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Monday Musings: Tritonic to be the Spring King?

I was speaking to Micky Hammond a couple of weeks ago and he declared: “Winter has finished!”. I thought maybe he was rather precipitous as there were still great drifts of snow around much of the North of England and points further on, but he must have had divine inspiration from somewhere, writes Tony Stafford.

Often the Kempton Saturday meeting in late February has offered better ground than anywhere else for ages and as such provided a nice lead-in for Cheltenham Festival runners. February 27 2021 proved no exception.

Through this most depressing of winters, denied visits to the racecourse and resigned to watching horses slogging through the mud day after day on television, Kempton’s jumps track always provides the kindest of surfaces. No wonder Nicky Henderson opposed plans for its closure so vigorously.

On Saturday the three-mile handicap chase, which has had many identities, but was staged under the Close Brothers banner this year, was run in five minutes 51 seconds, one second FASTER than standard time.

Clondaw Castle was the meritorious winner. Trained by Tom George and ridden by Jonathan Burke, he led home a field of 17. Runner-up Erick Le Rouge, a 33-1 shot, had been successful on similarly fast ground at the corresponding meeting two years ago in a handicap hurdle while on that same card, Southfield Spirit, a faller when favourite for the Close Brothers, won the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle for Paul Nicholls.

Micky must have been slightly irritated at the accuracy of his prediction as he chose the same weekend for the return to hurdling of stable star Cornerstone Lad in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell yesterday. The ground had dried out appreciably there too and Cornerstone Lad, a proper mud-lark, was pulled up.

I always loved the late February meeting at Kempton which used to be a two-day affair on the Friday and Saturday. I know my memory plays tricks these days but I definitely remember one year (not sure which one) when at least half a dozen of the Kempton winners (and possibly a couple more) went on to success at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Adonis Hurdle will always be a favourite and its annual arrival unfailingly reminds me of the 2007 renewal which led to a 14-year connection with Raymond Tooth. Sadly Raymond’s association with racing has for now been curtailed but I will always be grateful to Punjabi and to Derek Hatter and Brod Munro-Wilson whose input that day hastened the union.

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Few winners of the race, which in 2007 and 2008 provided Nicky Henderson with the 2009 and 2010 (Binocular) Champion Hurdle winners, were more impressive than Saturday’s ten-length Adonis victor Tritonic, a fifth Adonis score for Alan King, equalling Henderson’s tally.

Tritonic, a 99-rated Flat racer, had been more workmanlike than spectacular in the Ascot mud five weeks earlier when a strong-finishing one-length victor from the Gary Moore-trained Casa Loupi. That horse, a far inferior performer on the level but still a tough campaigner, was again the main rival on Saturday.

Coming to the last flight it appeared that there would probably be only a slightly wider margin between them but once over the obstacle, Tritonic took off and sprinted away up the run-in in the manner of a Goshen in an easing-down ten-length exhibition.

Cheltenham has a habit of fooling us with its ground and many times I’ve been in a less than successful going prediction business, certainly not in the Hammond league anyway. At various Cheltenham preview nights I’ve suggested it will be impossible for it to be anything but soft and it often wasn’t. I don’t think it matters for Tritonic, who is down to 7-2 for the juvenile championship.

I feel I have to change my Triumph allegiance, with French Aseel showing no sign of a second run having transferred into the Willie Mullins team. Gordon Elliott still has a strong grip on the race with 2-1 shot Zanahiyr and third-best Quilixios (6-1) but he is making all the wrong headlines after the picture of him talking on the phone while sitting on a dead horse on his gallop started doing the rounds. Both the Irish authorities and the BHA are understandably on the Elliott case.

In these more sensitive times in terms of animal welfare it is little wonder that social media has been so much on this matter. I’ve been told that the belated release of the grotesque image many months after it was captured last summer is because of the ire of a scorned former paramour of the trainer! Whatever the truth of that, it’s a great story. As Mr Bolger instructed when I first contacted him back in the 1980’s: “No names!”

In those days in Ireland you never knew who was listening in. Nowadays there’s always someone taking a picture and it has an ever-ready target audience. No doubt in no time at all there will be a million “likes” of which 999,000 of them will be utter “dislikes”.

Anyway, I digress. Tritonic is a reminder of Alan King’s talent as a jumps trainer which to some extent has been slightly eroded in the public understanding because of his equal facility on the Flat. Considering he doesn’t have easy access to the top pedigrees but instead needs to develop his own talent, that success is even more meritorious.

Tritonic was a case in point. Bred by Kirsten Rausing, he was originally sold as a foal at Tatts December sale for 14,000gns to Tony O’Callaghan’s Tally Ho Stud. Eighteen months later at the lesser of the two Tatts Breeze-ups, with the benefit of the Tally Ho expertise, he realised almost a 300% increase at 55k.

He might not have seemed the obvious “breezer” in pedigree terms. He was by the German Derby winner – by 11 lengths! – Sea The Moon who won four of five career starts with his only defeat coming as a 2-1 on shot in his last run in the Grosser Preis von Baden. The four-year-old winner there, Ivanhowe, was later a multiple Group 1 winner in Australia.

