Things We Learned » Anticipation heightened

Anticipation heightened

It was difficult to escape the Dublin Racing Festival this week, but that’s not a bad thing.

It’s a good thing actually.  It could be a very good thing, because it looks like just about every high-class Irish National Hunt racehorse who is sound and well and ready to run will be lining up at a starting gate on some part of Leopardstown’s racetrack, at some point in time over the course of Dublin Racing Festival weekend.  Three Sundays at Leopardstown cashed in and amalgamated and, hocus pocus, merged into one weekend, one Saturday and one Sunday and no break in between. 

It’s two for the price of three, but it’s actually a great deal.

The media mornings during the week with Willie Mullins, Noel Meade, Gavin Cromwell, Jessica Harrington, Henry de Bromhead, Gordon Elliott’s assistant trainer Davy Condon and owner Chris Jones served to heighten the anticipation nicely.

There’s the ‘Festival’ thing for starters.  Isn’t this the way that things are going?  The bigger getting bigger and in order to compete you have to be big yourself?

There was a sense that the three Sundays at Leopardstown in January and February, Coral Hurdle day and BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle day and Unibet Irish Gold Cup day, were getting frayed and were getting a little lost in among the Six Nations and the National Football League and the National Hurling League and the Premier League and the Champions’ League and the Champions’ Cup and the weather. 

Now, there is certainty.  The first weekend in February, Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th this year.  That’s all you need to know.  All the races are on those days.  Those three feature races as well as the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle and the Lacy & Partners Novice Hurdle and the Deloitte Hurdle – run over two miles this year, not two and a quarter – and the Flogas Chase and the others.

There is also the ‘timing’ thing.  There was always a sense that the Irish Champion Hurdle was a little closer than ideal to Christmas, and that the Irish Gold Cup was a little closer than ideal to Cheltenham.  It may not have been only down to the timing, but last year Sizing John became the first horse since Imperial Call in 1996 to win the Irish Gold Cup, then go to Cheltenham and win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.  Their relative proximity may not have helped.  An extra week could help a lot. 

These are good dates.  It should be some weekend.

Information aplenty

The forthcomingness (it’s a word okay?) of everybody involved in the Dublin Racing Festival media mingles was as refreshing as it was educational. 

You’ve probably read or heard the headline bits by now: Yorkhill dropping down to two miles, optimistic about Faugheen, optimistic about Douvan.  Supasundae running in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle over two miles, then the Stayers’ Hurdle.  Sizing John going straight to Cheltenham, Samcro healthy and well and worked nicely with Rapid Escape, who also looked good.  Road To Respect being trained with the Irish Gold Cup in mind, a race from which his stable companion Disko was ruled out with a hock injury.  He should be back in time for Cheltenham though.  Our Duke on track for the Irish Gold Cup, Espoir D’Allen good and ready for the next step. 

A few other bits that were interesting and which may have gone under the headlines.  Farclas should come on for his run behind Espoir D’Allen at Leopardstown, his first run for Gordon Elliott, and he could get closer to Gavin Cromwell’s horse in the Spring Hurdle.

The unraced Jessica Harrington-trained Exit Poll appeared to work well with his stable companions Supasundae and Jezki and point-to-point winner Whisperinthebreeze.  Monalee is happy again after that mother and father of a fall that he had at Leopardstown.  Petit Mouchoir is happy and progressing again towards the Irish Arkle. 

Mick Jazz is well and all set for the Irish Champion Hurdle, in which Buveur D’Air was a surprising entry.  Samcro is more likely to go for the two-mile-six-furlong novices’ hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival than for the two-mile contest.

Stormy Ireland could be anything.  But we knew that.  

Don’t under-estimate Phoenix

There is a chance that the performance that Doctor Phoenix put up in winning the Dan Moore Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse on Sunday will be under-rated.

You can see why it might be.  Polidam didn’t run, Acapella Bourgeois broke a blood vessel, Townshend was a beaten horse when he unseated at the second last, and the winner was chased home by two 20/1 shots.  The first five home were aged in double figures and, of the five, only the winner was sent off at an SP that was lower than 16/1. 

Put that with the fact that Doctor Phoenix was bought for just £10,000 at Doncaster last May by Gordon Elliott and Aidan (Mouse) O’Ryan, and you could easily assume that the race may not have amounted to much.

But that may be an inaccurate assumption.  The Gordon Elliott-trained gelding travelled like a good horse through his race.  Under a typically cool ride by Davy Russell, he was still last of the 10 runners as they raced to the fourth last fence.  He moved up among horses at the third last, but he was still no better than seventh as they rounded the home turn.  Moved to the inside by his rider, he jumped into third place at the second last fence, hit the front between the last two and careered away over the last and up the run-in to post a really impressive victory. 

You can only ever beat what they put in front of you, and Doctor Phoenix could not have done any more than he did.  He could not have been more impressive visually than he was.

Also, the three horses who chased him home all raced prominently.  The winner was the only one who got into the race from the rear.  And the winning time was good, it was the fastest comparative time on the day by a fair way, and it was over eight seconds faster than the time that Grade 1-winning hurdler Saturnas clocked in winning the beginners’ chase that was run over the same course and distance a half an hour later.

The handicapper raised the Dr Massini gelding’s rating by 9lb to a mark of 155.  That may seem high enough, he is 10 years old, but Sunday’s run was just his fourth run for Gordon Elliott, it was his second win, and you can allow him his defeat behind Nearly Nama’d on his previous run as he made a bad mistake early on that day which effectively ended his chance.  A four-time winner in Britain, the Nick Bradley Racing Club’s horse still has scope for progression for his new trainer, and the form of his Cork win from De Benno and Just Get Cracking and the afore-mentioned Nearly Nama’d looks even stronger now than it did at the time.

A fast-run race over two miles appears to suit him well.  So, while his best form is on soft ground, he would still be an interesting contender for the Grand Annual at Cheltenham or the Red Rum Chase at Aintree if connections choose to continue down the handicap route.

Aintree is late

Aintree is late this year.   It starts on 12th April.  That’s 27 days after Cheltenham finishes, almost four weeks, which gives the Cheltenham horses a fighting chance for replenishment and ready to go again.

It does mean, however, that Aintree gets very close to Punchestown.  Aintree finishes on 14th April and Punchestown starts on 24th April.  That’s just 10 days.

When Sprinter Sacre completed his Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown hat-trick in 2013, he had 23 days between the Champion Chase and the Melling Chase, and he had 18 days between the Melling Chase and the Champion Chase at Punchestown.  When Finian’s Oscar won the Mersey Hurdle at Aintree last year and almost won the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, he had 20 days between the two races.

It may be that it will be Aintree or Punchestown this year, not Aintree and Punchestown.

Thought for the week 

Some wedding present, a treble at Kempton. 

© The Irish Field, 20th January 2018