Things We Learned » Three things to do at Punchestown this week

Three things to do at Punchestown this week:

1. Appreciate the quality

Punchestown does not get the build-up that Cheltenham gets. We build up to Cheltenham for about six months, we know the likely make-up of the big races from four or five weeks out, and we have seven preview evenings a night from two weeks out. Not so for Punchestown. Yet the racing is just as good, just as intriguing.

Faugheen, Annie Power, Don Cossack, Un De Sceaux, Don Poli, Road To Riches, Hidden Cyclone, Djakadam, Rock On Ruby, Apache Stronghold, Douvan, Nichols Canyon, Sizing John, Windsor Park, No More Heroes, all possible or probable runners. Vautour stepping into the major league, Hurricane Fly stepping up to three miles, Jezki stepping up to three miles. It is some week ahead.

2. Go to the banks

Take the time to walk out to one of the banks for one of the banks races, maybe the big double, maybe for the La Touche Cup. You have seen it on television, but it is difficult to describe what it is to see these horses and riders close up, negotiating a big bank, the skill and the speed with which the dexterous horses can do it, the balance of the riders. The increasingly loud thunder of hooves as they approach, the jockey-shouts, the thud of hoof on bank, maybe a fall, maybe an unseat, heart in mouth, the slowing of heart-rate as they depart, the fading noise, the fading sight, until you can just about make out the silks, and then you stand in exhilarated anticipation until they all come around again.

3. Go down to the start

It is fortunate that the two-mile chase start is just in front of the final fence, just in front of the uncovered stand, right beside the stands rail, so you can get there easily. Go down well before the race is due to start and stand by the rail. Watch as the horses and riders arrive, one by one, observe as final preparations are made, girths tightened, goggles lowered, until the riders somehow, through both verbal and non-verbal communication, organise their horses into the order in which they will start the race. Then listen to the starter’s instructions, watch the tape fly, see them depart and try to guess the order in which they will finish the race.

Bolger getting going

Jim Bolger had a cracking day at The Curragh on Sunday. From eight runners, he had three winners and three seconds, and two of the three seconds finished second to a stable companion, so the Coolcullen trainer had the 1-2 in two of the six races in which he was involved, the winner of another, and the second in another.

The Godolphin filly Mimicking looked good in winning the opening maiden on her racecourse debut, and the 2011 Dewhurst Stakes winner Parish Hall kept on well to land the Listed Alleged Stakes, but it was Flight Risk, the 50/1 winner of the Group 3 Gladness Stakes, that made the headlines.

Bolger has always maintained that he doesn’t mind getting beaten, that someone has to finish last and that he accepts that sometimes it will be him, which is why his horses can often spring surprises. It isn’t that he over-faces them, it is just that, in running them in races that he thinks they can win, he also accepts that they can be beaten. It is this mantra that has enabled him win big races with big-priced horses, including an Oaks with the 50/1 shot Jet Ski Lady, and five renewals of the Dewhurst Stakes in the seven years that spanned from 2006 to 2012, with two of them returned at 20/1.

It may be, however, that Loch Garman – runner-up to Parish Hall in the Alleged Stakes – will be the most interesting horse to take from Sunday’s meeting. Racing for the first time since he finished down the field in the 2013 French Derby, the son of Teofilo raced handily in a race in which they went a good pace from early. He came under pressure early in the home straight, but he battled on well on the far side and, once in the clear, he finished strongly to take second place behind his stable companion.

Loch Garman won the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in November 2012 on just his second ever run, he is a classy individual and he raced here as if he would appreciate a step up from this 10-furlong trip. He could be an interesting contender in some of the good middle-distance races this summer.

Jockeys’ championship

Paul Hanagan is going well in the British jockeys’ championship at present. His double at Newbury on Saturday on Sahaafy and the exciting Intilaaq brought his total number of winners for the season thus far to 14, almost twice as many as his closest pursuer.

Only it doesn’t. The season apparently doesn’t start until next weekend. Until then, strangely, it’s nil-all.

Epsom clues

There were at least three noteworthy performances at Epsom on Wednesday afternoon.

Christophermarlowe was the headline act in the Investec Derby Trial. Despite its name, and the fact that it is run over 10 furlongs of the Derby course, this race has not historically had a major bearing on the Derby itself, but there was enough in John Gosden’s colt’s performance to suggest that he is at worst a lively outsider for the Classic.

He handled the downhill run around Tattenham Corner well – he is now two for two at Epsom – despite the fact that he was being niggled along as he negotiated the camber, and he stayed on strongly all the way to the line. Frankie Dettori said afterwards that he had trouble pulling him up.

Also, the time was good, the fastest comparative time on the round track on the day and almost three seconds faster than the time that Collaboration clocked in winning the City and Suburban Handicap over the same course and distance a half an hour later.

He is bred to appreciate a mile and a half, he is from the family of stayer Far Cry and he is out of a mare who won a Group 3 race over a mile and a half, and Gosden said afterwards that 10 furlongs was a minimum for him now. He spoke of stepping him up in trip for the Lingfield Derby Trial or the Chester Vase, in either of which he would be of interest in the short term.

Collaborative was also impressive in winning the City and Suburban Handicap. The overall time was not remarkable, but that was largely down to the sedate early pace. Collaboration actually went over a second and a half faster than Christophermarlowe did from the path at the three-furlong pole to the winning line.

Andrew Balding’s horse travelled well behind that sedate pace, and he showed a really impressive turn of foot when David Porbert asked him to pick up. He was racing under a 6lb penalty on Wednesday for his win at Windsor the previous Monday, he was 5lb well-in, so he was entitled to go close. The handicapper will probably have another go at him now, he will probably go a little higher even than his new rating of 86, but he can progress again. He reportedly had a wind operation during the winter, and he is two for two now this term since.

It was a good day for David Probert, because the third horse that might be worth noting is the sprint winner Monumental Man, who was also ridden by Probert. Fast away from stall four, James Unett’s horse was quickly over to the favoured stands rail. Sandfrankskipsgo kept him company for the first three furlongs, but Peter Crate’s horse couldn’t live with the leader inside the final two furlongs, and Monumental Man came right away to post an impressive win in an impressive time.

The Dash on Derby day is the obvious race for him now. He is unbeaten in two runs now at Epsom, he seems to excel on this downhill run. He was racing off a mark of 80 on Wednesday, and he probably needs to be in the high 80s or early 90s to get into the Dash, so hopefully the handicapper will give him a fair hike for Wednesday’s win.

Farewell champ

Looking for another place
Somewhere else to be
Looking for another chance
To ride into the sun.

– The Velvet Underground

© The Irish Field, 25th April 2015