Things We Learned » Total dominance

Total dominance

It is understandable that all the talk after the JT McNamara Munster National at Limerick on Sunday was about the winner Total Recall.  It was an incident-packed race, we lost six horses on the way around, five of them at two of the fences.  But you have to feel that Total Recall would have won even if all his rivals had stood up and run their races. 

Willie Mullins’ horse won easily.  Nursed around by Ruby Walsh at the back of the field from early, avoiding the carnage, he and Alpha Des Obeaux came away from their field from the top of the home straight.  It was apparent that they had it between them from a long way out, but it was also apparent from the second last fence that Ruby Walsh was holding onto more than Davy Russell had, and Total Recall came clear to win readily.

This was the Westerner gelding’s first run for Willie Mullins, and his performance was further evidence of the champion trainer’s genius.  He had run 16 times before this under Rules, six times over fences, and he had won just three times.  The handicap rating of 129 off which he raced on Sunday appeared to be a fair reflection of the ability that he had shown.

He was obviously showing plenty at home, however, given his strength in the market all day. 

It is always interesting to estimate how the handicapper might react to such a performance before he does.  A stone, you were thinking.  Maybe 12lb.  So 18lb was a lot.  It takes Total Recall up to a mark of 147.

On the positive side, it may not be too much.  When you are dealing with performances like this one and hikes of this magnitude, it is difficult to put a figure on it.  Also, a hike of that magnitude puts him within range of the big handicap chases.  A mark of 147 would have got him into last year’s Hennessy Gold Cup (this year’s Ladbrokes Trophy), for example, on 10st 7lb.  His stamina for three and a quarter miles on early December ground at Newbury is an unknown, but he stayed three miles well on Sunday, and he would be of big interest if connections decided to allow him travel to Newbury. 

Alpha run may be under-rated

With all the talk of Total Recall, there is a chance that the performance that Alpha Des Obeaux put up in finishing second to him has gone a little under the radar.

Mouse Morris’ horse ran a massive race to take the runner-up spot.  Time may prove that he faced a nigh impossible task, trying to concede a stone and two pounds to the winner.  As it was, he put up a fair fight, and he came well clear of the third horse, the talented Phil’s Magic.  It is rock solid form. 

A 7lb hike for the Gigginstown House horse for getting beaten looks harsh on the face of it, but you can understand it.  Also, it brings him up to a mark of just 152, which is still 3lb lower than his current rating over hurdles and 6lb lower than his peak rating over hurdles.

The Saddler Maker gelding probably didn’t reach the heights last year as a staying novice chaser that his hurdling career promised, but this was a bright start to his sophomore year.  He is still just seven years old, trainer Mouse Morris has his horses in good form, and he will be of interest wherever he goes next.  He is another for whom the Hennessy/Ladbroke would be a legitimate target. 

Jockeys’ championship is fascinating

There was another small twist in the 2017 Irish jockeys’ championship road when Colin Keane had two winners from six rides at Gowran Park on Wednesday, and Pat Smullen had none.

It wasn’t quite as significant a twist as there was at Roscommon on the last Monday in August, when Smullen had a four-timer, nor at Dundalk on the last Friday in September, when Keane had a treble.  Nor at Dundalk last Friday night, when Smullen won on his first four rides and was beaten a short head on his fifth, Bold Knight, in the last race, by Thunder Crash, who was ridden by Keane.  (You couldn’t have written it.)

But it was still a twist, and it left Keane three clear again, 84 to 81.

This is brilliant theatre.  It has to be tough on the two jockeys, the effort that is involved, the work rate, no let up.  You can tell how desperately they both want it, and you can tell how desperately their respective bosses Dermot Weld and Ger Lyons want it for them.  But it is great for the onlookers, us, the audience, and it is great for racing. 

The opportunity is there to be maximised.  This battle should be of interest to an audience that is outside the core racing audience.  It is a rare opportunity to draw the casual sports enthusiast in.  A duel between two top class sportspeople for a title is an entity to which general sports fans can relate.

