Things We Learned » Star quality

Star quality

Visually, Realt Mor put up quite a remarkable performance to win the two-and-a-half-mile beginners’ chase at Navan on Saturday. Sent to the front from flagfall by Davy Condon, he just continued to go further and further clear as the race progressed. All the while you expected that his early exertions would take their toll, that at some stage he would begin to retreat back to his field, but it never happened. He just kept on galloping all the way to the line, coming home easily, 25 lengths clear of Shinrock Paddy, his closest pursuer.

This was effectively Realt Mor’s first run for Gordon Elliott since he joined from Nicky Richards’ in January. Actually, he did line up in Home Farm’s race at Fairyhouse two weeks ago, but he unseated his rider at the first fence, so that doesn’t really count. He was a talented horse for Richards – he beat Rupert Lamb by 14 lengths in his maiden hurdle at Kelso, and he would have won before that on his debut over hurdles and after that on his debut over fences had he not fallen late-on on both occasions – and there is every chance that he can progress again now for Elliott.

His jumping is a little bit of a concern, he has now failed to complete in three of his eight races under Rules, but he is a good jumper in the main, he can be spectacular, and he could be a well-handicapped horse now. He has been allotted a mark of 137 for the Byrne Group Plate at Cheltenham on Thursday, and he would be of interest in that race if he took his chance, especially if the ground were to remain on the easy side.

Ruled out

You always feel for connections when you hear that a horse has been ruled out of Cheltenham because of a setback. For most owners, Cheltenham is the dream. For most trainers, it is the annual objective. To have a horse all primed and in with a realistic chance of winning a race at Cheltenham – because, let’s be honest, the ones with chances are really the only ones that make the news – and then to have the rug pulled from under your feet, must be heart-breaking. Noel Meade and Patricia Hunt and Nigel Twiston-Davies and members of the Friends in the North Syndicate suffered that fate this week, and you can be sure that others will suffer a similar fate before we get under way on Tuesday.

Imperial Commander wasn’t the only Twiston-Davies horse who was ruled out of Cheltenham this week. Astracad will miss the Byrne Group Plate and The Cockney Mackem will miss the Rewards4Racing Chase, all because of a bug. The trainer reports that all his other horses are fine, but sometimes you don’t know that a horse is not well until you run him, and you have to fear that the other Twiston-Davies horses may not be able to perform to the best of their abilities this week.

So if you are thinking of backing The New One for the Neptune Hurdle or Master Of The Sea for the Coral Cup or African Gold for the Albert Bartlett, you should probably just tread a little more warily than you had intended.

Shock and awe

Chances are, there will be plenty of shock results and big-priced winners at Cheltenham this week.

There almost always are. You regularly get winners at the Cheltenham Festival like Creon and Mister McGoldrick and Anzum that cause you to scratch your head, study the form of the race again and still fail to come up with the winner.

It is the uniqueness of the meeting that probably does it. And it’s not just the track, up and down hills with a final climb that borders on unfair, and expansive, yet tight and continually turning to the left. It’s also the atmosphere, the crowds, the ground, the build-up, the pace. Horses have to go faster than they have gone all year if they are to be competive, some of them faster than they have gone in their lives.

This year, however, there could be even more carnage in the betting ring than usual. Unless there is a deluge between now and Tuesday, horses will be racing on ground that is far faster than anything they have encountered all season. We are used to horses travelling to Cheltenham from Ireland having raced on soft and heavy ground all winter, and guessing about their ability to handle faster conditions. This season, however, soft and heavy ground has been ubiquitous: Ireland and Britain, all over, it has been non-discriminatory.

All the recent form that we have is soft ground form, the markets have and will largely be formed based on soft ground form. So if the meeting happens to kick off on the usual good-to-soft-good-in-places ground, get ready to be surprised.

Angel interesting

Bostons Angel will be an intriguing runner in the Cross-Country Chase at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

Rated 152 in his prime as a novice chaser, Jessica Harrington’s horse hasn’t won a race since he beat Jessies Dream by a neck in the RSA Chase two years ago. He did look out of sorts during his sophomore year over fences, but there have been encouraging signs of late.

He was running well in Roi Du Mee’s race at Thurles in November, he had just joined Quarryvale in second place behind the winner when he fell at the third last, but the switch to cross-country tracks has been inspired. He ran a cracker to get to within three parts of a length of Arabella Boy in the Risk Of Thunder Chase at Punchestown later in November, and he stepped up on that to finish a good second to Outlaw Pete on his debut over Cheltenham’s cross-country course in December.

He does have seven lengths to make up with John Halley’s horse on that run, but he will be 8lb better off with him and, crucially, that was Bostons Angel’s first run over the course, whereas Outlaw Pete had been over it in November. History tells us that it is very difficult to win over Cheltenham’s cross-country track on your debut. Also, better ground should enable Robbie Power’s mount bridge the gap even more. A handicap rating of 145 for Bostons Angel could be lenient, now that he is showing signs of re-discovering his old form.

Looking further ahead, the Grand National is a legitimate target. Second over the banks course at Punchestown, second over the cross-country course at Cheltenham, ridden by Robbie Power – ring any bells? (Clue: Silver Birch.) Best odds of 66/1 (100/1 on the exchanges) about him for the Grand National look big.

Always learning

Contrary to popular opinion, you can learn plenty at these pre-Cheltenham evenings.

This week we learned from Dessie Hughes that Lyreen Legend would probably run in the RSA Chase, maybe the Jewson, but not the four-miler. We learned from Noel Meade that Monksland was regrettably out, but that Il Fenomeno was in great form and on track for the County Hurdle, and we learned from Jessica Harrington that Jezki was flying and that his older brother Jetson was in superb form and desperately hoping to get into the Pertemps Final this year after missing out by two last year.

We also learned from Mark ‘The Couch’ Winstanley that Comedy Of Errors – the only horse until now who has ever regained the Champion Hurdle title after losing it – was so good, Willie Shakespeare wrote a play about him.

© The Irish Field, 9th March 2013