Donn's Articles » Saldier springs surprise

Saldier springs surprise

We knew that Willie Mullins would win the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Saturday – he always does – we just didn’t know with which horse he would win it.  We suspected that it would be with Klassical Dream, the market and the vibe and the jockey bookings pointed you in that direction, but it wasn’t.

We hadn’t seen Saldier in a while, not since he came down at the final flight when toe-to-toe with Espoir D’Allen – it’s difficult not to still feel gutted about Espoir D’Allen – in the Grade 3 Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas over a year ago.  He broke his nose in that fall, he broke it properly, which is why we didn’t see him for the rest of last season.  Experience told Willie Mullins that the best thing to do was nothing, to allow his nose the time to heal itself instead of going and trying to fix it, so that’s what he did.  As Danny Mullins said after Saturday’s race, that’s why he’s a master.

It’s easy to be a Saldier fan.  His jumping was fast and slick on Saturday, and showed a really willing attitude, he picked up well when Danny Mullins asked him to and he ran all the way to the line.  He has back form too.  It’s not just his run in the Fishery Lane Hurdle.  He was only fifth in the Triumph Hurdle as a juvenile, but that was on the back of just one run, a maiden hurdle victory.  He went to Punchestown via Fairyhouse after that when still a juvenile, and he won the Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle there, leaving the Triumph Hurdle 1-2 Farclas and Mr Adjudicator in his wake.

He was favourite for that Fishery Lane Hurdle, he was a shorter price than Espoir D’Allen.

Susannah Ricci’s horse is going to have to improve on Saturday’s run if he is going to win a Champion Hurdle, but he has plenty of potential for further progression.  He was only third best of the Willie Mullins horses in the market before the race, and he was weak.  He drifted from morning odds of 4/1 and 9/2 to an SP of 7/1.  Also, he is only five and this was just his sixth run over hurdles.  There is a chance that he can improve significantly.

You wouldn’t go giving up on Klassical Dream either.  True, when an odds-on shot gets beaten, by definition, he has performed below expectations, but the Dream Well gelding was the outstanding two-mile novice hurdler last season, and he was fresh and keen on Saturday.  That is admittedly his way, but he is entitled to another chance.  And Sharjah could do better on better ground.  His two best runs were last season, when he won the Morgiana Hurdle and when he won the Ryanair Hurdle, and they were both on good ground.  This year’s Morgiana Hurdle could send reverberations through the season.

It was great to see Faugheen back.  It’s not a usual occurrence that an 11-year-old wins a beginners’ chase, but Faugheen is not a usual racehorse.  He had been beaten at odds-on on Morgiana Hurdle day twice in the past, and it didn’t look good when he got in tight to the ditch down the side of the track and fired Paul Townend up onto his neck.  But Townend clung tight, manoeuvred his way back into the plate and into his irons, expertly got his horse back into his rhythm, and drove him home.

The turn of foot that Faugheen showed from the second last fence, after all that, competing against horses who were half his age, was impressive, and it makes you think: if he hadn’t been winning Champion Hurdles and Champion Stayers’ Hurdles, could he have been winning Champion Chases or Gold Cups?  (And would you trade one for the chance at the other?)

Willie Mullins mentioned the Grade 1 Matchbook Novices’ Chase at Limerick over Christmas, the race in which Hardline beat Getabird last year, as a next possible target for Faugheen, and that makes a lot of sense.  We know that he is Grade 1 class, and he is one for one at Limerick.  He won the Grade 3 novices’ hurdle at the meeting in 2013.  That’s six years ago.  Runner-up in Saturday’s race Walk Away was only seven and a half months old then.

Speaking of Walk Away, he ran an encouraging race to finish second.  Henry de Bromhead’s horse was a little crowded out of it at the second and third fences, and it took him a little while to get into a jumping rhythm, but he moved up nicely to lead at the second last fence and, while he had no answer to Faugheen’s turn of foot, he kept on well to finish second.  Winner of his point-to-point and fourth in the Sefton Hurdle over three miles at Aintee in April, he will be interesting now stepping up in trip over fences.

Blue Sari won his maiden hurdle all right on Saturday, albeit not as impressively in the end as you would ideally have liked – he will probably do better back over two miles and off a faster pace – and The Big Getaway brought up the Willie Mullins four-timer (four different riders) when he won the bumper, and Notebook was dynamite in the Grade 2 Craddockstown Chase.

Henry de Bromhead’s horse travelled and jumped really well for Rachael Blackmore, and he picked up well from the second last fence to run out an impressive winner of a race that his trainer likes to target with his good two-mile novice chasers.

Rated just 135 over hurdles, the Gigginstown House horse is now two for two over fences and, such is his accuracy and fluency over the larger obstacles, it is probable that he will be a significantly better chaser than hurdler.  He had his stable companion Moon Over Germany five lengths back in second place, and Philip Reynolds’ horse is a 151-rated chaser who won the Red Rum Chase at Aintree last April.  It’s a high-level performance, to beat him as he did.

