Social Discourse: Monday 20th May

The late spring has been spoiling racing fans and, with group racing on four consecutive days, flat aficionados really got their fill as we head to a summer of blockbuster racing. For the jumps boys and girls, there was arguably the biggest shock of the year so far – and it came off the track – along with a dynamite performance, writes William Kedjanyi.

We start with Group 1 flat action...

 

  1. Mustashry The Best? 

This year’s edition of the Lockinge Stakes, won in impressive style by Mustashry for Sir Michael Stoute, was perhaps as notable for the horses in behind as it was for the impressive winner.

 

An open renewal had always promised to leave us with some questions as well as answers, but there was no doubt that the best horse won on the day, making a clear statement in a division that some might say is up for grabs.

In the aftermath of the race, which provided Stoute with an eighth Lockinge, 33 years since his first, there was much attention on the rest of the field.

Second placed Laurens, making her return, had travelled like the best horse in the race, and fought on well to repel a host of late chargers after being the last to come off the bridle.

They included Accidental Agent, who came from nearly last to take a fine third and better his sixth-placed finish last year en route to Queen Anne glory.


Romanised
, last season’s Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, wasn’t far behind, but spare a thought for Le Brivido, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, having to go behind and then around the retreating Without Parole before flying for fifth.

Where do they next meet? In the Queen Anne Stakes in what is fast shaping to be one of the most exciting Royal Ascot meetings of recent years. 

Star of the show? Jade RansleyB who has looked after Mustashry all his life. Sir Michael Stoute was free flowing with his praise, and rightly so when speaking to the Racing Post’s Lewis Porteous:

"We knew he was in very good shape but Jade has made this horse. She looks after him like no other could and puts a lot of work into this horse. He's had a lot of niggles over his career but I don't think we've ever had him in better form. You can't do it without staff like Jade – she is particularly dedicated."

 

  1. Too Darn Good

Much like a Victorian painting, the equine masterpiece that we call The Derby is never quite finished – or appreciated – until the big splash, that being the race itself, but we now have a clear picture of the Epsom Blue Riband.

That canvass is probably a portrait of Aidan O’Brien, with a dash of black and orange thanks to Telecaster, who got the better of a thrilling Dante battle with Too Darn Hot to stamp his name right into the reckoning for Epsom.

The previous nine-length maiden winner was always front rank, taking a spot behind the early pacesetter, Turgenev, and travelling with comfort into the race down the home straight. When it became clear that the outsider was about to fold, Hughie Morrison’s charge was not for stopping and Too Darn Hot – the only horse to get within hailing distance – was snugly repelled in the end.

The Champion 2-year-old of last season had been widely expected to maintain his unbeaten record, despite missing both the Greenham and 2,000 Guineas – and he was backed from 7/4 into 10/11 on the day to do so. He lost nothing in defeat, as plenty noticed here.

The next step? Back down to a mile for Too Darn Hot in the St James's Palace;

 

As with all trials, we have plenty of fascinating questions:

Will Telecaster’s owners, the Castle Down Racing syndicate, supplement him for the Epsom Classic on June 1 at an expense of £85,000?

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If he is supplemented, how will he handle the 16-day gap that separates the Dante and the Derby this year?

We won’t know until the very last moment, but Matt Butler of the Racing Post looked into the gaps between the prep run and the Derby for the last 20 winners and calculated the average period – 27.4 days. The two to win with less than a three-week gap were Authorized, who doubled up with the Dante, and then New Approach, who came from the Irish 2,000 Guineas to swoop down the inside.

Another titbit Butler notes is that Telecaster is a son of New Approach, and out of Shirocco Star, who was an agonizingly close second to Was in the 2013 Oaks off… a 14-day gap.

As for the rest?

Surfman ran encouragingly, having come from last to finish third and promise better over 1m4f, especially going a stronger gallop. He might now head to Epsom for the Derby.

 

Aidan O’Brien didn’t win this Derby trial, but he still would have headed home happy from York, where Japan was a decent fourth despite essentially starting from the same position. His effort has to be marked up given that he’d missed a number of trials and had been on the ‘easy list’ at Ballydoyle due to a number of setbacks. Also caught out when the pace increased, he was tenderly ridden and should enjoy a step up in trip although we don’t yet know his next destination.

 

  1. Not So Giggy With It

A dual Grand National winner. 91 Grade 1 wins. 162 winners over the last season. A seventh owners’ title.

Why anyone with that amount of success would ever want to leave racing would be a mystery, but that’s what Gigginstown will be doing over the next five years in a move that came as a great shock to the jumping fraternity.

However, the news came right from the horse’s mouth:

"We wish to sincerely thank all our trainers and their teams for the enormous success we've enjoyed over the past decade, but as my children are growing into teenagers I'm spending more and more of my time at their activities and I have less and less time for National Hunt racing, a situation that will continue for the foreseeable future.”

"I hope that by running down our string over an extended four-or-five-year period it will give our trainers ample time to replace our horses without disruption."

 

So, what happens now?

The changes will be gradual yet seismic for Irish racing. The announcement actually came on the very same day that the store sale season was commencing at Tattersalls Ireland, with the news sending shock waves through the sport and even making bulletin headlines in the UK, too.

 

Quotes (from the Press Association, and Racing Post):

Gordon Elliott: "Gigginstown have been very, very good to me all through my career so far. They've really supported me, and we've been lucky to have some great horses and great days together. It is a blow, obviously - they have plenty of horses with us. But there are a lot of other owners in the yard, and we've proven we can train - so hopefully some other owners will come in." 

Ruby Walsh: "It might take them four or five years to get out, but the ramifications will be felt as soon as this morning. I don’t think anyone will benefit from this situation. It’s a loss for Irish racing. There is no winner."

Colin Bowe (Ireland’s leading point-to-point trainer): "I will certainly miss them. They have bought plenty of nice young horses off me and I suppose the best of them was Samcro. It's a massive blow to the point-to-point industry. Not only was it great to see them in the sales ring when you were selling one at Cheltenham, but they also added a bit of depth to the point-to-point races too."

Oh, and some people weren't so shocked. Or at least one person:

Oh, and there's no better time than a crisis to sell:

 

  1. The Emerald City

Anyone who reads these pages will know that you can’t keep any Irishman down in this sport, and there was yet more Irish jumping success, this time in the City of Love.

A number of the esteemed Twitter racing community, including this man – you might know him as The Racing Blogger – went for one of the best days French racing has to offer yesterday, and some did the double of both Saturday and Sunday.

Firstly, we had the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil – otherwise known as the French Champion Hurdle, although run over 3 miles and half a furlong. De Bon Coeur, the wide margin winner of the race last year – and by 16 lengths no less – was sent off 2/5 with the local public expecting to see their heroine dot up.

She met her match however, in the Irish (or now Irish) supermare Benie Des Dieux, who was going further than she ever had on her first start against geldings in eight starts, but you would never have noticed that from the way that she powered home after the last to beat De Bon Coeur by six lengths.

 

The second big Irish success of the week came in the shape of a wonderful victory for Davy Russell, who had one of his biggest and perhaps easiest wins as Carriacou ran out a wide margin and deeply impressive winner of the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris. Brilliantly trained by Isabelle Pacault, who became the first woman trainer to win the “Grand Steep”, he sauntered into the race between the last two and romped home by nine lengths from the favourite Bipolare.


Luck of the Irish:
Was not in here, jockey aside, with Irish National winner Burrows Saint doing the best of Mullins’ five. He was too free off the slow gallop but didn’t disgrace himself in fifth. Total Recall, Rathvinden and Pleasant Company were all outpaced in the final circuit in a race where the gallop changed regularly.

A Sight For Sore Eyes:

 

  1. Rest of The Week

Elsewhere…..

War of Will got the fortune that he was missing when he gave Mark Casse a first Triple Crown win in the Preakness, beating Everfast and Owendale. The real show stealer was Bodexpress, who unseated John Velazquez at the start and ran an extra lap before being caught:


Aidan O’Brien – yes him, again – had a four-timer at Naas as he strengthened his Royal Ascot hand yet again, with victory for So Perfect in the Lacken Stakes, Pistoletto in the Gustav Klimt Race, Etoile, who made a winning debut in the Group Three Coolmore Stud Irish EBF Fillies' Sprint Stakes, before Ferretti took the Royal Ascot Trials At Naas Handicap.

All of them deserved credit, although for Pistolettto to overcome a bitten tongue and two lost shoes – as well as a hip bang - was notably impressive.

So too was Etoile winning on debut as she did:

At Newbury, a thrilling renewal of the London Gold Cup saw Headman defy top weight and a wide draw to win the London Gold Cup in an exciting finish for Roger Charlton; Temple of Heavens got the better of a battle with Fort Myers and Well Of Wisdom to win the Olympic Glory Conditions Stakes; Queen Power ran down Lavender’s Blue to take the the Haras de Bouquetot Fillies' Trial, and Khaadem began his three-year-old career in style when landing the Listed Shalaa Carnarvon Stakes, entering the Commonwealth Cup picture in so doing.

https://twitter.com/TimeformLive/status/1129750059418103810

 

During the Dante meeting, Champion stayer Stradivarius made a successful reappearance when getting the better of a tug of war with Southern France in the Yorkshire Cup; Lah Ti Dar made a successful comeback in the Middleton after a sustained duel with Rawdaa; Invincible Army was deeply impressive in the Duke of York Stakes; and Nausha held off the challenges of Entitle and Frankellina in a thrilling Musidora Stakes.

Oh yes, the Summer racing festivals are bubbling up nicely! Until next week...

- WK

Social Discourse: 13th May 2019

We are into the thick of the flat season now, and that means taking some international trips for what is a big recap edition of Social Discourse. There's plenty to look forward to this week, but in case you were gripped by the weekend's football - and let's be honest, there's no shame in that - here's what you might have missed.

  1. Kings and Castles

Anything Coolmore can do, Godolphin can do… just as well?

A fortnight on from Coolmore’s Guineas double, Godolphin landed their own brace of successes in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Pouliches with two horses of immense promise for the season ahead.

It was also a momentous milestone for the Boys in Blue, who passed 300 Group 1 winners worldwide – and judging by these two exciting Classic winners - they will be adding to that total this summer.

Persian King had been all the rage for the Poulains, following his impressive win in the Prix de Fontainebleau, that following on from a game victory over 2,000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia, but there was one big unknown – heavy ground.

 

The surface at Longchamp was very testing – in line with the surface for much of the week’s racing in Europe – and Persian King, like most of the field, was untried on anything slower than good to soft.

However, he was punted as if defeat was out of the question – indeed he went off 2/5 t- and the money turned out to be right as he responded with tenacity to Pierre Charles-Boudot’s drive at the cutaway, and impressed what already looks like a legion of fans, including one extremely notable fellow...

https://twitter.com/racingblogger/status/1127576124911960064

This first Classic winner for Kingman showed a decent turn of foot in the circumstances and no small amount of grit to get the better of Shaman, the only other heavy ground winner in the field, in a performance which augured well for a future step up in trip, and the Prix du Jockey Club appears to be the next target according to connections:

From the trainer: "He would prefer good ground. The Jockey Club was the long term plan so we'll see. The other option is to wait for Ascot but we'll decide with Sheikh Mohammed and Diane Wildenstein. The Jockey Club seems the obvious target." – Andre Fabre speaking to Scott Burton of the Racing Post

Best of The Rest: San Donato ran a big race to be third on his return, especially as he was making his seasonal debut and running on ground so heavy for the first time. Grainges, third in the Jean Luc Lagardere and perhaps unlucky not to take the Djebel, might have a future up in trip too.

 

Not less than half an hour later, the Royal Blue was in front again as Castle Lady poured her heart out to get the better of Commes by a nose in the Pouliches.

The daughter of Shamardal, who received a fine ride from Mickael Barzalona, got the victory by just a nose from Commes as the two flew past the line together, with Kevin Ryan’s East (more on her later) a fine third.

Her progression has been a story in itself: she was once with Charlie Appleby, but was then switched to Alex Pantall, and in the space of just under three months she’s gone from Chantilly maiden winner to Group 1 filly.

With Commes, a daughter of Prix du Jockey Club winner Le Havre, set to head to the Prix Diane, Royal Ascot could well be on the cards for the winner, who “won’t stay the Diane trip” according to her trainer.

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East, who was drawn very wide, finished to strong effect and has a bright season ahead of her.

 

  1. Trials And Tribulations

Ladies First - The Oaks is developing into a hell of a renewal, isn’t it?

  • Already set to head there, we have Hermosa, the 1,000 Guineas winner who did her best work late:

  • Mehdaayih, the uber-impressive winner of the Cheshire Oaks who is surely set to be supplemented

  • Maqsad, the brilliant winner of the Pretty Polly Stakes

https://twitter.com/SportingLife/status/1125067331854655495

  • Anapurna, the wide margin winner of Lingfield’s Oaks Trial

  • Blue Wind Stakes winner, Pink Dogwood

  • Happen, the Athasi Stakes winner and daughter of Alexandrova

Also:

In the Musidora Stakes at York this week, we will see the unbeaten Frankellina and Sandown winner Sparkle Roll.

 

  1. The Ballydoyle Six

The Derby picture is developing too, although it seems to be tilting itself towards one man. You know his name: Aidan O’Brien has six Derby's and five of the top six in the betting for this year's Epsom renewal.

  • Top of the list is Sir Dragonet, the eight-length (yes eight-lengths) Chester Vase winner, who was so powerful late on that he covered the final circuit two seconds quicker than Mehdaayih

  • Ballysax and Derrinstown Stakes winner Broome

  • Japan, the Beresford Stakes winner who reappears in the Dante (see below)

  • Anthony Van Dyck, the winner of the Lingfield Derby trial at the weekend

 

The only horse who isn’t from Ballydoyle and in the top five? Too Darn Hot, who runs in...

 

  1. Dante’s Inferno

There’s just over a fortnight to go until The Derby, and the last trial arguably has the potential to shake things up the most – the Dante.

The York Trial is traditionally one of the strongest, and this year that will be the case once again with what looks like a very deep field.

Taking to the Knavesmire will be:

  • Champion 2-year-old and Dewhurst winner Too Darn Hot

https://twitter.com/SportingLife/status/1051112150809436161

  • Beresford Stakes winner Japan
  • Surfman, subject of a big gamble and a 14 length novice winner at Newcastle

  • Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Line of Duty, hoping to strike one for TV's AC-12

  • Telecaster, second to subsequent Bet365 Trial winner Bangkok on debut before then winning by nine lengths at Windsor

 

Also running….

  • Sandown maiden winner Almania, the representative of Sir Michael Stoute, Mark Johnston’s Nayef Road, Kadar, Turgenev, Dark Vision and Western Australia. Whoosh!

