have been too soft for him.

Despite this defeat, Alderwood still looks like a likely horse for the Grand Annual, a race that his owner has won twice in the last eight years. His victory in the County Hurdle last year proved that he could handle Cheltenham, and he won that race despite getting mauled on the run around the home turn. Also, he won the County Hurdle off a mark of 139 before progressing again to win a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 race and reach a mark of 148. He is not yet as good over fences as he was over hurdles, but a mark of 138 over fences gives him plenty of leeway.

Quiscover Fontaine ran a lot better than eighth of 11 suggests in the Dan Moore, and he remains a Grand National candidate, Defy Logic put up an impressive performance in his first-time hood in winning his maiden hurdle on his first attempt at Fairyhouse on Tuesday, and Shutthefrontdoor made it six wins from seven runs when he battled on well to win at Carlisle on Wednesday, while Venture Capital was unlucky to catch another tartar in Inish Island at Clonmel on Thursday. There is surely a decent prize in him, especially when the ground gets better.

Of course, none of them are a replacement for Darlan, but at least they may provide some consolation. My Tent Or Yours could provide further consolation today.


Darlan’s demise was terrible, terrible for JP McManus and AP McCoy, 10 months after Synchronised, terrible for Nicky Henderson and all at Seven Barrows. The difference between jumping over that final flight and racing to Champion Hurdle favouritism, and clipping the top of it and coming down, is colossal. A hair’s breadth, a nanosecond. Life and death.

Many people said afterwards that it only ever happens to the good ones. That isn’t so. It happens to the mediocre ones and the bad ones as well. Accidents are non-discriminatory. On Monday, the same day that we lost Darlan at Doncaster, we also lost Mujamead at Doncaster and Desert Vision at Wolverhampton in the small print. It’s just that we only ever really hear about the good ones.

© The Irish Field, 9th February 2013