Notebook appears to be versatile too.  The ground was good when he won his beginners’ chase at Punchestown last month, and it was soft there yesterday.  He has run well over two and a half miles over hurdles, he finished second behind Go Another One in the Grade 3 Michael Purcell Novices’ Hurdle at Thurles last February, but his trainer said after Saturday’s race that he would stick to two miles, at least for now, and that makes sense.  Maximise the potency of his fluent jumping.

The Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival is the obvious immediate target now.

Battleoverdoyen was the star attraction at Punchestown on Sunday, and Gordon Elliott’s horse did what he had to do in landing the Grade 2 Liam & Valerie Brennan Memorial Florida Pearl Novice Chase.

He probably wasn’t helped by the fact that the three fences down the back straight were omitted, he is such an enthusiastic jumper, but he still travelled well to the home turn, loomed up on the outside of Any Second Now, hit the front between the last two fences and stayed on well for Davy Russell.

As was the case with Notebook in the Craddockstown Chase on Saturday, Battleoverdoyen had a strong barometer behind him in second place in Any Second Now, a 150-rated Kim Muir Chase winner, and he beat him by five lengths, probably doing not much more than he had to do.

The Doyen gelding is one of the most exciting staying novice chasers in training.  Winner of his only point-to-point and his only bumper, he was a Grade 1 winner last season as a novice hurdler, but it was always as a chaser that he was going to make his mark.  He was impressive in winning his beginners’ chase at Galway last month, a beginners’ chase that has a star-studded roll of honour, and he stepped forward nicely on Sunday when stepped up in grade.

In the back of your mind is the fact that he disappointed in the Ballymore Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last season, but there were excuses for that.  He didn’t travel over well, he didn’t settle in.  He should do even better now when he steps up again in trip over fences, and the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival looks like the race for him now.

Stormy Ireland looked good in landing the Listed Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle for the second year in succession.  Paul Townend bounced her out of the gate, and she travelled nicely in his hands.  He was even able to give her a breather as they started off down the back straight.  She won with plenty in hand.

She is not a big mare, but she has reportedly schooled really well over fences, so it may be that she will go over fences now.  Owner Jared Sullivan also had Eglantine Du Seuil in Sunday’s race, who finished third, and who ran well before appearing to tire from the second last flight.  Willie Mullins said afterwards that the Saddler Maker mare needed the race, so she should be better with this run under her belt, and when she steps back up in trip.

At Cork, Joseph O’Brien and JJ Slevin teamed up to win the two maiden hurdles.  Front View was game in battling on well to beat his stable companion Uhtred in the opening race, the four-year-olds’ hurdle, with the well-regarded Jon Snow back in third, while Midnight Run was impressive in winning the second, a double for trainer and rider and on the road to a treble.

Midnight Run and Colreevy had it to themselves by the time they got to the third last flight, but the Joseph O’Brien horse was on top by the time they got to the second last, and he stayed on well to win nicely.

There was a lot to like about performance.  Colreevy won the Champion Bumper at Punchestown in May, with Abacadabras and Beacon Edge and Embittered, all winners already this season over hurdles, immediately behind her, and she was strong in the market on Sunday.

Midnight Run was a good bumper horse himself last season, he won two of his three bumpers and finished second to Envoi Allen in the other, and it will be interesting to monitor his progression now over hurdles this term.  A full brother to Carefully Selected, and from the family of staying hurdler and chaser Lord Sam, he could step up in trip.

Finally, two other quick notes from Punchestown on Sunday.  Firstly, Dewcup was impressive in winning the bumper.  Ted Walsh’s horse brought a high level of bumper form into the race – winner of a good bumper at Thurles in March, fourth in the Grade 2 Aintree Bumper in April – and defied his weakness in the market by winning well, making Patrick Mullins’ dash up from Cork well worthwhile.

His trainer said afterwards that he could go for a winners’ bumper at Navan next and, a son of Finsceal Fior out of his owner Michael Ryan’s mare Elyaadi, who won twice over hurdles, he will be also be of interest when he goes over hurdles.

And secondly, Yanworth only got home by a length and a half from Neverushacon in the Risk Of Thunder Chase over Punchestown’s banks and hedges, but he appeared to win with way more in hand than that.  JP McManus’ horse is a really classy recruit to this cross-country discipline, he was rated 164 over hurdles at his peak, and it appears that the new discipline, combined with the move to Enda Bolger’s, has rejuvenated him.

Re-routed from Cheltenham on Friday, his trainer said that he will probably go to Cheltenham in December now for the cross-country race there, and that will be interesting.  That race is a handicap, so he will probably be conceding weight to most of his rivals, but it makes sense to go there next now, because you can be sure that the cross-country race at the Cheltenham Festival will be his target.

© Sporting Life, 18th November 2019