Things We Learned » Dublin Racing Festival

Dublin Racing Festival

The Dublin Racing Festival was wall to wall, top notch from the

throw-in, when the tapes went up on the Lacy & Partners Novice Hurdle at 10 minutes past one on Saturday, to the final whistle on Sunday, when Katie Walsh booted Relegate home.

The weekend had lots of different ingredients.  Top class performances and thrilling finishes and unlikely heroes and fairytale endings. 

There were no cup-of-tea races, no races during which you were happy to go off for a sandwich while keeping just one eye on the television screen in the corner.  Fifteen races, seven on Saturday and eight on Sunday, and all of them mattered. 

The quality was both high and deep.  The vast majority of Irish National Hunt horses that you wanted to see compete over the course of the weekend took their respective places on their respective starting grids.  For that, trainers and owners should be commended.  People got behind the concept to make the weekend the success that it was and, consequently, the level of competition was intense. 

You can lament the dearth of foreign raiders if you want, but when you get down to it, there was only a finite number of British-trained horses who would have enhanced the weekend.  Buveur D’Air in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle for sure.  Apple’s Shakira or We Have A Dream in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Hurdle maybe.  Chef Des Obeaux or Santini in the Lacy & Partners Hurdle, Might Bite or Native River in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup.  For varying reasons, though, none of them were really ever likely travellers.

Altior or Politologue or Fox Norton in the Coral Dublin Chase.  Maybe one or two of them could have come over to Leopardstown last weekend instead of taking each other on in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury today.  Maybe that will happen in future years, similar-type horses will travel, especially if the Dublin Chase gets upgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 1, and it is surely only a matter of time before that happens.

The atmosephere was great and the weather complied and the attendance was more than satisfactory, over 26,000 over the course of the two days.  And remember, this was the inaugural event.  As beginnings go, it couldn’t have been much better.

Edwulf shades it

It is difficult to pick a highlight out of the weekend, a weekend that was replete with highlights, but Edwulf probably just shades it.

The Edwulf story is as unlikely as it is fascinating.  It is an all-round feel-good story.  This is the horse who fell three times in his first six races, once in a point-to-point, once over hurdles and once over fences.  The horse whose record last season, his first with Joseph O’Brien’s name in the trainer’s column, read 3U21F1 before he went to Cheltenham and was sent off as near favourite for the National Hunt Chase.  He travelled like a likely winner in that race too, he moved up threateningly on the outside of Tiger Roll as they raced around the home turn before disaster struck. 

Vet Liam Kearns told the Racing Post during the week that the horse lay on the ground on the run-in at Cheltenham for about 40 minutes, suffering from oxygen deprivation and heat stress, and that, when a horse is down for that long, it is unusual for him to get up.

You could see what it all meant to owner JP McManus in the winner’s enclosure on Sunday.  JP has seen his colours carried to victory in one or two Grade 1 races in the past, but this one appeared to be up there with the best of them.  He paid tribute to all the people who helped save his horse, Gerry Kelly and the veterinarian team at Cheltenham, Joseph O’Brien and John Halley and Sarah O’Brien, who carried buckets of water.  The objective appeared to be to save the horse so that he could enjoy a comfortable and a happy retirement.  To win a Grade 1 race, to win an Irish Gold Cup, looked a shade bigger at the time than the 33/1 at which he was returned on Sunday.

It was some training feat by Joseph O’Brien, to get the horse back, even to have the audacity to run him in the Irish Gold Cup in the first place.  Not only was he the apparent third in of the three JP McManus horses in the race, he was the outsider of the entire field.  Actually, he was the highest-priced winner of the weekend, twice as high as the next highest.

Interestingly, Joseph O’Brien won two of the seven Grade 1 races over the course of the weekend – Tower Bridge in the curtain-raiser on Saturday was the other – his first two National Hunt Grade 1 victories, and both horses were sent off as the outsiders of their respective fields.  Even Rekindling was sixth favourite.

It is often the case that, when a 33/1 shot wins a Grade 1 race, he does not get the recognition that he deserves, and this may be the case with Edwulf.  This was a high-class performance by Edwulf.  Under a characteristically cool ride by the top class Derek O’Connor, who himself was riding his first Grade 1 winner under Rules, the Kayf Tara gelding travelled and jumped really well through his race and he didn’t arrive there until his rider needed him on the run to the final fence.

The general consensus afterwards was that Killultagh Vic would have won had he not fallen at the final fence, but that may be an over-simplistic view.  Edwulf travelled as least as well as Willie Mullins’ horse from the second last to the last, and it is not certain that he wouldn’t have won anyway.

