Things We Learned » Rolling now

Rolling now

It’s a great time of the season this, when last season’s bumper horses take on hurdles in public for the first time, when last season’s hurdlers take on fences for the first time, when last season’s novices step into open company.

We had it all last weekend.  Elixir D’Ainay, not a hurdling debutant but still a novice, won his maiden hurdle and Tornado Flyer won his beginners’ chase at Naas on Saturday, and Embittered got the better of Blackbow. 

Cilaos Emery is almost a novice.  He is unfortunate, in that he won on his only run over fences in a truncated season last term and that, therefore, he has to ply his trade in open company this term, without having had the experience that his fellow second-season chasers have had.  He would have been a big player in the Arkle picture last year for sure, but he could still climb high up the two-mile ladder this season, despite his inexperience, and he looked good in winning the Poplar Square Chase.

At Wincanton, Reserve Tank was impressive in winning the Rising Stars Novice Chase, and we were spoiled on Sunday at Navan.  Andy Dufresne’s jumping in the maiden hurdle was superb, and Fakir D’Oudairies’ jumping in the beginners’ chase was similar, and Abacadabras danced in in the For Auction Hurdle.  Bags of potential all over the place. 


Takeaways from the Racing Writers’ visit to Willie Mullins’ yard on Wednesday morning?  There were many.

He has some team of horses for starters.  From Kemboy and Al Boum Photo, to Chacun Pour Soi and Cilaos Emery and Douvan and Min, to Klassical Dream and Saldier and Sharjah, to Bacardys and Penhill and Benie Des Dieux, and that’s without getting into the novices or the handicappers or the bumper horses.

No trainer has ever won all four championship races at the Cheltenham Festival in the same year, right?

And specifically?  Melon could improve for going out in trip and Bapaume could improve for dropping back in trip.  Cabaret Queen is a real live Ladbrokes Trophy prospect, and Douvan is back and Pont Aven (is a friendly and playful soul and) will be interesting dropped back down to three miles, and Real Steel could be good enough to take his chance in the King George, and Al Boum Photo could go the same (Tramore) Savills Chase route that he took last year.  Why change a winning formula?

And Fly Smart.  Fly Smart finished second in an AQPS three-year-olds’ hurdle at Auteuil last October.  In third place that day was Fou Delice, who has won twice since, once over hurdles and once, two weeks ago, over fences.  In fourth was Forland and in fifth was Filup, both of whom have won over fences since.

(Yes, they all begin with F – must be a 2015 AQPS thing.)

In sixth was Flip De Vega, who won a listed hurdle at Auteuil last month.  And in eighth place that day was Figuero, who won over hurdles last November, and who has won four of his five chases to date, including a seriously impressive performance in winning the Prix Maurice Gillois, a Grade 1 chase for four-year-olds, two weeks ago at Auteuil. 

So of the seven horses who finished the race and finished behind Fly Smart in his only race to date, six of them have run and five of them have won.  And more importantly, Willie Mullins seems to like him.

British jockeys’ championship

We know that AP McCoy is champion jockey when he rides, and we know that Richard Johnson is champion jockey when AP McCoy is not.  A quarter of a century’s worth of modern history tells you that.

But it may not be the foregone conclusion this season that it usually is.

Brian Hughes has finished second or third to Richard Johnson in the championship for each of the last three seasons.

Two years ago, he finished 34 winners behind the champion.  Last year, he finished 54 behind him.

At the end of November two seasons ago though, Hughes was 45 winners behind Johnson.  At the end of November last year, he was 52 winners behind.  And he lost by 34 and 54 winners respectively in those years.  At this time this year, he is much closer.  At the time of writing, he was only four winners behind.

Last season, from the start of December to the end of March, Hughes had 62 winners while Johnson had 53.  Hughes had no winners in April, he took some time off after he got injured at Newcastle on Grand National day.

Two seasons ago, between the start of December and the end of April, Hughes had 78 winners while Johnson had 67.  Hopefully they will both stay relatively injury-free now for the rest of the season, because this could be a fascinating battle between champion and pretender.

Rothwell rocking

Philip Rothwell has his horses in good form these days.  Fiveaftermidnight, who was allowed go off at 20/1 for the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Naas on Saturday, stayed on strongly for Sean O’Keeffe in her first-time cheekpieces to win well.    Then three days later, at the re-scheduled meeting at Fairyhouse on Tuesday, Enduring Love battled on well under Joanna Walton to spring a 25/1 shock in the Ladies Supporting Susan Handicap Chase.

As well as that, an hour and a half before Enduring Love’s race, Rightback Atya finished second at 50/1 in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle.

The trainer’s horses are often sent off at big prices, and it may be that some of them will be over-priced for now.  He has had 14 runners so far this month, and none of them were sent off at an SP of less than 14/1.  Two of them were sent off at 100/1, one at 80/1, four at 66/1, one at 50/1 and one at 33/1.  Indeed, only one was sent off at shorter than 20/1.

The median odds on those 14 runners is 58/1, the average odds is over 52/1, and you would be showing a level-stakes profit of €33.00 if you had had €1 on all 14 horses.  The Philip Rothwell runners could be worth a second glance for the next little while.

Quote of the week

“If you got a young jockey in, and you said, just be like Pat Smullen.  You wouldn’t have to tell them anything else.”

Johnny Murtagh

© The Irish Field, 16th November 2019