And so the final week of the National Hunt season is behind us. And what a rain-soaked seven days it was too. The highlights of the week, if not the weather, were the Punchestown Festival and Sandown's mixed card which so literally moves us from jumps to flat in the space of thirty-five minutes.
In today's mish mash, I'll have thoughts on both of those events, plus a look ahead to the first Classics of the season this weekend (!); news of a new competition; and a word on some freebie winners from the weekend just passed.
But let's start at a precipitated upon Punchestown (try saying that after a few pints of the good black stuff). I was invited to - and decided to attend - the Punchestown Festival for the first time. My timing, naturally, was impeccable. It seemed I'd chosen the week when a rowing regatta would have been a more appropriate use for the just-outside-Naas-but-in-truth-a-million-miles-from-anywhere venue than a race meeting.
Punchestown's April (and sometimes May) Festival is the jewel in the crown of Irish jump racing, and little wonder that they would move heaven (which, it appeared, had already moved in order to open all over this verdant part of Ireland) and earth to ensure the meeting could be run.
The course was submerged in places, especially on the chase course, which succumbed to more postponements and cancellations than a leafy morning in a London mainline train station.
Indeed, the second day of the meeting - and the one I'd travelled over for - was under further threat from ferocious winds which were gusting off the Atlantic, and pretty much everywhere else too. It was the temporary structures which were the problem, we were told. Not that anyone was planning on hanging out in a marquee, or having a choc ice (whatever happened to those?) under a pub bench parasol.
Anyways... late word (1.30pm, first race scheduled for 3.40pm) confirmed that racing would go ahead, and off I jolly well trudged.
I arrived at the track, via a train from Dublin's Heuston Station to Sallins (for Naas), and then a cab ride from there. Aside from the town of Naas, through which we passed, there didn't appear to be very much at all happening in this forgotten enclave some way between here and there.
No matter. For racing was on. A delayed, truncated card stripped of its feature, the Punchestown Gold Cup, and my best bet of the week - Raptor in the Guinness Handicap Chase (fourth in the re-run on Saturday, as it happened) - released its tapes at 4.55 to a great roar from the soaked and, by now, quite sozzled crowd of hardy aficionados... and foolhardy day-trippers!
It was a race of many runners, in impossible conditions, and yet still a horse was robustly supported into 3/1 favouritism in a melee of 25. Ten Bob was the thoroughly vanquished beast, who gave best to Shamiran, itself the subject of a mini-gamble, and about twenty other more amphibious equines.
I managed to back the third horse in a token each way tickle, at 33/1 no less (returned 25's, so shrewd...). Go for the horses with the webbed hooves was my mantra, or at least those with heavy ground form in the book.
The afternoon's hoof splashing and whip lashing continued. Loch Ard fair bolted up - as much as any horse could in such an environment - under a waiting ride from Ruby. It was Willie Mullins' second winner of the week after Sir Des Champs had survived a bid to walk through the last fence the night before. Mullins, W. would get another eight pots in his possession before the week was out, continuing with...
...the 1-2-3 in the following, and perfectly named, War of Attrition Novices Hurdle, a Grade 1 for eternal stayers. And all for the same owner as well, probably the first time such a feat has been carried off in top company.
The flattering deceiver Sous Les Cieux was the shortest priced of them, the 7/2 jolly in fact, but he was only third best at the marmite-splattered jam stick (if you see what I did there). In front were Marasonnien, an equine to have on your side in a scrap, and Vesper Bell, who scooted and tooted his way into the silver medal podium slot (if you saw what I did there).
Marasonnien, a name not hugely removed from Monsoonian, which would have been a reasonable description of the inclemency of the situation, were it in fact a word, looks likely to take high order in deep ground novice chases next season, and is in the notebook accordingly.
Sous Les Cieux? Well, he'll cost you more money if you keep believing he'll find an engine to go with his cruising speed. All class, but a heart of glass, he's a swerve, as I've mentioned before.
Onwards and downwards we plunged - unless you were Willie Mullins, or Rich Ricci, or a follower of either - as the Champion Bumper went the way of the same owner and trainer as the Novices Hurdle. Champagne Fever, with his bothersome head carriage, has both class and guts, and won in taking style.
The second, Melodic Rendezvous, from Jeremy Scott's ascendant yard, ran a blinder, with Mullins second string, Mozoltov, a close enough third. The rest were nearer to Dublin than Punchestown as the front three passed the post.
Champagne Fever may go straight over fences next season, and wherever he heads, this attractive grey might prove tough to pass, as he's a veritable scrapper despite his quirky cocked jaw.
They finished at 7.15pm, with another bumper of lesser stature, and I'd already run for the car park and a cab back to the railway station. As (relative) fortune would have it, a late train arrived just in time to chuff and choo me back to Dub and into a hot tub.
I'd love to go back to Punchy, because I'm certain I've seen the worst of it, and I'm equally sure there's plenty more that the place has to offer. Maybe next year, if the forecast favours...
[My thanks to Joe, who sorted everything for me, except the weather! I'll catch you again soon, and I hope you survived the booze bus home ok...]
At about 3.15 on Saturday afternoon, and within five minutes of each other (preposterously), the two feature races of the day set off. Over in Ireland, the rescheduled Punchestown Gold Cup was won by the 20/1 old knocker, China Rock.
