Things We Learned » DRF lived up to expectations

DRF lived up to expectations 

The Dublin Racing Festival lived up to expectations.  Most of the Irish National Hunt horses that you wanted to see there were there, taking each other on, some from the same stables, some in the same silks.  The atmosphere was great, the receptions were warm, some of them spine-tingling, and lots of the ‘right’ horses won: Latest Exhibition, Honeysuckle, Faugheen.

Ah Faugheen.

The trainers you expected to dominate did dominate, there were Grade 1 winners for Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead and Gordon Elliott and Joseph O’Brien.  And Paul Nolan won the first Grade 1 contest, the perfect start to the weekend.

The ground was borderline on Saturday, and it was a pity that A Plus Tard and Fakir D’Oudairies were scratched as a result, but it was better on Sunday, when Chris’s Dream and Silver Sheen were the only scratchings because of it.  It’s a balancing act.  You are treading a fine line when you are watering in February.  The Racing Post estimated the ground to be 0.5secs/furlong slow on Saturday, but 0.95secs/furlong slow on the hurdles course on Sunday, and 1.19secs/furlong slow on the chase course.  Much softer on Sunday. 

Learnings for next year?  The ground of course.  Tread the fine line.  The overseas raiders.  It’s not easy.  The races are there, the prize money is there, the gap to Cheltenham is there.  The greatest incentive would be a reduction in the quality of Irish National Hunt horses, and hopefully that’s not going to happen any time soon.  It seems like a long time since Forgive ‘N Forget and Playschool and Nick The Brief and Jodami were coming over and plundering the Irish Gold Cup with impunity. 

(It is.)

The programme of races is largely right.  Maybe some tweaks, but no need for fundamental changes.  We have been here before.  There is no two-and-a-half-mile option for the top chasers or the top hurdlers, no mares’ option for either, and that forces competition.  It’s why Honeysuckle took on the boys in the Irish Champion Hurdle, it’s why Chacun Pour Soi and Min took each other on, and why A Plus Tard was set to join them.

It’s concentrated, more concentrated than Cheltenham, which is set to be spread even more thinly than it already is.  Keep it concentrated.  Retain the intensity of competition.  Hopefully the Friday suggestion is not the first step on the road to a three-day festival.

Big days for small trainers 

While the big trainers largely dominated the Grade 1 races, it was good to see some smaller trainers having big days.

Treacysenniscorthy stepped forward again to win the William Fry Handicap Hurdle under Kevin Brouder.  He is a remarkable racehorse, expertly handled by Waterford trainer Robert Widger. 

That’s four handicap hurdles now on the spin.  In those four runs, he has beaten 85 horses and been beaten by none, and he has risen steadily through the handicap ratings: 102, 110, 119, 128.  Now he is on a mark of 138, 36lb higher than he was in November, and surely on track for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, a race for which he is qualified. 

Glamorgan Duke battled back bravely to win the Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Handicap Chase for Paul Gilligan.  Prominent and leading from early, he looked cooked when Trainwreck joined him and passed him on the run-in, but he responded to Conor Maxwell’s urgings and got back up on the far side to win by a head. 

It was a really game performance from a horse who had never won before in his life.  He is already a better chaser than hurdler though, this was just his fifth chase, and a 5lb hike does not look harsh. 

Charles Byrnes isn’t exactly a small trainer.  You can’t be a small trainer when you have 14 Grade 1 wins on your CV.  He is a target trainer though.  He had just one runner at the Dublin Racing Festival, Thosedaysaregone, and he won the Ladbrokes Hurdle with him.  Bullseye.

The Getaway gelding was completing a hat-trick in the race for the trainer after Off You Go’s brace in 2018 and 2019.  The Ladbrokes Hurdle is traditionally one of the most competitive handicap hurdles on the Irish racing calendar, and Charles Byrnes has now won the last three, and four in total.

Permanent names

They need permanent race titles for these Cheltenham Festival races.  Really.  The race that we have come to know recently as the Close Brothers Chase, the one that used to be called the Chaps Restaurant Chase, and the Rewards4Racing Chase, has another new sponsor. 

It was also run for one year as the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase, and for another as the Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase, which is actually its real name.  Can’t it be the (insert sponsor name here) Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase?  It began life as the Jewson.  It is one of the newest races at the Cheltenham Festival, and it has had six different names. 

Now it has a seventh, with Close Brothers moving their sponsorship to the Mares’ Hurdle: the Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase.  Or whatever they call it these days. 

At ease with Robert

Imagine you were a young fellow, just out of college, standing there in the presentation area, hands shaking, sick with nerves, minutes before being interviewed on national television for the first time.  Imagine it was, say, at the Galway races, noise everywhere, lights.  Star-struck.  Famous people all over the place.  Rabbit in headlights. 

Now imagine the person who was going to interview you, the most famous racing broadcaster in the country, shook your hand before you went on air and started chatting to you.  You’ll be great.  Just be yourself.  We’ll just have a chat.  Imagine how big a help that would be, imagine how much more at ease you would feel.  Like chatting about racing with your uncle in his sitting room.

Yep, Robert Hall. 

© The Irish Field, 8th February 2020