Things We Learned » Times a’changing

Times a’changing

It looked like they were going fast in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday, and it looked like Ruby Walsh was dictating things on his own terms in the Champion Hurdle two hours later, but you would not have thought that the novices would go more than three seconds faster. They did. 3.4 seconds faster, to be precise.

That is not to take away from Faugheen’s performance in winning the Champion, it is more a reflection of the pace in the respective races. It is not an unusual occurrence, that the novices go faster than the Champion Hurdle horses. In 2008, Captain Cee Bee went 1.65secs faster in winning the Supreme than Katchit went in winning the Champion. In 2011, Al Ferof went 1.61secs faster in the Supreme than Hurricane Fly went in the Champion. In 2013, Champagne Fever went 3.75secs faster than the same Hurricane Fly.

It is the comparative sectional times that tell the true story of the respective races. Confirmed front-runner Some Plan took the field along at a strong pace in the Supreme on Tuesday, while in the Champion Hurdle, in a race in which there was no real recognised confirmed front-runner, Ruby Walsh was allowed set whatever pace he wanted, which is always a dangerous concession.

Remarkably, Some Plan went almost two and a half seconds faster from the first flight to the second flight than Faugheen did, and he went almost two seconds faster from the second flight to the third. So by the time they jumped the third flight of hurdles, the first flight in the back straight, the novices were fully four and a half seconds ahead of the Champion Hurdle horses. Faugheen was getting a solo.

People have since questioned how the other riders could have left Ruby Walsh and Faugheen alone on the front end like that, how could they have played into their hands so readily. The answer is simple: none of the other riders wanted to lead. Whatever horse would have challenged Faugheen on the front end would have compromised his own chance of winning. Understandably, nobody wanted to be the sacrificial lamb. And it is probable that Faugheen would have won, however the race had been run.

Conclusions? Faugheen was brilliant, but Arctic Fire’s performance can be marked up at least a little, given that he came from the back and passed every other horse in the race except the winner. In the Supreme, likewise, Douvan was the best horse in the race on the day, no question, but Sizing John did well to finish as close as he did in third place having raced prominently from early.

Russell magic

Davy Russell has always said that Cheltenham has been a magical place for him. Even before he managed to get himself to the track, even as a youngster who was trying to figure out what made horses tick, his dad used to go to Cheltenham and he would always bring young Davy a present back. Well, the magic continues.

Remember Gold Cup day last year? Russell had three rides: Tiger Roll, Lord Windermere and Savello. Rat-tat-tat. A Triumph Hurdle, a Gold Cup and a Grand Annual. They were his last three rides at the Cheltenham Festival before this week.

This year, he had no ride on Tuesday and just two on Wednesday: Windsor Park and Rivage D’Or, a Neptune Hurdle and a Cross-Country Chase. Tat-tat. Five rides in a row at the Cheltenham Festival, five winners.

Remarkably, Dr Ronan Lambe’s Cheltenham story is not too dissimilar to Russell’s. Last year the owner had three runners at the Festival, Silver Concorde, Spring Heeled and Lord Windermere. This year he had just two runners, and one of them, Windsor Park, won the Neptune Hurdle. Magic indeed.

Attendance figures up

Speaking of magic, attendance figures for the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival for the last six years, 2009 to 2014, were, respectively, 48416, 50910, 53953, 55403, 55734 and 57083. The unrelenting incline is as steep as the Cheltenham hill. This year’s attendance figure on Tuesday was 63,249, up almost 11% on last year and up over 30% on the 2009 figure.

The magic of Cheltenham shows no sign of weakening. If anything, it appears to be getting stronger. That is not a reason, however, to look to extend it by another day. Keep it as it is, preserve the magic. It ain’t broke, no need to try to fix it.

Bumper start

Tom Scudamore said after he won the Champion Bumper on Moon Racer on Wednesday that the start had been a disaster for him. The false start led to a standing start, and Moor Racer took it literally. He stood still for a few seconds until the horses around him had departed before he realised what was being asked of him.

In hindsight, however, it might not have been that bad a thing that the favourite missed the kick. The pace in the Bumper was fairly frenetic from the start. The race was probably run to suit the hold-up horses, of which Moon Racer ultimately was one. The first four home, who finished clear of their rivals, were all held up.

The horse to mark up most from the race, therefore, is probably the Henry de Bromhead-trained Supasundae. He was keener than ideal through the early stages of the race, he was always prominent and he led from fully three furlongs out. He did fade inside the final furlong, but that was understandable, and he kept on well enough to finish sixth.

The Galileo gelding won a Wetherby bumper for Tim Fitzgerald last March, then won a good Ascot bumper in December for Andrew Balding, when he had Cheltenham Bumper fourth Yanworth behind him in second, the pair of them clear of Willie Mullins’ mare Rio Treasure. He is an exciting recruit for de Bromhead and Ann and Alan Potts, and he will be of immediate interest now if he takes his chance in the Punchestown Bumper.

Racing news

Say you fell asleep in 1989 and dreamt about the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. An Irish trainer had four winners on the first day, including the 1-2-3 in the Champion Hurdle and the 1-2 in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Irish trainers between them had five of the seven winners on the day, and all seven were ridden by Irish-based jockeys.

On the second day, flat-bred horses filled the first three places in the Sun Alliance Hurdle, and the first four in the Champion Bumper were trained in Britain.

You would have woken up with a start.

© The Irish Field, 14th March 2015