 

  1. Elsewhere
  • Cape Byron held off the gallant Kynren to land the Tote Victoria Cup at Ascot

https://twitter.com/itvracing/status/1127303110068789249

 

  • Salouen took the Carey Group Buckhounds Stakes in style on the same cards

  • Pretty Baby overcame the widest draw and the slowest ground she’d raced on to claim a game victory in the Chartwell Stakes at Lingfield

 

  • At Chester, Making Miracles won the Chester Cup by six lengths, beating Who Dares Wins and Whiskey Sour, with Cambridgeshire winner Low Sun in fourth

 

  • Circus Maximus won the Dee Stakes, beating stablemate Mohawk with Fox Chairman unlucky in third

  • Hazapour took the Amethyst Stakes, coping well with the drop down to a mile
  • Morando stormed to victory in the Ormonde Stakes, beating Kew Gardens by no less than eight-lengths, with last year’s Chester Cup winner Magic Circle in third

https://twitter.com/ODDSbibleRacing/status/1126501853489876994

 

  • Hamariyna was a taking winner of Leopardstown’s 1,000 Guineas Trial

  • Hazapour took the Amethyst Stakes, coping well with the drop down to a mile

Phew! That's all for another packed instalment. Tune in again next week - same time, same place - for more of the same. Until then, this is William Kedjanyi signing off...

Social Discourse: 7th May 2019

It was a week with just about everything that racing can give, writes William Kedjanyi. But there's really just one place to start for this Special Edition of Social Discourse. To the land of the Free and The Home of The Brave, because where else would we go?

 

  1. Maximum Disqualification

It all looked so simple. The winner of the Kentucky Derby was Maximum Security, who was always on the front end and then kicked on down the straight, having received a canny ride from Luis Saez to become another unbeaten horse to win the Derby, in the process providing a first victory in the great race for stalwart racing supporters, Gary and Mary West.

 

 

And then the objection came.

 

 

Recap: You may know this by now, but one more time for fun: as the field made their way around the final turn, Maximum Security stepped out, nearly bringing down War Of Will, and ended the chances of the retreating Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress, who were squeezed and stopped respectively.

Country House, coming widest of all and passing horses, was forced to go even wider, but wasn’t stopped in his momentum like the others. Down the straight, Maximum Security kicked on, and the Derby was won – or so we thought.

The stewards were on the scene, and so were the tweets.

 

20 minutes passed, with stewards looking at five separate angles, although it felt like an hour given the tension involved.

 

And then, the announcement.

 

By now, what had seemed like a – by Kentucky Derby standards - relatively normal renewal was engraved in the history books when the PA at Churchill Downs announced that, for the first time in the race’s history, the winner had been disqualified.

 

People had opinions:

 

The technical stuff: The ruling that made the difference: “a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey.”

 

People Had More Opinions:

  

The Right Call?

Most observers – from what yours truly was able to see - were firmly against the decision, but a couple of voices do think it was the right call. Indeed, some of them even shared their thoughts with us:

“Personally, I had backed the 1 horse, War Of Will.  He was coming with his run and got smashed by Maximum Security – it effectively stopped him and another horse - then he veered back down and bumped Code of Honor, and then went back into War Of Will, who knocked into Country house. CH has suffered the least out of the horses. But in American racing every day of the week that gets stood down. In the UK some will agree or disagree that the result would have stood. In France, he would be placed behind the affected horses. Was he the best horse in the race? Probably, but you wouldn’t know for sure, and given that he then drifts across the lanes down the track to finish as well? In my opinion, he cost one horse a place minimum. It was hard to watch the winner get taken down, but I said he’d lose it as he crossed the line. Universal rules needed? Maybe.”

Mick Doonan (@tensovs2kg)

 

“I was going to stay quiet about this but have been getting a few texts and messages so might as well jump into the fire ... I think the Kentucky Derby DQ was the right call. While I think it should have been DQ'ed on a steward's inquiry instead of a rider objection, the sport is in a pivotal spot right now. Leaving a horse up when he made a dangerous move like that just because it was the Derby would have sent the wrong message in a time when our message/sport is already being questioned.

I do however think Country House is the luckiest creature alive right now. He wasn't impacted by the whole thing but did get the win because of it. That's the definition of lucky - but he also put himself in a spot to finish second (and ultimately get promoted) so luck and talent both played a part.”

Melissa Bauer-Herzog 

 

They weren’t the only ones who did actually agree with the call, either: 

Of course, one person who is notoriously short on opinions is the quiet and easy-going US president, Donald Trump. Naturally he had a take on this, and of course, he made a typo in his first tweet, which he had to delete (we've all been there) 

 

 

 

Winners Closer to Home

The result wasn't a shock to everyone, though. Our very own editor had flagged the chance of Country House as a late runner tied into the (absent ante-post favourite) Omaha Beach / Improbable (favourite on the day) form - Country House had run 3rd from an impossible position behind them on a sloppy track in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, a key prep for Churchill Downs.

 

Taking The Ball and Going Home 

Gary West – remember him? – told NBC’s Today Show that:

  • Firstly, he’d appeal the decision:
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  • Secondly (see above), Maximum Security wouldn’t be going to the Preakness, with the Triple Crown off the line: “When you’re not going for the Triple Crown, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to wheel the horse back in two weeks,” West said to the AP

 

Don’t Forget: In a race where the early speed was strong but Luis Saez and others cannily cooled it down the back straight, a number of horses ran very well from behind. Tacticus, the more fancied Bill Mott runner, did a fine job to be the first of the held up horses, passing four horses in the final furlong. The future is bright for him.

Don’t give up on Game Winner, who was bodyslammed leaving the gate and ended up second last around the first turn, sat more than five lengths off the back. He made two big moves, the first to catch up to the field, and then the second to come widest of all round the third turn, and he then closed almost as well as Tacticus to finish sixth (placed fifth). He’s still got a big future.

Master Fencer was even further behind, having also been affected by the barging match at the stalls, and he took a long time to get going but when he closed he was lethal, with his final quarter-mile split of 24.31 seconds is the fastest by any horse in a Kentucky Derby since Animal Kingdom’s sub-24 final quarter in 2011.

 

  1. Luck of the Draw

In case you’d forgotten, there were four other Classics that took place over the weekend, and the feature event of Saturday afternoon – the 2,000 Guineas – went the way of Aidan O’Brien yet again as Magna Grecia ran out a comprehensive winner from King Of Change and Skardu.

Except visually, that wasn’t the case at all, as Magna Grecia was two and a half lengths clear of King Of Change and Shine So Bright, with the three having dominated the Guineas as a lone trio down by the near side from the very start.

 

 

Shine So Bright, who had previously won The Free Handicap, made the running at a brisk pace, ensuring Magna Grecia and King Of Change had a good tow, but with 16 going down the middle and only three down the near side, it’s fair to assume that most people would have been happier to have their horse in the bigger group. But that was not how it turned out.

Let’s just say that plenty of people noticed what was up.

Meanwhile, In The Centre: In all of this, it should not be forgotten that there were a number of excellent runs. Skardu actually won the race down the middle, just beating Madhmoon to the post for third and fourth respectively. Ten Sovereigns, who was heavily backed into 9/4 favourite, was in front of them with half a furlong to go, but was just run out of things late on – he’s set to go sprinting again, a tremendously exciting prospect as the Middle Park winner is likely to prove tough to beat amongst the speedsters.

Great Scot, the subject of a number of tips – yours truly included – during the week, came out just a touch too keen, and probably ran better than a position of 9th suggested. He might want a drop back in trip whilst Kick On, the Feilden Stakes winner, will go well at ten furlongs and further.

Onwards: Advertise disappointed when running no sort of race but he’s already got his passport stamped for Paris, with the French Guineas next.

 

  1. The Walsh Memories

8,692 days.

Over 2,500 winners.

Over 200 Grade 1 winners.

11 Cheltenham Festival Jockeys’ Titles.

59 Festival winners.

Seven Punchestown Gold Cups.

Six Punchestown Champion Hurdles.

Five Supreme Novices’ Hurdles.

Four Ryanair Chases.

Three Arkles.

Two Grand Nationals.

One Ruby Walsh.

 

After taking yet another Grade 1 victory, aboard Kemboy in the Punchestown Gold Cup, Walsh bowed out right at the top, and tributes from the jumping world flowed on in. Readers of this newsletter will have a huge amount of Walsh memories – I mean who doesn’t? And I've shared some of the best here.

 

  1. The Town Like No Other

All last week at Punchestown there were more Grade 1’s than there were pints of Guinness to be drunk (OK, maybe not quite), and a number of highlights.

On Saturday, Fusil Raffles took the Four-Year-Old Champion Hurdle, atoning for the cut he picked up in the Adonis.

 

Benie Des Dieux put a dramatic fall at Cheltenham behind her to lead home a whitewash for Willie Mullins in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle

 

On Friday, Buveur D’Air bounced back when storming to success in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle

 

Colin Tizzard ended his season on a high when Reserve Tank won the Grade 1 Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle, jumping the last well to get the better of Sams Profile, as Ballymore Hurdle winner City Island disappointed

 

The extremely exciting Chacun Pour Soi dominated an extremely exciting renewal of the Ryanair Chase and had Willie Mullins as excited as we’ve seen it. A lot of excitement!

 

Harry Fry’s Unknowhatimeanharry rolled back the years to win the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, beating Bacardys and Bapaume in a thrilling finish

 

Colreevy came back to the Festival for the second time as a Bumper horse, giving Willie Mullins yet another Punchestown Champion Bumper, beating off three Gigginstown horses in the process

 

Minella Indo gave Rachael Blackmore another big winner as he doubled up on his Albert Bartlett win in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, beating Allaho and Carefully Selected

 

Delta Work handed a big compliment to his RSA conquerors as he sauntered home in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase, smashing Discorama and A Plus Tard

 

Un de Secaux also rolled back the years to get the better of Min by four lengths in an emotional Champion Chase

 

Klassical Dream confirmed his Supreme Novices’ form with Felix Desjy, winning the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle with ease

 

And, of course, Kemboy gave Ruby Walsh a fantastic second off in the battle of Willie Mullins’ Grade 1 chasers in the Punchestown Gold Cup, claiming the scalp of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo

 

  1. Elsewhere

Phew! It was a busy week... Elsewhere, Aidan O’Brien completed his fourth Guineas double – taking both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in the same year – with Hermosa’s all the way victory over Lady Kaya in the 1,000 Guineas complementing Magna Grecia's triumph the previous day. The daughter of Galileo, who was one of four Ballydoyle runners in the field, fought hardest to repel fellow Irish raider, Lady Kaya, and the fast-finishing Roger Varian-trained Qabala

 

The Kentucky Oaks was won by Serengeti Empress, who grabbed the early lead and wasn’t for passing despite a spirited late challenge from Liora, as a number of favoured contenders disappointed

 

On the same card, Newspaperofrecord, the extremely impressive winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filles Turf, suffered a shock defeat in the Edgewood Stakes after setting extremely strong fractions and then being run down by Concrete Rose

 

The picture for the Oaks (the British version) is developing quickly, following not only Hermosa’s win but also Maqsad’s domination of the Pretty Polly Stakes, smashing the Fillies Mile fourth, Shambolic

 

Communique received a brilliant ride from Silvestre de Sousa to get the better of Defoe when springing an upset in the Jockey Club Stakes

Mabs Cross made a brilliant return in the Palace House Stakes, defying a penalty to get the better of Equilateral by a neck, with Sergei Prokofiev a running on fourth

 

Calyx maintained his unbeaten record with a superb return in the Commonwealth Cup Trial Stakes at Ascot, and he will now go for the Commonwealth Cup itself at Royal Ascot

 

Dee Ex Bee made an impressive debut as a stayer when he ran out a ready winner of the Sagaro Stakes, earning himself quotes as short as 12/1 for the Gold Cup at the Royal meeting

 

Ventura Rebel shocked odds-on favourite Lady Pauline in the Royal Ascot Two-Year-Old Trial Conditions Stakes at Ascot, outstaying the American raider to make it two from two.

 

Magical is now unbeaten in two this term after taking the Mooresbridge Stakes, beating Flag of Honour again (also 1-2 in the Alleged Stakes).

 

On the same card, Ickworth was an impressive winner of the the First Flier Stakes, sprinting away from the 2/5 favourite and previous Dundalk winner, King Neptune

 

Shelir came with a wet sail to take the Tetrarch Stakes, retaining her own unbeaten record in the process, and might be headed to the Irish 2,000 Guineas

 

Happen came from last to first to steal the Athasi Stakes on the line, with Ryan Moore in inspired form to get her home by a neck from Dan’s Dream; she will now head to the Irish 1,000 Guineas

 

And that's us up to date on what was a stellar week of action on both sides of the globe and on both sides of the codes. Stay tuned for more of the same next week. For now, though, this is William Kedjanyi going for a long lie down...

- WK

Social Discourse: 29th April

So here we go again, as the dust settles on the 2018/19 UK jump season, writes William Kedjanyi. Seems a bit odd that we have Punchestown this week, but such is the shadowing-but-not-total-overlap of the British and Irish seasons...

  1. The Season That Was 

358 days, 515,520 minutes, and 8592 hours later, we are done. The 2018/19 British jumps season has had its fair share of engrossing stories both on and off the racecourse, and it is little surprise that, fresh after the jumping finale at Sandown Park, on a day when the deserving champions of the season where crowned, people had plenty of highlights.

 

 

The Roll of honour reads:  

Champion Trainer

Paul Nicholls (135 winners, £3,307,171.58)

 

Champion Jockey

Richard Johnson (200 wins, £2,258,652)

 

 

Champion Conditional

Bryony Frost (49 wins, £957,516)

Champion Owner

JP McManus (94 wins, £2,147,993.55)

Racing Post jumps horse of the year

Tiger Roll (Boyne Hurdle, Cross Country, Grand National)

 

We had plenty of exceptional moments, not least Tiger Roll’s Grand National win, but also the super Thursday at the Festival (as said above) with Frodon and Paisley Park. Let’s not forget some of the early season highlights too, like Buveur D’Air’s brilliant Fighting Fifth win (when it looked as if the whole hurdling world would be his oyster), a sensational set of staying novice chases, and the two ridiculously powerful performances of Cyrname at Ascot to name a few. And who knows what could be on the way next season? 

 

  1. Altior - A New Frontier

Had it not been for the extraordinary Tiger Roll, it would have been hard not to deny Altior as the horse of the season. The now dual Champion Chaser took his third Celebration Chase, having once again had to come through a tough battle up the short but steep Sandown hill.

He was facing Sceau Royal once again, the two having clashed at Cheltenham for a previous dramatic late battle, and this time it looked as if a shock was on the cards. Things would have been even tighter if Sceau Royal hadn’t basically walked into the second last. As it was, they were still level after the last – much like at Cheltenham in the Champion Chase – but the customary powerful finish of Altior's took him three and a half lengths clear by the line. Do enjoy this mega leap, captured by Luke Elder, though;

 

1,252 days ago, Chepstow saw the debut of a future Champion as Nicky Henderson’s charge won by 34 lengths. That was to be the first of a 19 race winning streak, all over 2 1/4 miles or less, but this season’s performances – and the fact that he’s conquered all there is to conquer over the minimum distance – has finally seen connections opt for a step up in trip.

 

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The King George is set to be his main aim for the first half of next season, something which trainer, jockey and owners all agree on.

