Things We Learned » Some day Down Under

Some day Down Under

Where to start with Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup?  Maybe start at the start of the day, when your alarm went off at 3.50am (whose day starts at 3.50am?) and you thought about turning over and resuming your sub-conscious meanderings. 

If you had, you would have missed sharing in a little piece of Irish racing history as it unfolded, quite incredibly, on the other side of the globe but right in front of your eyes.

Rekindling’s win was remarkable on lots of levels.  The youngest horse to win the Melbourne Cup since the three-year-old Skipton won it in 1941; the first horse to win it on his Australian debut since 1993, when the Dermot Weld-trained Vintage Crop became the first Northern Hemisphere horse to win it; Joseph O’Brien the youngest trainer to win it ever; a son-father 1-2; an Irish 1-2-3.

From a parochial point of view, the remarkableness of it was the Irishness of it all.  It was some training performance by Joseph O’Brien, to send a horse to Australia, a mere three-and-a-half-year-old, on his seventh run of the year, a year in which he won the Ballysax Stakes and the Curragh Cup and in which he ran in the Derby and the St Leger, and win the Melbourne Cup. 

Of course, Joseph’s achievement trumped his father Aidan’s achievement in sending Johannes Vermeer out to finish second, and what Willie Mullins accomplished in sending Max Dynamite back again to finish third, but they were massive training performances too and, as a collective, an Irish-trained 1-2-3 was unprecedented.

It could have been an Irish 1-2-3-4 had The Magic Man Joao Moreira – Thomas Hobson’s intended partner – not got injured in an earlier race and ceded the ride to Ben Allen.  Willie Mullins’ horse ran a cracking race to finish sixth from a poor draw and with a wide run through the race.  With a better run, it is not outlandish to suggest that he could have reached the first four.

The Melbourne Cup is not a race that the Northern Hemisphere horses can’t win any more but, before Tuesday morning, the fact remained that only two Irish-trained horses, Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle, and one Irish trainer, Dermot Weld, had won it.  It had been 15 years since the previous Irish win in the race, and 24 years since the one before that, the first Northern Hemisphere win.

Joseph O’Brien was born the year that Vintage Crop won it.  That’s remarkable too.

Melbourne Cup fall out

It is understandable that reaction after the race appeared to be that the Melbourne Cup is turning into a Northern Hemisphere benefit gig.  Nine of the first 11 home in Tuesday’s race came form north of the equator, and that kind of result will invariably elicit that kind of reaction.  All nine were European: five Irish, two British, one German, one French.

“A race that by-passes a nation,” wrote Greg Baum in The Age.  “More than half the field were bred and trained (outside of) Australasia.”

You can understand why European horses have got stronger in the Melbourne Cup in recent years.  There is a stronger programme for staying-type horses here than there is in Australia and, now that transport and quarantine are not as difficult as they were when Dermot Weld first investigated the possibility of making the trip, more European horses are travelling and more European horses are running to form.

Ideally there is a balance to be struck.  It’s like any big race or any big race meeting here, you want the visitors to come, and you want them to have some degree of success in order that they will continue to come, but you don’t want them to dominate.

The British love to see the Irish coming to Cheltenham, for example, but they don’t like to see them head off with too many prizes.  The Ascot executive go out of their way to attract the internationals, the Irish go out of their way to attract foreign runners to the big festivals. 

The raiders’ domination of the Melbourne Cup this year was unprecedented, but perhaps it was more a blip than part of a trend.  The fact remains that, in the last 10 years, including this year, only four Melbourne Cup winners came from the Northern Hemisphere (two from Ireland, one from France, one from Germany), while 16 of the 30 places were filled by Northern Hemisphere horses, 14 were Antipodean.  And still no British-trained horse has managed to win it.

It is very different to the pre-1993 era, when it was universally acknowledged that it would be nigh impossible for a northern raider to win the race that stops one nation and gets another nation up in the middle of the night these days.  But the world is a smaller place now.  Four out of 10 could be the new norm.

