Things We Learned » National Hunt scene steps up a notch

National Hunt scene steps up a notch

You know that the National Hunt season is just around the corner when you have to resist the urge to turn on the heat in the evening.  You can’t turn on the heat before the Cambridgeshire.  The kids can wear jumpers.

Then Ballyandy and Moon Racer went toe-to-toe in a novices’ hurdle at Perth on Thursday, and so it begins.

Appetite-whetters?  There are as many as you care to mention.  Dave Keena got the latest from some of the top Irish National Hunt trainers last week.  Faugheen is reportedly back in, and Patrick Mullins said that he didn’t think that the injury that ruled him out for the latter part of last season will come back, which was great to read.  Annie Power, Apple’s Jade, Djakadam, Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Vautour (can you wait?), all reported to be in great form.

Other names from other trainers?  Monksland and Gilgamboa and Empire Of Dirt and Apache Stronghold and Road To Riches and Sizing Granite.  All well and all set.

Sprinter Sacre is allegedly eyeing up the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in early December as a first target, Coneygree is back schooling and on track for the Betfair Chase, or maybe even the Charlie Hall Chase.  Cue Card likewise.  My Tent Or Yours back in training and eyeing up the Istabraq Hurdle.

Gordon Elliott says that Gold Cup hero Don Cossack is doing well on his road to recovery.  One run before the Gold Cup is the plan for the Gigginstown House horse, all going well, and that’s a fine plan.

Altior going novice chasing, Diamond King going novice chasing, Prince Of Scars going novice chasing, Buveur D’Air probably going novice chasing.  Novice chasers are just the most exciting chasers.

Maybe it’s time now to get your National Hunt notebook back out of the attic – it’s right there, under the ski gear – and do some revision.

Ring in the new

There are a couple of things that we will have to get used to this National Hunt season, as is often the case at the start of a new season. 

We are well used to seeing Denis O’Regan riding in Ireland, and we are getting used to seeing him riding in Barry Connell’s yellow and navy silks, but that will be a feature of the winter.  As will Adrian Heskin riding in Britain, for Tom George mainly. 

Heskin’s first ride for George, Kilbree Kid in the three-mile handicap chase at Perth on Wednesday, was a winner, and that’s a great start.  You always like to get one in the bag early, like a striker scoring on his debut for his new club.

We are also used to seeing Davy Russell ride in Britain, but he will be doing a little more of that this season than has been the case of late, since he has agreed to ride for owner Dai Walters when he is available.  Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty have proven that a top National Hunt rider can do the Ireland/Britain divide quite easily, so it shouldn’t be any bother to Russell.  It should be a good fit.

We were getting used to not seeing Paul Carberry ride, but that is now definitive, we won’t see him race-ride again, which is, as noted previously, a great shame.  And we were getting used to seeing Sean Flanagan ride the Noel Meade horses, which will be a more pronounced feature now, since Meade has officially named the 28-year-old as his number one rider.  That’s obviously a good fit too.

And we will have to get used to the Sizing colours not representing Henry de Bromhead, but more of the de Bromhead horses racing in the Gigginstown House maroon.  That should be easy enough.

Thistlecrack favourite

Thistlecrack is obviously a top class National Hunt horse, but it is strange that he is clear favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup – has been for a while – as short as 5/1 in places, in September, six months out.

Colin Tizzard’s horse was the outstanding staying hurdler last season.  He ran five times and he won five times, bagging three Grade 1 contests – including the championship stayers’ hurdles at Cheltenham and Aintree – and two Grade 2s by an aggregate of 40 lengths and an average of eight. 

However, he may school brilliantly, but he has never jumped a fence in public.  Top class staying hurdlers do not always make top class staying chasers, and he is eight rising nine, he is late enough embarking on his new career.

The stats are against him too.  We know that before Coneygree won that unforgettable Gold Cup last year, you had to go back to Captain Christy in 1974 to find a novice chaser winning a Gold Cup. 

