Things We Learned » Bushel blown sky high

Bushel blown sky high

If the idea was to hide Jack Kennedy’s light under a bushel for as long as possible, laudable and all as that (bright) idea may have been, the bushel was blown to pieces with his hat-trick at Navan on Sunday.  (What bushel?)

The 16-year-old has been Irish racing’s worst kept secret for months.  The pony racing fraternity had him well pegged long before he ever stepped over the threshold of a racecourse weigh room, and it didn’t take him long to live up to his billing.  Three winners from three rides on Ladbrokes Troytown Chase day at Navan, however, all three for Gordon Elliott, including the Troytown itself for JP McManus and the Proudstown Hurdle for Gigginstown House, will blow most bushels sky high.

Whoever you ask to about Kennedy, top riders, top trainers, top people who know a thing or two about this game, they are all unanimous in their verdict: he has what it takes to be successful.  The talent, the mentality, the attitude.  Now all he needs is normal luck.  Please God he’ll have that too.

Elliott’s season continues

With the attention that Jack Kennedy garnered on Sunday, Gordon Elliott’s achievement went a little under the radar.  Elliott had a treble too, the same treble as the young rider, including the Troytown for JP McManus and the Proudstown Hurdle for Gigginstown.  (See above.)

Not only that, but if you had asked the trainer beforehand in whose hooves his best chance of winning the Troytown Chase lay, which of his horses had the best chance of emulating 2014 hero Balbriggan, he probably would have said in Azorian’s.  So it was a blow when the Westerner gelding had to be scratched, along with the other Gigginstown horse Bonisland.

So it was fairly remarkable that Elliott’s remaining two runners, Riverside City and Georges Conn, fought out the finish, finished first and second in the Troytown Chase, traditionally one of the most competitive handicap chases on the calendar.

It has been some season so far for Elliott.  He has amassed over €1.2 million in prize money in Ireland already, a total that is second only to Willie Mullins’.  That is more than Elliott won in the entire season just two seasons ago – when he was also second to Mullins in the trainers’ championship – and we still haven’t got to the end of November.  His upward trajectory is steep.  Remember that his first Grade 1 winner was on this weekend just five years ago: Jessies Dream in the 2010 Drinmore Chase.

Flagship horse Don Cossack continues to deliver, he continues to scale the bar as it is raised ever higher, and Elliott has as exciting a bunch of young horses now as he has ever had.  Two of his most exciting staying novice chasers No More Heroes and Free Expression run at Fairyhouse this weekend, and the season rolls on.

Big run by Ptit Zig

Saturday at Ascot was all about Vautour.  Beforehand the talk focused on the excitement at his return, afterwards the talk was of how impressed or unimpressed you were.

Balanced against his tendency to jump to his left, and – in the context of the King George – the fact that Kempton is a tighter right-handed track than Ascot, is the fact that he put up a high-class performance, the magnitude of which may have been under-played.  It was his seasonal debut, he hadn’t done much, he hadn’t even been away, yet he beat a race-fit Ptit Zig by a length and three quarters in a really good time.

At the root of all of this is the fact that Ptit Zig may be an under-rated horse, and that may be an even better angle to take out of the race than the Vautour angle, which will always be high-profile.  Paul Nicholls’ horse won well at Down Royal on his previous run despite not jumping well.  He was conceding 5lb to Vautour on Saturday, and he pulled over 30 lengths clear of the 160-rated Third Intention, to whom he was conceding 4lb.

He could step up in trip, and he would be an interesting outsider in the King George, but this extended two and a half miles looks like a good trip for him for now.  Some of his best performances have been at Ascot, so he will always be of interest when he races there.  The Ascot Chase in February, the race in which he fell last year as a novice, looks like the ideal race for him again this term.

King George Christmas cracker

Speaking of which, if they all get there fit and well, this year’s King George will be one of the most fascinating King Georges of recent times.

Okay, so it will not have a crowd-pulling charismatic perennial like Kauto Star or Desert Orchid or Wayward Lad in it, but it will be more competitive for all that.  And it will be top-class-intriguing-competitive.

Vautour is one of the most exciting steeplechasers in training, and he still has his stamina to prove.  Don Cossack is the highest-rated one, and connections appear to have had the King George on the Sholokhov gelding’s radar since before he won the Chase.

The rejuvenated Cue Card, who put up one of the best performances of his career last Saturday at Haydock, is bang on track, while the Gold Cup winner Coneygree is still under consideration for the race, although the Lexus Chase is a realistic option, assuming he recovers quickly from the ailment that has kept him out of today’s Hennessy.  And if Saphir Du Rheu happened to win that Hennessy today under top weight, he would move from the wings to centre stage.

The fact that Silviniaco Conti, who has won the last two renewals, is available at 12/1, in a race that lends itself to repeat winners, tells you how strong this year’s King George is.

National Hunt mares shine

Top class National Hunt mares shone at Navan on Sunday, vicariously through their offspring.

The day started with victory in the maiden hurdle for Woodland Opera, a son of Opera Hat, who had her biggest day at Aintree in 1998 when she won the Mumm Melling Chase for the late John Fowler.

Valerie Cooper’s mare loved Naas.  She had beaten Merry Gale and Royal Mountbrowne and Time For A Run in the Newlands Chase there the previous year, and she ran her best races at Naas, where her record read 413214511111132122.  On her final run at the County Kildare track, as an 11-year-old in February 1999, she split the eight-year-old future Grand National winner Papillon and the seven-year-old previous Arkle head-bobbed runner-up Hill Society in the Grade 2 Newlands Chase, a race that she had won three times previously.

Prince Of Scars won the Proudstown Hurdle at Navan on Sunday, and Prince Of Scars is out of Spirit Leader, who won the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury in 2003 for Jessica Harrington, and followed up by landing the County Hurdle at Cheltenham the following month.

The impressive winner of the bumper on Sunday was Augusta Kate, a daughter of the top class racemare Feathard Lady, who was unbeaten in seven runs for Colm Murphy, two bumpers and five hurdle races, and who won the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Sandown on her final run.  Augusta Kate has a long way to go to emulate her dam, but all the talk is mightily encouraging, and the fact that her owners straddle different high-profile walks of life will ensure that there are plenty of column inches devoted to her progress.

© The Irish Field, 28th November 2015