By Tony Stafford
We’re right into the main part of the 2013-14 jumps season with turf Flat-racing almost a fading memory, two weeks after Doncaster wound up the campaign. It seems silly to be talking about Jonjo O’Neill, for instance being within six of his century for the season with still almost six months to go but such has been his improved strike rate, he will soon be passing his best figure of the past five years at any rate.
Many of the big stables achieve astonishing results almost on a weekly basis. Willie Mullins, who sent his latest potential superstar Annie Power to Ascot on Saturday to beat Zarkandar in emphatic fashion and bring her unbeaten sequence to eight, had seven winners last Sunday from only two domestic Irish cards.
O’Neill is having his big days, as is David Pipe – four on the Sunday of Cheltenham’s Open meeting supplemented yesterday with Gevrey Chambertin’s collection of the valuable Fixed Brush hurdle handicap at Haydock. He also won it three years back with that horse’s brother Grands Cru and in 2011 with Dynaste.
Of course Messrs Nicholls, Henderson and King are also liable to string together numbers of wins, as is the north’s new power Lucinda Russell but there will have been a few tremors for the Nicky Henderson camp. Saturday’s eclipse of his two most recent Gold Cup winners Bobs Worth and Long Run in the Betfair Chase must have been perplexing as Cue Card stretched away from Dynaste, now established as a top-flight chaser in his own right.
Silviniaco Conti, in third, would have possibly been a slight disappointment to Paul Nicholls after a race which seems to herald a change at the top end, although Bobs Worth, returning after a long break, might still get back to competitiveness after what was a testing comeback. After all his exertions either side of the Channel, Long Run might be in a different category.
The victory of Cue Card, three and a half years on from his spectacular triumph in the Cheltenham bumper, in which he saw off Nicholls’ Al Ferof – easy winner of an Ascot chase in which just two horses lined up for a £24,000 first prize earlier in the afternoon.
Strangely of the 24 that contested that year’s bumper, very few have gone on to do much, in fact Cue Card and Al Ferof are almost in a minority of two. Now, though, Cue Card’s constant promise has been fully realised over a trip and on testing ground that augur well for his eventual crowning as Gold Cup hero next March.
I wonder just how many times, Colin Tizzard has had to relay bids to Mrs Bishop, Cue Card’s owner, in the intervening years. Certainly after than initial burst onto the public consciousness back in March 2010, most people thought the horse would soon be running in green and gold hoops. The confidence shown in the horse by Tizzard, and his son Joe who here went off in front, defying the conventional wisdom that stamina was his Achilles heel, has been richly rewarded.
There were some reminders of the 2013 Flat when Irish Oaks winner Chicquita changed hands for 6m Euro at Goff’s sale during the week in Paul Makin’s dispersal. The Irish Oaks heroine had preceded her only win in four starts – she fell in the second when a probable winner – when runner-up to horse of the Year Treve.
That was an interesting one-two as she is a daughter of the recently-deceased Montjeu, after Galileo the best Classic sire of the recent past, while Treve is a daughter of Montjeu’s Derby-winning son Motivator, now understandably on an upward curve since despatched almost in shame to France.
A date with Galileo is on the cards for her, and pretty much everything else with a leg in each corner, satisfactory breeding equipment and the ability to run fast. I will never forget the Ascot when the first lot of three-year-olds by him indicated the legend that was to come.
As to my other main interests, the cricket has been both disappointing and shocking in the way of its developing in Brisbane. After having the Aussies on the rack, and letting them off it, their batsmen have conspired to suggest earlier triumphs were of the “King’s New Clothes” order.
I enjoy looking through Cricinfo’s pages and when there are Sheffield Shield (State matches) clashes going on at the same time as the Tests, I’m always amazed to see just how many contenders for places in the Aussie batting line up there are.
Yet when discussing England’s situation when a collapse like Friday night’s occurs, the Sky experts suddenly realised just how little cover we have if any of the top five, like Jonathan Trott, ever loses his bottle, which Trott seems to have done against Mitchell Johnston.
At number six we have Joe Root – alternatives, two other young Yorkshiremen, Johnny Bairstow, who is not a convincing option, and Gary Ballance, yet to play for his (?) country. He’s clearly one of ours as unlike Strauss, Pietersen, Trott, Compton and Prior, all born in South Africa, he’s from Zimbabwe! Unless Cook and Bell start getting double centuries, the next few weeks are going to be challenging.
The football was good, the Gunners getting three points to restart their title challenge after the defeat by van Persie’s shoulder and Liverpool and Everton only shared the points. Still with the two Manchesters, Chelsea and Spurs also there, it’s going to be a thriller. Like the rest of the jumps season. The Flat, who cares about that?