Things We Learned » These are the big weekends

These are the big weekends

These are the National Hunt weekends to savour, the next eight weekends before Christmas, before you turn the corner into 2017 and the Cheltenham Festival looms large and trumps everything.

Today we have the Charlie Hall Chase meeting at Wetherby and the Sodexo Gold Cup meeting at Ascot, while there are good National Hunt cards at Galway and Wexford tomorrow and on Monday.  (See below.) 

Next weekend it’s the Champion Chase at Down Royal and the Badger Ales Chase and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton and the Cork Grand National at, well, Cork, and the Poplar Square Chase at Naas.  The following weekend it’s the Open meeting at Cheltenham, featuring the artist formerly known as the Paddy Power Gold Cup, and the Fortria Chase and the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan.

Then it’s the Coral Hurdle at Ascot and the Betfair Chase at Haydock, and the Morgiana Hurdle meeting at Punchestown, which doesn’t clash with the Cheltenham Open meeting this year for a change, which is great.  Then it’s the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury and the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, and the Troytown Chase at Navan.  The top-class racing just keeps on coming.

And we’re only talking weekends here.  We haven’t even ventured into the Clonmel Oil Chase or the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter or the Thurles Chase.

Then we’re into December, the Tingle Creek meeting at Sandown and the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle meeting at Fairyhouse.  The following weekend it’s back to Cheltenham for their December meeting and back to Cork for the Hilly Way Chase or to Punchestown for the John Durkan Chase.  Then it’s over to Ascot for the Long Walk Hurdle and the Ascot Hurdle which used to be the Ladbroke and come home to Navan for the Navan Hurdle.

Then it’s Christmas, pause for breath (or go to Dundalk on Friday 23rd December) and some pudding before wrapping up warm and getting yourself off to Leopardstown for four days, while keeping an eye on Kempton and Chepstow and Limerick.  But make no mistake, this run of eight weekends is the best run of eight weekends of the year.

Moscow had personality

It was sad to hear about the passing of Moscow Flyer last Friday.  All his achievements have been well documented over the course of the last seven or eight days: his 13 Grade 1 wins, his Arkle, his two Champion Chases, his two Tingle Creeks. 

When you work with the trainer in the writing of a book about a racehorse, you feel like you have a special affinity with that racehorse, but every racing fan felt like he or she had an affinity with Moscow Flyer.  He was a character, he had personality.

As well as that, he was an extraordinary National Hunt racehorse.  He was fast, faster than he appeared, because he only just did what he had to do.  And he was a superb jumper of his fences.  But he lived on the edge, which is why there are Fs and Us on his record.

He was brilliantly trained by Jessica Harrington, expertly cared for by Eamonn Leigh and, in owner Brian Kearney, Moscow had a man who was fully deserving of him and who truly appreciated the places to which his horse brought him.

Moscow was brilliant for Barry Geraghty, and Barry Geraghty was brilliant for Moscow.  The jockey was just 19 or 20 when Moscow came along, an up-and-coming young rider who needed a horse to take him to the top.  Moscow needed a like-minded individual who would be as brave as he was.  Together, they conquered the world.

Barry rode Moscow in 38 of his 40 races over hurdles and fences, and he rode him to 25 of his 26 wins, including those 13 Grade 1 wins, those Champion Chases, those Tingle Creeks, that Tingle Creek against Azertyuiop and Well Chief.

Famously, Moscow never won a bumper.  Four attempts, no wins.  It was his jumping that got him to the top.  Even over hurdles.  Charlie Swan said that he was the only horse that he feared when he rode Istabraq.

Moscow’s back story is fascinating too.  He was the first horse that breeder Eddie Joyce ever sold at public auction.  If the breeder hadn’t taken him to the 1998 Derby Sale, it is unlikely that Johnny and Jessica Harrington would have bought him.

Indeed, even at the sale, Johnny was out-bid on two other horses for Brian Kearney.  If they had bought either, they wouldn’t have bought the Moscow Society gelding out of the Duky mare Meelick Lady.

And they wouldn’t even have seen the horse had Jim Mernagh – who had prepared the horse for the sale for Eddie Joyce – not badgered Johnny Harrington about the horse, continually telling him that he needed to see him.  Fortunately, Johnny really liked him when he saw him.

Moscow may have achieved all that he achieved had he not been owned by Brian Kearney or trained by Jessica Harrington or ridden by Barry Geraghty, but he may not have.  He certainly couldn’t have achieved any more.

Good beginnings 

It is at this time of year that the new chasers excite more than any other group.  Last season’s young hurdlers going chasing, many of them bred and built to jump fences, not hurdles.  And the class of 2016 are making waves already.

The Noel Meade-trained Disko was very good in winning the two-and-a-half-mile beginners’ chase at Punchestown on Saturday.  The Gigginstown House horse made a fairly bad mistake at the fence going away from the stands.  He did well to stand up at the back of the fence, and Sean Flanagan did really well to remain on his back.  After that, however, it was plain sailing, his jumping was very good and he won easily, beating Last Goodbye, a 136-rated hurdler, by an easy eight lengths.

Interestingly, that race that has been won in the recent past by high-class horses, including No More Heroes, Shanahan’s Turn, Morning Assembly, Bucker’s Bridge and Pandorama.

There were other Gigginstown House horses that excited.  The Henry de Bromhead-trained Identity Thief was just about flawless in the two-mile beginners’ chase at Punchestown on the same day.  He was very accurate at his fences for David Mullins, he won as easily as he liked and, a 159-rated hurdler, there is no telling how high he could go now over fences.

And like the two-and-a-half-mile contest on the same card, this race has a fairly illustrious roll of honour, including, as it does, Sizing John, Oscars Well, Days Hotel, Noble Prince, Forpadydeplasterer and Schindlers Hunt.

Alpha Des Obeaux was a little different in that, he had already had a run over fences, at Tipperary at the start of October, but the Mouse Morris-trained gelding put that defeat behind him with a professional display at Thurles last Thursday.

There have been other impressive performances by chasing debutants, like Diamond King’s performance at Galway two and a half weeks ago.  And of course, there was Thistlecrack at Chepstow on Tuesday.

Exciting times.


Watch carefully

Speaking of beginners’ chases and illustrious rolls of honour, it might pay to keep an eye on the two-mile-six-furlong contest at Galway on Monday, the W. B. Gavin EBF Beginners Chase. 

The recent roll of honour for the race includes subsequent Punchestown Gold Cup winner China Rock, subsequent Drinmore Chase winner and RSA Chase runner-up Jessies Dream, subsequent Dr PJ Moriarty Chase and Irish Gold Cup winner Last Instalment, subsequent RSA Chase runner-up Lyreen Legend and subsequent Ten Up Chase winner (later disqualified) Very Wood.

As well as that, in 2013 the race was won by Don Cossack, who has won 11 races since, including six Grade 1 chases, highlighted, of course, by last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. 

There could be another champion lurking among the entries this year.


Emergency call

It was interesting to examine the odds matrices for the Nicky Henderson-trained Call The Cops in the 4.05 at Cheltenham last Saturday, the Pertemps qualifier.  The first three firms to price the race up went 9/1 about JP McManus’ horse.  And so, across from left to right, the matrix read: Call The Cops: 9, 9, 9.


 © The Irish Field, 29th October 2016