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Byrnes and Williams Try A New Pair Of Jumpers

Usually at this point of the jumps season most of the juveniles have made the switch; had a run or two over hurdles, and if good enough are being targeted at the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter at Cheltenham.

However, there are always the odd few that arrive late to the party for one reason or another. And today there’s a couple of interesting newcomers on either side of the Irish Sea.

Charles Byrnes knows a thing or two about training hurdlers. Solwhit was the yard’s flag-bearer for almost half a dozen years, winning the Irish Champion Hurdle, the Aintree Hurdle and his career culminating with success in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. In 23 starts over timber, he was only out of the first two on three occasions. His career earnings were just shy of £900,000. It was such a blow when he died all too soon whilst schooling at Tipperary in November 2014.

His latest newcomer runs in the opening maiden hurdle at Thurles. Cilento was trained on the flat by John Gosden, and running in Godolphin’s famous blue silks. He’s a powerful looking unit, and was last seen in a Class 4 handicap at Newmarket during the summer and was rated in the 80’s having previously won a handicap at Ascot. He’s a son of Raven’s Pass out of a Simon Du Desert mare. His sire doesn’t necessarily instil confidence in a smooth transition from flat to jumps, but the dam’s side gives more hope for optimism.

Simon Du Desert has been part of a number of decent National Hunt horses, including the classy French hurdler Good Bye Simon. Further back on the dam’s side of the pedigree we have a reliable National Hunt sire Kaldoun, and he was responsible for the likes of Spadoun and Smadoun, also familiar names among the jumping ranks. The latter is of course the sire of Smad Place.

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Cilento will be taking on Aidan O’Brien’s Cradle Mountain among others. By Mastercraftsman, he was rated in the 90’s on the flat and impressed when a fine third at Fairyhouse on his hurdles debut in January.

If Byrnes’ gelding is a less certain fit to the jump racing fraternity, then at Bangor Venetia Williams appears to have a filly more likely to make a seamless transition. Live Miracle is another French import, and was classy enough to be mixing it with the likes of Sea Calisi on the flat at Lyon. That filly only just missed out on winning the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks in the summer.

Venetia’s four-year-old is by Falco, the same sire as Peace And Co, and is out of a Trempolino mare. She was running over middle distance trips on the flat and her pedigree suggests she’ll adapt to obstacles. She’s thrown in against the boys at Bangor and it’s a competitive enough looking starting point. There’s sure to be improvement for both the experience and the run, especially as her last appearance was back in June.

Today will give clues as to her potential, and with Cheltenham adding a mares’ novice hurdle to the Festival schedule there is now greater incentive for investing in likeable fillies.

Let’s hope Bangor gets the green light and along with the meeting at Thurles we get the chance to see these youngsters in action. There’s still time for one or two juveniles to announce themselves on the scene, with the big spring festivals just around the corner.

Who’s up for the Festival treble?

Istabraq - 1999 Festival hat trick

Istabraq - 1999 Festival hat trick

Sprinter Sacre and Solwhit both head off to Punchestown aiming to complete a rare feat – a seasonal hat trick of Festival victories. Istabraq was the last horse to win races at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals, and that was back in 1999.

Then, he won the Champion Hurdle, Aintree Hurdle and Punchestown Champion Hurdle, achieving his highest ever rating of 181 in the third of those races. That in itself shows what a challenge it is, and Charlie Swan, who rode Istabraq in those races, told the Racing Post that although Istabraq was a horse with bags of ability, that wasn’t enough to ensure a triple success.

When he won the Champion Hurdle in 1999, he came to Cheltenham on the back of one defeat in 12 races, stretching back over two years. That loss was a head defeat to Pridwell in the 1998 Aintree Hurdle. His eight races beginning with those three yielded seven wins, including two Cheltenham Champion Hurdles and a second place. That’s the talent Istabraq had, yet Swan says he needed more than that.

He said, “To do what he did that year, with them coming up so quickly (just six weeks between Cheltenham and Punchestown) he had to be a very good horse. He also had to have a very good trainer. He was as good in the Punchestown race as he had been at Cheltenham and I think the reason he had been beaten at Aintree was more to do with the ground and him running keenly.”

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So how likely is it that Solwhit or Sprinter Sacre can emulate Istabraq and do what Rooster Booster, Moscow Flyer and Fota Island all tried, but just failed to manage? And is it possible that two horses will do so in the same year?

