Things We Learned » Petit performance had substance

Petit performance had substance

If the National Hunt season was ambling away in the background before this week, hands in pockets, nonplussed, kicking a stone or two, in the subtext beneath the Enable and Winx and Aidan O’Brien headlines of the Flat, then it broke into a veritable canter at Punchestown this week.

There were performances and there was quality and there were promises for the future.  Petit Mouchoir was seriously impressive in winning the two-mile beginners’ chase on Wednesday.  Henry de Bromhead’s horse was an odds-on shot, you expected that he would win and that he would win fairly easily, but you could only have hoped that he would win in the style in which he won.

Sent to the front from flagfall by Davy Russell, he was aggressive and he was fast and he was accurate and he was fluent.  Brelade closed up at the second last fence, but Russell just gave his horse a little squeeze, and he came clear again.  He got the final fence a little wrong, but only a little and, given that he got safely to the landing side, it was no harm that he made a little error.  This steeplechasing business is a learning curve, and the Gigginstown House horse has just embarked on it.

The performance had substance as well as style.  Brelade was a talented novice hurdler last season, he finished second behind Saturnas in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas, and he finished third behind Bacardys and Bunk Off Early in the Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle at Leopardstown in February.  As well as that, he had had a run over fences this season at Gowran Park, he had an edge over his rival in terms of chasing experience and in terms of race fitness.  And Petit Mouchoir beat him well, with the pair of them nicely ahead of Burgas, and Burgas a distance clear of the rest.

Henry de Bromhead said afterwards that the Al Namix gelding would have no problem stepping up in trip, but it was difficult not to think Arkle Trophy.  The grey gelding was a top class hurdler last season, the Ryanair Hurdle winner, the Irish Champion Hurdle winner and third in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. 

He is a top class recruit to chasing, and he could prove to be even better over fences than over hurdles.  As Davy Russell said after Wednesday’s race, these Henry de Bromhead horses have a habit of improving again once they go over fences.

Petit Mouchoir has proven form at Cheltenham too, and his aggressive style of racing is well suited to an Arkle.

Of course, there is a long way to go before we get to the Cheltenham Festival, you don’t want to be getting ahead of yourself and the last thing you want to be doing is wishing this National Hunt season away because, as it is at this time just about every year, it is shaping up to be a season to savour. 

De Bromhead said after Wednesday’s race that the Craddockstown Chase could be the next step now for Petit Mouchoir, and that makes sense.  That is a race that the trainer has won four times in the last eight years, with Sizing Europe, Days Hotel, Sizing John and Identity Thief.  Petit Mouchoir is on a good path.

Elliott dominates at Punchestown

While Petit Mouchoir took the headlines at Punchestown on Wednesday, Gordon Elliott dominated them at Punchestown on Thursday.

We should have known that it would be an Elliott day when Pallasator won the first race run, the John Shortt Legends Challenge, under Norman Williamson, who must have felt like he was riding Alderbrook in the Kingwell Hurdle again, and when the pony-sized-looking-by-comparison Tiger Roll chased him home to complete the Gordon Elliott exacta.  (It paid €24.00 by the way.)

Samcro was impressive under Jack Kennedy in winning the maiden hurdle and, still unbeaten after a point-to-point, three bumpers and now a maiden hurdle, he is a seriously exciting novice hurdler for the season ahead.

The two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle was won by the well-supported Ben Dundee, who travelled through his race and who stayed on well for Davy Russell to win nicely.  He was obviously well primed for this, his seasonal debut and his first run for Elliott, but, as long as the handicapper does not go bananas, he still could be a horse who will be of interest in a better handicap hurdle.

Then Death Duty went out in the Grade 3 Buck House Chase over two and a quarter miles and won easily under a silky ride from Davy Russell. 

