Things We Learned » Questions to answer

Questions to answer

The general feeling at the end of last season and during the early throes of this term was that last year’s class of novice hurdlers was an above-average class.  Now, however, half-time in the season, and the top novice hurdlers from last season have questions to answer.

Samcro was unbeaten and unbeatable last season when he stood up, but he obviously hasn’t gone forward this season as anticipated.  It’s disappointing for connections and racing fans alike, and it’s a bit of a head-scratcher.  Perhaps his imminent MOT will be revelatory. 

Black Op finished second to Samcro in the Ballymore Properties Hurdle and won the Mersey Hurdle at Aintree last spring, yet he has been beaten in both his novice chases this season now, most recently by seven lengths in the Dipper Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.  Next Destination was third in the Ballymore Hurdle and won the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle and the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, but it now looks like we won’t see him for a while, which is a real shame.

Summerville Boy won the Tolworth Hurdle and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last term, but he has been well beaten in both his runs this season to date.  Tom George’s horse’s form kicked into overdrive after the turn of the calendar year last season, but a setback means that he may not be afforded the opportunity to repeat that surge this term.

Kalashnikov won the Betfair Hurdle last year as a novice off a mark of 141, and he was second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.  Amy Murphy’s horse was impressive in winning his first two chases this season, but he was beaten by Dynamite Dollars in the Wayward Lad Chase at Kempton last week.

Similarly, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third Mengli Khan looked very good in winning his beginners’ chase at Punchestown in November, but he could only finish fourth in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Lalor won the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree and he looked very good in winning the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham in November, but he came up short in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown in early December the last time we saw him. 

Kilbricken Storm won the Albert Bartlett Hurdle last season, but he only just got home at Ffos Las on his chasing bow in November, and he was well beaten behind Santini in the John Francome Chase at Newbury’s Ladbrokes Trophy meeting.  Santini himself could only finish third behind La Bague Au Roi in the Kauto Star Chase at Kempton on King George day.

It’s only half-time though.  Lots of game time left.

New kids 

By contrast, some of the novice hurdlers who were probably regarded as being just below the top tier last season have come to the fore. 

Sharjah finished seventh in the Deloitte Hurdle last season, eighth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, fourth in the Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Novices’ Hurdle at Fairyhouse, and sixth in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.  Yet Willie Mullins’ horse has now won a Galway Hurdle, a Morgiana Hurdle and a Ryanair Hurdle this season, and he is a live Champion Hurdle aspirant.

Delta Work raced lots in handicaps last season as a novice hurdler, he won the Pertemps Final last March and he was beaten by Next Destination in the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, but he is now three for three over fences this season.  Gordon Elliott’s horse has won the Drinmore Chase and the Neville Hotels Chase, and it is right that he is towards the head of the RSA Chase market.

Dynamite Dollars won just two of his six hurdle races last season.  He was beaten in his last four, the last of them a Class 4 contest at Doncaster in February, and he didn’t run at any of the big spring festivals.  This season, Paul Nicholls’ horse is three for four over fences, he beat Lalor in the Henry VIII Chase and he beat Kalashnikov in the Wayward Lad Chase, and he is on track for the Arkle.

Le Richebourg was well beaten in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle last season, and in the Deloitte Hurdle, and in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.  This season, he is three for four over fences.  Joseph O’Brien’s horse was impressive in winning the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, and he is one of the most exciting novice chasers in training.

Hardline won the Grade 1 Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase at Limerick over Christmas, Paloma Blue won his beginners’ chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, Lostintranslation won the Dipper Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. 

Exciting rest-of-season ahead. 

Best ride

Best ride of the Christmas festivals?  There were lots of contenders.  Keith Donoghue’s ride on Hardline at Limerick was one, Davy Russell’s ride on Delta Work at Leopardstown was another, Mark Walsh’s ride on Simply Ned was another.  But David Mullins might just have shaded it for his ride on Kemboy in the Savills Chase.

Fully cognisant of the sedate early pace, Mullins allowed his horse stride to the front with a circuit to race.  It was a brave move, especially given that it was a move that was apparently contrary to pre-race instructions.  When you do that, when you go against instructions, you are on a hiding to nothing.  If you get beaten in that instance, the argument can easily be made that it was the tactics that were incorrect.  If you follow instructions and get beaten, you were only following instructions.

Kemboy may have won anyway.  Willie Mullins’ horse had so much in hand at the end of the race.  But his rider’s move maximised his chances, reacting to a situation that wasn’t foreseen.  That’s what the best riders do.

Youngsters to the fore 

The three big staying chases of the Christmas period were all won by six-year-olds.  Kemboy won the Savills Chase, Clan Des Obeaux won the King George and Elegant Escape won the Welsh National. 

Kemboy was the only six-year-old in the Savills Chase and Clan Des Obeaux was the only six-year-old in the King George.  And there were just two six-year-olds in the Welsh National, Elegant Escape and Ramses De Teillee and, remarkably, they finished first and second. 

All four were very good in their respective races, yet all four have youth on their side and deep potential for further progression as staying steeplechasers. 

Greatest cheer

When Faugheen got up.


© The Irish Field, 5th January 2019