“He’s very good at telling you things. He told you one thing today: ‘Go further!’ – Nicky Henderson, speaking to The Guardian’s Chris Cook in the aftermath of Altior’s success 

 

Three miles? No problem! - “He’ll switch off,” Henderson said. “That’s going to be the beauty of it. He’s no tearaway. Nico [de Boinville] said he was having to boot him the whole way today.”  Henderson once again, speaking to Chris Cook.

 

The View From The Saddle:

  

Where next?

The Racing Post’s Maddy Playle has been looking at the potential next steps….

 

  1. The Grand Finale

The Irish Jumping season ends with a five-day spectacular at Punchestown, with 39 races from tomorrow to Saturday in the beautiful setting of County Kildare. 12 of them are Grade 1’s, and we will be reflecting on a great deal of them here next week, but we have confirmed fields for the first three, which take place on Tuesday.

 

  • Klassical Dream, the extremely impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, will go for a double, facing four of his stablemates including Quick Grabim (Paul Townend), Aramon (David Mullins) and Mister Blue Sky (Danny Mullins), along with Gordon Elliott' Felix Desjy, and Nicky Henderson's British challenger, Champagne Platinum.

 

  • Delta Work aims to take yet another Grade 1 over fences in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase, facing the widily impressive Cheltenham winner A Plus Tard, and Getabird, who was narrowly beaten in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase at Christmas

 

  • Devastatingly impressive Ryanair Chase winner Min bids to end his season on a high note in the BoyleSports Champion Chase, facing last year’s winner and stablemate Un De Secaux, as well as Great Field, Castlegrace Paddy, Hell’s Kitchen and Ordinary World

 

  1. Meanwhile, On The Level

The European flat season is already well underway. In Britain, we had a fine card at Sandown on Friday, and today we had the first French Group 1 of the season, the returning Oaks favourite in Ireland, and four Group 1 races in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong gets it’s own spot later on but let’s try and cover the best highlights from Europe to start with.

  • The first Group 1 of the French season, the Prix Ganay, went to Waldgeist, with last year’s Arc fourth cannily ridden to show a fine turn of foot that would see him cosily beat the 2018 Prix Du-Jockey Club winner, Study of Man, and the odds-on favourite Ghaiyyath, an extremely impressive winner of the Prix d'Harcourt previously.

 

  • Ghaiyyath, the 1/2 favourite, had been sent to the lead, presumably in an attempt to try and repeat the same front running win as last time, but Study Of Man and Waldgeist were always travelling better in behind; and when Christophe Soumillon asked him, the last named had plenty in reserve and eventually won quite easily.
  • Much of Twitter was not impressed with what they saw as a below-par performance, as you can see, but Charlie Appleby reckons a step up in trip should do the trick for him

In Ireland, it was a tale of two races for Aidan O’Brien. He will be very happy to have another string to his Classic bow in the shape of Pink Dogwood, who is now a stronger favourite for the Oaks following her win in the Salsabil Stakes, whilst Capri was a well beaten fifth in the Vintage Crop Stakes, where Southern France was also beaten into third. 

  • Pink Dogwood travelled well into the Salsabi, before being made to work very hard by Noel Meade’s recent Clonmel scorer Encapsulation, with the two pulling away. She got the better of the argument by half a length, with Ryan Moore driving away but not using his whip. She’s now as short as 5/1 for the Oaks, and that has split opinion

  • When Aidan doesn’t win, Joseph now so often does, and whilst the result of the Vintage Crop Stakes was in doubt until the very end, Master Of Reality produced a fine front-running display to cause a major upset for Joseph. He’d looked set for second before rallying to beat Mustajeer by a head

 

  • Capri faded badly into fifth, having never looked quite as comfortable, and Southern France sweated up beforehand but ran with some promise in third; Aidan O’Brien did say that both were big and that plenty of improvement was expected

Back in time, to a place called Sandown...

  • Crystal Ocean took his second, and Sir Michael Stoute’s tenth, victory in the Gordon Richards Stakes on Friday, with the manner of his victory suggesting he can land at least one Group 1 this year. He had too much for the pleasing runner up Knight To Behold, but Trais Fluors and Thundering Blue were both disappointing in behind.

 

  • Beat The Bank took yet another race at Group level with a gutsy win in the Bet365 Mile, responding brilliantly to Silvestre de Sousa’s power-packed drive late on and showing enough to just repel Sharja Bridge

 

  • Silvestre de Sousa and King Power had yet another success as Bangkok showed a smart turn of foot to take the bet365 Classic Trial at Sandown, beating the Martyn Meade-trained Technician, who probably didn’t get the gap to challenge when needed

 

  • Masaru defied top weight and looked smart in doing so when bet365 Esher Cup Handicap as Migration was a big eye-catcher in second place

 

  1. The Beauty Of Our Generation

There were three Group 1’s in Hong Kong on Sunday but the star of the show was undoubtedly Beauty Generation, who put on a brilliant performance in the FWD Champions Mile

  • The six-year-old was barely asked to come out of an exercise canter to beat Singapore Sling by a length and a half, and so impressive was his previous eight-race winning run that he went off 1/20 in a display that has to be seen to be believed (so I’ve put it for you below).

  • For those asking the inevitable – where will we see his talents next? – Japan’s Yasuda Kinen has been all but confirmed, as one can see from rider Zac Purton’s tweet:

 

In the Chairman’s Sprint Prize…

  • Beat The Clock took his second Group 1 and eighth win when leading home a a one-two-three for Hong Kong-trained horses, with hot Australian favourite, Santa Ana Lane, a slightly disappointing fourth.

 

In the QEII Cup….

  • Win Bright took a first Group 1 success, at 47/1 ! He held off the late runs of Exultant and and Lys Gracieux in a course record time of 1min 58.81secs.

 

That's all for this week. I'll be back next week - same time, same place - with a round up of the Punchestown Festival and the Guineas. Stay tuned!

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 23rd April 2019

An Irish special this week, as the Emerald Isle’s Easter Festival gave us some amazing action yesterday and Sunday.

 

  1. St Burrows of Fairyhouse

There aren’t many races that Willie Mullins hasn’t won before, but rather surprisingly for a man with his strength in depth and experience, both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Irish Grand National were gaps on his CV – until this year.

 

In an amazing 38 days for the Closutton handler, he took the Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo and, for much of the last circuit, it was never in doubt that he would complete a double and fill what were probably the last two existing gaps in a glittering CV.

Favourite Burrows Saint, who put in a peachy round apart from two errors, was going supremely well coming out of the long back straight and as he faced the final two fences the race was down to a simple matter of whether he’d be able to back up his strong-travelling nature. He was.

He had enough to fend off the remarkable 12-year-old Isleofhopendreams (20/1), who was beaten a head in the 2018 renewal and again had to settle for second, with Acapella Bourgeois (18/1) third, giving the trainer a 1-2-3 on the occasion when he broke his duck.

Snugsborough Benny, a previous course and distance winner, finished best of the rest in fourth, with Mullins snaring fifth for good measure with 25/1 chance Bellow Mome. Roaring Bull fared best of the Gordon Elliott battalion in sixth.

There was plenty of love on social media for what was a classic Ruby Walsh win.

 

What next? Aintree beckons. Speaking to Gary O’Brien on Racing TV, winning rider Ruby Walsh said: "I’d say now we’ll run him away over hurdles, and we'll have a go at Tiger Roll. He’s French, even the way he jumps – he’s accurate, he’s low, he’d be my horse for Aintree.”

Something to note: Burrows Saint is just six, which means he will be trying to improve the truly dreadful record of seven-year-olds in the Grand National, but there is little else not to like.

 

2. No Jiggy for Giggy

At the end of this day, I don’t think that Michael O’Leary will be too upset with how his season went, but he might not want to remember the Irish Grand National too much.

Gigginstown had 12 runners, the overwhelming majority of them running for Gordon Elliott, but the best of them finished sixth, as Roaring Bull made it three six-year-olds in the first six. It’s fair to say that his fact did not go unnoticed...

 

The Guessing Game: As well as dominating the final fields, fans, punters and commentators can have a nightmare when trying to identify their best chance, with an army of caps needed, as this shows:

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Spotting your runner can be nigh on impossible, but this idea from Sky Sports’ Racing’s Kevin Blake was of interest and sparked some fascinating conversation.

Some have suggested a cap on the number of runners that an owner can have in a race, limiting them to perhaps three or four, and it will be interesting to see if such calls actually grow over the next couple of season. This, of course, is anti-competitive; but then so, some will argue, is one owner having half the field in a race on a regular basis.

JP McManus, who didn’t have any horses in the first six, ran five and has run more in Irish Nationals previously, is the other owner who routinely gets the caps out.

On one hand…. When over half the runners in the season’s biggest handicap are connected to just two owners, it can reflect badly upon the state of the game.

On the other…. These two behemoths are arguably the power behind Irish racing and their support to the sport is simply priceless.

 

  1. It’s a Rachael Sunday

A defining feature of this jumps season has been the performance of younger jockeys. Plenty have made their name on the biggest stage, and arguably the biggest breakout star has been Rachael Blackmore.

Blackmore, who features regularly in this column – and with good reason – has 87 Irish  winners, a tally beaten only by Champion Jockey elect Paul Townend, and the most important of them came on Sunday, when she steered the tremendously exciting Honeysuckle to victory in the Grade 1 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final. It was the best result all round for racing and the punters, with her growing fan club overjoyed.

 

 

Blackmore was cool, composed, and kicked at the right time to put the race to bed, something she does as second nature now; it was reminiscent of her ride on A Plus Tard at the Cheltenham Festival, leaving nothing to chance at all, and the victory was that of a serious talent.

Honeysuckle ended up beating the same owners’ Elfile, cannily ridden for a place, by five and a half lengths, and to show her talent, Cheltenham Festival winner Eglantine Du Seuil was beaten eight and a half lengths in third.

 

What they said: "It's incredible, unbelievable really. This mare is a bit special and to be associated with her is fantastic. It's hard enough to be able to get rides in Grade 1's, so to be on a horse good enough to win is brilliant. She was fantastic and made my job easy. She's got a very exciting future. She didn't put a foot wrong." – Rachael Blackmore speaking to the Racing Post’s David Jennings

 “It was very frustrating at the time when she missed Cheltenham, but the owners said you have to do what’s right for the mare and thankfully their patience has been repaid. She just went a bit flat and we weren't happy with her, but she was back in good form about two weeks after Cheltenham." – Henry De Bromhead, also speaking to David Jennings

 

  1. The Helter Skeltons

200. That’s the magic number for Dan Skelton, who became just the second National Hunt trainer in history to register 200 winners in a single season.

 

To record a double century of winners is a monumental achievement, but of all the ways to do it, a six-timer on Easter Sunday is spectacular. Perhaps even more remarkably, that six-timer was split across just two courses, with a four-timer at Market Rasen thanks to Montego Grey, Present Ranger Gortroe Joe, and Zamparelli, whilst Istimraar and Kereman won at Plumpton.

Only Martin Pipe has done this before and the great man has predicted that Skelton will be the person to break his record, if anyone can.

 

It has been a season with sparks of quality – think of Roksana and Mohaayed – supported by an army of handicappers who have been smartly targeted from the summer to the spring; and this season has been a masterclass in placing, as well as a superb shift from Harry Skelton (176 winners) in the saddle.

 

 

  1. Meanwhile…..
  • Voix Du Reve got the better of stablemate Real Steel in the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup, giving Willie Mullins with a one-two and a second consecutive win in the race.

 

  • Mullins had another Graded winner as French Made reversed Cheltenham form with Gardens of Babylon (2nd) and Coeur Sublime (3rd) as she came forward from her Triumph Hurdle run to take the Grade 2 Glenview Studs Juvenile Hurdle.

 

  • The popular and likeable (see the commentary) Rashaan took the Strawberry Hurdle for Colin Kidd and Davy Russell, springing an upset from Not Many Left with Off You Go in third.

 

  • Jett jumped his rivals into the ground to end a 14-month losing streak in the Grade Two Devenish Chase.

With just Punchestown to come, that's almost the end of the Spring Festivals. Hereafter, it's mostly flat racing all the way. Until next week...

- WK

Social Discourse – Winx Farewell Edition (Monday 15th April)

There were tons of good races over the weekend, but only one horse will be talked about for decades afterwards, so this is the Winx Farewell Edition of Social Discourse.

  1. Winx and you’ll miss her

Here are the numbers. 43 starts. 37 wins. 33 successive wins. Four years unbeaten. 25 group 1 wins, and £14,564,743 in earnings.

Even those astonishing numbers don’t quite do justice to the remarkable story of Winx’s career, which at one point seemed like it would never actually end – but all good things have to come to a close (to steal and paraphrase some words) and her amazing career finally concluded when – for the 33rd time in a row – she rolled through the straight with a customary late turn of foot to take the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

 

48,333 racegoers packed into Randwick, but this mare has captured so many more hearts and minds than that, and for the last time a small army of people woke up in the dead of night or at the crack of dawn to see one of the outstanding horses of the 21st Century.

 

 

 

 

  1. The Legacy

There are many things that make the Winx story special, but after the Lord Mayor’s Show the online debate turned to the great mare’s legacy. There were many strong views on show.

 

 

It’s clear that she has left a deep mark in history – indeed in a modern era where Black Caviar raced less than a decade ago, that Australia has another supermare is absolutely remarkable – and that she’ll be remembered for decades to come, but where does she stand with the on-track ranking?

 

 

 

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One of the features of Winx’s career has been a fierce debate about the value and quality of her opposition and, by extension, middle distance Australian racing. This was exacerbated by the fact that, unlike Black Caviar, she never came to the Northern Hemisphere.

 

Winx does have much less to answer on that score than most Australian horses. Her last Cox Plate win involved a brilliant and easy defeat of Benbatl, a previous Epsom Derby fifth who had a rating of 124 thanks to an impressive win in the Dubai Turf in March 2018, and in one of her Cox Plate victories she also had a certain Highland Reel well beaten in third.

When assessing her on track ability, it should be remembered that there was ample opportunity (and also financial incentive) for top-class European horses to go over to take her on, and only a couple did; but also that she is a fundamentally different horse to the middle distance champions we have been so blessed to enjoy recently, as a versatile horse who possessed a sprinter’s speed in a country where the majority of races are won with a late burst, a completely different style of racing to European racing, where races are hotly run across a number of undulating courses.

Many critique the class of horse that she faced, but being so dominant – and also racing in a country with plenty of Group 1 races – was understandably going to scare off plenty of her opposition, and perhaps her greatest asset is one of her most underrated, her longevity.

 

 

 

Racing until the age of seven – even more a mare – and doing so 43 times is a remarkable achievement and privilege for a horse that was so good and Chris Waller’s choice to extend her career by avoiding some of the other challenges is likely to have benefited Australian racing in the long term too.

 

Whatever one thinks of her form on the track, we know that she has left a huge impression on the history books.

 

  1. Newbury

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that there was a lot of other racing on this weekend from my opening two missives, but we had a packed weekend of racing both on the level and over the jumps. At Newbury, Classic Trials day saw a number of fine performances for the season ahead:

  • Mohaather emerged as a genuine 2000 Guineas contender with a clear-cut success in the Greenham Stakes, showing an impressive turn of foot to get the better of Great Scot, also giving Marcus Tregoning perhaps his best shot at a Classic since Sir Percy.