Of course, anything that Edwulf achieves after this is a bonus – even this was a bonus – but he could be a bigger player in the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture than current odds of 25/1 suggest.

Footpad v Petit Mouchoir was compelling

The Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase was compelling.  Footpad was superb again in winning the race, Willie Mullins’ horse’s jumping was superb again under Paul Townend, accurate and efficient, and it never really looked like Petit Mouchoir was going to get to him.

That said, Henry de Bromhead’s horse ran a big race to get as close to the winner as he did.  He was not great at the first fence, he stumbled a bit on landing, and he was decidedly poor at the second.  He could easily have fallen.

After that, he settled into a nice rhythm down the back straight for Davy Russell, his jumping was good and he gave Footpad a race.  He got to within five lengths of the admittedly-eased-down winner, he was clear of the other two finishers, and the winning time was very good. 

Footpad sets a high standard in the Arkle at Cheltenham, but Petit Mouchoir could be his biggest danger there again.  This was the Gigginstown House horse’s first run since last October and, with this run under his belt and hopefully without the mistake that he made at the second fence, he could get closer to Footpad.  Chasing is a different discipline of course, but remember that, on the three occasions on which they met over hurdles, including in last year’s Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, it was Petit Mouchoir who came out on top. 

Good weekend for Mullins

It was a very good weekend for Willie Mullins. The champion trainer sent out the winners of seven of the 15 races, four of the seven on Saturday and three of the eight on Sunday.  He landed two of the seven Grade 1 races and, in the five that he didn’t win, he had either the second or the third, or the second and third. 

The net result was that the deficit between Mullins and Gordon Elliott in the trainer’s championship was reduced from over €600,000 to just over €250,000, and the competition is on again.  (Not that it ever really wasn’t.)

Sundae was supa 

Other highlights?  Supasundae’s win in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle was obviously one.

Jessica Harrington told us a long time ago that she was going to allow her horse take his chance in the Irish Champion Hurdle, that he as going to drop back down to two miles for the first time since he finished second behind Sutton Place in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas over a year ago.  She said that he would appreciate the ground, better than slogging it out over a longer distance on soft ground somewhere else. 

Okay, so the Faugheeen that we saw on Saturday was not the Faugheen of old, but it was still a fine performance by Supasundae to beat him, with Mick Jazz and Jezki and a below-par Melon in their wake.  It was Robbie Power’s first Irish Champion Hurdle, and it was Jessica Harrington’s first since Macs Joy in 2005, and it is no surprise that Supasundae is now clear favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

J J Slevin’s win on Tower Bridge in the opener was another, the rider’s first Grade 1 win.  Slevin had a great weekend.  He only had four rides, but he also finished second in the two big handicap chases, on Three Stars for Henry de Bromhead in the Coral Sandyford Handicap Chase on Saturday, and on Vieux Morvan for Joseph O’Brien in the Chanelle Pharma Handicap Chase on Sunday.  His talent continues to garner attention.

Samcro was obviously another.  Gordon Elliott may have had just one winner over the course of the weekend, but he had lots of near misses, including Farclas in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle and Outlander in the Irish Gold Cup, and if the ball had hopped a little differently, he could have gone home with three of the seven Grade 1 prizes in his swag bag,

And if you had told him on Saturday morning that he would have just one winner, and asked him to choose which one, he probably would have chosen Samcro anyway.

Eddie O’Leary said during the week that they wanted to let Samcro do the talking.  Well, he did and he did.  The Germany gelding was flawless again.  He settled, he travelled, he jumped, he quickened.  You know what Jack Kennedy means when he says that he is so uncomplicated.  He does exactly what you ask him to do. 

It must be like driving a fast car.  When you brake, he slows down, when you squeeze the accelerator, he quickens.  It is probable that nobody has ever pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor yet.

Mr Adjudicator and Farclas fought out a thrilling finish to the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.  They pushed each other to go faster than Samcro went over the same course and distance 35 minutes later.  They are both big players in the Triumph Hurdle picture now, and it is surprising that they are not shorter in the ante post markets than they are.

And Monalee battled on bravely to win the Flogas Chase, bouncing back from his fall at Christmas.  Things look a lit brighter for Henry de Bromhead’s horse now than they did then.  The first four finished within two lengths of each other but, contrary to popular wisdom when there is a group finish, it may be that all four – Monalee, Al Boum Photo, Invitation Only and Dounikos – are very good.

© The Irish Field, 10th February 2018