Things We Learned » Gigginstown are go

Gigginstown are go

It is difficult to know where to start with the things that we learned from last week – or, indeed, how to shoe-horn them into just five – but Gigginstown House Stud is a logical square on which to place your counter.

The Christmas Festivals brought into sharp focus the range of talent that races in the ubiquitous maroon and white colours these days. Gigginstown were represented in seven Grade 1 contests, and they won four of them. Clarcam won the Racing Post Chase, Lieutenant Colonel won the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle, Road To Riches won the Lexus Chase and Don Poli won the Topaz Chase.

All four Christmas Grade 1 winners are relative whipper-snappers too. Clarcam, one of the top juvenile hurdlers in Ireland at the end of last season, has just turned five. Lieutenant Colonel, a second-season hurdler, has just turned six. Don Poli, like Clarcam, a novice chaser, has also just turned six. Road To Riches, the old man of the Christmas Grade 1 quartet, is just a second-season chaser and has just turned eight.

Add the Gigginstown horses who did not run at Christmas, horses like Don Cossack and Valseur Lido and No More Heroes and Tell Us More and Milsean and Tycoon Prince, and you have the cornerstones of a truly formidable team.

Monksland is back

Sunday was a tremendous day for Noel Meade. Not only did the Meath trainer land the Lexus Chase with Road To Riches, but he also had to have been delighted with the performance that Monksland put up in finishing third behind Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson in the Grade 1 three-mile hurdle.

The Beneficial gelding – racing for the first time in exactly two years, the first time since he won the 2012 version of Sunday’s race – got a little outpaced as they ran out of the back straight, but he kept on well up the home straight, and he stayed on really well up the run-in to take a clear third, despite having landed flat-footed over the final flight.

Patricia Hunt’s horse is eight now, but Sunday’s run was just his seventh over hurdles. He is lightly raced, he has the potential to improve again, and this is a season in which the leading staying hurdlers continue to get themselves beaten. Zarkandar, Briar Hill, At Fishers Cross and Beat That have all been beaten in the last two weeks, and More Of That was beaten at Newbury on Hennessy weekend the last time we saw him. As long as he remains sound, Monksland is a player now for sure.

Fehily flying

Noel Fehily is a top class rider. We have been here before, but he is now gaining the universal recognition that his talent deserves.

Fehily was superb on Silviniaco Conti in the King George on St Stephen’s Day. In one sense, it was an uneventful race, lacking dramatics, in which the winner, the best horse in the race, led from flagfall. In another, it was a masterclass in simplicity and playing to your horse’s strengths.

The rider rode a stalking race on Vibrato Valtat – who may not be as tricky, incidentally, as was once thought – in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad Chase the following day, and again on Parlour Games in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury on Monday. It was a good Christmas for the rider, and it would have been even better had Chesterfield not come down at the final flight, having been delivered with what looked like a really well-timed challenge, in the finale at Kempton’s King George meeting.

Fehily is one of those jockeys, up there with Walsh and McCoy and Geraghty, in whom you can have complete confidence in their tactics. He is a thoughtful jockey, a thinking jockey. You can be sure that there is a reason why he is employing the tactics that he is employing, that the tactics are not just ‘happening’.

If he is in front from early, as he was on Thomas Brown in the curtain-raiser at Cheltenham on Thursday, you can be sure that he thinks that the horse is at his best when he is in front, or that he thinks that the early pace is not strong, or both. If he is wide on the track, as he was on Rock On Ruby later in the day, you know that he thinks that the better ground is probably out there.

In truth, Fehily’s talent has been apparent to many good judges for years. It was as long ago as 2010 that Paul Nicholls turned to Fehily when Ruby Walsh was on the sidelines after a horror fall at Down Royal. Kauto Star in the King George and Master Minded in the Tingle Creek were among the spotlight rides that lay in wait for the Corkman, but that was before he dislocated his left wrist, sent ligaments and tendons with it, and was left on the sidelines himself for six months.

But all is right in the world again now. Fehily rode 127 winners in Britain last season, his first century, and 38 more than his previous best ever. This season, he is zinging again.

Score draw

Easy knowing what the Leopardstown bookmakers put on their wishlists when they hung their satchels up on the mantelpiece on Christmas Eve. And, if the first two days of the festival were a barometer of their behaviour during the year, the bookmakers must have behaved themselves very very well in 2014.

On the first day of the Christmas Festival, there was just one winning favourite, Alvisio Ville, who was an impressive winner of the opening maiden hurdle at 1/2. After that, it all went one way. Kalkir was beaten, Easy Street was beaten, even the unbeatable Vautour was beaten, and winners went in at 33/1, 16/1, 12/1 and 10/1. It was even worse on day two. Not one winning favourite and an average SP of over 10/1.

Things got better for punters on day three, with three winning favourites, and three others – Identity Thief, Lieutenant Colonel and Road To Riches (ref. Gigginstown House above) – that were eminently findable, while the final day was even better for favourite backers, with market-leaders winning five of the seven races.

So two-two, a score draw. Probably a fair result.

Say: Silviniaco

It seems to be the case these days that, when you win more than one King George, people struggle with the pronunciation of your name. No sooner had the Kayto v Kowto v Kawto debate died down – wonder how they pronounce him in the dressage world? – than the Silviniaco v Silviano v Silvianano debate began. I’m going with the quinto-syllabic one, Silviniaco. Say: Sil-vin-ee-ah-koh. It would have been so much easier if Dynaste had won it. (Say: Die-nast. Eh, or Di-nast.)

© The Irish Field, 3rd January 2015