We are a little spoiled because we had similar drama at the end of the National Hunt season last April when the Willie Mullins/Gordon Elliott duel went all the way down the home straight to the last day of the Punchestown Festival, the last day of the season.  That one was, as this one is, a fascinating undercurrent to the season.

Pat Smullen is a great champion, a worthy champion, a world-class rider, proven at home and on the greatest stages of the racing world.  Champion jockey nine times, a 10th would be some achievement, and he would be fully deserving of that milestone. 

Colin Keane does not have the international profile that Pat Smullen has, not yet, but there is no doubting his talent.  He is a top class rider, it is difficult to believe that he is only 23 and he would be a worthy champion.

There has been an ebb and flow to this one all season.  At the end of July, the bookmakers made Keane a 4/11 shot to win the title, while Smullen was as big as 3/1.  Towards the end of September, Smullen was a 1/6 shot while Keane had drifted to 11/2.

Before racing at Dundalk last night, they bet 4/6 Keane, 11/10 Smullen, but you can be sure that there will be more twists and turns before the champion is crowned at Naas on 5th November.

World record could be shattered

It is just about certain now that Aidan O’Brien is going to break Bobby Frankel’s record of 25 Group/Grade 1 wins in a calendar year.  The only questions now are when and where, not if.

It is difficult to get your head around the achievement.  A Group 1 win is massive for any trainer, one Group 1 win in a year, one Group 1 win in a career, so to have 25 of them in the same year is mind-boggling.  More than any other trainer in the world.  Ever.  That’s what a world record is. 

It is possible that the champion trainer could smash the record, that he could set a total this year that will not be beaten for a very very long time.  He has several chances of adding to his tally this weekend.  Actually, he could have already added to his Group 1 tally this morning before you open your paper, with (The) Taj Mahal and Johannes Vermeer going in the Ladbrokes Stakes at Caulfield in Australia early this morning. 

He has four runners in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket today.  Okay, so he has Expert Eye to beat but, at combined odds, it is no bigger than 3/1 that one of the Ballydoyle quartet will win it.  And he has two runners in Grade 1 races at Woodbine in Canada tomorrow night: Rain Goddess in the EP Taylor Stakes and Idaho in the Canadian International.

There are myriad opportunities later in the season too.  There is British Champions’ Day at Ascot next Saturday for starters, with four Group 1 races, and Caravaggio and Winter and Churchill and Highland Reel all possible runners. 

There is the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Del Mar on 3rd and 4th November, with 13 Grade 1 races, including six run on turf.  There’s the Prix Royal-Oak in France and the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup in Australia, and there are the end-of-season Group 1 races for juveniles, the Racing Post Trophy and the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and the Criterium International, which Aidan O’Brien has won four times, more times than any other trainer.  And after that, there is the international meeting at Sha Tin in Hong Kong in mid-December, with its four Group 1 races, including the Hong Kong Vase, which Highland Reel won in 2015. 

Chepstow meeting worthy of attention

You probably won’t appreciate this if Kauto Star was the horse who got you interested in racing, or if you didn’t once (and don’t secretly still) marvel at the magic of a fax machine, but there was a time when today’s meeting at Chepstow signalled the start of the (televised) National Hunt season.  The Mercedes Benz meeting.  The BBC cameras rolled into Wales, and it was the first time that you saw a horse jumping a fence on television since you had watched the Galway Plate from your kitchen.

Today’s Chepstow meeting has retained its stature as a significant meeting in recent years.  Cue Card won the listed novices’ chase in 2011 and Balder Succes won it in 2013, and Cocktails At Dawn beat As De Mee and Native River and Blaklion and Regal Encore in 2015, and Rock The Kasbah beat Our Kaempfer and Theinval and Clan Des Obeaux in it last year.  It is usually a meeting to which it is worth paying close attention these days, and with some of the big Tizzard guns set to be unleashed today, it should be worth taking notes.

© The Irish Field,