Things We Learned » Roi surprise

Roi surprise

In one sense, when a 154-rated horse who has raced 26 times over fences wins a Grade 1 chase, natural inclination is to conclude that it was a sub-standard Grade 1 chase.

In another sense, however, Roi Du Mee’s win in the Champion Chase at Down Royal last Saturday was a great result. Roi Du Mee is one of those honest-to-God horses that are at the very heart of National Hunt racing. The Gigginstown House horse has now won seven of his last nine completed races, including the Grade 2 Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last February, and he has finished second in the other two. And despite the fact that Saturday’s race was the 36th of his life and his 26th chase, it looks like we may not have got to the bottom of him yet.

Certainly, it is difficult to argue that Saturday’s performance was not the best of his career. He and Bryan Cooper got into a lovely rhythm out in front as his rivals tended to race a little stop-startedly. When Cooper gave him a squeeze upon landing over the third last fence, the response was impressive, he began to surge clear, and it was interesting that his rider said afterwards that he felt his horse still had plenty left, that if another horse had come to him, he was happy that he would have had more in reserve.

Three miles on soft ground is probably optimum for the Gordon Elliott-trained gelding, although he does have the pace for two and a half on soft ground. Also, he may be better going right-handed than left. (It may not be a coincidence that his last 11 runs over fences have been at right-handed tracks.) And although he is not overly big, he can get into a lovely rhythm with his jumping, even over stiff fences at grade one tracks.

The John Durkan Chase on soft ground is the obvious next race for him, even though he would be dropping down in trip. After that, he would not be a forlorn hope if it happened to come up soft or heavy in the King George.

Talented Mount

If you had told Gordon Elliot before the Champion Chase that he would end up in the winner’s enclosure after it, he probably would have thought that he would be leading in Mount Benbulben, not Roi Du Mee. And if Mount Benbulben had jumped the fourth last fence well instead of clouting it, going down on his nose and firing Danny Mullins out over his head, he might well have been.

Barry Connell’s horse remains a horse of immense talent when he puts it all together. He was a little fiddly at a couple of his fences on Saturday, but he was still travelling well under a motionless Mullins before his departure. Of course, we will never know how he would have done had he completed, but there is every chance that he would have given his stable companion a race.

Like Roi De Mee, Mount Benbulben appears to be at his best when he is racing over three miles on soft ground at a right-handed track. He had those conditions when he put up the best performance of his career in easily landing the Grade 1 Growise Chase at Punchestown last April.

He is probably going to have to improve his fluency at his fences if he is to morph into a top class chaser out of novice company, but he has the potential to do that. It would be a real shame if his jumping held him back, because there is no doubting his talent. If he can improve his jumping, he could make it to the very top of the tree, and he is another for whom the King George is a legitimate target.

Biting your tongue

It is easy to feel for Keith Donoghue. Down to ride Roi Du Mee on Saturday morning, he was replaced by Bryan Cooper when Cooper’s intended ride Quito De La Roque was withdrawn. These things happen. It is not the first time that a young talented rider has been replaced, nor will it be the last.

The key is in how you handle these things. Donoghue voiced his dissatisfaction, and that is one way to handle it. It may have been a spur-of-the-moment thing, he may not have got all the way through his count to 10 before a dictaphone was placed under his nose. You feel disappointed, gutted, you have missed out on a Grade 1 winner. It must be difficult to bite your tongue.

Another way to handle it is the way that Mark Walsh handled a similar situation before the 2010 Galway Plate. Down to ride Finger Onthe Pulse on the morning of the race, he was replaced by AP McCoy when the champ’s intended mount Dancing Tornado – owned, like Finger Onthe Pulse, by JP McManus – was scratched. Walsh had to have been disappointed, but he bit his tongue and said: one of those things.

The following year, 2011, Walsh rode Wise Old Owl for JP McManus to finish second in the Galway Plate. The year after that, 2012, he won the race on Bob Lingo for JP. Patience rewarded in spades. It is a long old road that doesn’t turn.

Nicholls’ jockeys

It is not unusual to see Nick Scholfield riding for Paul Nicholls, but it is unusual to see Sam Twiston-Davies do so. Or it was until recently.

All change. Nicholls obviously has to figure without the services of Ruby Walsh this term (inevitable sporadic hook-ups like Caid Du Berlais excepted), and the injury to his new first rider, Daryl Jacob, at Wincanton two weeks ago meant that Scholfield – the new Nicholls number two – was parachuted in to number one. But with Down Royal, Ascot and Wetherby all on last Saturday, Nicholls needed more than just a number one.

Scholfield went to Down Royal for two rides, including the winning ride on Rolling Aces, Harry Derham went to Ascot for three rides and Twiston-Davies went to Wetherby for four, including the winning rides on Valco De Touzaine and Tidal Bay. Twiston-Davies also rode the Nicholls-trained Bury Parade to victory at Kempton on Monday when Scholfield went to Plumpton to ride the odds-on shot Aldopicgros.

Sam Twiston-Davies is one of the rising stars of National Hunt racing in Britain, as evidenced once again in his ride on Tidal Bay, and it is no surprise that Nicholls has been fulsome in his praise of him of late. It is also interesting that Twiston-Davies was able to ride for Nicholls at Wetherby despite the fact that his dad/boss Nigel had a runner, Same Difference, with a chance in the big handicap chase at Ascot. Perhaps the intention was always to use Ryan Hatch’s 7lb claim off Same Difference.

Today, both Scholfield and Twiston-Davies are at Wincanton, where Nicholls has six declared runners. Scholfield rides four of them while Twiston-Davies rides two. It is interesting that Scholfield is riding Melodic Rendezvous for Jeremy Scott – as he always does – in the Elite Hurdle, with Twiston-Davies on Far West for Nicholls. It is also worth noting that Twiston-Davies is riding Poungach, who appears to be the better-fancied of the Nicholls pair in the Badger Ales Trophy, with Scholfield on Aiteen Thirtythree, this despite the fact that Nigel Twiston-Davies has Billie Magern in the race.

It will be interesting to monitor how the Nicholls/Scholfield/Twiston-Davies relationships develop as the season progresses.

AP magic

We didn’t learn anything new about AP McCoy this week. We knew it all already. We knew that he was a remarkable sportsman and a fantastic ambassador for racing long before he rode his 4,000th winner at Towcester on Thursday.

Some day, we will truly appreciate the enormity of AP’s achievements. For now, we should just enjoy him.

© The Irish Field, 9th October 2013