Things We Learned » Changing pictures

Changing pictures

The Christmas festivals are massive.  Not only because of the quality and the profile of the racing, because of the prize money and the accolades that go with success, but also because of implications for the future.  The potential of more to come.

There were winners and losers.  There always are.  And in general, as in most walks of competitive life, the winners’ stocks rose and the losers’ stocks fell, although there were exceptions. 

The Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup pictures came into slightly sharper focus.  Epatante’s stock rose after her impressive performance in the Christmas Hurdle, all the way to the top of the Champion Hurdle market.  

Sharjah’s rose, Klassical Dream’s fell.

Delta Work’s stock rose again.  If you thought that Gordon Elliott’s horse was a genuine Cheltenham Gold Cup contender at the end of last season, and if your faith faltered a little when he was beaten at Down Royal, then you can proceed with confidence again. 

He stayed on strongly to win the Savills Chase and, a just-turned-seven-year-old who was racing for just the seventh time over fences last week, there is every chance that he will improve again between now and March.  He has Cheltenham Festival-winning form, and the step up to an extended three and a quarter miles could bring about further improvement.

Al Boum Photo’s stock rose in victory.  Monalee’s rose in defeat.  Kemboy’s didn’t fall in defeat.

Clan Des Obeaux’s stock rose, even if Kempton over three miles is very different to Cheltenham over three and a quarter.  Cyrname’s fell, over three miles anyway.  Lostintranslation has to get back on track again.

Pertemps pointer

Leopardstown’s Pertemps qualifier is often a good pointer to the final that takes place at the Cheltenham Festival.

Last year, Sire Du Berlais, who finished sixth in the Leopardstown qualifier, went and won the final at Cheltenham 11 weeks later, while Cuneo, who won the Leopardstown qualifier, led on the run to the final flight at Cheltenham before fading to finish fourth.

In 2017/18, Glenloe, who finished second in the Leopardstown qualifier, was beaten a nose by Delta Work in the final at Cheltenham, while A Great View, second at Leopardstown, did well to finish sixth at Cheltenham after making a bad mistake at the second last flight. 

In 2016/17, Presenting Percy, fifth at Leopardstown, won at Cheltenham, while in 2015/16, Mall Dini, fourth at Leopardstown, also won at Cheltenham.  The last four Pertemps Final winners were trained in Ireland and, if the head-bob had gone Glenloe’s way and not Delta Work’s way in 2018, all four would have run in the Leopardstown qualifier.

Of the six horses that qualified in this year’s Leopardstown qualifier, only runner-up Ronald Pump and sixth-placed The Storyteller are currently rated highly enough to just about guarantee that they will get into the final at Cheltenham.  In a race that was run in a faster time than the time that Apple’s Jade clocked in winning the Grade 1 Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle 70 minutes later, both horses ran well enough to be of interest already for the final.

Four days is enough

The prospect of a five-day Cheltenham Festival raised its head (yet) again when chairman Martin St Quinton mentioned it as a possibility during the week.

You have to hope that they won’t do it.

You can see the argument.  More days, more money for everybody.  And it’s not about finding the races.  You could find the races all right.  There are 28 races at the Cheltenham Festival now, seven races a day, four days.  You could easily add two races, a mares’ chase (already in the pipeline) and a veterans’ chase or a two-and-a-half-mile hurdle.  That’s 30 races, make it six races per day and, hey presto, there’s your fifth day.

But there is a uniqueness about the Cheltenham Festival.  There is an unequalled atmosphere about those four days, and there is a rarity about a Cheltenham Festival winner that gives it its value.  An rud is annamh is iontach.  There is a reason why the entire season funnels into it and on to Aintree and Punchestown, which gives the National Hunt season a definition that the flat season craves.

You don’t know for sure that moving to five days will dilute it too much, but you don’t know that it won’t.  And why run the risk?  You don’t know how far the elastic band will stretch until it breaks.  

Exceptional 12-year-old

You talk about 12-year-olds and RSA Chase winners, and it’s a fairly short conversation.  No 12-year-old has ever won the RSA Chase.  No 11-year-old has ever won it.  No 10-year-old has ever won it, and the last nine-year-old to win it was Minnehoma in 1992.  Whisper went close as a nine-year-old in 2017, but that would have gone down as a defeat for Might Bite more than a victory for Whisper. 

But dig a little deeper.  In the last 10 years, no 12-year-old has run in the RSA Chase.  That shouldn’t be surprising, it’s a novices race, and it would be an unusual set of circumstances that would conspire to result in a horse who has the potential to line up in a Grade 1 chase to still be a novice as an 11-rising-12-year-old.  Actually, there hasn’t been a runner in the RSA Chase in the last 10 years who has been older than nine. 

Faugheen is an extraordinary 12-year-old, so don’t go putting a line through his RSA Chase credentials because of his age.

Thought for the week

Could Clan Des Obeaux be the modern day Wayward Lad?

© The Irish Field, 4th January 2020