Things We Learned » Tent win was special

Tent win was special

My Tent Or Yours’ victory in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday was right out of a storybook.  It was a good-news story, coming, as it did, just over an hour after Starchitect’s desperate fatal injury in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.

My Tent Or Yours is a 10-year-old, almost 11, whose best days were almost certainly behind him.  One of the best novice hurdlers of 2012/13, he missed all of 2014/15 and most of 2015/16 through injury, and he hadn’t won a race since he won a jumpers’ bumper at Kempton in February 2014.

In the interim, however, JP McManus’ horse had finished second in three Champion Hurdles and in two Aintree Hurdles.  Just three horses had beaten him in those five races: two of them – Buveur D’Air and Jezki – were also owned by JP McManus, and one of them was Annie Power.

Remarkably, the Nicky Henderson-trained gelding had never won at Cheltenham before Saturday.  Five times he had lined up there, and he had finished second on all five occasions.  There’s the storybook again.  He finished second in three Champion Hurdles, in a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and in last year’s International Hurdle, when he was beaten by The New One.  On Saturday, under a perfectly-judged ride from Barry Geraghty, he exacted his revenge.

Melon enhanced his reputation

The horse to take out of the International Hurdle, however, with an eye on the future was Melon.  Willie Mullins’ horse may have been beaten, he may have only finished third, but, unusually for a beaten favourite, he enhanced his reputation in defeat.

A couple of things to remember about Melon.  Firstly, he is only five, and he was racing on Saturday for just the fifth time in his life over hurdles.  He still has lots to learn about racing over hurdles in top competition, he still has lots of potential for progression. 

Secondly, he was racing in open competition over hurdles for the first time in his life on Saturday.  Last season, he raced only against fellow novices, and the Grade 2 hurdle that he won at Down Royal on his debut this season was a graduation hurdle.  On Saturday he was thrown into deep waters, and it was a true test, with The New One and My Tent Or Yours bringing top two-mile championship-level form into the race.

Thirdly, Melon’s official rating of 154 going into Saturday’s race meant that he was rated inferior to The New One and My Tent Or Yours by 9lb and 8lb respectively.  Yet he was meeting The New One on level terms and he was giving My Tent Or Yours 6lb.

As well as that, he did not have the run of the race.  He was keener than ideal through the early stages, he expended energy unnecessarily.  And while he had an inside run around the home turn, that left him out in the centre of the track up the home straight, away from the stands rail, from which it is probable that a significant advantage is derived at Cheltenham when the ground is soft.  And after all that, he was beaten a total of just over two lengths. 

The handicapper raised Melon’s rating by 5lb to a mark of 159, which leaves him just 3lb behind My Tent Or Yours and just 4lb behind The New One.  That puts him in Champion Hurdle territory.  And there should still be more to come.

Destination further strengthens bumper form

Next Destination looked very good in winning the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle on Sunday.  Okay, so there was no Samcro, but the opposition was still strong, headed by Cracking Smart.  Yet Next Destination ran out a really impressive winner and clocked a good time.

The ease with which he came back on the bridle for David Mullins after making a significant error at the third last flight suggests that he is high class.  He could have folded after a mistake like that.  Many do.

The Navan Novice Hurdle has a seriously impressive roll of honour, and Next Destination has lots of options now.  Even though he won his bumper over two miles on New Year’s Day last January, he shapes like a stayer with pace, and his future probably lies over Sunday’s distance of two and a half miles or further. 

Next Destination’s victory further enhances the form of last season’s Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.  Malcolm Denmark’s horse was fourth in the Champion Bumper, one place behind Claimantakinforgan, who won on his debut over hurdles at Newbury last month, and one place in front of Western Ryder, who has now won both his completed races over hurdles.  It just makes Champion Bumper heroine Fayonagh’s demise all the more lamentable.

Debuchet, who finished second at Cheltenham, ran out an easy winner of a listed bumper at Limerick in April.  Mags Mullins’ horse hasn’t run since, but he could make his debut over hurdles over Christmas, at Leopardstown or Limerick.  It could be very interesting to monitor his progress now.

Tiger run was encouraging

Tiger Roll only finished fifth in the cross-country chase at Cheltenham last Friday, but he ran a really encouraging race.

Gordon Elliott’s horse was beaten 42 lengths in the end by the winner, his stable companion Bless The Wings, but, racing in rear, he warmed to the obstacles nicely for Keith Donoghue, and he probably would have been a fair bit closer had he not made a momentum-halting error at the Aintree fence.

More importantly, this was the Gigginstown House horse’s first run over any cross-country course, Cheltenham or Punchestown or further afield, and he acquitted himself well.  We know how difficult it is for horses to win or even run well on their first attempt at a cross-country track.  It is not a coincidence that these races tend to nurture specialists.

There are lots of similarities between Tiger Roll this season and Cause Of Causes last season.  Both trained by Gordon Elliott, both high-class staying chasers, one seven rising eight years old, the other eight rising nine.

When Cause Of Causes made his debut at Cheltenham’s cross-country track in January last year, he carried 11st 6lb, the same weight as Tiger Roll carried on Friday.  And he finished fifth, like Tiger Roll did, 43 lengths behind the winner Urgent De Gregaine.  So just one length further back than Tiger Roll.  Then on his next run, Cause Of Causes won the cross-country chase at the Cheltenham Festival. 

While Tiger Roll was beaten more or less the same distance in the end as Cause Of Causes was beaten in January, he seemed to be more fluent over his obstacles on Friday than Cause Of Causes was.  Also, he is rated 151, he should be one of the higher-rated horses in the cross-country chase at the Festival, if he lines up in that race.  Cause Of Causes was rated 142 last March, he met the second and third in the Festival race, Bless The Wings and Cantlow, on 10lb worse terms than would have been the case if the race had still been a handicap.

Also, both horses excel at Cheltenham, specifically at the Cheltenham Festival.   In five runs at the Festival, Cause Of Causes has finished second in a Kim Muir, and he has won a National Hunt Chase, a Kim Muir and a Cross-Country Chase.  In three runs at the Festival, Tiger Roll has won a Triumph Hurdle and a National Hunt Chase.

Of course, Cause Of Causes still sets the Cross-Country standard, and Tiger Roll has other options at the Festival.  Not many bookmakers have priced him up for the Cross-Country Chase, but if the race that is run over banks and hedges and cheese wedges does emerge as his Festival target, he could be a real player in it.

Noel was a man of integrity

I first encountered Noel O’Brien when I was a racing freshman, trying to figure it out, trying to find my feet.  Instantly I was made to feel at ease.

That was Noel’s way.  Friendly and warm, generous with his time.  Nothing was ever too much trouble.  You only have to look at the outpouring of grief this week to realise how popular he was, how many lives he impacted.  It is difficult to over-estimate the fondness with which he will be remembered.

He was a man who was at ease: at ease with people, at ease with racing, at ease with life. 

He was at ease with his profession, comfortable with the breadth and depth of his knowledge, always capable of, and proficient at, justifying a position.  Instantaneously he had the rationale, the building blocks upon which his opinion was founded. 

His knowledge of racing was forensic, yet he never foisted his opinion upon you.  At the same time, he always had time to share his opinion when asked, he always had time to talk at the races, always had time for a telephone call, a lengthy one if necessity dictated. 

He was a gentleman, he was a man of integrity.  It is difficult to believe that he is no longer with us.

© The Irish Field, 23rd December 2017