Things We Learned » Equine influenza

Equine influenza

We learned lots about equine influenza this week.  We learned that it is a respiratory infection that affects horses in much the same way as a flu affects humans, for example.  We learned that symptoms include a high fever, nasal discharge and coughing.  We learned that, while symptoms in vaccinated horses are usually mild, it is highly contagious, and horses can remain infectious for about a week.  And we learned that, while the disease is rarely fatal, performance can be affected for days or weeks, and that some horses can develop secondary bacterial infections.

There are positives.  The BHA’s swift response means that there is a good chance that the disease can be contained.  The swift dissemination of information, the cancellation of racing for six days at least.  From an Irish perspective, it meant that trainers who had runners at Ayr and Ludlow, facilitated by the extended travel time, could segregate those runners from the rest of their strings.  The IHRB and HRI were satisfied that racing could continue in Ireland, and that those trainers could have runners.

There is a togetherness about it all.  Everybody complying with directives, for the greater good, to ensure that racing in Britain can resume as soon as possible.  Everyone working together towards that goal.

And there is the fact that the horror story of Australia in 2007, when equine influenza closed racing down for months, is unlikely to be repeated in Britain, simply because horses are not vaccinated against influenza in Australia, whereas they are in Britain and Ireland.  That’s a positive too.

Racing was top class 

The racing was top class at Leoparstown last weekend, and there were stories.  Apple’s Jade was brilliant in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle, and will now probably be re-routed from the Mares’ Hurdle to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham as a result.  Min could do no more than he did in winning the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.

Le Richebourg consolidated his position as probably the best two-mile novice chaser in the country in winning the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle, Sir Erec re-claimed his position as probably the best juvenile hurdler in the country – and in his yard – in winning the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle. 

There were thrilling finishes, Bellshill and Road To Respect, Klassical Dream and Aramon, an emotional victory for the Coleman family, and Off You Go getting up late to win the Ladbrokes Hurdle.  And it wasn’t only about the biggest yards, about Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott and Joseph O’Brien and Jessica Harrington.  The Shane Crawley-trained Sassy Diva was a well-backed winner of the EBF Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle under Donagh Meyler, and Finian Maguire drove the Dermot McLoughlin-trained Santa Rossa home in the Coolmore EBF mares’ bumper, while it was good to see the good runs of Charles Byrnes and Paul Nolan continue with big handicap winners.

There were challenges too.  The low sun was a challenge on Saturday, the good ground was a challenge on Sunday.  Remedial action was difficult.  You can’t do anything about the sun except what was done, remove the obstacles that are affected, and it is a brave person who would water a track during the first week in February when frost and rain are on the weather charts.

There were only four British-trained runners over the course of the weekend, but the fact that the Warren Greatrex-trained La Bague Au Roi won the Flogas Novice Chase may mean that the meeting will feature more on British trainers’ radars than appears to be the case at present. 

And attendances were down on last year, which was disappointing.  Perhaps the rugby had a greater impact than had been anticipated.  Could you move it forward a week, as has already been suggested by some?  Avoid the start of the Six Nations?  Four weeks after Christmas, six weeks before Cheltenham?  Would that work?

Juvenile team strengthened further

JP McManus’ acquisition of Fakir D’Oudairies and Konitho, as well as exciting bumper horse Blue Sari, only serves to add further strength to a seriously strong team of juvenile hurdlers.

The owner now has the Cheltenham Triumph Trial Hurdle 1-2 Fakir D’Oudairies and Fine Brunello, as well as the Spring Juvenile Hurdle 1-2 Sir Erec and Gardens Of Babylon, and a really impressive maiden winner in Konitho.  All five juveniles are trained by Joseph O’Brien.

Remarkably, those two races, the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham and the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown, have between them produced the last seven Triumph Hurdle winners.  Our Conor won the Spring Hurdle, Peace And Co and Defi Du Seuil both won the Cheltenham Trial, Tiger Roll and Farclas both finished second in the Spring Hurdle, Countrywide Flame finished third in the Spring Hurdle and Ivanovich Gorbatov finished fourth in the Spring Hurdle. 

The difficulty for the owner will be in dividing them up.  The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is also an option for all five, a race in which the juveniles receive 8lb from their elders.

JP McManus was faced with a similar scenario in 2008, and it almost worked out perfectly.  He ran Captain Cee Bee in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, along with the then juvenile Binocular, and they finished first and second, while he ran Franchoek in the Triumph Hurdle, and he finished second behind Celestial Halo.  Three weeks later, Binocular beat Celestial Halo by seven lengths in the Grade 1 Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

The owner also has other options, potentially Laskadine for the Triumph Hurdle, a race that he has won twice in the last three years with Ivanovich Gorbatov and Defi Du Seuil, and perhaps Champagne Platinum and/or Didtheyleaveuoutto for the Supreme.  It will be very interesting to see how the green and gold juvenile hurdler cards are played.

Buck and Bob could have been higher

The ‘50 great two-mile chasers’ series that the Racing Post ran was a fascinating series.  It marked some outstanding feats by steeplechasing’s sprinters, while the excellent essays evoked memories of racing legends that some of us only ever read about, and of others who were giants of our formative racing years.

You will always be able to argue with the presence or absence of any (would-be) member of any such finite grouping, and with the position of any member therein, but you would have thought that Bobsline would have been higher than 50th of 50, and that Buck House would have been higher than 46th.

Bobsline won the Arkle in 1984 under Frank Berry, getting the better of Noddy’s Ryde in an epic, and he was travelling well in the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year when he came down at the third last fence, thereby leaving the path clear for Badsworth Boy to complete his Champion Chase hat-trick.  Unfortunately, the Francis Flood-trained gelding sustained an injury that day that compromised the rest of his career.  Maybe that is why he is 19 places lower on the list than Noddy’s Ryde, who was tragically cut down in his prime at Exeter the following November.

Buck House won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1983 and, after giving best to Boreen Prince in the Arkle in 1985, he won the Champion Chase under regular rider Tommy Carmody in 1986, beating Very Promising and Bobsline and Badsworth Boy.  

The Mouse Morris-trained gelding also won the Easter Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse and the Future Champions Novice Chase at Ayr and the Motor Imports Handicap Chase at Punchestown.  And, lamentably, he never got the chance to go back to Cheltenham to try to win another Champion Chase.  Even so, his talent and his achievements were of sufficient quality to cement his place among the very best two-mile chasers.

Bellshill can go both ways

We know now for sure that Bellshill can go both ways.  He may have had only three rivals to beat in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup at (left-handed) Leopardstown on Sunday, and he may have been the beneficiary of a masterclass ride from Ruby Walsh, but he beat a top class rival in Road To Respect, and the pair of them finished well clear of their two rivals. 

You can see how the right-handed notion developed all right.  Willie Mullins’ horse’s record going right handed reads 11111151, and the 5 was in last year’s Irish Grand National, when he ran a remarkable race under 11st 5lb and was beaten by a total of a length.

His record going left handed before Sunday read 20211302F34.  Not so impressive on the face of it. 

However, eight of those 11 runs at left-handed tracks were in Grade 1 races.  He finished third in Might Bite’s RSA Chase, for example.  He was beaten a neck in the Sefton Hurdle at Aintree. 

The King’s Theatre gelding recorded the highest Timeform rating of his career on Sunday, going left-handed.  Actually, five of his best 10 Timeform ratings now were recorded at left-handed tracks.  You don’t need to worry about Bellshill going left-handed again.

© The Irish Field, 9th February 2019