They shouldn’t be pigeon-holed as mud-lovers, but there’s no denying that Flemensfirth offspring tend to enjoy a drop of rain.
The wonderful National Hunt stallion, who stands for the Coolmore team at The Beeches stud in County Waterford, is in the midst of another stellar campaign, currently among the leading five Jumps sires when based on number of winners. A particularly wet winter is certainly aiding the ongoing success, though to be fair, it’s a while since he’s slipped out of the top six. That occurred as far back as the 2007/08 season.
By dual Arc winner Alleged, Flemensfirth was bought by Sheikh Mohammed as a yearling for $290,000 in the mid-1990s, and sent to England to be trained by John Gosden. He only had one outing as a two-year-old, when comfortably winning a maiden at Nottingham.
He won the Group One Prix Lupin early in his three-year-old campaign before finishing down the field in the Prix du Jockey Club and the St James's Palace Stakes. A mile and-a-quarter proved his ideal trip, and in the autumn he was sent back to France to win the Group Two Prix Dollar. He returned from injury a year later to capture the same race, before heading to Italy to win the Premio Roma. He retired the following year and though failing to make a mark as a sire of flat-race horses, he became hugely successful as a sire of jumpers.
His greatest success as a stallion came with Imperial Commander. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, the gutsy staying chaser was twice a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. In 2009 he took the Ryanair Chase, and 12 months later captured the Gold Cup. Producing talented chasers has proved Flemensfirth’s strength. Tidal Bay won the Arkle, and later in his career the Lexus at Leopardstown. Flemenstar and Pandorama were also high-class over fences, and for a while, Time For Rupert threatened to be a star.
Pandorama rather typified the mud-loving rugged and relentless galloping progeny blueprint. A few weeks back, Emperor’s Choice did what he does best, when handling testing conditions better than the rest to win a handicap chase at Haydock. Venetia Williams’ chaser had won the Welsh National in similar conditions back in 2014.
One from the bloodline that has impressed over the winter, and shown the potential of becoming top-class, is the Fergal O’Brien-trained Poetic Rhythm. Already a Grade One winner, thanks to his success in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury, his trainer believes the win came despite testing conditions, rather than because of them. For me, he lacks gears, and his ability to cope with heavy ground will aid his progress. He’s not the biggest, but I’m still convinced that his best days are ahead of him, and when he inevitably switches to fences.
Waiting Patiently is undoubtedly one that loves testing ground, and may well be back in action this weekend at Kempton. A Grade Two winning novice last season, when defeating Politologue at Haydock, he is trained in the north by Malcolm Jefferson. He gave 6lb and a beating to Belami Des Pictons on his return at Carlisle, but coughed before an intended trip to Cheltenham last time. Undefeated over fences, his rating forces him to take a step-up in class, but with ground to suit he’ll take some beating.
Another from the Flemensfirth line that returned to action in style, was Irish raider Coney Island. Ed Harty’s seven-year-old has looked adaptable as regards ground conditions, and was impressive when returning from injury to win at Ascot last month. As a novice chaser, he matched-up closely with Our Duke and Disko, and that sort of form suggests he’ll be a player at the Cheltenham Festival in March. As short as 10s for the ‘big one’, he’s also 16s for the Ryanair, should connections decide to follow the Imperial Commander example and choose the shorter race for his first Festival foray.
And there’s plenty more that have caught the eye in recent months. Red Rising may have lost last time at Cheltenham, but this sizeable seven-year-old, trained by Dan Skelton, will surely come into his own when sent over fences. A point-to-point winner in 2016, he’s a horse worth following when taking on the larger obstacles.
Fergal O’Brien looks to have another useful youngster in bumper winner Time To Move On. A half-brother to Barney Dwan, this five-year-old was mightily impressive on debut at Exeter when romping to victory in testing ground. He’s a big fella, and though it’s early doors, he looks a talented sort with a bright future.
Chooseyourweapon is trained by Evan Williams, and is undefeated in two starts under rules. He’s a huge unit, and was impressive in the mud at Chepstow last time. He could run in the Ballymore Novices’ at Warwick this weekend with the ground likely to be ideal. He’s still only five, and anything he does as a hurdler will surely be surpassed as a chaser.
The Tizzard’s can’t be left out, and they have their own ‘Flemensfirth with a future’, in Ainchea. The five-year-old lost out to Tikkanbar at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, though that looked a strong race. He’s another big fella that will certainly jump a fence, and looks hugely promising.
Another that shouldn’t be overlooked is the Willie Mullins-trained Invitation Only. He fell in his first attempt over fences, but was then foot-perfect when winning well at Navan in December. A possible runner at Punchestown this weekend, he’s plenty more to give, and may still progress into a top-class sort.
A word of caution with these Flemensfirth progeny. They don’t always do that well at the Cheltenham Festival in March. It’s further evidence of a soft-spot for true winter ground. The likes of Imperial Commander and Tidal Bay are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to the spring festivals. For punters, the advice is to strike now, while conditions remain in their favour.