Things We Learned » Weld still rocking

Weld still rocking

The wind that filled Dermot Weld’s sails at the start of the season is showing no sign of abating.

It is one thing to have your best March in years, it probably means that you have your string further forward than you usually have, or that you have more early types than you have had in recent years, or that the winter was kind on The Curragh, or a combination thereof. It is quite another to also have your best April in years. There is a danger that this could turn into a thread that runs through the entire season.

Weld had 18 winners from 44 runners in April. Not only was that twice as many winners as he has had in April in any of the last five years, but it represented a strike rate of a phenomenal 42% and a level stakes profit of €14.31.

And it isn’t just about the quantity. After winning the Park Express Stakes, the Irish Lincoln and the 2000 Guineas Trial in March, Weld won the Ballysax Stakes in April with Fascinating Rock, he won the Victor McCalmont Stakes with I’m Yours, and on Monday he won the Tetrarch Stakes with Alkasser and the Athasi Stakes with Flying Jib. And on top of all that, he unleashed an exciting bumper horse at Punchestown in Forgotten Rules.

The Rosewell House trainer has had 26 winners already in Ireland this Flat season, 10 more than any other trainer in the country at present, for a strike rate of 34%. He has a hugely exciting team of young horses at present, his horses are in tremendous form and, all things being equal, he could be in for a season to remember.

Erratic Angel

Most of the reports after Wednesday’s Chester Cup suggested that runner-up Angel Gabrial was probably the best horse in the race, that he threw it away by veering to his right in the closing stages. However, that may not have been the case.

Jamie Spencer’s ride on Angel Gabrial did not receive the credit that it was due. Last early on, a position from where it is nigh on impossible to win a Chester Cup under normal circumstances, Spencer took his horse around the outside, from last at the four-furlong pole to hit the front just inside the two furlong pole. It was a daring and bold move – reminiscent of Mirco Demuro’s mid-race move on Victoire Pisa when he won the 2011 Dubai World Cup – which, had Angel Gabrial prevailed, would surely have been acclaimed as masterful in the extreme.

Angel Gabrial did move to his right inside the final furlong. However, far from costing Dr Marwan Koukash’s horse the race, the move probably gave him one last chance of winning it.

The move happened at the point at which Ryan Moore and Suegioo were moving up to challenge. Spencer is too good a jockey not to have noticed that, and it would be surprising if it wasn’t Spencer’s intention to move over towards his rival. Of course, he didn’t mean to hamper Suegioo (who is also owned by Dr Koukash), but it would be surprising if it wasn’t his intention to get close to him, eyeball him, intimidate him.

In the end, he did hamper Suegioo – and Spencer was unlucky to get four days – but the manoeuvre caused the winner to check his momentum, and that gave Angel Gabrial another chance. As it turned out, Suegioo had enough energy in reserve to get going again and go past Angel Gabrial, surging ahead to win by a half a length. It is difficult to argue that the best horse in the race at the weights on the day did not win it.

The other two horses to take out of the race were Mubaraza and Shwaiman. Mubaraza had to be ridden further forward than he likes in order that his good draw would not become a negative, and he probably hit the front too early, while Shwaiman was wider than ideal and further back than ideal throughout, and ran on well to finish sixth.

Titania missing

You have to feel for John Oxx and Christopher Tsui and Declan McDonogh. My Titania was all set for Sunday’s 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Oxx team appeared to be quietly hopeful, as is their way; quietly happy that they had their filly just where they wanted her to be in the days leading up to the race. Then a poor scope on Thursday morning, and all plans in tatters.

Of course, we will never know how the Sea The Stars filly would have fared on Sunday, but she would have been one of the favourites for the race, she deserved her place towards the head of the market, and she had to have been a contender at least. The difficulty with these Classics is that they are only run once, and My Titania was the forgotten filly of Sunday’s race.

Hopefully she will get her chance to prove herself in the Irish 1000 Guineas or the Coronation Stakes or both. She remains a filly of immense potential.

Being Willie Mullins (again)

It’s time to play the Being Willie Mullins game again. Remember? The one that you played before Cheltenham, when you said that you would run Champagne Fever in the RSA Chase and that you would run Faugheen in the three-mile hurdle? Shows how much you know.

So, what would you do with last season’s (yes, it’s next season already) novice hurdlers? Go novice chasing with Vautour, with the Arkle as his long-term objective? Stay hurdling with Faugheen? Champion Hurdle now as opposed to World Hurdle? Stay hurdling with Arctic Fire? He could improve again next season as he gains in experience, couldn’t he? As he learns to settle better? Galway Hurdle, maybe Greatwood Hurdle, then step him up in grade?

Go novice chasing with Don Poli? Go novice chasing with Abbyssial? He is only a youngster, but he is built for chasing, isn’t he? So better sooner than later? And Valseur Lido? And will Briar Hill be okay? So many pegs.

So Hurricane Fly is going to step up in trip? That’s an interesting project. Does that mean that Annie Power will stay over hurdles and try to win a Champion? Or target the Mares’ Hurdle, take over Quevega’s crown? Could Diakali improve enough to be a Champion Hurdle horse? And where would that leave Un De Sceaux?

And last season’s novice chasers? Will Champagne Fever step up in trip now, the Gold Cup as his long-term target as opposed to the Champion Chase? Same with Djakadam? He’s exciting, isn’t he? Could Felix Yonger step forward and be the two-mile chaser? Ballycasey the two-and-a-half-mile chaser?

Train On His Own and Boston Bob for the Gold Cup? And isn’t Sir Des Champs due to return? Of course, On His Own will be 10 rising 11 this season, so is the Grand National worth considering again? The last three National winners now were 11.

It’s fascinating, and it will all surely be the catalyst for some healthy discussion around the kitchen table at Closutton during the summer. Rarely in history has an Irish National Hunt trainer had so many mouth-watering options, so many juicy decisions to make. Plans will surely change many times between now and the autumn, and probably many times after the autumn as well.

Retiring heroes

It is always sad when a racehorse who has almost become a part of us hangs up his or her racing shoes. Okay, so we didn’t see Quevega that often, but she was always part of the landscape, she was part of the Cheltenham and Punchestown narrative for years.

It has been a year for it. Big Buck’s gone, Last Instalment gone, maybe Sizing Europe. Flemenstar will be nine rising 10 if and when he returns. Hurricane Fly will be 10 rising 11, he will not be the champion two-mile hurdler that we know, and it will be difficult for him whatever distance he tries.

Fortunately we have a clutch of exciting youngsters eager and willing to take up the mantle. Roth mor an tsaoil, we call it.

© The Irish Field, 10th May 2014