 

  • Rockfel second Dandhu prevailed in a blanket finish for the Dubai Duty Free Stakes, getting the better of Tom Dascombe’s Iconic Choice, Aidan O’Brien’s So Perfect and Richard Hannon’s Star Terms, having previously looked set to win with something in hand

 

  • Melbourne Cup runner-up Marmelo came home much the best to make a winning return to action in the Dubai Duty Free Finest Stakes, passing Aspetar, Laraaib and Defoe in the last furlong.

 

  • Chatez was rejuvenated for coming back to the flat with a 16/1 success in the Spring Mile, denying The Dominic Ffrench Davis import, Indeed, by a neck and giving jumps trainer Alan King a big flat winner.

 

  1. Scotland

Jumps fans, fear not – the Scottish National is clearly not forgotten in these virtual notes and this year’s renewal saw an upset at Takingrisks won at 25/1 for Nicky Richards, with jockey Sean Quinlan producing a fine sit over the very first fence to keep the partnership intact.

 

This was another recent big win for Richards, the son of two-time Scottish National winner Gordon Richards, who trained the legend Monet’s Garden and went through a rough patch before coaxing plenty of fine performances out of the likes of Simply Ned, Guitar Pete and Baywing.

Travelling well in behind a very strong gallop set by Cogry and Vintage Clouds, he was always moving like a contender and, in the end, stayed on powerfully for a comprehensive win over Eider Chase winner Crosspark with the Trevor Hemmings-owned Cloth Cap in third whilst Big Big River ran a fine race in fifth after losing a lot of ground mid race.

Vintage Clouds was a creditable sixth, having forced the pace very hard from early on.

 

Looking Ahead: It’s only been a week since Tiger Roll won the Grand National but could both these two be headed to Aintree next April? Nicky Richards has already mentioned it for Takingrisks and Crosspark, who is a year younger and would look a natural for the Aintree.

Nicky Richards, trainer of Takingrisks: "I considered running Takingrisks in the race after he won at Carlisle last month as the cheek pieces seemed to improve him a bit. I don't see why he couldn't be an Aintree horse, he jumps and stays, and although he went on this quick ground it was heavy when he won at Carlisle."

 

Also at Ayr….

  • Verdana Blue took advantage of fast ground to rout her Scottish Champion Hurdle rivals, with 7lb claimer Connor Brace taking the biggest victory in his fledgling career

 

  • Secret Investor looked a very smart horse when he provided Paul Nicholls with his seventh win in the Future Champion Novices’ Chase despite bulldozing a number of fences on the way round

  • Azzurri landed a massive week-long gamble to win the Scotty Brand Handicap Chase by nine lengths, going off 5/2 favourite after starting 8/1

 

  1. Meanwhile, around the globe...

Persian King laid a big marker as he outclassed his rivals in the Prix de Fontainebleau at Paris Longchamp, giving Godolphin yet another classic contender

 

  • Magical, last seen pushing Enable to the limit at Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup, was an impressive winner of the Alleged Stakes (once sponsored by geegeez.co.uk - Ed.), beating classic winners Flag Of Honour and Latrobe

 

  • Monarch Of Egypt became a first winner for his sire, American Pharoah, the former US Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup Classic winner, from his first start, for Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore, with Royal Ascot now on the cards

 

  • Saturnalia maintained his unbeaten record in the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2,000 Guineas), winning a thriller from Velox, who got first run in the straight

 

  • Omaha Beach fended off the late charge of Improbable to take the Arkansas Derby, in a result that sealed Kentucky Derby spots for the 1-2-3 (Country House was third)

  • Rushing Fall made a winning debut against older horses when grinding out a very creditable success in the Jenny Wiley Stakes, her fourth success from four starts at Keeneland

  • Delta Prince took his first Grade 1 with a deep rally from last place to win the Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile Stakes, also at Keeneland

 

Racing is a truly global sport, and I hope this wrap of the week's action sets the tone for various national and international narratives in the weeks and months to come. You'll be able to track the stories right here in your weekly dose of Social Discourse...

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 8th April 2019

You all know where this is starting.

 

  1. The Eye Of The Tiger

Look at it. Drink it all in. Reminisce, all over again, and enjoy Tiger Roll’s history-making repeat Grand National triumph.

 

Normally we post the best tweets in here that you might have missed, but there were so many that only the photos can do justice to racing’s collective scream of joy.

 

 

 

 

Hindsight is a powerful thing, but Davy Russell and Tiger Roll were always travelling beautifully and once the diminutive nine-year-old jumped to the front after the Elbow, it appeared – just like last year – to be simply a matter of how far, and he fairly sprinted clear of the young mare Magic Of Light, who ran a sensational race to finish second at 66/1.

The racing community – and basically the whole country of Ireland – were in raptures after taking a 1-2-3, with the popular Rathvinden finishing third, but this was all about one brilliant horse.

What they said: “Tiger Roll isn’t Red Rum – he’s Tiger Roll – and I feel no pressure to go back and try to win a third time. There’s huge public affection for him and I think we’re duty-bound to mind him now.” – Michael O’Leary with some performance trolling regarding Tiger Roll’s potential attempt at a three-timer.

“I was trying to watch all of mine, I can’t believe it. I never once thought he was going to win until he crossed the line, because all I could remember was last year. He didn’t tie up this year. He’s an absolute gentleman to deal with.” – Gordon Elliot in the aftermath of his third national win

 “This horse and this place is amazing. People go on about certain sporting events, but Liverpool and Aintree are so far ahead. People come here in their droves to cheer you on and they can be so proud of what they have here, it’s so well run. It’s televised all around the world and I’m so proud to be a part of it, I can’t believe it.” – Davy Russell, who had an easier time of things this year in the home straight 

 

  1. Those in behind….

There were 39 other horses (I know, did you also forget?) who lined up at the start, and many fine performances from the 19 horses who managed to complete the course.

It’s something of a surprise that Jessica Harrington, arguably the best dual code trainer around, hadn’t participated in the race before, and she nearly took it at the first attempt with eight-year-old mare Magic Of Light, who ran a tremendous race from the front before Tiger Roll flew past. Despite a mistake at the last (and a significant one at the Chair, after which Paddy Kennedy did well to stay on board), she came home two and a quarter-lengths clear of Rathvinden, who travelled best for much of the way, and looks sure to be back next year.

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Rathvinden gave a bold sight in third, although he was unable to give Ruby Walsh another National winner, whilst Walk In The Mill, the Becher Chase winner, was best of the British. He delighted the shrewd Robert Walford and gave James Best a fine spin; still only nine, all roads would lead to Aintree next year for him.

Spare a thought for Anibale Fly, who ran a titanic race to finish fifth under top weight, just half a length behind Walk In The Mill. Tony Martin has one of the most consistent staying chasers in the game, although he looks set to be forever too high in the weights to win this great race.

The 2017 winner One For Arthur had unseated twice but looked like the horse of two years ago when making a huge move around the outside coming for home, before he just faded late, and Lucinda Russell is already thinking of aiming him at next year’s contest.

 

 

  1. Meanwhile, back on the level….

Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore kick-started their season with a treble on Leopardstown’s Classic trials day, where we saw a number of eye-catching performances.

  • Lady Kaya ran out a comfortable winner of the Ballylinch Stud 'Priory Belle' 1,000 Guineas Trial Stakes for trainer Sheila Lavery and jockey Robbie Colgan, with the fast-finishing Happen in second and last year’s Fillies’ Mile winner Idressa in third under a 3lb penalty

 

  • Leading Guineas hope Madhmoon was beaten for the first time as Never No More ran him down on his seasonal bow in the 2,000 Guineas Trial Stakes, taking advantage of a 3lbs concession in the weights and the benefit of a recent run on slower ground than he'd faced before

 

  • Broome gave the standout performance of the day as he bolted home in the Ballysax Stakes, winning by eight lengths and being cut to 9/1 for the Derby

  • In America, Roadster came with a powerful late run to take the Santa Anita Derby, beating stablemate and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Game Winner

 

  • Ghaiyyath put himself in the frame for a host of middle-distance honours this season with an eye-catching performance on his seasonal debut in the Prix d'Harcourt at Paris-Longchamp, as he stretched eight lengths clear before being eased down. The Ganay and the Tattersalls Gold Cup are on the agenda for Charlie Appleby's potentially top class colt.

 

  1. Box Office Tiger

Back to the Grand National, arguably the biggest PR moment for racing of the year, and certainly the biggest moment for any broadcaster involved in the sport, so ITV and the BHA have every right to be delighted with their viewing figures.

 

The coverage on Saturday scored a peak of 9.6 million viewers, a 12 per cent increase from the 8.5m in 2018 according to audience figures, with the average audience for the National show up from 5.1m to 5.4m, an endorsement of a programme which makes a lot of effort to reach first-time viewers and non-experts.

There are a multitude of personalities on the programme – different strokes for different folks, as they say – and it worked through the week too, as shown by a seven-figure audience for the Foxhunters’ on the first day.

Wake Up To ITV: There was also a record audience for The Opening Show too of 300,000 – a fine figure considering it was an FA Cup semi-final morning.

 

Takeaway: There’s much to be said about the draw of a horse who had such a big chance of back to back Nationals, but these figures are welcome news in an era when there has never been so much choice for sports fans. ITV’s approach of trying to convert causal watchers and educate first timers is the right one when younger fans are needed more than ever.

 

  1. What else?

Across the three days of Aintree, in case some had forgotten:

  • Kemboy made up for a first fence fall in the Gold Cup with a dominant success in the Betfred Bowl, confirming himself a top class staying chaser

  • Min bounced back from a below par showing in the Champion Chase with a 20 length romp in the Melling Chase, making it 2 feature race wins for Willie Mullins

  • Supasundae got the better of Buveur D’Air and  County Hurdle hero Ch'tibello in a thrilling Aintree Hurdle

 

  • Pentland Hills followed up his JCB Triumph Hurdle victory with a gritty display in the Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

  • Kalashnikov presented trainer Amy Murphy with a first Grade One success in the Devenish Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree.

 

  • Cadmium gave Mullins another winner as he dominated the Topham Chase and Top Wood fought back to pull the Foxhunters out of the fire

 

Next week? The small matter of Winx’s last race….

 

Social Discourse: Monday 1st April 2019

Welcome to April and the first Social Discourse of the Spring and, consequently, the flat turf season. I'm William Kedjanyi, and here is my perspective of the past week (and the coming days) through the eye of the tweet machine...

First things first: today is the first day of the reduced FOBT Maximum Stake, which is now £2 from £100, and also my last day writing this column, as I am leaving to join BBC Newsnight as their new sports editor, with a focus on racing. Thanks to Matt for his very hard work, faith and dedication, and to you for all the memories.

 

  1. Blue Planet Live

It’s a Godolphin world, and we’re all just living in it. The Men in Blue are at the top of the sport again after a time in the relative wilderness, and they look here to stay for the foreseeable future.

They have had some brilliant moments in the past year or so, but the Dubai World Cup is arguably the most important meeting of all for them: they duly smashed it out of the park, with a brilliant four-timer on the card.

Melbourne Cup Winner, Cross Counter, took the Dubai Gold Cup with a late charge, Blue Point bossed the Al Quoz Sprint with his customary class, Old Persian was a comprehensive winner of the Sheema Classic, and of course, the incredibly admirable Thunder Snow nailed The Dubai World Cup for the second time, the first horse to win it twice.

The winning started at 5.30 am, as Avilius won the Group 1 Tancred Stakes at Rosehill in Australia, and they didn’t leave out Britain either, thanks to Auxerre’s demolition job in the Lincoln, which was very much the performance of a Group winner in waiting.

https://twitter.com/itvracing/status/1112074808773230593

That makes it 9 Group 1 winners for them so far this season, and that before the dew has dried on the first morning of April, with a number of good returning juveniles to come and, potentially, an extended campaign for their Dubai World Cup night winners too.

This shouldn’t be the peak for them, either: one would think that we will see still further improvement from Cross Counter and Old Persian, and Thunder Snow looks bound for the US and a campaign focused on the Breeders' Cup Classic once again.

Everyone Benefits: The rivalry between Godolphin and Coolmore is well and truly back, and fans and bettors can both benefit from more clashes over the season to come.

 

 

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  1. Almonds and Rubies

Despite all those heroics, the winner of the day on the international stage was Almond Eye, the latest in a long list of Japanese superstars to take their talents abroad, including to Dubai.

Almond Eye fans couldn’t have had higher expectations ahead of the Dubai Turf, and she would have pleased even the most demanding of fans as she cruised through three quarters of the race; but, as she went to the front of the race – and about a length clear – on the bridle, she didn't quite pick up in the way it looked likely, in what was ultimately a less impressive victory. Accounting for the travel and that she'll come on a ton for the run, she can be marked up notably, however, and expect a bigger showing next time out.

It was a performance that her fans and the market expected, confirming once again the remarkable speed that she possesses, beating the previous winner Vivlos and the consistent Lord Glitters with a length and a quarter to spare on her first run for four months.

Destination Paris: As with the other Japanese greats before her, including Deep Impact and Orfevre, a first Arc for her nation is the hope. On this evidence, the Japanese fillies’ Triple Crown winner has her chance, though she'll need to step forward from this 2019 bow.

Unsurprisingly, opinion is split on whether she can take on and beat Enable and Sea of Class, but it promises to be another epic if the three make it there in peak form.

 

Sakae Kunieda, her trainer, speaking to Tony McFadden of the Racing Post: "It was a really great race. She broke well, settled well, got a good position and accelerated well to win well. It was the result I thought we could get and I’m happy she proved us right. I was nervous, I’ve lost my voice. Almond Eye can continue my dreams, so next we’ll go to Europe, our dream is to take her to the Arc."

One to note: Without Parole went off the boil after taking the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot last term, but he was a fair fifth on his return here and that potentially hints at better to come this season as a four-year-old.

 

  1. Do The Splits

Not all these big days can go off without a hitch, however, and sadly for would be viewers of the Sheema Classic, the ultimate hitch occurred: there was no live coverage!

This took place on Racing TV, but apparently was also the case for Sky Sports Racing; it’s fair to say that neither set of viewers were happy, and rightly so: to miss such a big event on premium broadcasting stations is unacceptable.

This, again: We’ve talked here regularly - like, weekly - about Racing TV’s top class team, but also about the channel's increased commitments and the balance between their jurisdictions as they now have to cope with being the sole provider of racing from Ireland whilst also taking on more UK flat fixtures. This means busier Saturdays, especially during the major international fixtures, and a compromise or solution, whatever one wants to call it, has not yet been found.