It was a significant drop down in trip for the Gigginstown House horse, who was sent off as favourite for the Albert Bartlett Hurdle last March and who won his beginners’ chase at Tipperary at the start of this month over two miles and seven furlongs.  But he showed a lot of pace to come away from Woodland Opera from the home turn.  His trainer did say that the Shantou gelding may not be an out and out stayer, and it may be that he is more a two-and-a-half-mile chaser than a three-mile chaser.  Either way, he is exciting.

Then Elliott won the qualified riders’ handicap chase with King’s Song – another who was making his debut for the yard – who danced in under a largely motionless Jamie Codd, whose only real concerns on the run to the final fence were the riderless Dorka and said final fence.  And the trainer inevitably rounded off the day by sending out Felix Desjy to run out a wide-margin winner of the bumper under Lisa O’Neill.

That was five from seven on the day for Gordon Elliott, six from eight if you count the charity race – the €9.90 that Pallasator earned for winning the charity race will hardly make the difference between winning and losing the trainers’ championship, although you never know – which you obviously can.  Especially if you have done the Lucky 63. 

Elliott had two winners on the Wednesday as well, two more exciting prospects for the season ahead in Cracking Smart and Campeador.  It was some two-day production by the Cullentra House trainer.  He has a star-sprinkled cast.  

Respect on right road

One of the two races that Gordon Elliott did not win at Punchestown on Thursday (both of which, incidentally, were won by Noel Meade) was the Irish Daily Star Chase.  That was won by Road To Respect, who confirmed what his trainer Noel Meade had probably suspected for a little while: that he can be trained as a Gold Cup horse this season.

There was a lot to like about the performance that the Gigginstown House horse put up.  He was only fifth best of the seven runners on official ratings.  He had to concede 2lb to Sub Lieutenant, who was rated 5lb superior to him, and he had to concede 10lb to Minella Rocco, who was rated 8lb superior to him.  So he was 7lb and 18lb respectively worse off with that pair than he would have been had Thursday’s race been a handicap.

As well as that, the ground at Punchestown on Thursday was probably softer than ideal for Road To Respect, and he does have a tendency to jump a little to his left, which was in evidence again on Thursday, and which is no good at right-handed Punchestown.

You can point to the flaws, that Minella Rocco probably didn’t run his race, that he only got home by a length and a half from Kilcarry Bridge, who is gallant but who is a 137-rated 10-year-old.  And that is all legitimate.  However, Road To Respect won fairly cosily from a race-fit rival, and he had higher-rated horses behind him, under circumstances that were less than ideal for him.  It was a fine performance.

Noel Meade’s horse should be even better when he gets onto some better ground, and he should be better going anti-clockwise.  Also, he is only six years old and he has raced just eight times now over fences.  He has buckets of scope for progression. 

There are two more positives in the context of a possible tilt at the Gold Cup, as well as the fact that Cheltenham goes the right way around for him, and the fact that the ground at the Festival is goodish more often than it is softish.  Firstly, he put up the best performance of his career to date when he ran out an impressive winner of the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at Cheltenham last March.  So we know that he can excel at Cheltenham and under Cheltenham Festival conditions.

And secondly, he is by the same sire as, and out of a half-sister to, Road To Riches, who finished third in the Gold Cup in 2015, also for Gigginstown House and Noel Meade.  So there is every chance that he will stay the Gold Cup distance.  He could even improve for it.

He can be trained as a Gold Cup horse this season.  It is not going to be easy, obviously, Gold Cups are not easily won, but it was mildly surprising that he was still available at as big as 25/1 for the Gold Cup on Thursday evening.

Nothing strange

Nothing strange about Michael Kinane riding for Aidan O’Brien, or Paul Carberry riding for Noel Meade, or Charlie Swan riding for JP McManus, or Arthur Moore riding for, well, Arthur Moore.  But all in the same race?  It must have been a special race.  (It wasn’t shortt on legends anyway.)  

Quote of the week

“He (the well-backed Ben Dundee) did a good piece of work at Tipperary and, well, someone must have seen it!”

Gordon Elliott

© The Irish Field, 21st October 2017