Things We Learned » The need for speed

The need for speed

Strange thing about the top novice hurdlers and the Cheltenham Festival.  You agonise over targets, Supreme or Ballymore, and yet, history tells you that you need stamina for the Supreme over two miles, and that you need speed for the Ballymore over an extended two and a half. 

Some recent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winners have had latent stamina in abundance: Summerville Boy, a Relkeel Hurdle winner, runner-up in the Cleeve Hurdle and now a Stayers’ Hurdle contender; Vautour, a JLT Chase winner, a Ryanair Chase winner and runner-up in a King George; Champagne Fever, a Red Mills Chase winner, a Clonmel Oil Chase winner, and fourth in a King George; Al Ferof, a Paddy Power Gold Cup winner, a dual Amlin Chase winner and placed in three King Georges.

Strangely, only two Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winners have gone on to win the Champion Hurdle since Bula in 1971 and 1972, and neither of them won the Champion Hurdle the year after they won the Supreme.

The list of recent Ballymore Hurdle winners who went on to win the Champion Hurdle is longer.  Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Faugheen.  The New One often shaped like he would be better over further but, actually, his best form was over two miles.  Simonsig was a pure two-miler over fences, an Arkle winner, a Wayward Lad Chase winner.  Peddlers Cross ran Hurricane Fly to a length in the 2011 Champion Hurdle, a year after he had won the Ballymore. 

So don’t fret if Asterion Forlonge runs in the Ballymore or if Fiddlerontheroof runs in the Supreme.   

Two to note

We hadn’t seen Front View in a little while, and we hadn’t seen Relegate in a long while, but both horses put up highly encouraging performances during the week on their respective returns.

The last time we saw Front View, he was beating his stable companion Uhtred in a maiden hurdle at Cork in November, form that was enhanced when the runner-up went and won a listed bumper next time. 

Joseph O’Brien’s horse was a little weak in the market before the Michael Purcell Memorial Hurdle at Thurles on Thursday, but he put up a really nice performance to finish second behind Five O’Clock.  He wasn’t helped when the winner, who was, in fairness, travelling more strongly, moved across him between the last two flights, and he wasn’t great at the last, he landed a little flat-footed, so he did well to get going again and stay on as well as he did up the run-in to take second place.

JP McManus’ horse holds entries in the County Hurdle and the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.  He also holds an entry in the bonus-enabling Imperial Cup at Sandown on the Saturday before Cheltenham.  Second to Blue Sari in the bumper on Thyestes Chase day at Gowran Park on his racecourse debut last year, and second to Envoi Allen in his maiden hurdle at Down Royal on his debut this season, he is only five, and he has raced just three times over hurdles.  He will be of interest now wherever he goes.

We hadn’t seen Relegate since she had finished fifth behind Commander Of Fleet at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival.  She had left Willie Mullins and joined Colm Murphy in the interim, and she ran a race that was full of encouragement in the Pertemps Qualifier at Punchestown on Wednesday.  Held up early on, she kept on nicely up the home straight to take fourth place behind Mary Frances.

She is another who holds several entries at Cheltenham, she is in the Mares’ Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Coral Cup, but she will be of greatest interest if she takes up her entry in the Pertemps Final.  She raced off a handicap mark of 130 on Wednesday.  The Irish handicapper raised her to a mark of 132, and that, combined with the couple of pounds that the British handicapper should add, could be enough to get her into the Pertemps.

Remember, she won the Champion Bumper in 2018 under Katie Walsh when she was with Willie Mullins.  She is one for one at the track and under Cheltenham Festival conditions, and she is still relatively lightly raced.  It would be good to see Colm Murphy back at the Cheltenham Festival, 14 years after Brave Inca’s Champion Hurdle, 10 years after Big Zeb’s Champion Chase. 

Mouse horses on song

Mouse Morris has his horse in tremendous form these days.  A double at Thurles two weeks ago – French Dynamite in a rated novice hurdle and Whatsnotoknow in a maiden hurdle – was followed up by Foxy Jacks’ win in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown on Wednesday. 

That’s three winners from just nine runners that the trainer has had in February, and others have run well.  Baily Thunder belied big odds in finishing second in a handicap hurdle at Gowran Park last Saturday and, while French Dynamite was a beaten favourite in the Michael Purcell Hurdle at Thurles on Thursday, he still ran well, he was only beaten a neck and the same for second.

The return of Sams Profile is eagerly awaited, hopefully we will see him at Punchestown or beforehand, but, in the meantime, anything that Mouse Morris runs is worth a second glance. 

Juvenile picture still not clear

It is still difficult to figure out whether or not the Irish juvenile hurdlers are better than the British.

We do have a line at the top.  Cerberus was well beaten by Allmankind in the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow in December, and Cerberus beat A Wave Of The Sea at Fairyhouse in December, and finished a close-up third behind his stable companion in the Spring Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Also, Nordano, who finished third behind Allmankind and Cerberus in the Finale Hurdle, and who was also well beaten by Allmankind at Cheltenham in November, and by Goshen at Ascot in January, came out and won a big handicap hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.  All of that suggests that the top British juveniles are strong.

However, Nordano loved the soft ground at Ascot on Saturday, and he seemed to appreciate the step up to two and a half miles.  Neil King’s horse probably put up the best performance of his career by some way.

Also, it is probable that Cerberus was not at his best on the heavy ground at Chepstow at Christmas.  Heavy ground at Chepstow is a specialist’s discipline.  The relative strengths of the juveniles from each jurisdiction are still not definitive.  This year’s Triumph Hurdle will be fascinating.

© The Irish Field, 22nd February 2020