 

  1. Elsewhere…
  • Petrus gave Tom Marquand a perfect 21st Birthday present as he won the Spring Mile at Doncaster, holding off Exec Chef to win by half a length with the pair well clear
  • Maximum Security announced himself as a Kentucky Derby contender in the Florida Derby, a key prep, going from the front for a decisive three and a half length victory under a canny ride from Luis Saez for trainer Jason Servis
  • Last year’s Champion Apprentice Jason Watson rode his first winner of the year aboard Forbidden Planet in the Rosebery Handicap at Kempton, almost three months after a horror fall at the same track
  • Mootasadir maintained his unbeaten record on the all-weather in the Listed Magnolia Stakes on the same card, potentially starting a road to the Melbourne Cup if things go right for him down the road
  • Globetrotter Red Verdon bagged his first victory in 13 months in the Unibet Conditions Stakes at Doncaster yesterday, on his first run since being gelded

 

  1. To Be Decided

The Grand National Meeting is this week – doesn’t time fly? – and plenty of runners have now had their plans confirmed. They include

Bristol De Mai, and Clan Des Obeaux, who will head to the Betfred Bowl after their Gold Cup efforts; Ch’tibello, who will head to the Aintree Hurdle after his County Hurdle success; David Pipe’s Umbrigado, who could run in either the Sefton or the Mersey Hurdle; Sam Spinner, who will head to the Liverpool Hurdle following his return to form in the Stayers' Hurdle; Festival Plate runner up Janika, who is set to take his chance in the Topham having jumped the National fences well at home; Valtor, who could go to the National or join Janika in the Topham; and Roksana, the Mares Hurdle winner, who will step back into open company in the Liverpool Hurdle. 

They, sadly for those travelling to Liverpool, do not include:

  • Altior or Santini, who will both be staying home
  • Blaklion, who has unfortunately injured himself
  • Cyrname, who is more likely to head to the Celebration Chase for a potential clash with Altior

Stay well!

- William Kedjanyi

p.s. I'll see you next week. Sadly, Newsnight can't afford my services, so I'll be continuing here on geegeez.co.uk for the foreseeable future, or until the Beeb up their offer! 😉

Social Discourse, 25th March 2019

Another week, another SD to keep you in the loop on all things racing via the occasionally wonderful medium of tweetie, writes William Kedjanyi. We kick off with a familiar gripe related to race clashes...

  1. Do The Splits

Oh, what a glorious Sunday to be an Irish racing fan. The flat was back at Naas and there was also a decent jumping card at Down Royal featuring the Ulster National. It was enough to stay in on even the sunniest of days, sit back, and watch… half the race on whatever device you chose.

The last sentence is a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that there was a spit screen for the big betting race of the day, the Irish Lincolnshire. Thankfully it was won in convincing style by Karawaan, so as not to provide much confusion over the finish but, of basically any race on the card – and there were eight – there couldn’t have been a less suitable contest with which to share the screen than a 20 runner handicap in bright sunlight.

Eight weeks ago, in this newsletter, the potential for British and Irish fixtures to clash, especially on Sundays, was raised after Racing TV’s very promising launch, and over the past eight weeks, there has been one recurring theme – that of the coverage of Irish racing.

Many subscribers have been rather frustrated, and following the decision to split screen the Irish Lincolnshire, that debate roared into life yet again.

Double Trouble: The obvious solution is for a second channel for Racing TV. The issue, however, is running costs to do so that couldn’t be recouped, which is likely to win out.

Tune Off? It’s clear that Racing TV is going to have this issue for the rest of the season, and it will be a challenge for them during the spring and the autumn; One can coordinate the starts between courses, but when both codes are in play, it is a very common occurrence given the sheer amount of racing in the UK. As mentioned below, Racing TV’s unique selling point is the depth of analysis and quality of coverage it can bring for racing; and should that be compromised subscribers could find it hard to justify on top of other options.

Steady on: I am not suggesting that Racing TV has lost its edge – the team there is exceptional – but bar online platforms, clashes like this are an inevitability and the loser might well be Irish racing and it’s fans.

Update: Apparently the replays are still split screened, and with dead space:

 

 

  1. Who Da Man-ning ?!

One thing viewers couldn’t miss was a sensational start to the season for Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning, who combined for a 5,354-1 treble with 14/1, 16/1 and 20/1 winners.

Following wins for Western Dawn in the maiden and Solar Wave in a competitive handicap, Normandel clung on grimly to win a thrilling renewal of the Lodge Park Stud Irish EBF Park Express Stakes when getting the better of a three-way battle on what was a thrilling day’s racing.

 

It’s not the first time that the pair have started the season in fine form – they’ve got a strong record in the opening juvenile contest for example – and many punters will be sure to catch on rather sharpish.

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The most eye-catching effort of the day might have come from a Bolger runner that didn’t win; Feminista, who ran in the second colours of Jackie Bolger behind Value Chain (her first string, trained by Brendan Duke) made some decent late progress into third.

Looking ahead: Normandel was having just her second run for Jim Bolger, and this coming after failing to stay when tried over 1m4f, clearly a trip too far based on the previous form. She may be able to improve yet and we probably haven’t seen the best of her.

 

  1. Winx and you’ll miss her

Death, taxes, and Winx: Australia’s Equine phenomenon Winx has already put her name in history with her 32 wins, but like all good things, her career must come to an end.

Her farewell tour has taken in the Spring Carnival, and she gave a consummate performance in the George Ryder Stakes, always in control even when the three-year-old Brute kicked around the turn, and with her customary turn of foot, she managed to basically inhale that rival in one fell swoop before strolling to another win with cheers of "Winxy, Winxy, Winxy" accompanying her post-race parade.

https://twitter.com/7horseracing/status/1109306091530117120

Only accidents have been able to stop her for a while, and the heavy ground couldn’t get in the way of her latest success which came by an easy three and a quarter-lengths.

 

With only one race to go, it was a surprise to see the debate raging still over what she’s beaten.

 

By now, one of the great racehorses of recent history seems to scare off all opposition and whilst yours truly has always been a fan of debating the merits of the great horses of history, it feels like the time and the place to do that constructively with Winx has been and gone, and that perhaps we should enjoy the ride. Particularly with moments like this:

 

Don’t Worry: When she has her last race (April the 13th, in case you didn’t know), she’ll get top billing.

Food for Thought: “I said to someone [on Saturday] I would love to see her race a horse like Frankel, or whatever the greatest horse has been... I think she could beat whatever that horse may be. And I guess on their terms maybe they could beat her. But they wouldn’t be able to do it for as long as she has done. Had she taken on a Frankel or something early in her career, who knows. She might have beaten him but she wouldn’t be racing [now].” – Chris Waller speaking to Sydney Radio about the longevity of Winx’s career, and the route she's taken

 

  1. Elsewhere….

Godolphin took a remarkable 1-2-3 in the Golden Slipper, the most prestigious juvenile contest on the planet, as Kiamichi earned a first Slipper for trainer James Cummings (son of the legendary Bart), beating stablemate Microphone with the Blue Diamond Stakes winner, Lyre, in third.

 

Meanwhile, back in Ireland... Still Standing claimed his fifth victory from just eight career starts with a comprehensive success in the Devoy Stakes at Naas, giving Shane Foley a great start to life as Number 1 for Jessica Harrington. He beat Hazel Bay to second whilst Aidan O’Brien’s one-time Classic contender Amedeo Modigliani – who had been sidelined by injury since winning at the 2017 Galway Festival – needed the run and was a creditable third.

 

And on Saturday, Jonjo O’Neill Junior, fresh from success at the Cheltenham Festival, was in the headlines once again as he doubled up at Newbury on a valuable card courtesy of Annie Mc and Chic Name. Annie Mc was another notable success for him, taking the Grade 2 EBF & EBA Mares’ National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle Series Final in great style, bouncing back from a below-par run last time at Exeter to beat Sixty's Belle by eight lengths.

 

Further north, Sean Bowen took his strike rate at Kelso to nearly 50% with two fine and differing rides, the first a front-running success on Kupatana in the EBF/TBA Mares’ Novices’ Chase, before later bringing Winston C from the back of the field, having looked beaten, to gain a fighting success in the Bernhard Lighting Rig Handicap Hurdle.

 

  1. Noel One Better

The last word in this week’s column was always going to be reserved for a big mention for Noel Fehily, who ended his riding career in the best possible fashion on Saturday as Get In The Queue ran out a ready winner of the Goffs UK Spring Sale Bumper at Newbury.

That was the perfect end to a brilliant career notable for not only a sensitive and calculated style but also one laden with success at the highest level.

Arguably nowhere was Noel better than at the Cheltenham Festival, where he won the Champion Hurdle twice, firstly aboard Rock On Ruby in 2012, and then again with Buveur d'Air in 2017, although his best ride at the Festival was may have been on Special Tiara in the 2017 Champion Chase, when leading from pillar to post but with such measured efficiency that the charging Fox Norton could be held off in the dying strides.

 

Those were not his only winners at the Festival, however; a quick tactical brain and a deceptively strong finish saw him take wins on Silver Jaro (2008 County Hurdle), Unowhatimeanharry (2016 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle), and Summerville Boy (2018 Supreme Novices' Hurdle), before his shock victory on Eglantine Du Seuil in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle earlier this month.

Fehily had always been known as one of the most talented riders in the weighing room, but being the main beneficiary of a long term Ruby Walsh injury as the jump season was kicking into gear in 2010 really saw his career take off.

Successes on Master Minded in the Amlin 1965 Chase and Silviniaco Conti in the Coral Hurdle began what would be a string of notable big race successes, with Fehily’s excellent sense of timing and deft handling proving a beautiful like for like match for Ruby Walsh, and a new star was born – one that the whole racing community has enjoyed and appreciated.

From all of us at geegeez.co.uk, wishing you a happy retirement, Noel, and best of luck in whatever comes next for you.

Social Discourse: 18th March 2019

It was a week that had everything, writes William Kedjanyi. The issue is that everything, as in other sport and indeed life, wasn’t always ‘good’; and for all the amazing memories that our champions gave us on the field, some will see only the negatives.

Here’s to reflecting on a Festival that had more highs and lows than Cheltenham’s racecourse itself, viewed below through the prism of twitter.

 

  1. The Week's Leading Lights....

Everyone will have their takeaways from the last week, but the group that made arguably the biggest lasting impact on the Festival? Women. 

This was a week which saw women riders claim four wins on the track; perhaps more importantly, there were three different winners, and two of the successes came at Grade 1 level, one in a Championship race.

Whilst many will focus upon Bryony Frost’s all the way win on Frodon, Rachael Blackmore – who has arguably had an even better season - was just as strong on Minella Indo, and Lizzie Kelly managed to time her fractions to perfection in the Festival Plate.

 

That wasn’t the only success, however, with Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park capping a season of domination at the top level with a fantastic Stayers' Hurdle victory too.

 

These victories are all wonderful, but what is even more encouraging is the variety they display: Blackmore kept things simple on the hugely well in A Plus Tard on Tuesday before then judging the right moment to strike again on Minella Indo; Frost managed to get Frodon to give everything from the front, and Kelly also had the same judgement skills in the Plate, as seen in a brilliant driving finish here.

 

Those three jockeys have now risen to the top of the game, and are here to stay; Henry De Bromhead and Paul Nicholls, and their owners, have been rewarded for giving quality horses to Blackmore and Frost whilst Kelly too remains very useful for the Williams' going forward.

There are plenty of female trainers at the highest level too, led by Jessica Harrington and Venetia Williams, even if they did not have Festival winners this week, and the future looks bright for those aforementioned. 

This is a boon for racing’s PR image at a time when it is much needed. Frost has broken through to some national media, and is universally adored, but there’s time still for Blackmore to reach said heights, and the quality of her riding continues to impress. She comes across wonderfully in TG4’s Jump Girls, an excellent watch.

 

The reaction on social media was also heartwarming to see:

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What next? Rachael Blackmore is already second in the Irish Jockeys’ Championship with 84 winners – Fairyhouse and Punchestown can bring lots of success for her, and perhaps Aintree too. At 29, she’s in her prime and has plenty to offer.

Frost has a number of excellent wins to her name aside from Frodon and perhaps, more importantly, the backing of Paul Nicholls. She has 49 winners this year at a 16% strike rate, impressive considering her serious injuries in the summer.

Be smart: You’d be in profit to the tune of £58 if you followed Bryony Frost blind, and +£13 for Lizzie Kelly.

 

  1. Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Racing is a sport which frequently frustrates the greats: remember how long it took for Frankie Dettori to win his Derby? Or AP McCoy to ride a Grand National winner? 

Willie Mullins is one of the great trainers of all time, but for a man who has dominated major festivals, the Gold Cup was one of the few gaps on his palmares. Before Friday, Mullins had won 64 Festival races without the Blue Riband, and he saddled four horses in this bid to change things.

 

There were good reasons to fancy any of Kemboy, Invitation Only, Bellshill or Al Boum Photo, but things did not start well with Kemboy unseating at the first, Bellshill smashing himself into the fifth and ending his chances, and when Invitation Only did the same at the tenth, that left Mullins with just one horse, Al Boum Photo, still in the race.

Come the home turn, however, he was cantering into contention and, despite grabbing the second last and stumbling over the last, he was too strong for the rest of the field, running out quite a convincing winner.

This ends a long wait for the winning most trainer at the Festival in its biggest event; he had tried and come so close with Florida Pearl in 2000 and then the legendary Hedgehunter, before four successive runners up in a row (Sir Des Champs, On His Own and Djakadam twice).

 

Anibale Fly was a fine second once again, making the best of his way home, and Bristol De Mai ran an excellent race in third; but this moment was all about Mullins and Paul Townsend, who had the greatest redemption after the farcical ending to the Growise Champion Novice Chase at the end of last season.

 

The Big Three: Didn’t make the first three, although there are good reasons for their runs; Native River couldn’t lie up with the early pace according to connections and wasn’t quite at his best in finishing fourth, whilst Paul Nicholls said that Clan des Obeaux got outstayed, and that seems to check out given the extra distance here compared to Kempton for his King George win. Presenting Percy, who never got properly into the race, was found to be lame and is definitely better than he showed here.

 

  1. Going Too Far

Apart from the Grand National, racing’s welfare standards are never under the spotlight more than during Festival week, and it’s in that context that the National Hunt Chase finds itself under the most extreme scrutiny.

This year’s edition, run in deep ground once again, was particularly tough; only four horses finished and there were 47 lengths between runner up Discorama and third-placed Jerrysback.

There was the grim sight of screens at both the last two fences and one right in front of the Best Mate enclosure, where we sadly lost Ballyward. Many runners were pulled up due to exhaustion, or worse, falling for the same reason.

It was an ugly spectacle and not one that you would show to a first-time watcher of the sport, but what is to be done?

 

Many have suggested cancelling the race, which might be an understandable, if visceral reaction, but doing so would surely call into question the existence of every long distance race: the Midlands National took place on ground that was just as testing on Saturday. Moreover, in many years we have seen single figures in terms of finishers for the Grand National – and certainly for the Irish equivalent.

Some have suggested a change in conditions, but the amateur riders navigate the Kim Muir and Foxhunters at the end of the week with less controversy than this, and the majority of the horses entered had staying credentials of some kind.

Pulling the race distance back is also not an option without consequence, as there are three other targets at staying distances for novices during the Festival.

