Things We Learned » Fine initiative

Fine initiative

They still have to come up with a name for the all-new Irish National Hunt Champions’ Weekend – why not Irish National Hunt Champions’ Weekend? – but it is a fine initiative.

There was talk of it during the winter, and the fact that it is set to come to fruition next February is testament to the forward thinking of Leopardstown racecourse, and to everyone who was involved in making it happen.  And do not underestimate the number of stakeholders who were involved, the racing programme is not easily changed.

The weekend – set to be staged for the first time on 3rd and 4th February next year – will bring together all of Leopardstown’s top post-Christmas National Hunt races under the umbrella (well, it is February) of one weekend.  It looks like the Saturday will be BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle day, moved back from late January, which will feature a lot of the races from the original BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle day in late January, including the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle, and it looks like it will also feature the Coral Hurdle and the Coral Leopardstown Chase from earlier in January.

Then the Sunday will be Stan James Irish Gold Cup day, brought forward from mid-February, which will also feature a lot of the races from Irish Gold Cup day in mid-February, including the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, the Deloitte Novice Hurdle and the Flogas Chase.  Still four Grade 1 races.

The positives are obvious.  It brings together the fragmented pieces of Leopardstown’s post-Christmas programme and presents them all in one package, tied up with string, an entire weekend during which the quality of National Hunt racing will be intense.  There will be no let-up.

It means that people can plan.  Trainers can plan targets with certainty, owners can plan, racegoers can plan to travel.  It should be attractive for British owners and trainers too, to come over with a horse for a race, or with more than one horse for more than one race.

We love a festival in Ireland, and this can be one, but it will be one of wall-to-wall top class racing.  And the timing is perfect, five or six weeks after Christmas, five or six weeks before Cheltenham.  The fact that the Irish Gold Cup will move forward by a week is a positive.  Remember, this year’s dual Gold Cup hero Sizing John was the first horse to win the Irish Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same year since Imperial Call in 1996.

Potential negatives?  There will be a ripple effect.  The programme will have to be changed.  The Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown will probably have to move from its traditional slot.  There could be implications for other races, like the Red Mills Hurdle or the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.

Also, there will not be three big Sundays – or two big Sundays and one big Saturday – of racing at Leopardstown between Christmas and Cheltenham.

There could be implications in Britain too if trainers do decide to travel.  The Irish Arkle could take horses from the Scilly Isles Chase, the Coral Hurdle could take horses from the Betfair Hurdle, the Irish Champion Hurdle could take horses from the Contenders Hurdle.

Even so, it is an exciting initiative, and it will be interesting to peruse the detail as it emerges.

Royal Ascot important

Royal Ascot week is obviously a hugely important week, it is important for owners and trainers and riders to do well there, when just about all the eyes of the racing world are watching.  But it is going to be more important than usual this week for Godolphin.

The difficulties that the blue operation have been navigating off the track of late have been well-aired, and they have come up short in the high-profile races this season to date.  Fifth and eighth and 11th from three runners in the Derby, eighth of nine in the Oaks.

Their Royal Ascot team took a hit too when Cloth Of Stars worked poorly during the week and was scratched.  Usherette was taken out of the Queen Anne Stakes, presumably in order to run in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, a race that she won last year but in which she wasn’t entered this year.  She had to be supplemented.

It could all look a lot better after the first race on Tuesday, if the Richard Fahey-trained Ribchester has won the Queen Anne Stakes like the odds-on shot that the market has determined that he is.

There is strength in the Godolphin Royal Ascot team outside of Ribchester: Barney Roy and Thunder Snow and Dream Castle and Laugh Aloud and Jack Hobbs and Hawkbill and Frontiersman and Blue Point and new recruit Harry Angel.  And others.  It could be a week of redemption.

Tread warily

Tread warily if you are intending to have a bet at Royal Ascot this year.  Last year, you were analysing good and fast ground form in the lead up to the week, and endeavouring to figure out if your conclusions held true on the soft ground at Royal Ascot.

This year: foot, shoe, other.  The ground during the early part of the season has been unusually easy in general, some of the big races have been run on easy ground, and next week is set to be baking.  The forecasters are saying that, all things being equal, it will be fast ground all the way to Thursday at least, so wear sunscreen and look for fast-ground horses.

Marsh ride belied his inexperience

Finley Marsh has caught the eye recently.

It was only a Class 5 0-75 five-furlong handicap that Goodwood Crusader won at Brighton last Friday, but Marsh gave him a super ride to win it.

They went hard up front, favourite Otomo and Island Cloud and Peachy Carnehan – the first two ridden by Silvestre de Sousa and Jim Crowley respectively – went toe-to-toe-to-toe up front from early, but the young rider was happy to let them at it.  He sat still on his horse, he allowed them at it up front, to the point where, when they started to level up for home, he was stone last of the six runners and fully eight lengths behind the leaders, which is a lot in a five-furlong race.

Not only that, but the young rider chose to chart a path between horses.  He resisted the temptation to go wide, around the field, a manoeuvre that would have cost him ground and probably momentum too.  He went the most efficient route, through traffic towards the inside, found the gaps, hit the front inside the final furlong and came nicely clear to win by a length and a half.

It wasn’t the ride of an 18-year-old who had ridden just eight winners in his life.  It was a real Richard Hughes-esque ride.  And guess who is Marsh’s boss.  Guess who trains Goodwood Crusader.

Bookmakers running scared?  Really?

The headline-writers have to write headlines and all, but a bookmaker running scared of a short-priced Royal Ascot ‘acca’ – Ribchester, Churchill, Order Of St George, Caravaggio and Winter, in case you’ve missed it – is like a child running scared of an ice cream van.

© Irish Field, 17th of June 2017