Things We Learned » Christmas Chase lived up to billing

Christmas Chase lived up to billing

The Leopardstown Christmas Chase lived up to its billing.  The finish may not have been contested by the expected horses, but it was still a thriller, and it was won by a young progressive horse who may not be finished progressing yet.

Yorkhill was too keen for his own good on his first attempt at three miles under Rules, and Sizing John just didn’t give his running.  This wasn’t the Sizing John that we know.  Robbie Power’s hands were niggling away a little as they raced up past the stands with a circuit to go, and that looked ominous.  Jessica Harrington’s horse just wasn’t himself, he had an off day, horses have them too you know, and he will surely bounce back.

It was still a top class performance by Road To Respect to win the race.  Trainer Noel Meade retained faith in his horse after his narrow defeat to Outlander in the Champion Chase at Down Royal, resisted the temptation to lower his sights or his distance.  He travelled so well at Down Royal.

The trainer said afterwards that it was Sean Flanagan’s idea to fit a hood for the first time, that the rider felt that it just might make his horse a little less buzzy through the early stages of the race, help him retain some energy for the later stages.  We will never know what effect the hood had, but certainly the Gigginstown House gelding settled better than he did at Down Royal.  That may have been down to the hood, it may have been down to experience.  Either way, he travelled smoothly.

He was given a fine ride too by Flanagan, who bided his time, crept and crept and delivered his horse with his challenge on the run to the last.  And the Gamut gelding was strong in the finish, Flanagan’s yellow cap leading home Denis O’Regan’s white cap on Balko Des Flos, with Rachael Blackmore’s blue cap on Outlander back in third, the trio clear in a sea of Gigginstown maroon. 

Gold Cup picture gets interesting

Road To Respect’s victory makes the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture even more interesting than it was beforehand.  A mere pixel in the Gold Cup picture before Thursday, Noel Meade’s horse is now a significant part of it.

He is a Grade 1 winner as a novice, and he won the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March doing handsprings, so we know that he can excel at Cheltenham and under Cheltenham Festival conditions.  Also, we know now that he can stay three miles in open Grade 1 company.

He will only be seven years old on Monday, he is still a young horse.  There could be even more to come.

Might Bite won the King George, but he was not overly impressive in so doing.  Bristol De Mai didn’t run his race, Fox Norton was beaten long before stamina ever became an issue, Whisper didn’t run his race, and Might Bite scrambled home by a length from Double Shuffle, an admirable performer but a fairly well exposed chaser who went into Tuesday’s race on a rating of 151.  That’s at least a stone below Gold Cup contender standard.

Might Bite appeared to be all out to get home in the King George in a slow-motion finish that was not dissimilar to One Man’s slow-motion finish in the King George at Sandown in 1996.  One Man was sent off the 11/8 faourite for the Gold Cup that year, and he eye-balled Imperial Call on the run down the hill, but he wilted on the run back up it.  He never got the extra two and a half furlongs up the hill. 

Might Bite has won an RSA Chase and a Mildmay Chase and now a King George, but he still has to prove that he can get three miles and two and a half furlongs, up to the top of the hill.

Sizing John has to bounce back now, and Yorkhill may drop down in trip, and Thistlecrack is probably not the horse that he was.

Coney Island comes into the reckoning though, very definitely.  So JP McManus’ horse achieved no more than he ought to have been achieving in winning a three-runner graduation chase at Ascot on Saturday, but he warmed to his task nicely for Barry Geraghty and he showed his pace when he closed the gap on Adrien Du Pont on the run around the home turn.  It was better than satisfactory from a horse who had been off the track for 12 months, and it was a fine training performance by Eddie Harty to get him back.

The Flemensfirth gelding obviously retains lots of ability, he is lightly-raced, he is classy, last season’s Drinmore Chase winner, and he is another young horse who has the potential to improve significantly.

And don’t forget Disko.  It will be interesting to see how Noel Meade and Gigginstown orchestrate the respective campaigns of Disko and Road To Respect now.  Meade said on Thursday that Road To Respect could go straight to Cheltenham, and that would make a lot of sense.  That would mean that Disko could contest the Irish Gold Cup in February, test his Gold Cup credentials there.  The picture continues to develop.

De Bromhead horses in top form 

Balko Des Flos ran a massive race in the Christmas Chase.  Always prominent, the Galway Plate winner ceded the lead to Yorkhill at the fifth fence, but he was back in front when Yorkhill made a mistake at the fifth last, and he battled back again for Denis O’Regan after he had been passed on the run-in, going down by just over a length.  This was much more like it after two defeats since his Galway Plate heroics.

The Balko gelding’s run was further evidence that Henry de Bromhead has his horses in top form now.  A 4,334/1 treble at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day was followed by Trainwreck’s win in the two-mile handicap hurdle on Wednesday and Surf Instructor’s win in the two-mile novices’ chase at Limerick on Thursday, with Philip Enright performing heroics after a mistake at the final fence almost dislodged him and did dislodge his feet from his irons.

There were also good runs from Big Nick and Celtic Rising and Judgement Day in defeat.  It has been a good week for the Waterford trainer.

Champion Chase picture muddied

The Champion Chase picture has been struggling for shape since Douvan was withdrawn from it.  Min did pass the post first in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase on Wednesday but, even before the stewards demoted him to second place, it was not an impressive performance.

Willie Mullins’ horse was keener than ideal through the early stages of the race.  But he is still young and inexperienced, so it may pay to retain faith in him.  He was not at his best.  He should have been beating Simply Ned, a horse who will be 11 on Monday and who was rated 9lb inferior.

Min is another young horse from whom there should be much more to come.  He is only rising seven and, second to Altior in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, injury curtailed his novice chasing campaign last term.  Wednesday’s run was just his fourth run over fences.  He is deserving of another chance.

Altior is no better than 6/4 now for the Champion Chase, but Nicky Henderson’s horse is still on the sidelines so, even though the bulletins are positive, you still have to tread warily. 

Yorkhill could drop in trip now, perhaps for the Ryanair Chase, perhaps even for the Champion Hurdle, but he could also be a Champion Chase horse.  Over two miles, you could allow him jump and run a little.

And Footpad would be an intriguing Champion Chase contender if he were to go down that route.  Of course, it is not Willie Mullins’ style to run a novice in open competition, but Footpad is so good, he would have a big chance in a Champion Chase.  He was a high-class hurdler and he is so fast and accurate at his fences that it is probable that he will be an even better chaser. 

Also, Footpad’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede have another ready-made Arkle candidate in Sceau Royal.  You never know. 

Respect and Riches

So, is Road To Respect a three-parts brother to Road To Riches, or is he his nephew?  And do horses have nephews?

Road To Respect’s dam is Lady Lora, whose dam is Bellora.  Bellora is also Road To Riches’ dam, so that makes Road To Riches a half-brother to Lady Lora, which makes him a half-uncle to Road To Respect (if horses can have half-uncles).

But Road To Respect’s sire is Gamut, who is also Road To Riches’ sire, so that makes them paternal half-brothers.  Add that to the maternal half-nephew element, and that must make them three-parts brothers. 

So, both.  Nephew and three-parts brother.

© The Irish Field, 30th December 2017