Something has to change, however; So what about reducing the weight carried? In a graded race there’s no need for a welter burden and it is possible for amateurs to do less than 11-6; Jamie Codd’s lowest weight in the last 12 months is 11-0 dead, and if that were to be the universal rule then that would make a difference here – assuming that the jockeys can all make it.

Any other suggestions?

 

  1. Stars Of The Festival

There have been many stars this week, and not all of them can have the spotlight they so deserve. Here are a personal few, some obvious, some not so much...

  • Mark Walsh, who so cruelly suffered a fracture when presented with a fine book of rides here two seasons ago but bounced back with wins in the Champion Hurdle (Espoir D’Allen) And Ballymore Hurdle (City Island)
  • Lydia Hislop,tireless from the start to the finish of an incredible week, and who interviewed Willie Mullins and Paul Townend with such class in the midst of the Gold Cup
  • Andrew Gemmell, the owner of Paisley Park, who, blind from birth, experienced one of the most heart-warming successes all week
  • Henry De Bromhead, who supplied Rachael Blackmore with two fine winners and a selection of excellent rides this week
  • The entire team at ITV Racing, who had a marked lift on ratings compared to last year and who have tried very hard to appeal to casual fans
  • Pacha du Polder, the two-time winner of the Foxhunters’ Chase who was retired after this fourth run in the race

 

  1. Eye-catchers

And last but never least, some eye-catchers. Everyone loves an eye-catcher!

  • Aramon, who travelled beautifully into the Supreme, but then faded on ground much softer than preferred late on
  • Big River,who never jumped a fence in the Ultima but took fourth near the finish
  • Brio Conti looked like the best horse in the Coral Cup before just flattening out up the hill
  • Ciel De Neige ran a fine race on debut for Willie Mullins in the Fred Winter
  • Abracadabras was done for speed in the Champion Bumper but will be happier up in trip and has the look of a promising staying chaser
  • Cuneo didn’t quite see out his huge move in the Pertemps but absolutely has a race of this sort in him
  • No Comment made some eye-catching late progress in the Kim Muir
  • Éclair de Beaufeu went miles too soon in the County before unseating and will surely be better suited by Punchestown
  • Cartwright didn’t get any sort of run in the Martin Pipe late on

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 11th March 2019

Readers, friends, comrades in arms. We are here. There is just one day left before the 2019 Cheltenham Festival begins and, like all across this site, I can’t wait for the best that our sport has to offer.

It is a special edition of Social Discourse as we head into four incredible days, and as such there have been a few tweaks made to this particular edition.

If you’re headed to the home of Kings – and if you’re reading this, then there's a fair chance that you are – please give me a shout. You can do so via the same avenues that others use to complain about me lots - @KeejayOV2 on the Tweet Machine.

A big thanks to the hard work of Matt Bisogno on this and all the previous newsletters.

Let. The. Games. Commence.

  1. Do’s and Don’ts

It’s the greatest week of the year, but for most of us who take even half an interest, it is four days (or seven) that will have plenty of pitfalls as well as opportunities – no matter how you approach it. But what is the secret to a successful festival, both on and off the track?

I got in touch with the great and good to get some advice – and then gave some of my own anyway….

Do….

  • Watch races from different areas. Get different perspectives rather than just get a drink, or watch a race all in the same places. Go to the parade ring, watch near the second last fence, watch at the top after the winning post - @SteveRyder13, presenter of the On The Hunt Podcast
  • Think about how one race relates to another at the Festival. For example, as soon as they cross the line in the Supreme, think about what that race result has told you about the formlines for the Ballymore – and similarly for the Arkle and JLT/RSA. The result might just have unlocked a bit of value. - @jamesaknight, Coral/Ladbrokes
  • Dress weather appropriate! I never go inside at Cheltenham so will be outside the whole time on both days I am there. I am dressing smart but definitely layering up. - @novicefilly (Debbie Matthews), the founder of #GoRacingGreen
  • Get to the track early in the morning and see the Irish raiders exercising in the middle of the racecourse - @leemottershead, Racing Post
  • Remember the handicaps are impossible! - @MattBisogno, GeeGeez
  • Make it to the middle of the course. I had attended quite a few festivals before a friend took me to the middle of the course for a race. I had no idea you could do it! It is a totally different perspective to the racing though. First of all there is no big screen to watch the action on over there so when they go out to country, you are relying on the commentary to understand what is going on. Jowever there are two selling points to this little trip. The first is that it is a suprisingly different perspective to the course, you can take in the huge crowd in the stands from a relatively peaceful vantage point. The best thing about ding this though is being able to be mere metres from top national hunt horses taking the last fence. The sound of them brushing through the bitch is incredible. - @tdl123, Tim Larden, operator of themajorversusthebookieblog

Don’t….

  • Get so p***ed you can’t watch the racing. We’ve waited 361 days for this. @SteveRyder13, presenter of the On The Hunt Podcast
  • Be dogmatic about your selections before the festival. For example, you may want to be against Buveur D’Air at 9/4 in the Champion Hurdle (I know I do), but what if he drifts to 7/2? He’s probably a decent bet at those odds. It’s important to remember that betting is literally all about the price, so the advice is not to think in terms of ‘bankers’, and ‘lay of the festivals’ and any other b****cks that you might hear at preview nights and start to think about what price you need to get before you want to be with a horse (the other great thing about The Festival in this regard is that you don’t have to worry about non triers) - @jamesaknight, Coral/Ladbrokes
  • Back every odds on shot. - @UAE_Racing, editor of Racing Reflex
  • Don’t* bet on every race. Wait for extra places on the handicaps. The Irish are going to win all of the County, Coral Cup, Pertemps and Martin Pipe. Be aware of the super-rare moments where 'public money' and bookie multi liabilities actually create wonky markets - exploit them. – @GloriaVictis
  • Never chase out prices and compete with other Bookies around you. There is a lot of money in the ring at Cheltenham, and when it's your turn, at the right time, it'll come to you. Don't rush it or you can end up laying over the odds horses and you feel silly 3 minutes later. - @BenStarSports, owner of Star Sports
  • Be afraid to stick within your comfort zones. - @novicefilly (Debbie Matthews), the founder of #GoRacingGreen
  • Forget your folding stuff, as the queues for the cash machines might not move quickly. - @leemottershead, Racing Post
  • Don't forget the handicaps are impossible! - @MattBisogno, GeeGeez.
  • Speed drink between races! Gone are the days where I would take on the four day drinking test that the festival can be. I would emerge blinking into day four, confused and disorientated, trying to remember which form lines I was following into the Triumph. At any day at the festival, you have all day and all night to invoke the spirit of Bacchus. There is no rush. Especially if it is raining the bars can be busy, getting the round in can leave you little time between races. I enjoy the festival a lot more taking it easy and pacing the day out - @tdl123, Tim Larden, operator of themajorversusthebookieblog 

 

And some additional advice, from yours truly:

Do…

  • Bet before you get on course. Don’t rob yourself of the pleasures of the ring – the layers need your custom – but you will get the best positions and crucially place terms off course most of the time
  • Bet the night before – The best prices are nearly always found the night before, or in the morning
  • Take a portable charger – If you’re going, then you will earn your money back at some point with a powerful charger. £30 should get you a useful one that will last
  • Think outside the box – Only five of the festival’s 28 races have shown a profit for favourites over the last 10 years. There are routinely big priced winners at the Festival, and even more hit the place

 

Don’t….

  • Chase losses. It is the biggest betting week of the year and if things go wrong at some point, the temptation will be immense. Stick to your pace
  • Over-drink during the racing – As someone who loves a pint, yours truly is no stranger to a Guinness at the Festival. However, at no meeting all year will it take you longer to get served, and post 1.30 each trip is going to consume extremely valuable time. The day will fly by and refreshments after the last have always been beautifully thirst-quenching

 

  1. Whose Line Is It Anyway?

One race, one nose, two cameras. If it sounds too much like a sitcom, then that’s because it’s true; Welcome to British racing in 2019.

You know the scene by now. One For Rosie, having cruised into the lead of the European Breeders' Fund Matchbook VIP "National Hunt" Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final (try saying that without taking a breath), jumped to the front at the last. Sam Twiston-Davies punched and kicked for his life, and he just manages to get the better of the strong staying Third Wind, after a tense wait for the photo finish.

Or so we’d thought. Firstly it was all normal. We thought we’d simply seen another close Saturday finish. Punters got paid out and connections were being interviewed. And then we were told there was a delay. And then…

 

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That was just a flavour of the reaction. There are too many tweets to post, but

 

 

 

Fool Me Once: Amazingly, this wasn’t even the first time it had happened; this is the second occasion this year the wrong result has been called at Sandown, with the unique sprint course seeing Rio Ronaldo being announced the winner in a 5f handicap before the result was changed with Vibrant Chords handed victory.

 

Then, there was this interview:

 

The Official Response:  

  1. The Imperial Malaya

It’s just easier to ask what Paul Nicholls can’t do, the answer to which is nothing. His Malaya continued the stable’s brilliant form with victory in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The five-year-old mare looked to have a tough task on when trying to hop the second last and then just stepping through it, buckling in the process, but Harry Cobden kept his cool brilliantly to allow her to regather her momentum and slowly but surely she caught up with Monsieur Lecoq – who had made the best of his way home whilst going strongly from two out - jumping the last brilliantly when needing to and eventually grinding her way to a one and three-quarter-length win.

 

What about the Festival? Paul Nicholls has been open to running her at the Festival in a bid to take a bonus in post-race quotes, telling Maddy Playle of the Racing Post: "She's tough and won't need to do much work, it's definitely a possibility. We're not saving her for anything so we might look at it.”

Be Smart: Looking at the rest of the field: Call Me Lord ran a tremendous race under his huge weight, First Flow ran a fine race on his first run for nearly a year, and Benny’s Bridge will be much happier on a sounder surface.

 

  1. Fun In The Sun

In much sunnier climes, Meydan had their Super Saturday, a leadup to the Carnival ending Dubai World Cup night that takes place in just over three weeks’ time. Highlights included:

  • Capezzano’s arrival at Group 1 level with a wide margin victory in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, trashing the returning Thunder Snow by nine and a half lengths. He will now head to the World Cup, as will the second, who will hope to strip much fitter in a couple of weeks’ time

 

 

  • Dream Castle’s fine turn of foot to beat a heavy gamble on Wootoon in the Jebel Hatta, making it three from three in Dubai since being gelded

 

  • Old Persian managed to catch stablemate Racing History with apparent ease to take the City of Gold, seeing him up for the Sheema Classic and a promising European campaign
  • Muntazah broke the track record in the Burj Nahaar, winning by 10 lengths to make himself the sure fire favourite for the Godolphin Mile

  • Blue Point won the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint with the ease that odds of ¼ suggested, and will be hard beat regardless of the international raiders that might well come his way

  • Divine Image put together a career-best performance to romp away with the Al Bastakiya, making her favourite for the UAE Derby

 

  1. A King’s Pair

Willie Mullins – yes, that’s right, remember him? – had a perfect warmup for the coming week when he had a 1-2-3 in the Leinster National, led by Pairofbrowneyes.

If you’re thinking that name sounds familiar then yes, you’re right – Pairofbrowneyes won this last year, and it was almost a carbon copy of his win in 2018, with an impressive show of staying power down the home straight to eventually end up winning by five lengths.

This matters why? It’s yet another boost for the form of Invitation Only’s Thyestes Chase win, which has barely produced a bad result, including the winner and the third of the Leinster National yesterday, and the Wylies will be very happy with their position ahead of the Gold Cup.

Winning Jockey Paul Townend, to Sportinglife: "He's very likeable. It was like riding a handicapper. He made one mistake at the ditch down the back, but he sorted himself out and you couldn't be any more pleased with him.”

Something to note: The form of La Bague Au Roi got another boost as Kaiser Black, second to her in the Flogas Novices’ Chase, won the Naas Directors Plate Novice Chase by an 11 length margin. He could be a big player for the rest of the season in novice terms.

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse: 4th March 2019

Another fascinating week in the racing life, with The Festival (sponsored by cider) getting closer and closer and, as ever it seems, we weren’t light on talking points. That makes Number 5 below particularly special to me – hopefully you like this week’s Discourse.

 

  1. Winx And You’ll Miss It 

Before a stride had been taken in anger, a World Record was broken in racing on Saturday as the amazing Winx made it 31 – yes, really – straight wins with a comfortable success in the Chipping Norton Stakes. That was her 23rd Group or Grade 1 success, an incredible number which is almost as startling as the 31 race winning streak.

At one point she seemed in the slightest of trouble, as Happy Clapper and Blake Shinn had a commanding lead coming into a short home straight, and even with 300 meters left to go her fans would have been right to start biting their nails. 

I’ve heard this before, haven’t I: Yes, you have, because she’s won pretty much all of her last 31 races like that, including four Cox Plates and 19 other Group 1's. Whilst it has always been enjoyable to watch, especially for her legion of fans, it has not been everybody’s cup of tea. 

For much of the past two years, a fierce debate has raged about the true ability of the Champion Mare, mainly conducted across Twitter between fans, punters and handicappers from both sides of the equator.

Winx’s easy defeat of the solid Benbatl, the best Northern raider sent to face her since Highland Reel, went a long way to answering those questions. However, with a dearth of realistic opposition in Australia, there are still a large number of people who have fallen out of love with the eight-year-old Australian treasure.

See an example of the case for:

And an example of the case against:

Happy Clapper himself sets a better standard than most of Winx’s domestic opposition by one sharp tweeter, and the discussion shall rage on.

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Many observers hope to see her travel one day, but she is eight now and the only realistic challenge will come from another Benbatl type heading Down Under. 

The Bottom Line: We’ve been incredibly lucky to have a Champion, fit for three years at the peak of her game – but the debate about what she's beaten and therefore her level of ability will almost never end.

 

  1. Good Things Come To Those Who Wait 

One of the quirkiest parts of racing is the wonderful spectrum of names our equine heroes have, and on some occasions they really do fit perfectly.

Waiting Patiently is one of such horse and Ruth Jefferson’s eight-year-old will keep us all waiting a little bit longer as he’s set to miss the Festival, with a number of options in the near future.

Aintree and Punchestown are both on the table, the Melling Chase presumably a likely target, and a trip to France for Auteuil’s Prix La Barka or French Champion Hurdle were both mooted, given the likelihood that he’d get his favoured ground there.

Owner Paul Colling, speaking to the Racing Post’s Bruce Jackson: "Ascot was Cyrname's ground and if you look at the three behind, we all need cut in the ground. I walked from the second-last with Ruth [Jefferson] and wasn't for running him, but Brian [Hughes] said it was soft enough.

Thinking ahead: This is unrelated, but there’s plenty of rain in the air after a very dry winter, and the Festival could well take place on a softer surface than the winter’s racing, just like last year. Consider that when approaching the races at this late stage.

 

  1. Money Moneyyy (Part 2)

What a difference a week and a boycott (or two) make. Last week’s edition covered the standoff between ARC and trainers who were rightly unhappy at prizemoney levels, especially with further cuts announced – blamed on the Government’s call to cut the maximum stake on FOBT’s to £2 from £100.

A temporary move to reallocate funds in lower-grade races backfired – another race at Sedgefield was a walkover and then there was a call from Ralph 'Red Raif' Beckett for further action this week. 