At Sandown, for the bet365 Gold Cup, it was another old knocker who bagged the spoils. Whilst China Rock's win was hard fought, that of Tidal Bay was ultra-impressive.
Tidal Bay has been called plenty of things in his time, good and bad in equal measure. Here he was sensational. In an attritional affair, over three and three quarter muddy miles of Sandown's stamina-stealing sod, the bay Bay bolted up. Under top weight!
This chap - now eleven years young - was completing a notable handicap hat-trick for the double digit brigade, following on from the wins of fellow eleven-year-olds, Neptune Collonges and Merigo, on previous Saturdays in Grand Nationals north and south of Hadrian's Wall.
It appears instructive to note that, whilst he hadn't previously won since January 2010, this was the first time he'd encountered proper soft ground since. Indeed, this factoid is given further credence by the fact that he's never been out of the first three on ground described as predominantly soft or heavy.
Clearly, he's not getting any younger, but he'd surely be a threat in any distance chase, in any grade, on soft ground. I'd be buying him a season ticket for Irish Ferries next term...
Thereafter, the remainder of the card was flat fare, in more ways than one.
The flat season proper may have started a month ago, but for most, it's yet to leave the stalls. In truth, the miserable weather hardly hints of balmy summer evenings. And the hock-deep consequences of so many downpours is playing havoc with early season punters, including myself.
And yet... And yet, this weekend will see the first of the British Classics run at HQ. In the curiously anachronistic early season 'narrative' which dictates that 80% of our Classics will be run before the second week of June, the two one-mile events - 1000 and 2000 Guineas, of course - will have been run by this time next week.
I'll have a fuller preview (natch!) nearer the time, but for now I must confess to a touch of Francophilia with regards to the chaps' race. Franco-whowhat? I've backed both Abtaal and French Fifteen to win the 2000 Guineas, on the basis that they ran in a very good trial at Maisons-Laffitte recently.
Whether this was wise will be revealed in stages: first, by my fuller and more considered race preview later in the week, and secondly - and far more conclusively - by the race itself next weekend.
Let's hope the rain stops, and the winners start by then... or else it's going to be a long old summer of punting indeed.
Now then, on the subject of flat racing, and looking forward to something better than we've seen thus far, how about a competition? A spot of fantasy league racing, perhaps? Right you are then.
QIPCO are looking to bring more fun and laughter to the man in the street, and - quite rightly - more attention to their brand. As such, they're sponsoring a sort of fantasy football for racing.
I could explain it badly and using lots of words (don't I always?!), but you'll be pleased to hear that Ian has written a much more succinct piece with everything you need to know.
Basically, you sign up, choose your team, and then you join the Geegeez League. Consequently, you'll not only be eligible for the big prizes put up by the extensive QIPCO budget, but also the slightly less valuable - in monetary terms at least - Geegeez prizes. (Obviously, you can't put a price on the kudos such local success will bring... 😉 )
All the details are here, and I'd love for you to join me - and everyone else - in the Geegeez league.
Prizes will be racing books, as follows:
Two books each for the top two-monthly point scorers (May/June, July/August, September/October).
Six book for the winner overall of the Geegeez Super League.
It's free to enter, and ought to be good fun, with some big prizes and some little prizes as well. So join in! And tell your mates to join in too!!
Oh yes, here's the link: http://www.geegeez.co.uk/british-champions-series-fantasy-league-competition/
And finally, you may have seen my email at the weekend telling you about totesport's completely no strings free bet offer. In a nutshell, if you're not already a totesport customer, and you register with them, they'll give you five quid to bet with even if you don't deposit any readies!
Over 250 of you took advantage of totesport's generosity on Saturday, and I've heard from a few of you who managed to back a winner.
A few of the comments:
well in matt, i did memory cloth with my free bet took 5s drifted to 13/2 but you don't get BOG had 2.5 e/w better than nothing.
Thanks Matt, didn't go for thousands just a fiver win on Mumbles Head 11/4. I'm happy. Martyn
Registered backed tidal bay woo hoo!
Did you back a winner? If so, leave a comment and let us know who...
If you don't have a totesport account, and you haven't yet opened one, WHY THE HELL NOT????!!! OK, sorry, got carried away there. But, seriously, it's free money if you find a winner. And no loss if you don't. There aren't many good things in life, but that's pretty decent, I'd say. And on a Monday as well!
Oops - making a habit of this now - here's the link: FREE FIVE QUID BET, NO STRINGS, HERE.
OK, that's enough of my waffle for today. We've got loads more for you this week, starting with Mal's Well I Declare feature tomorrow, where he'll be looking at this week's notable declarations, including for Newmarket and the Guineas.
Then Tony will be proffering his Punting Confessional on Wednesday. What's that sinner been up to this week?!
Thursday sees Andy Newton's update on the trainers in form just now. And on Friday I'll have that promised Guineas meeting preview for you.
Plus, Ian's here all week with his - generally lateral - take on the racing news. And Chris and I will be trying to unearth a winner or six via Stat of the Day.
So stay tuned for all, or at least some (as you like), of that. As you know, we don't email every day, so if you want to see what's happening, you need to stop by. You'll be very welcome. 🙂
p.s. did you back a winner at the weekend? Leave a comment. Hard luck story? Tell us about it. Fed up with the rain? Have a moan. Garden looking great? Share your green-fingered secrets... 😉