Things We Learned » End of an era

End of an era

It was sad to learn on Tuesday of the death of Alan Potts.  The National Hunt racing scene will be a different scene without him, that’s for sure.

It was in December 2004 that the owner first phoned Henry de Bromhead, and so began a relationship that was to make an indelible mark on the National Hunt scene over the course of the decade that followed.  Alan Potts came over to Ireland that Easter, just before the 2004 Irish Grand National, and together he and his new trainer toured the country and bought 14 horses.  One of the 14, of course, was Sizing Europe, bought from the Bleahens in Galway.

Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of Sizing Europe’s win in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.  He and Timmy Murphy came home four lengths clear of Osana that day on one of the wettest days on which they raced at Cheltenham in living memory (or thereabouts).

You know the Sizing Europe story by now: won the  Irish Champion Hurdle in January 2008, probably would have won the Champion Hurdle the following March had his back not gone on the run down the hill.  Went back to Cheltenham in 2010 and won the Arkle, went back in 2011 and won the Champion Chase, went back in 2011 and may have won the Champion Chase again had he and Finian’s Rainbow not had to circumnavigate the final fence instead of jumping over it.  Won eight Grade 1 races in total, including the Champion Chase at Punchestown in 2014 when he was 12 years old.

But the Potts/de Bromhead axis was not only about Sizing Europe.  Sizing John won the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle and finished second behind Douvan in the Arkle and third behind Douvan in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Sizing Granite won the Grade 1 Maghull Chase, Shanahan’s Turn won the Galway Plate.

Last season was an unbelievable season for Ann and Alan Potts.  With the lion’s share of his Irish team in the hands of Jessica Harrington, and his British team under the direction of Colin Tizzard, Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar and Pingshou all won Grade 1 contests, while Supasundae and Sizing Codelco and Viconte De Noyer and Sizing Granite also registered big wins.  And the whole season was obviously crowned by Sizing John, who won the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, before coming back to Ireland in April and landing the Punchestown Gold Cup in a thriller.

The sudden death of Alan Potts is all the more poignant, coming, as it does, less than three months after the death of his wife Ann.  It is the end of an era.


Might will have to step up again

There were plenty of positives to be taken from Might Bite’s seasonal debut in the Future Stars Intermediate Chase at Sandown on Sunday.

For starters, his jumping was very good.  He travelled and jumped like a good horse, he came away from Frodon from the second last fence, and there was no issue with the Sandown hill, not like the issue that there was with the Cheltenham hill last March.  He came up it as if he was engine-propelled. 

It was not surprising that the bookmakers took the opportunity to shorten Nicky Henderson’s horse’s odds for both the King George and the Gold Cup on the back of that run but, really, besides the fact that he behaved impeccably, he did no more than he was entitled to do.  Runner-up Frodon was rated 152 going into the race, Might Bite was rated 162, they met on level terms and Might Bite won by eight lengths.  That all makes sense, you would have expected a margin of that magnitude.  Label Des Obeaux and As De Mee were both in receipt of 8lb, but the former didn’t jump well enough and the latter faded over the last two fences.  

Also, the time that Might Bite clocked was slower than the time that Houblon Des Obeaux clocked in winning the veterans’ chase run over the same course and distance 70 minutes later.  Admittedly (despite the claim on the gable end of the old stand at The Curragh, and paraphrasing) times do not disclose all, and Might Bite was eased down on the run-in while Houblon Des Obeaux had to be ridden out to the line to get home by a half a length.  However, the two horses carried similar weights and the older horse was almost a second and a half faster. 

Houblon Des Obeaux is a 10-year-old who is fully exposed, he has raced 33 times over fences, and he is rated 141.  Of course, Might Bite should be able to step up on Sunday’s run, he was making his seasonal debut and it was just his eighth run over fences, but he is probably going to have to.


Footpad was foot-perfect 

Footpad was all the rage after he won on his chasing bow at Navan on Sunday.  Quotes of 14/1 and 16/1 for the Arkle quickly dissolved, and you will not get much better than 6/1 now.

You can understand the attraction.  Willie Mullins’ horse was seriously impressive.  His jumping for Daryl Jacob was foot-perfect throughout, and his jump at the final fence, when he should have been getting tired, was superb.  He beat Brelade by 11 lengths, and Brelade was a high-class novice hurdler last season, he finished second in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novices’ Hurdle last December.  Also, Gordon Elliott’s horse had already run twice over fences before Sunday, so he had race fitness and chasing experience on his side.

Footpad was a classy hurdler himself.  As a juvenile, he won the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle and finished third in the Triumph Hurdle, and last year he finished fourth in the Champion Hurdle as a five-year-old. 

It is interesting to compare Footpad with Petit Mouchoir.  Footpad finished behind the Gigginstown House horse in the Ryanair Hurdle, the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle last season.  He is rated 3lb lower than Petit Mouchoir over hurdles, and Petit Mouchoir was also impressive in winning on his chasing bow at Punchestown.  Actually, on a line through Brelade, who finished second to both horses in their respective beginners’ chases, there is very little between Footpad and Petit Mouchoir over fences too.

Also, remember that Footpad has stamina too.  He won the Grade 1 Prix Alain du Breil over almost two and a half miles in France as a four-year-old, and he finished third behind Unowhatimeanharry and Nichols Canyon in the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at Punchestown in April.  He has the option to step up in trip over fences.

It is a pity that Petit Mouchoir has reportedly had a slight setback and will probably not be racing again now until the new year.  Perhaps that explains why he is available at twice Footpad’s odds for the Arkle.


Clouding the issue

It is never ideal when a sponsor is the sole identifier of a race, when the sponsor’s name replaces the race name, or is given to a race in the absence of a race name that will out-live an ephemeral sponsor.  And, let’s face it, all sponsors are transient.  The demise of the Hennessy Gold Cup was the final proof of that.

We have been here before, races and race names are the stepping stones through the season, the landmarks by which we can navigate the journey through the year.  Take them away, and you lose part of your navigation system.  

We were presented with another reason on Monday, when Cloudy Dream was confirmed in error for the three-and-a-half-mile handicap chase today, the Handicap Chase, instead of for his intended target, the two-and-a-half-mile chase, the BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase.

Of course, it was an error, but you can see how the error could have been made.  And there was a BetVictor Handicap Chase at Cheltenham yesterday, a two-mile contest.  You try to remember which, the Handicap Chase or the BetVictor Handicap Chase, is the three-and-a-half-mile race and which is the two-mile race without looking up race conditions.

These races need permanent names to which sponsors can attach their brand.  Surely the attachment to an event name of a brand is the true purpose of a sponsorship anyway, not the replacement of it by a brand. 

Faugheen returns

It is difficult to believe that it is almost 22 months since we last saw Faugheen race.  Just one more day to wait now.  Fingers crossed.

© The Irish Field, 18th November 2017