This isn’t close to over: ARC, in response to the first boycott, have unlocked funding from the levy war chest for the next couple of weeks but there’s only a month until the FOBT funding cut, and a lot of ground to cover to say the least. I mean, just read these quotes: 

Arc Spokesman, speaking on Saturday: "Last night’s agreement with the NTF was made in good faith, with the aim of allowing further time to continue discussions between all parties concerned.” 

Oliver Sherwood, speaking to At The Races on Saturday: “The money at the top end is A1, it’s the bottom end [that is the problem]. And there are more average horses than good horses.”

Gary Moore, who withdrew five Fontwell entries: "I'm supporting the boycott – cutting off my nose to spite my face – and hoping some good will come of it.”

 

  1. On The Track…
  • Paul Nicholls continued his domination of Newbury’s Greatwood Gold Cup with San Benedeto giving Ditchdeat their ninth win of the race – in just 15 years. Nicholls ran three and they were all in the mix until late in the race, but San Benedeto found more than Gala Ball, making his first appearance for Phillip Hobbs, whilst Valdez was third.
  • However, Nicholls did not have it all his own way, with two odds on reverses north of the Border at Kelso. Black Corton was outpointed by the giant Blue Flight in the Premier Chase and then even more surprising was the case of Getaway Trump, moved here after many had predicted he'd head towards the Festival, as Rouge Vif dominated the Premier Kelso Novices’ Hurdle.
  • Noel Meade was the star of a very snowy Leopardstown as wins for The Red Menace, Aint Dunne Yet and Sixshooter capped a weekend in which the team at Tu Va Stables had a perfect four from four. On the same card, Gordon Elliott bagged a double.

 

  1. Chasing Those Spuds

We have already commemorated the healthy retirement of one staying chaser on these pages and I have no shame about putting Chase The Spud in that category.

The 11-year-old had made himself one of most loved horses at a yard with plenty of such types, winning five races including the Midlands National, and over £100,000 in prize money in just over a year. Happy Retirement, Spud!

- William Kedjanyi

 

Social Discourse – 25th February

Another very busy weekend with Cheltenham clues aplenty, even this close to the big March fiesta. We witnessed some superb training performances, superb riding performances, and a boycott that led to a walkover. Thankfully we did not witness any more fights. As always, feel free to get in touch via the comments, or you can 'hashtag' me at @KeejayOV2 on Twitter. To the stories...

 

  1. Angels’ Out Of Breath

He’s still heading to the Supreme despite being outpointed at 8/11 in Saturday’s Dovecote Hurdle by Paul Nicholls’ – remember him? – Southfield Stone.

Nicholls' 6/1 shot, who was overturned at 4/6 when last seen, was always prominent and, under the urging of Harry Cobden, kicked for home off the bend into the straight, which proved to be a race winning move. Southfield Stone ran down the last and drifted markedly to the right thereafter, but still had enough to hold off the late charge of the odds-on favourite. The winner was cut for the Imperial Cup, nominated as his next target by Paul Nicholls, whilst Angel’s Breath was pushed out to as big as 12/1 for the Supreme.

Cheltenham questions abounded in the aftermath of the defeat as many punters cast a doubt on his Supreme aspirations, which had been perceived as very strong beforehand, as seen here. Opinion was split on his chances afterwards.

The Case For: 

 

And Against:

 

https://twitter.com/bigpatsyward/status/1099795321901731842

 

Be Smart: Defeat was disappointing for many at the time, but this was Angel’s Breath’s second run over hurdles, first run with more than four flights jumped, and first run for 64 days, including a flu jab that has come later than trainer Nicky Henderson expected to thanks to the equine flu hiatus.

Horses For Courses: Kempton was also a complete change of course for Angel’s Breath, who had done much of his best work up the home straight at Ascot on soft ground, and Cheltenham really ought to show his strength and stamina to best effect. 

Paul Nicholls, winning trainer, speaking to Kitty Trice of the Racing Post: "It'll be interesting because I know where Southfield Stone is and I know where Grand Sancy is after last week. I probably wouldn't entertain Southfield Stone in the Supreme, but he could be one for a handicap. He's in the Imperial Cup and might be one to leave for Cheltenham and go for a race at Aintree."

Nicky Henderson, trainer of Angel’s Breath, speaking to the Racing Post yesterday: “We’re pretty sure we’re staying at two miles for the Supreme, and a stiffer track will suit him much better, as would a little cut in the ground. He still ran very well in what was a very good time and we were all very happy with him."

 

  1. A Winning Raffle Ticket?

Henderson had better luck with Fusil Raffles on Saturday, as the French import sprinted clear for a nine-length win on his British debut in the Adonis Hurdle, impressing all-comers:

The Seven Barrows trainer had been relishing the chance to unleash another major festival contender, but in the process of his demolition, Fusil Raffles suffered a cut as he hit the second last. It is sufficiently severe to cast a doubt over his preparations for the Festival, as Richie Persad of ITV told viewers:

 

Henderson told Racing TV: “Unfortunately, he has got a very nasty gash right on his hind-bone shin which is being stitched. We’ve got less than three weeks to go (until the Festival) so it’s going to be tight. We will keep everybody posted. If we can get him there we will, as he deserves to, but if not he will have to wait until Aintree.”

 

  1. The Rath O’Vinden

Another huge target which is fast approaching is the Grand National, and Rathvinden staked his claim with impressive victory in the Bobbyjo Chase, a key prep which sets him on target for Aintree.

After the departure of Magic Of Light eight fences out, the race developed into a duel between Rathvinden and the long-time leader, Alpha Des Obeaux, with last year's National Hunt Chase winner prevailing by three and a half lengths under a resolute Paul Townend.

That was the second serious National trial in a week, after the amazing Tiger Roll bolted up in the Boyne Hurdle last Sunday, and Willie Mullins confirmed that Aintree was the plan afterwards.

"That was a nice first run of the season, and I'd imagine he'll go for the National. That would be the usual route from here. We're keen to go and the owner is keen to go."

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  1. Persistence Pays Off For Walter

Racing is sometimes, only sometimes, a game of just reward. Phil Simmonds could not have been blamed for turning away from the sport after losing Burns Cross to a terrible accident from a foot injury. 

But trainer Neil Mulholland kept him in the sport, and on Saturday he was rewarded for his persistence in the most wonderful fashion as Walt, given a power-packed ride by Sam Twiston-Davies took the valuable 888Sport Handicap Chase.

In what was a tremendous finish, he repelled the game top weight Double Shuffle, in receipt of 20lbs, to spring a minor surprise at 14/1. The winner might now head to Cheltenham for the Ultima Handicap Chase, whilst many eyes will be on the fast finishing third, Adrien Du Pont, who made up the most ground of any horse in the race by far.

 

Phil Simmonds, owner of Walt, speaking to At The Races: “From an owner’s point of view we need to support the Neil Mulhollands of this world. These guys are first class. It has shown today that if these guys have got the talent (to work with), they can do it.”

Bonus: Enjoy this superb shot of Walt jumping the last, taken by the brilliant Francesca Altoft.

 

  1. A Wissahickon For All Weathers

Meanwhile, at Leafy Lingfield, Wissahickon continued his run as one of most progressive horses in training with another dominant performance in the Winter Derby at Lingfield.

John Gosden’s four-year old tracked his stablemate Court House for most of the way, and after being given his orders by Frankie Dettori, he quickly sealed the deal to win by three and a half lengths, making it five wins on the bounce, four of them on the all-weather.

He won as odds of 1/4 suggested he ought to, and there are now much bigger targets on the agenda for him, including a potential trip to Dubai for World Cup night – although he looks set to have at least one more run here with owner George Strawbridge very keen to come and see him once again.

John Gosden: “There is some talk about World Cup Night out in Dubai, but I will have to speak to Frankie, who always has a very strong opinion! We might look at the Sheema Classic, if there was an invitation to run in the race. I think he is a mile-and-a-quarter to a mile-and-a-half horse – his mother stayed and he switches off in his races now, while quick, summer ground would be his game.”

 

  1. Money-Money-Money, Monneehhh

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems, Puff Daddy lamented in the 90’s, that golden age of rap. How the trainers and owners who keep racing afloat would wish to have even a sliver of the wealth floating around in the hip-hop game.

But British racing has pretty much always had a prize money problem. A huge fixture list, one which has bizarrely grown in recent years, stretches a pot of prize money that is under pressure at the levels where it counts – below the weekend racing and big festivals, at the general weekday level which is sustained by a huge bulk of class 4, 5 and 6 racing.

The Government’s long overdue crackdown on FOBT machines has led to a decision in turn by ARC, which owns 16 UK racecourses including Lingfield, to reduce prize money and thus not avail of a top-up fund provided to courses which offer prize funds at or beyond a threshold. That was the backdrop against which a protest against the unacceptably low prize money was staged at Lingfield on Saturday.

 

Costs are already stretched wafer thin: See this explanation from Mike Spence, a long time supporter of the game who has horses of all abilities:

Trainers made their mark with a protest against two races on Saturday with no runners declared for the five-furlong novice stakes from an entry of nine, while only the Nick Littmoden-trained Greybychoice was declared from the 18 entries for the mile novice stakes.

And they had the desired effect too, with the story making the BBC news, the papers – including The Mail, which has the largest online circulation of any British title – and international titles like BloodHorse and Australia’s SBS.

Never one to mince his words, Mark Johnston got stuck in: “I had two horses in the race and sent one to Chelmsford and the other has been entered at Southwell where the prize-money was £8,000 rather than £4,500. It gets to a point where it’s just not viable to take a horse all the way to Lingfield for that sort of money. We’ve done it in the past, but we’re not going back to the bad old days.

“The prize-money is quite ridiculous and the whole situation of Arc cutting prize-money in anticipation of a potential cut in the number of betting shops and funding due to the FOBT reduction, which is hypothetical at the moment, is out of order. The race values vary from 46-60 handicaps to maidens and better class races across the courses, but we always note the prize-money when making entries."

Good Gesture: Nick Littmoden, the only trainer who entered a horse in the two races, donated his percentage to the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.

What can be done? The big players – the British Horseracing Authority, National Trainers Federation, Racehorse Owners Association and Racecourse Association – are in talks but this problem will always persist unless there is a significant cash injection or, even more unlikely, a marked reduction in the bloated fixture list that consumes British racing for the benefit of bookmakers and media rights recipients. It is worth noting that Ireland does not have anything like this problem, even if the situation is not quite the same.

 

  1. Super Vision

Wind surgery and a step back up in trip proved the answer for Vision Des Flos, who turned out to be the quickest in what was a competitive National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell, and after a year and nine races, he finally got back on the winning trail.

 

 

The Kingwell Hurdle third had also finished second behind Buveur D’Air on his first start of the season, but he appeared to appreciate this trip and was always travelling best coming off the all-weather crossover. A big leap took him past the front running Lil Rockerfeller, and once Tom Scudamore sent him to win his race, he always had a little too much in hand for the late charge of If The Cap Fits, who was outpaced almost until he jumped the last.

Harry Fry’s runner up will head to the Aintree Hurdle next, whilst Ballymoy was a disappointment, finishing near last. The ever so admirable Lil Rockerfeller held on for third.

Colin Tizzard, trainer of Vision Des Flos: "He is in the Champion Hurdle and the Coral Cup, and on that running I’d say he would go for the handicap. You never know, if there are not many in the Champion Hurdle we might go there yet.” 

Harry Fry, trainer of If The Cap Fits: “He wasn’t good enough today and Noel did well to finish second the way he was travelling. We vaccinated him last week, which was not the plan in such close proximity to a race. Hopefully, the run was just down to that. If he had travelled well he would have won.”

Think Ahead: This was yet another boost for Elixir De Nutz, who had beaten Kingwell Hurdle winner Grand Sancy at Sandown. You can back both these proven horses, who had their form boosted twice over this weekend and who appear to be relatively versatile regarding ground for the Supreme at double figure prices.

 

Also at Fontwell: Hugos Other Horse, half-brother to the one and only Cue Card, ground out victory in the closing bumper.

 

 

  1. Check Mate 

In Ireland yesterday, there was a very smart card at Naas, with the feature Onside App Novice Hurdle (my Paddy Power cheque is in the post!) ending with a thriller eventually claimed by Chosen Mate.

The Gordon Elliott-trained progressive six-year-old travelled best into what turned out to be a sprint after the early fall of Jetez, who was in front at the time. A slick jump at the last sealed the deal for him in the dash for the line, which came just in time as he held off the charging four-year-old Hannon, in receipt of a stone in weight for age.

The runner up was cut to 25/1 for the Triumph with Paddy Power from an original price of 40/1.

Gordon Elliott, winning trainer: “Davy had to change tactics when Puppy (Robbie Power, aboard Jetez) fell. He wanted to get up and take Paul (Townend) on and not give him a complete freebie. The plan is to keep him for Aintree.”

 

  1. On The Ferry

On the same card, Cadmium booked his ticket to the Grand Annual, knuckling down to get the better of the consistent Doctor Phoenix in the Grade 3 What Odds Paddy? Chase.

He was three lengths to the good at the line but had to work harder than that, although he heads to the penultimate race of the Festival with as good a chance as any, especially with a bigger field likely to suit.

Rachael Blackmore was in the winning groove again, driving home Poker Party to take the Grade B Novice Handicap Chase. That’s two wins from two for the pair now, with the previously out of form seven year old seemingly thriving. And see this feature about her, below.

  1. Star Of The Week

A tough one, but perhaps Nick Littlemoden for doing the right thing by his owner and the trainers' collective.

 

11. Bad news to start the week...

And we start this week with the sad news that Le Richebourg, favourite for the Arkle, will miss the race - and the rest of the season - due to an injury during work on Saturday.

- William Kedjanyi

 

 

Social Discourse – 18th February

What a weekend that was! 11 graded races, eight winners for Paul Nicholls, three for Rachael Blackmore, and a 17 length winning margin in one of the season’s top races – and that’s about the short of what was a truly remarkable weekend, recapped – as best as is possible, by me, William Kedjanyi.

But first things first, just look at the brilliant reactions of Sam Twiston-Davies yesterday, perhaps saving the life of Daydream Aulmes at Ascot on Saturday. Show it to people who say that anyone involved in this game doesn't care.

 

 

As always, hit the comments, or come bother me at Twitter – the handle’s @KeejayOV2.

 

1. What’s In A Cyrname?  

You’ve probably seen it, but if not, just watch the end of this magnificent performance and marvel that a horse can run that quickly and jump that smoothly.

 

Cyrname’s rout in the Ascot Chase is still barely believable even after the dust has settled, but one had better believe that it happened because Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old really did smash Waiting Patiently by 17 lengths.

He arrived here after winning a competitive Ascot handicap by 21 lengths last month, but this was a far tougher test. He faced Waiting Patiently. He faced Fox Norton. His stablemate Politologue was a Melling Chase winner. Even Charbel, the outsider of the field, was a winner of the Peterborough Chase this season.

