Things We Learned » Empire deserved this one

Empire deserved this one

There was a feelgood factor about Empire Of Dirt’s victory in the Leopardstown Chase on Sunday.

The Gigginstown House horse had been threatening to win a big race like this for a while, and it is remarkable to think that Sunday’s victory was just his second over fences.

If the ball had hopped a little differently, the Gigginstown House horse could have had a clutch of races in the bag before Sunday.  He probably would have won a handicap chase at Thurles in January last year had the tricky second last fence not caught him out, and he would surely have gone close in the Troytown Chase at Navan last November had he not come down at the third last fence.

A first-fence fall – when five others landed on the ground beside him – when well fancied for the Irish National in April was just one of those things, but he was unlucky to catch a well-handicapped and razor-sharp Sumos Novios at Punchestown in early December, because he beat all his other rivals.

Strange to say, for a horse who had fallen in three of his previous six races, he is not a bad jumper, as he proved with an exemplary round on Sunday under a clever ride from Jonathan Moore.

It was Moore’s last ride as a 7lb claimer but, big value and all as he was for his 7lb, he is still great value for 5lb.

For trainer Colm Murphy, it was a reminder of his presence.  Murphy may not be as high-profile as he was when Brave Inca was winning Supreme Novices’ Hurdles and Champion Hurdles, or when Fethard Lady was going seven for seven, or when Big Zeb was winning Champion Chases, or when Voler La Vedette was winning Hatton’s Grace Hurdles and putting it up to Big Buck’s, but this was a firm reminder that the Wexford trainer had not gone anywhere.  That he can still train a good horse when he has a good horse to train.

Incidentally, Empire Of Dirt was the third horse in the last four years to emerge from the two-mile-six-furlong handicap chase at Punchestown on John Durkan Chase day, and win the Leopardstown Chase.  Foxrock finished third in the Punchestown race last year before winning the Leopardstown Chase, and Seabass won the Punchestown race in 2011 before winning the Leopardstown race in 2012.  Also, Daring Article won the Punchestown race in December 2013 before finishing second in the Leopardstown Chase in January 2014, beaten just a half a length to He’llberemembered.

The handicapper gave Empire Of Dirt 7lb for this win, but he won with plenty in hand.  This could be close to his optimum conditions, a stiff extended two and a half miles on soft ground, going left-handed and ridden aggressively, and his new mark of 140 could still under-rate him.

Power week

It has been some week for Robbie Power.  First he wins the Hurdle on Henry Higgins, then he wins the Thyestes Chase on My Murphy.

They were contrasting rides too.  He was patient on Henry Higgins, put the horse to sleep, trusted to luck and eased through the gap as the field wheeled off the rail on the run around the home turn.  He was aggressive on My Murphy, up with the pace from flagfall, strong in the finish.

You could see what those two victories meant to the horses’ respective trainers too.  Charles O’Brien romanticised about the prospect of sending Henry Higgins to Cheltenham and winning the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle now, “for obvious reasons.”  Liam Burke put My Murphy’s win into context, said that he had won the Galway Plate (with Sir Frederick) and the Irish Arkle (with Thyne Again) in the past, but that this one pleased him the most, that it was the one race that he wanted to win as a young fellow.

My Murphy was the fourth horse in the last 10 years to win the Thyestes Chase having won it or finished placed in it the previous season.  Preists Leap won the 2009 renewal having won the race in 2008, Siegemaster won the Thyestes in 2011 having finished third behind Whinstone Boy in the race in 2010, and Jadanli won it in 2013 having finished third behind On His Own in 2012.  Preists Leap was racing off a 10lb higher mark than the mark off which he had won it, while Jadanli was racing off a 2lb lower mark and Siegemaster was racing off a 1lb higher mark.

My Murphy was racing off the same mark, 139, as the mark off which he finished second to Djakadam last year.  From what you could tell through the fog last year, he was fortunate to finish second, as The Job Is Right would probably have filled that position had he not unseated his rider at the final fence.  Interestingly, Michael Hourigan’s horse finished fourth in Thursday’s race off a mark that was 10lb higher than last year’s mark. The Thyestes is something of a specialists’ race.

Ivanovich form just gets better and better

The form of Ivanovich Gorbatov’s juvenile maiden hurdle win at Leoparstown’s Christmas Festival looked strong at the time, but it looks even better now.  JP McManus’ horse beat the highly-regarded Let’s Dance by two lengths, and the pair of them came clear of their field in a good time, the fastest of the four two-mile hurdle races run on the day.

Initial impressions have been backed up by subsequent events.  Ninth-placed Jazz Ranger won his maiden hurdle at Punchestown four days later, while fourth-placed Tocororo won her maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse 10 days after that.  Then last Saturday at Naas, third-placed Lagostovegas was impressive in winning her maiden hurdle, also in a good time, clear of Newberry New, who had finished sixth in Ivanovich Gorbatov’s race, and who was in turn clear of the remainder.

Vic’s cover blown

Six days later, most things that could have been written or said about Ruby Walsh and Killultagh Vic last Sunday have already been written or said.  When people decide that something has ‘gone viral’, it is rare that there is anything new to be written or said.

Suffice to say that, every now and again we are reminded of Walsh’s talent: there was the Kauto Star remount in 2005, back in the days when you were allowed remount in Britain, and there was the Tidal Bay needle-thread in the 2012 Lexus Chase.  This was another.  And these are the extraordinary feats, these instances are apart altogether from the banal, the positioning and tactical nous and mid-race awareness and horse-sync that make a difference even if none of it is really noticed.

One thing that has been noticed now is Killultagh Vic.  If he was a little under the radar before Sunday, he is being picked up now, sirens and beacons and flashing red lights and everything.  If you were thinking about backing him for Cheltenham before Sunday, if you were impressed with his beginners’ chase win at Fairyhouse before breakfast on 19th December, and if you thought, a Willie Mullins-trained Martin Pipe Hurdle winner, like Sir Des Champs and Don Poli, a progressive hurdler last season, a Grade 1 winner, who jumped his fences seriously well on his debut and who has Cheltenham Festival form, and if you refrained from backing him ante post for Cheltenham this year simply because you couldn’t nail down his likely target, well, tough luck.  He could not be any more high-profile now than he is.  If he had popped the last on Sunday and won by eight lengths, he would not be as high-profile as he is now.

Bishopslough one to note

There are a few horses who can be marked up on the bare form of their respective runs in the Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday, and Bishopslough is one of them.  Barry Connell’s horse did well to finish as close as he did in seventh place given how events conspired against him.

He was settled at the back of the field through the race, which was not ideal in hindsight given that the early pace was so unusually sedate.  Stone last of the 23 runners as they rounded the turn away from the stands with 14 furlongs to run, and still last as they approached the second last flight, the Alan Fleming-trained gelding moved to the inside upon landing over the second last.  He went for a run up the rail, but he was squeezed out of it there, with the result that he had to take back and go around.

Still just around 17th of the 23 runners as they straightened up for home, he moved back towards the outside and he finished off his race well for Andrew Lynch, over the last and up to the winning line, to finish seventh.

It was a big run from a horse who is rated 20lb lower over hurdles than he is over fences, and he will be of interest in another big handicap hurdle now, any big handicap hurdle that he can get into now with his rating of 118.  You never know, he might get the 14lb (or thereabouts) bump that he would need from the British handicapper to get him into the County Hurdle, a race that Connell won in 2007 with Pedrobob.

© The Irish Field, 23rd January 2016