Things We Learned » Novices warming up

Novices warming up

You can understand the hype about Lalor.  Kayley Woollacott’s horse was very good in winning the Grade 2 Arkle Trial at Cheltenham on Sunday.  He travelled really well throughout for Richard Johnson, his jumping was very good for a chasing debutant, and he came clear of talented rivals up the run-in, clocking a good time in the process.

It is easy to understand why he is high in the Arkle betting.  He was a high-class novice hurdler last season, winner of the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April, and he proved on Sunday that he could operate over fences at Cheltenham.  And then there is the poignancy of it all, trained last year by the late Richard Woollacott.  There will always be a poignancy attached to the Lalor story.  

But it is not that easy to understand why Voix Du Reve is not higher in the Arkle betting than he is.

Willie Mullins’ horse was impressive in winning the Grade 2 Craddockstown Chase at Punchestown on Saturday.  His jumping was not flawless.  He made a mistake at the fence going away from the stands, and he made another one at the third last fence.  But when he met one right, his jumping was fast and enthusiastic.  It is likely that his jumping overall will improve as he gains experience.

He stayed on strongly over the last two fences for Paul Townend, and he also clocked a decent time in beating some talented novices.  Runner-up Hardline was impressive in winning his beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse last month, the winner’s stable companion Cadmium is already rated 147 over fences, and fourth-placed Kildorrery was also impressive in winning his beginners’ chase at Punchestown last month.  If the Voix Du Nord gelding can iron out those little jumping blemishes, he could go even faster.  And it is more than possible that he will.

Graham and Andrea Wylie’s horse is not as lightly raced as Lalor is, but he is only six and this was just his second chase.  He has bags of potential for progression.  And he is proven at Cheltenham and under Cheltenham Festival conditions.  He looked the likely winner of the Fred Winter Hurdle in 2016 when he came down at the final flight.  Unusually for a Willie Mullins-trained novice chaser, there is a chance that he is a little under the radar.

Best weekends

The spring festivals are obviously fantastic.  Cheltenham and Fairyhouse and Aintree and Punchestown.  The National Hunt season’s fireworks.  But these weekends are special, the weekends from now until Christmas.  There are elements of discovery and anticipation about these weekends that make them so.

We’re into the thick of them now.  The Betfair Chase and Ascot Hurdle and Troytown Chase this weekend.  The Ladbroke Trophy and Fighting Fifth Hurdle next Saturday.  The Hatton’s Grace Hurdle and the Drinmore Chase next Sunday.  The Tingle Creek Chase, the Hilly Way Chase, the John Durkan Chase, the December Gold Cup, the Long Walk Hurdle.  And then the Christmas festivals, Leopardstown and Limerick and Kempton and Chepstow.  It’s a veritable immersion in National Hunt racing.  

Swans brings curtain down  

Swansdown came up just short in the nine-and-a-half-furlong nursery at Wolverhampton on Thursday, which was disappointing for the people who had backed her from morning prices of 4/1 to an SP of 5/6.  The defeat wouldn’t have registered on many radars were it not for the fact that Swansdown was Luca Cumani’s final runner as a trainer.  

Luca Cumani was in his pomp during the formative racing years for many of us.  In 1983 he won the third ever running of the Arlington Million with Tolomeo, and in 1985 he took Commanche Run over to the Phoenix Park, put Lester Piggott up on him (again), and won the Irish Champion Stakes.

It was the first of many top-level victories that Cumani enjoyed in Ireland.  He won the Irish 1000 Guineas in 1989 with Ensconce and in 2002 with Gossamer.  He won the Irish Derby in 1988 with Kahyasi.  He won the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1993 with Barathea. 

The Newmarket-based Italian always looked far beyond international boundaries.  In 1994, he won the Breeders’ Cup Mile with Barathea, who remained the last British-trained winner of the race before Expert Eye won it three weeks ago.  In 2005, he won the Japan Cup with Alkaased.  In 2003, he won the Hong Kong Cup with Falbrav.

Falbrav was one of Cumani’s flagship horses.  It is remarkable to think that, given all he achieved with him, Cumani only had Falbrav for a year.  During that year, 2003, the Fairy King horse won the Prix d’Ispahan, the Eclipse, the Juddmonte International, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, and the afore-mentioned Hong Kong Cup.  And he was beaten a neck by High Chaparral in the Irish Champion Stakes, and a head by the same High Chaparral (and Johar) in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Cumani excelled on the British scene too.  He won the Epsom Derby in 1988 with Kahyasi and in 1998 with High-Rise, he won the Lockinge Stakes and the Queen Anne in 1987 with Then Again, he won the Champion Stakes in 1989 with Legal Case, he won the King George in 2015 with Postponed.  His wins at the highest level span four decades. 

In one sense, it was not significant that Swansdown got beaten on Thursday.  As Cumani himself pointed out beforehand, he has trained over 2,000 winners.  One more or one less wasn’t going to make that much of a difference.  Win or lose, she brought the curtain down on a remarkable training career.

She could have been named Swansong.

Willing Enable

If you had been betting on whether or not Enable would stay in training next year, you would have bet long odds-on that she would, long odds-against that she wouldn’t.  All the vibes in that regard were positive.  John Gosden was hopeful, Frankie Dettori was optimistic.  Nevertheless, we hadn’t heard from Khalid Abdullah, so it was good to hear the announcement on Monday morning that she would.

It’s great news.  It’s brilliant that her owner/breeder has decided to allow her race on at five.  Her presence will enhance any race, and occasion, any season.  But it makes sense from a commercial perspective too. 

In 2017, Enable earned the equivalent of around £4 million in prize money.  In 2018, she earned another £4 million, and she raced just three times. 

Not that it is likely that her first foal would be sold, and it’s not all about commercials anyway, but that’s how much an Enable foal – added to a chosen stallion’s covering fee – would have to be worth potentially in order for the decision to retire her to the paddocks this year to make commercial sense.

Add to that the shot at another Arc that goes with staying in training.  An attempt to complete the hat-trick, a shot at sporting history, an unprecedented achievement, the first horse ever to win three of them.  You can only will her on.

Quote of the week

“He’s so fast, I think I’d rather run him in the King’s Stand than the King George.”

Nicky Henderson on Altior 

© The Irish Field, 24th November 2018