And, significantly and somewhat surprisingly, no winner of the modern era World/Stayers’ Hurdle has ever gone on to win the Gold Cup.

Thistlecrack is a top class staying hurdler, he was head and shoulders above his peers last season, and he may be classy enough to overcome all those potential negatives this season as a steeplechaser.  But surely you will be able to find better 5/1 shots over the course of the next six months.

Draw bias at Ayr

There was a serious draw-bias at Ayr last weekend, as has been well-noted at this stage.  In the Ayr Bronze Cup on Friday, the first four home were drawn five, seven, eight and 17.  In the Silver Cup on Saturday, the first four emerged from stalls eight, nine 12 and five respectively, while in the Gold Cup, also on Saturday, the first four home were drawn eight, six, seven and 11.  It really was difficult for the high-drawn horses to make and impact.

Horses to note?  One from each race.  Flying Pursuit in the Silver Cup.  Tim Easterby’s horse only finished ninth, but he was drawn in stall 22, he had to make his way over towards the centre from flagfall.  Racing towards the near side of the far side group, he finished off his race really well for David Allan, closest at the finish.  He was beaten less that three lengths in total, and he can be marked up a fair bit on the bare form of this run.  Also, it was his first run in blinkers.  He runs in the six-furlong handicap at Ripon today, a course and distance over which his record reads 211, and he wears the blinkers again.  That is interesting.

Johnny Barnes in the Gold Cup.  Like Flying Pursuit, he made his way across in behind horses from stall 18.  He was further back than ideal, and he was in among horses, and he was checked in his run twice, so he did well to get as close as he did, into eighth place, four and a half lengths behind the winner Brando. 

Also, it was his first run over six furlongs, he was dropping back down from a mile, and, just a four-year-old, he should do better next time over this trip with this experience under his belt.

Duke Cosimo should be the obvious one from the Bronze Cup, given that he was drawn 17 and that he was the only horse drawn higher than nine to finish in the first eight.  And Michael Herrington’s horse did do well to finish fourth, he missed the break and was actually stone last passing the three-furlong pole.  But PJ McDonald switched him to the far side, onto the best of the ground and he finished off his race well over there. 

Sir Billy Wright may be an even more interesting horse to take from the race.  David Evans’ horse raced from stall 25 and raced towards the near side throughout.  He travelled well for Clifford Lee to the two-furlong pole, and shaped as if he was going to be involved in the finish, but it was just too much for him on the worst of the ground and, after shipping a slight bump at the furlong pole, he just kept on to finish ninth. 

He is five years old, he is not unexposed as a sprinter, but this effort can probably be marked up a fair bit on the bare figures, and he may be under-rated now.  He holds an entry in the six-furlong handicap at Haydock this afternoon, a race in which he is set to be re-opposed by Duke Cosimo and fellow Bronze Cup also-ran Englishman, and that could be interesting. 

Super Pick 6 rollover

Nobody ever said that last Sunday’s monster €863,638 Super Pick 6 at Gowran Park was going to be easy, but it was still surprising that, after three legs, there was just one live unit left.  And just like the All-Ireland Final on the same day, it wasn’t won.

10/1 and 7/1 winners of the first two legs put a serious dent in the number of live units, and when the Johnny Murtagh-trained 16/1 shot Duchess Andorra battled on well under Colin Keane to beat Laganore by a short head in the Group 3 Denny Cordell Lavarack and Lanwades Stud Stakes, it was time for the big-pot-hunters to start thinking about Beresford Stakes day at The Curragh.

It should be easier tomorrow, insofar as picking six winners out of six races on any given day is easier than anything.  The ground should not be as testing as it was last Sunday, the fields are not as big and, the amateur derby notwithstanding, the results should generally be at least a little more predictable.  It will probably be won tomorrow and, with over eight hundred grand in the pot already (even if some of it is yours), there’s your edge right there.  It’s well worth having a go.


© The Irish Field, 24th September 2016