Perhaps it’s cyclical.  A lot of these things are.  It is not too long ago that we couldn’t win our own Derby.  In the 10 years that ran between 1986 and 1995, the only Irish-trained winner of the Irish Derby was the Jim Bolger-trained St Jovite.  By contrast, in the 18 renewals since the turn of the millennium, Hurricane Run is the only victorious raider.

Big guns mis-fire

Last Saturday’s Charlie Hall Chase, which was billed as a match between Coneygree and Cue Card, resulted in victory for neither.  Neither horse even reached the home straight.  It would have been like neither Borg nor McEnroe getting to the final.

It is difficult to know what to make of the performances of the big two, and where they go from here. It might have been the low sun that caused Coneygree to make that mistake at the ditch, and it might have been the low sun that was influential in Cue Card’s fall, but it might not have been.  Nobody knows for certain, not even Nico de Boinville or Paddy Brennan.

You can allow a horse a disappointing run after he has suffered an over-reach, and fair play to de Boinville for pulling Coneygree up early.  The horse just wasn’t travelling.  Better to preserve than to persevere. 

Coneygree is 10 now, he will be 11 in January and, while he does not have many miles on the clock – he has only raced eight times over fences and just 14 times in total – he is not on an upward curve.  He is fragile, and it will be some training performance by the Bradstocks if they can get him back even close to the level at which he was when he beat Djakadam in the Gold Cup.

Cue Card is a year older, he is 11 rising 12, and he has been some National Hunt racehorse.  It is remarkable to think that he won the Cheltenham Bumper as a four-year-old in 2010.  He is still the last four-year-old to win it.  Big Zeb won the Champion Chase that day, Weapon’s Amnesty won the RSA Chase.  That’s how long ago 2010 is.

Colin Tizzard’s horse is an unbelievable racehorse, he has had some massive days, his King George, his Betfred Bowl, his Ryanair Chase, his three Betfair Chases.  It will not be surprising if his trainer has him set and ready to go again at Haydock in two weeks’ time, it is his race, but it will be surprising if he can beat Sizing John and Bristol De Mai in it.

McInerney still big value

Donie McInerney hardly broke stride when his claim was reduced from 7lb to 5lb after he rode Granny Biddy to victory in the handicap hurdle at Cork on Sunday.  He just went to Thurles on Thursday and kicked The Kings Baby home in the mares’ handicap hurdle.

It has been some season so far for McInerney.  Four winners in the last two weeks has propelled him to 20, and sees him sit joint ninth in the jockeys’ championship.  He has formed a thriving alliance with Enda Bolger, but he has ridden winners for 13 different trainers.

The rider’s confidence was very much in evidence when he rode Ballyoisin to a no-fuss victory in a good handicap chase at Cork last month, and you know that he can drive one home.  His claim may be 2lb lower than it was a week ago, but he is still big value for 5lb.

Harsh on Brennan

Owners pay the bills and trainers train the horses and together they call the shots, with varying levels of audibility, but the severing of the Paddy Brennan/Cue Card alliance does not make a lot of sense on the face of it.

Brennan has ridden Cue Card in every one of his 13 races since the start of the 2015/16 season.  Their record together reads: 111F143121F2F.  They have won six of their 10 completed races, finished second in two and third in one.  They have won two Betfair Chases, a Betfred Bowl, an Ascot Chase, a Charlie Hall Chase and, of course, a famous King George.

You have to feel for Brennan.  Perhaps it is the two Fs in the last three races that have been the deciding factor, but it is very harsh to blame the rider for those two falls.  Perhaps Harry Cobden’s fresh hands will rejuvenate Cue Card, but it is more likely that Jean Bishop’s stalwart is just not as good now as a near-12-year-old as he was as a near-10-year-old and near-11-year-old.

© The Irish Field, 11th November 2017