Things We Learned » So it begins

So it begins

So here we go, day one of the all-new Dublin Racing Festival.  Hold your breath.

What’s new?  Three days into two, that’s obviously new, all packaged up and bundled into a one-weekend-only gold-trimmed box and bursting with class.  The Grade 2 two-mile chase, that’s new, and its introduction has been rewarded with a cracker.  It gives us Min and Simply Ned and Special Tiara and all the intrigue that goes with Yorkhill’s return to two miles.

The Grade 2 Goffs Future Stars Bumper, that’s new.  The Grade 2 Coolmore NH Sires Mares’ Bumper, that’s also new.  That’s two bumpers and two mares’ races, with the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares’ Handicap Hurdle now carrying the name of the legendary Paddy Mullins, trainer of the greatest National Hunt mare of them all.

They have taken two furlongs from the Deloitte Hurdle and given them to the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Hurdle, which is now a Grade 1 race, not a Grade 2 (that’s new too).  Which means that, instead of having a Grade 1 novice hurdle run over two and a quarter miles and another Grade 1 novice hurdle run over two and a half miles, we now have one of them run over two miles and the other run over two and three quarter miles, and that all makes sense.

Forty-eight-hour declarations for Saturday, that was new too – we always have them for Sunday – and it was good to know on Thursday morning that Faugheen and Defi Du Seuil and Petit Mouchoir and Yorkhill and Min and Footpad were all definitely running today, and that Samcro was not.

What’s missing?  The hunters’ chase, which is a pity, the one that used to be the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters Chase, the one in which On The Fringe used to be a perennial.  A graded three-mile hurdle would also be an addition to the weekend, although that could detract from the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park just over a week earlier. 

A veterans’ chase or a two-and-a-half-mile hurdle or a mares’ chase? 

Maybe not.


Raiders are in short supply

It is a pity that there are not more British raiders than there are.  The Anglo-Irish rivalry usually adds an extra dimension to most things, not only for the ‘rivalry’, but also because it is only when the best horses from each jurisdiction compete that we can get an accurate picture of their relative abilities.

You can forgive the (would-be) raiders for not coming though.  This is a new event in its current guise, it will probably take a little while for the weekend to embed itself into British trainers’ psyches.  The best ones start with the Cheltenham Festival with their best horses and work back, they have their respective tried and tested and trusted routes to Prestbury Park in March.  For instance, it was never likely that Nicky Henderson was going to want Buveur D’Air to come over to Leopardstown today to take on Faugheen and Melon as long as Sandown Park was above water. 

It might take a year or two.

There is also the fact that, these days, Irish National Hunt horses are strong.  There have been 12 Irish-trained winners at the Cheltenham Festival six times in the last seven years, and there were 19 last March.  Over 67% of the races at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival were won by Irish-trained horses.  That’s massive.  You can understand why British trainers are reluctant to travel to play an away game.

It hasn’t been always thus.  The British-trained quartet Forgive ‘N Forget, Playschool, Nick The Brief and Jodami between them won seven of the first nine runnings of the Irish Gold Cup.  Nomadic Way and Royal Derbi and Collier Bay won three of the seven renewals of the Irish Champion Hurdle that were run between 1991 and 1996. 

These things tend to be cyclical.  British-trained horses won seven of the eight renewals of the Lexus Chase that were run between 2006 and 2013.  They won three out of four Punchestown Gold Cups between 2007 and 2010.  They won three out of six Irish Grand Nationals between 2004 and 2009.  The balance of power is tilted in Ireland’s favour for now but, as sure as eggs is eggs, that situation will not prevail indefinitely.  We should appreciate the upper hand while we have it.

Why not have a go?

Definitly Red was very good in winning the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham last Saturday, under a fine ride from Danny Cook.  The rider didn’t panic when American moved to the front, he just concentrated on keeping his horse in his rhythm.  Brian Ellison’s horse jumped well, he hit the front at the third last fence and he stayed on well over the final two fences to post an impressive victory.

You can understand why connections are keen to have a go at the Gold Cup.  That was probably the Definite Article gelding’s best performance ever, which was a step up on the performance that he put up to beat Cloudy Dream and Flying Angel at Aintree, which was probably a career-best before Saturday.

The stats are against him.  Gold Cup winners tend to be younger than Cotswold Chase winners for starters.  The last five Gold Cup winners were aged, respectively, eight, eight, eight, nine and seven, whereas 10 of the last 11 Cotswold Chase winners were aged nine or 10.  Also, no Cotswold Chase winner has won the Gold Cup since Looks Like Trouble won it in 2000. 

And, while Definitly Red has form on good ground and on good to soft ground, his last two races, the races in which he probably put up the two best performances of his life, were run on heavy ground.  And, while he has won twice at Cheltenham now, his record at the Festival reads 7PF.

That said, Cotswold Chase winners Exotic Dancer and The Giant Bolster were both placed in the Gold Cup in recent years, and you could see Definitly Red running a big race, especially if the ground happened to come up soft.  He is progressive, even at the age of nine, and a new official rating of 167 puts him in the ballpark, just 3lb behind Sizing John, just 2lb behind Might Bite. 

Why not have a go?

Solerina and Limestone Lad remembered

Last weekend was a significant weekend for the Bowe family, with the Grade 3 Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle run at Fairyhouse on Saturday and the Grade 3 Limestone Lad Hurdle run at Naas Sunday. 

It could also be a significant weekend for Sullivan Bloodstock, owners of the two winners Laurina and Sandsend. 

The two winners have lots in common.  Both raced in the Sullivan Bloodstock colours, both are trained by Willie Mullins, and both were ridden to victory at the weekend by Paul Townend.  Also, both horses are five years old, both are French imports, and the two of them were racing for the second time for their current connections at the weekend.  Both horses are exciting prospects, and it may be that we will be hearing much more about the pair of them as the season develops further.

Thought for the week

If any horse had run Lasix-free in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Saturday evening, he or she would have received a 7lb weight concession from his or her rivals.  The allowance was increased from 5lb last year.  Yet no horse did.  Not one.  All 12 sets of connections chose to race with Lasix.  Difficult to argue then that it doesn’t enhance performance isn’t it?

© The Irish Field, 3rd February 2018