One trainer who is perhaps better placed than most to judge that is Jessica Harrington, who had Moscow Flyer in her care. She explained what she thought had prevented her horse gaining the treble, saying, “The first year Moscow Flyer went to the three big meetings was 2004. When he departed at the top of the (Cheltenham) hill, it meant he didn’t have a hard race and because he was ten we had nothing to lose from stepping him up to two and a half miles. He won easily at Aintree before going on to Punchestown.”

They tried again the following season. “Then, he won the Queen Mother as an 11-year-old, followed up at Aintree and was beaten only a whisker by Rathgar Beau at Punchestown. But going into that race, he hadn’t had too hard a time of it at Cheltenham or Aintree, so he was fit and well.”

Now Sprinter Sacre clearly passes Swan’s test of having a very good trainer. Nicky Henderson had been perennial runner up to Paul Nicholls, and this season is champion trainer. And he also meets the Harrington test of not having had too many hard races. She added, “The thing with Sprinter Sacre is that, like Moscow, he hasn’t really had hard races at either Cheltenham or Aintree, so you’d imagine he’ll be fresh enough going to Punchestown. He is just the real deal, isn’t he?”

That’s a pretty clear vote of confidence behind his chances, but what of Solwhit?

In Charles Byrnes he has a very capable trainer. You couldn’t have predicted his two wins at Cheltenham and Aintree; they were over a distance of three miles and were the first two runs he had beyond two and a half miles. What’s more, he’d only won once over that distance. He may still have more to show over three. But the biggest challenge Solwhit will face is a horse he hasn’t come up against before, and which ran in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham, but skipped Aintree. Step forward Quevega. If she is fit and lines up, she might well be the fly in Solwhit’s ointment.

Stat of the Day, 26th November 2012

Stat of the Day 26/11/12

Stat of the Day 26/11/12

Stat of the Day, 26th November 2012

An unwanted day off yesterday, thanks to the weather and it hasn't eased much today either. It's definitely a case of Wet,Wet, Wet, but I'm not sure if love is all around us today!

We do, thankfully, have two meetings taking place, but somewhat strangely they're both on turf, where conditions will be testing to say the least and the A/W card at Southwell has been abandoned! We're expecting severe disruption to the programme this week, but for today we're going to tackle a Listed Mares' Hurdle.

This Class 1 race will be run over 3 miles and half a furlong and there's currently eight runners set to slog it out on ground officially described as soft. More rain is expected, so it could move towards being heavier later for the...

2.05 Kempton

A bit of change of tack for SotD today, our selection isn't a longer-priced E/W shout and her trainer doesn't have a good record at this track. In fact, he has no record at the track at all! But there's still enough stats-based evidence for me to have confidence in finding a winner.

Our trainer today is Limerick-based Charles Byrnes and he makes his Kempton debut today with a decent-looking 7yr old bay mare who has performed really well both over hurdles (like today) and also in chase events.

The lady in question is Knockfierna, whose career record over obstacles reads as eight wins and two places from eighteen starts: four wins and a place from seven over hurdles (4&1/9 when chasing). She hasn't raced over hurdles since last May, but her previous hurdling form (Grade 2 winner last year) gives her a great chance here today and her excellent chasing ability means she shouldn't have any issues jumping.

I've gone with Knockfierna today, mainly due to the testing conditions underfoot, she's sure to relish the mud. Her record over obstacles in ground officially described as Soft or softer reads 72111211O11O6 : seven wins from thirteen. She will be ridden by Davy Russell today for the eighth time, their record together is an impressive 1116116 and they are 3/3 together over hurdles for just shy of 12pts profit at level stakes.

She faces tough opposition today in the form of the Henderson/Geraghty mount: Kells Belle, but there remains some doubts as to whether this one deserves her current mark of 148, meaning she may well find it difficult to concede 8lbs to our selection today and she may also need a run, having been away from the track for over seven months.

All things considered, I think we've a solid chance of returning to the winners' enclosure today and the SotD play is a straight 1pt win bet on Knockfierna at the 3/1 BOG widely available at 9.55 am. I'm using bet365 today (reinvesting some of Saturday's returns), but if you prefer to use a different bookmaker, you can always...

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