It simply did not matter. From the very start, Harry Cobden was in front and whilst he was always travelling sweetly, it was in the home straight when the taps were opened, Cobden sat motionless in the drivers’ seat for the most impressive performance of the season in my book.

 

 

Thinking Ahead: You would forgive connections for being speechless, but Paul Nicholls had plenty of thoughts on the future: “Aintree last year, he jumped out right, and those type of tracks don’t suit him. At least we will see if he gets three miles round Punchestown. It will be brilliant for him, because it is a big galloping track with proper fences. One day, we will go back left-handed.”

Waiting Patiently was a 17 length second, and Ruth Jefferson gave credit in defeat: “He has been beaten by a better horse on the day,” she said. "My instant reaction is he is probably a better horse on soft ground. That’s the quickest conditions he has run on since Kempton.”

Fox Norton, having his second run since coming back from injury, was third ahead of the slightly disappointing Politologue, who could have his wind operated on according to John Hales.

 

2. Dance, Dance, Dance!

Good things come to those who wait. Nobody would have been dancing last week, not least Dai Walters, but he had the last laugh as Al Dancer almost moonwalked to impressive victory in the rearranged Betfair Hurdle.

 

 

12lbs higher than he was for his win at Cheltenham in December, he could have carried double the weight and still won, and gave Sam Twiston-Davies a dream conveyance down the inside. Indeed, he would have preferred a faster pace but, come the straight, he was cruising into the race and after a good leap at the last he simply had too much for Magic Dancer and Blu Cavalier.

For those interested, main market rival Getaway Trump was back in fourth having made a fair amount of ground in the home straight – an eye catching display given he was second in the Challow Hurdle.

 

The effusive – is he ever anything less? – Nigel Twiston Davies, speaking to Matt Chapman on ITV: "He's a lovely horse, what a shame we weren't at Newbury but well done Ascot for putting it on. He's a championship horse, he'll be going to Cheltenham."

 

Don’t Forget: Getaway Trump is entered in the Ballymore still, but might the Coral Cup be a tempting option?

The Reaction: There’s nothing quite like a big race favourite and Cheltenham contender winning…..

 

3. The Winning Clan

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Paul Nicholls’ red letter day had some incredible moments, but one of the most satisfying must have been the 13 seconds it took Clan Des Obeaux to seal the rescheduled Denman Chase and set himself up for a big crack for the Gold Cup.

In what was a very uncomplicated four-runner affair, he tracked Terrefort into the race before the last, and with one big leap – his best of the day – he put what was essentially a match race, the pair being well clear of Ballyhill and Thomas Patrick by the home straight, to bed with aplomb.

 

Harry Cobden Jockey, speaking to the Racing Post: "He's got better all the time, he's maturing and he's more professional when he races. He's not as exuberant as he was, but if you light him up he takes off."

One To Note: Ballyhill, who was third, could go well in handicaps around 2m4f in the spring.

 

4. Over and Out 

This winter we have been reminded about just how valuable our champions are, and how blessed we are when we get to see them go out happy and healthy, so a hearty farewell – of the good kind – to Coneygree, who jumped with enthusiasm and style at Ascot in the Keltbray Swinley Chase, but who did not have the legs to keep up with faster opposition.

He was wisely retired by The Bradstocks after that, a move which brought about an outpouring of love from all in the jumping game. Enjoy.

 

 

https://twitter.com/rockonxruby/status/1096778764170813440

 

5. Meanwhile, at Haydock…. 

Robinsfirth swooped upon Ramses De Teillee to take the Grand National Trial at Haydock with a finely timed challenge from Sean Bowen, on a day where some idiots got involved in a punchup after the racing. Chef D’Oeuvre was third and Colin Tizzard also had the fourth in the shape of Royal Vacation who could be headed to Aintree

Shades of Midnight gave Paisley Park backers yet another form boost as he romped home in the Rendlesham Hurdle. Kilcooley ran a fine race returning from 1066 days off, although he was passed for second by Petticoat Tails. Yanworth, well backed on his seasonal debut, was a bitter disappointment and the stewards – even more perplexingly to this scribe – reported that nothing was amiss.

Quel Destin gave Paul Nicholls another Cheltenham contender with a wide margin win in the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle, winning by six lengths whilst Torpillo disappointed here

Jester Jet ended a run of seconds – five of them – with a rallying win in the Listed Mares' Hurdle at Haydock to defy If You Say Run, benefiting from a perfectly timed Tom Scudamore ride to get up by a head.

 

  6. May The Forsa Be With You

The weekend’s action was properly kicked off by the rescheduled Kingmaker Chase, which was turned into a procession by Glen Forsa, who took apart the very disappointing Kalashnikov by 19 lengths in a display that will now see Mick Channon’s charge head towards either the Arkle or the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival, rather than the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.

 

 

Glen Forsa, who had impressed with his bold jumping over the Christmas period at Kempton, was jumping better early on and made his advantage count when over the first of the Railway fences, as the odds on favourite was beginning to labour, perhaps struggling in the very tacky ground, with poor leaps at the second and third Railway obstacles getting in the way, and by the time the pair had reached the pond fence the race was basically over.

 

From Amy Murphy and Team:

 

7. Glee for Monalee...

We had no Presenting Percy, but we did have a big winner for Rachael Blackmore as she kicked Monalee home in the Red Mills Chase, a result that will probably make many of Percy’s backers pretty happy – the RSA form holds up better by the week. The four runner affair proved to be a fascinating race, with Monalee always happy in front but Killultagh Vic stopping quite quickly when we had the potential for a three-runner race as they turned for home.

Monalee found enough in front but just as eye-catching in second was the returning Anibale Fly, third in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and set to head there again following a fine effort given that he’d had only one run this season – his sixth in a handicap chase back in November. Tony Martin will be a happy man, whilst Edwulf looks difficult to place now although he will be better when stepped up dramatically in trip.

 

Henry De Bromhead, speaking to the Irish Times: “He’s in the Ryanair and the Gold Cup and we’ll work it all out between now and then. I wouldn’t be leaning any way to be honest. I don’t know yet and I’d say the ground will be quite telling.

8. Elsewhere..... 

Grand Sancy got the better of Sceau Royal and Vision Des Flos in a tremendous battle for the Kingwell Hurdle, giving Paul Nicholls another of his eight winners on the day, and providing Harry Skelton with a first win for Ditcheat in six years. He considerably boosted the Tolworth form of Elixir De Nutz and gave a shot in the arm for the novice form this season as he now heads to the Supreme, with the runner up going for the Champion Hurdle.

Darasso bounced back from a poor run in the Galmoy Hurdle to dominate the Red Mills Hurdle, getting the better of a brief tussle with Forge Meadow to then win by 11 lengths, in a race where last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Farclas was a huge disappointment.

Mister Malarky took his record to three from four over fences with a game win in the Reynoldstown, fighting off Now McGinty. He was cut to 20/1 from 33s by Sky Bet for the Festival’s RSA Chase.

The incredible Tiger Roll bolted up in the Boyne Hurdle, sparking a joyous reaction from fans as he belied odds of 25/1. He was cut into 5/4 for the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham and is now as short as 12/1 for the Grand National again. A shout out to Keith Donoghue, who rode him and had his first winner since he suffered a fractured eye socket and cheekbone after Christmas.

Rachael Blackmore gave Chris’s Dream a superb ride to land the Ten Up Novice Chase, only just holding on from Champagne Classic, on his second run off a long layoff to get very close.

 

9. What else you might have missed….

The last at Gowran, thanks to (or no thanks to) Racing TV. See the tweets below….

 

 

 

What happened? Daylight Katie won by eight lengths, giving Gordon Elliot yet another useful young horse.

How does this get fixed? The easy answer is for another channel, but things aren't that simple; the running costs alone to have two channels would presumably make such a project financially unviable.

So what then? Racing TV does have multiple channels online, although this is perhaps not all that comforting to Irish fans, many of whom have at best, faint internet access. Irish racing has the benefit of a slimmed fixture list which absolutely makes the product more valuable, but this comes at the cost of clashes such as this, especially on busy days.

On the bright side: The Punchestown Festival is run as an afternoon-evening card, so that should get pride of place come the end of April.

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse – 12th February

Welcome to a joyous, joyous edition of Social Discourse, as British racing makes its return from a six-day break caused by an outbreak of equine influenza (EI), which had put the sport into shutdown and caused concern over the Cheltenham Festival, due to commence a month today (allow yourself another little cheer).

Thanks to what one must say was quick and decisive action from the BHA, we are now set to return from tomorrow, albeit with caveats, giving (most) trainers a resumption of normality along with jockeys, owners, media outlets and the rest. There’s still time for Festival trials, too. Whoop!

As ever, hit me up at @KeejayOV2 on Twitter or just leave a comment below.

 

  1. The Wait……

1:57 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

9:12 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

10:23 PM · Feb 11, 2019:

11:19 PM · Feb 11, 2019: (Yes, that's right, the Irish Field got there first).

11:21 PM · Feb 11, 2019:


  2. The Joy…..

After what was nearly a ten-hour wait – although the last hour and a half was perhaps more stressful than the previous nine - it’s fair to say that this had brought the normally fractious social community of Racing Twitter together. A recap for you, if you couldn’t stay up, or just need that good feeling again.

 

3. The Super, Super Saturday Ahead 

We waited, and now good things are coming to us. Everyone within 10 miles of Cheltenham will still be breathing outwards with relief, but in the more immediate future, there are races to be won and more than a few Festival trials to be rescheduled.

Ascot’s card this coming Saturday was always going to be spectacular but, with the quick transfer of Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle and Game Spirit Chase to the Berkshire venue, it means we are set for a truly phenomenal day of action – the last chance for many high-class horses to run before Cheltenham.

 

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2-mile novice chasers get a last chance to tune themselves up for a very open-looking Arkle Chase with the Kingmaker moved from Warwick to boost Sandown’s Friday card; there’s a Mares’ Hurdle which now moves to Haydock from the same card, and Wincanton gets a Mares’ Chase from Exeter.

 

Don’t Forget: If Ascot is getting you excited, then Haydock also has a feature – the William Hill Grand National Trial, plus a Mares’ Hurdle – and Wincanton features the Kingwell Hurdle as well as the Mares' Chase. Best cancel those Saturday plans if you can.

Trigger-Happy Punters: Markets will have to be remade, with the BHA having to work out which yards can send runners, and the entries will come through at 1.30 today. So if anyone wants to get a jump…. Then have a sneaky tab open around 4 this afternoon.

 

4. The Caveats

It’s not as simple as some might think, however.

- No entries or declarations will be accepted from horses that have not been vaccinated in the previous six months.

- Added to this, trainers of all horses are required to submit a health declaration, the documentation for which needs to be with BHA staff at racecourse before a horse can be unloaded at the track

- If there happen to be any overseas runners, then they won’t be allowed to run unless there’s evidence of a negative test within last 72 hours.

- The ruling that all horses need to have been vaccinated in the last six months has put a spanner in the works of many plans. Already we know that Silver Streak will not be able to run in the Kingwell, whilst 2017 Grand National winner One For Arthur won’t be able to run thanks to needing another jab.

A list of yards that won’t be able to run at least in the next week has been speculated on twitter, and it could include Nicky Henderson, based on what we’ve seen here.

https://twitter.com/muffinmannhc/status/1095255812413497344

Those berating the BHA for not advising trainers of the need to get their horses a booster jab are wide of the mark, as this tweet shows:

As with all that has preceded it, the BHA is doing everything it can to support the sport, including announcing the provision of some additional races for circa 23rd February to enable those without booster jabs to get vaccinated and have a prep before the Festival:

5. Getting Jiggy With It

Meanwhile, racing in Ireland continued unabated and we were treated to a pair of good cards over the weekend with Punchestown having their Grand National Trial on what was at the very least an informative day.

Gigginstown can do no wrong at the moment and they gave themselves a tremendous hand in both the Aintree and Fairyhouse versions as Dounikos came right back to his best to beat Wishmoor by four and a half lengths, with General Principle just a half-length behind.

In what was a dominant showing for the O'Leary squad from start to finish – all three of their charges raced prominently – Dounikos put himself down as a major contender for either the Grand National itself at Aintree or the Irish equivalent, targets that Wishmoor and General Principle, the winner of last year’s Irish Grand National, will also be looking at.

Gordon Elliott, trainer of Dounikos, speaking to Tony O’Hehir of the Racing Post: "Dounikos might go to Aintree or Fairyhouse, we'll see the Aintree weights this week," he said. "I made a lot of entries and I could end up running 12 or 15 in the race. One of those could be General Principle, and Elliott added: "He ran a good race today and Aintree might be the job for him this year."

 

Be smart: Dounikos is generally a 33/1 shot for Aintree (as big as 40/1 with Bet Victor) with the weights due out tomorrow, and General Principle is around the same price.

 

6. Over The Water

A good card at Naas saved ITV, who combined quickly and effectively with the HRI to show a decent card in absentia of Newbury’s Super Saturday.

The highlight was arguably Pravalaguna, who gave a fine front-running display to take the Listed Opera Hat Chase.

Sent off at just 8/13 after strong support, the only scare came when jockey Paul Townend appeared to lose an iron briefly at the fifth last, but he regained full control before taking the next obstacle and from then on she didn’t put a foot wrong before marching to a 14 length success from Baie Des Iles in second.

On the same card, we saw another Festival contender in the shape of City Island, who justified long odds on favouritism with a facile win in the Connolly's Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle at Naas.

Mark Walsh could have written this column whilst he was sat onboard Martin Brassil's six-year-old, and when he gave him his cue, he picked up trailblazing The Echo Boy and won by an easy seven lengths. Cut to as short as 9/1 for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, he now goes as one of the main players.

Death, taxes, and Joseph O’Brien having smart juvenile hurdlers are the three certainties in life just now, and Band Of Outlaws joined a growing club by coming from last to first to take the EMS Copiers Rated Novice Hurdle.

In a slowly run race, JJ Slevin had Band Of Outlaws fifth of six most of the way round but when push came to shove, he comfortably had too much speed for long-time leader Maze Runner after the final flight to win going away by four and three-quarter lengths.

The Festival now? Well do be careful – the runner up was only seventh in Leopardstown’s Grade 2 at Christmas and O’Brien, if anywhere at Cheltenham, may send him for the Fred Winter although that is not certain at this stage.

 

Even when O’Brien loses, he wins: The new JP McManus purchase Konitho was a disappointing fifth of sixth, not finding anything like the response of his stablemate, although O’Brien felt that the slowly run race did not suit him. "You'd have to say he was a little bit disappointing. The race probably didn't suit him as he's bigger, more of a staying type of horse.”

Jessica Harrington could have a runner in the Cheltenham Festival Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in the shape of the wide margin maiden hurdle winner, Emily Moon. Robbie Power, having his only ride of the day, took the race by the scruff of the neck and she never saw another horse, eventually finishing 14 lengths clear of Debuchet.

Winning rider Robbie Power was impressed: "I was very impressed with her. She's improved a good bit and probably dropping back half a mile in trip suited her better as she loves jumping out and rolling. Over two miles you can let her go, you're not worried about the trip."

Onto next week we go - should be a quiet one..!

- William Kedjanyi

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