Things We Learned » Punchestown notebook

Punchestown notebook

You will probably fill a page or two in your notebook (people still use notebooks, right?) with horses to follow from Punchestown. The only problem is that you may have to wait until next autumn before you can unscrumple the page and put it into potentially profitable use.

Lots Of Memories was one. The sedate pace that they went through the early stages of the Grade 1 three-mile novices’ hurdle on Wednesday did not suit Paul Fahey’s horse, a horse whose stamina for the trip was proven.

Keener than ideal through the early stages, he was still travelling well as they started the turn for home. But he was stuck in a pocket behind the weakening Apache Jack on the inside, as the two market leaders Beat That and Don Poli rounded their field on the outside. A gap did materialise on the run to the final flight, and Lots Of Memories did pick up for Shane Butler, but he was never going to catch two hugely talented horses like Beat That and Don Poli off a slow pace, on the downhill run to the line, when they were in full flight.

Of course, it is stretching it to say that Lots Of Memories would have won had he enjoyed better luck in-running, but it is not stretching it to say that he would have been a lot closer, and that he fully deserves his place in this company. Interestingly, he was in front at the pull-up, and he is an exciting horse for next year.

Stocktons Wing was another. JP McManus’ horse was out the back from early in the two-mile handicap hurdle on Tuesday, but he appeared to be going as fast as he could. Slightly hampered when Star Of Aragon fell in front of him at the third last flight, he was no better than 10th as they started to turn for home. But he stayed on better than any of his rivals down the outside to snatch third place, just two and a half lengths behind the winner Cool Macavity.

He is by Jersey Stakes winner Jeremy out of a mare who won over six furlongs, but the Charles O’Brien-trained gelding also has plenty of stamina in his pedigree, and he shaped here as if he would improve for a slight step up in trip. He was not far below the top juvenile hurdlers last season, he is only five and he is an interesting prospect for next term.

Punchestown magic

One of the facets of the Punchestown Festival that sets it apart – and there are many – is the access that it allows racegoers to the action on the racecourse. The crowds obviously throng around the parade ring and the winner’s enclosure before and after each race, as they do at other major meetings, but they also swarm out to the banks and ditches before the cross-country races. Also, the final fence is right beside the stands rail, so racegoers can get up close to the shouts and the crash of horse-flesh on birch in the final throes of competition. That is unusual at a Grade 1 track.

It is also unusual that racegoers can stand beside the start of a National Hunt race. The two-mile chase start at Punchestown is just in front of the final fence, just on the far side of the stands rail, so attentive racegoers can experience at first hand the chat that goes on between riders, and between riders and starter, immediately before a race gets under way.

Eight riders lined up for the two-mile Ryanair Novice Chase on Thursday, among them Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy, Barry Geraghty, Davy Russell and Paul Carberry, five of the top stars of National Hunt racing. It would be like listening to Rooney, Van Persie, Mata, Vidic and Ferdinand talk about a match just before kick-off. It’s fascinating.

Sam’s new job

As earth-shattering news goes, the announcement on Monday that Sam Twiston-Davies had been appointed as number one rider to Paul Nicholls, well, wasn’t.

It was a logical next step. Most of the missives from Ditcheat during the season, at least since Twiston-Davies was first announced as Big Buck’s’ rider, suggested that the youngster was the chosen one. That it was only a matter of time before he was handed the captain’s armband.

You have to feel for Daryl Jacob. He did not do a great deal wrong, besides perhaps betraying a slight nervousness at the prospect of riding Big Buck’s. And not being Ruby Walsh, obviously. It was never going to be easy for whoever took over from Ruby. Comparisons were inevitable. Ask David Moyes.

Part of the deal is that Sam will be allowed to ride The New One, even if there is a Ditcheat representative in opposition. You can understand why the rider wanted that clause as part of the deal, but it will be interesting to see how that one plays out in practice. Nicholls does not have an obvious Champion Hurdle horse at present but, as sure as eggs is eggs, he will have one sooner rather than later.

The other clause is that Noel Fehily keeps the ride on Silviniaco Conti. Again, you can see why, Fehily is top class and he and Silviniaco have enjoyed good days together.

But these two caveats mean that the relationship is not all-in. It is not black and white. Nicholls and Twiston-Davies are exclusive except for The New One and Silviniaco Conti. But what if Nigel unearths another superstar? What if Noel Fehily excels on a spare at Newcastle while Sam is riding at Newbury? Hopefully those two exceptions will not be the cracks through which chasms will be created.

Harrington excels

Thursday was some day for Jessica Harrington at Punchestown. After a 50/1 also-ran on Tuesday and a 20/1 also-ran on Wednesday, the Moone trainer sent five horses to the races on Thursday, and three of them won.

The highlight, of course, was Jetson’s remarkable victory in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, when, under another top class ride from Davy Russell, he had a length and a quarter in hand at the line over Quevega, to whom he was rated 22lb inferior and to whom he was conceding 7lb. Sometimes you can throw the form book out the window, but it was a fantastic training performance, even if the result was not expected by said trainer.

The treble was rounded off by High Stratos under Robbie McNamara in the bumper who, making his debut for Harrington, stayed on powerfully to win at an SP of 14/1, thereby completing a 3,464/1 treble for the yard. But it was fitting that the day and the treble began with victory for Macnicholson under Barry Geraghty in the opening handicap hurdle, a race named after the late Colm Murray.

It probably isn’t just a coincidence. Actually, it would be surprising if Colm and Johnny Harrington between them had not already begun to influence proceedings Up There.

Quevega bows out

Speaking of Quevega, it would be remiss not to pay tribute to her sparkling career.

It was a pity that she could not go out on a high, but her career was full of highs. She ran 18 times over hurdles since joining Willie Mullins, and she won 13 times. Until Thursday, she hadn’t been beaten in almost five years. She won four World Series Hurdles and, of course, six Mares’ Hurdles at Cheltenham, thereby breaking Golden Miller’s record of five wins at consecutive Cheltenham Festivals.

She was an incredible racemare whose longevity of career was testament to Mullins’ ability. Hopefully her time as a broodmare will be as long as fruitful as her time as a racehorse was.

© The Irish Field, 3rd May 2014