King didn’t waste any time with his May purchase. Tritonic had his first start in July as an unconsidered 50-1 outsider for a Haydock 7f novice race and, bar taking a false step in the closing stages, could have been even nearer than fourth place, less than a length behind the winner.

He built on that with wins at Ffos Las in August and Newbury in September and was only a 6-1 chance when fifth to Max Vega in the Group 3 Zetland Stakes over 10 furlongs at Newmarket in October. Placed in four of his five attempts – including first time out at Royal Ascot – in good-class handicaps as a three-year-old, he had the benefit of experience without being over-raced. So when the trainer turned Tritonic to hurdling he already looked the finished article.

With two Triumph Hurdle winners, Penzance and Katchit - who as a five-year-old followed up in the Champion Hurdle - to his credit, King certainly knows what’s needed and, after welcoming his winner on Saturday, there was only one race on his mind.

Another of the Kempton winners that interests me is Cape Gentleman who travelled over from Ireland to win the Dovecote Hurdle in determined style after a tussle with the Dan Skelton-trained Calico, a decent horse in Germany before making an easy winning UK debut at Ludlow.

Cape Gentleman started out in the Nicolas Clement stable after being sourced as a yearling at Arqana’s Deauville sale by the trainer and his sales associate Tina Rau for €20k. After three runs and one win he was back at the company’s Saint-Cloud venue where Emmet Mullins bought him for €80k on behalf of owner Margaret O’Rourke.

It’s uncanny that Tritonic and Cape Gentleman had such similar increases in value between sales and are rated 1lb apart on the Flat: second time out for Mullins in the Irish Cesarewitch at The Curragh last September Cape Gentleman showed tremendous stamina and determination to win by a couple of lengths in a field of 20 after which his mark was increased from 85 to 100.

First time over hurdles he won well at Punchestown but then, in Grade 1 company over two and three-quarter miles at Leopardstown’s Dublin Festival three weeks ago, he was pulled up. That he could recover from those exertions and put in such a good performance within such a short time and back at two miles is testimony both to the horse’s constitution and his trainer’s skill.

Cape Gentleman has two Cheltenham engagements and is a 25-1 chance for both. With the run guarantee in many places, I reckon there will be worse each-way shots at considerably shorter odds on the day. Just two weeks to go.

I’d actually been asked to go to a friend’s house to do an on-the-day hosting of one of the days at the Festival for some of his pals who play for a Premier League team and love their racing. That was great at any rate until spoil-sport Mrs S pointed out that it was still illegal – and no doubt one of the lads would live stream the event, ensuring big fines all round. I had regretfully to decline.

- TS

Cape Gentleman conquers Dovecote rivals

Emmet Mullins will ponder his Cheltenham Festival options for Cape Gentleman, after he showed plenty of grit in the hands of Jonjo O’Neill Jr to battle back and deny Calico in a thrilling finish to the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton.

The five-year-old, who landed the Irish Cesarewitch on his last Flat outing before making a winning hurdling debut at Punchestown, blotted his copybook on his second outing in this sphere when pulled up over two and three-quarter miles at Leopardstown earlier this month.

However, dropping back to two miles suited the Champs Elysees gelding, who injected some speed into a modest early pace and went to the front with over half a mile to run.

Calico loomed large before a tardy leap at the penultimate flight briefly halted his momentum. However, he jumped the last better and headed Cape Gentleman (5-2) on the run to the line, only for O’Neill Jr’s mount to find extra reserves.

His stamina kicked in and the partnership ultimately denied Calico by three-quarters of a length. Lunar Sovereign was a further seven and a half lengths back in third.

The winning jockey said: “I thought Harry (Cobden) might just give me a go at the last as Calico has a lot of Flat form, but I didn’t want to be a sitting duck. He has battled hard. He won a Cheltenham trial today and he’d be entitled to go to Cheltenham.

“It was a very good training performance. He has only had the two runs, but he ran poorly the last day, so that’s why he dropped back in trip, which helped him.

“He loved the (good) ground and was very straightforward today. He battled hard after the last and I’m delighted with his performance.

“Emmet said he was in good form at home. I suppose they can have blips every now and again and the considerable drop back in trip definitely helped.

“As for Cheltenham, I’m not sure he is in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but he is in the Albert Bartlett and the Ballymore, and it looks like the Ballymore would be an obvious one.”

Gentleman may be set for Dublin Festival

Emmet Mullins is considering an appearance at next weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival for his exciting prospect Cape Gentleman.

Runner-up to the Willie Mullins-trained Mt Leinster on his Irish debut at Listowel last autumn, the French recruit subsequently went one better in the Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh.

The Champs Elysees gelding made a smart start to his hurdling career at Punchestown last month – and could step up to Grade One level for the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.

“Cape Gentleman is entered in the Grade One two-mile-six-furlong novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival,” said Mullins

“He had been entered in the Lawlor’s in Naas, but we missed that because I just wasn’t happy.”

The trainer’s confidence was boosted by the impressive success of Cape Gentleman’s stable companion Noble Yeats in a bumper at Thurles on Wednesday.

A £75,000 purchase from the point-to-point field, the six-year-old could finish only third on his bumper debut at Limerick, but raised his game to win by 19 lengths on his second start at Thurles this week.

Mullins added: “Noble Yeats was beaten at Limerick over Christmas, and I just wasn’t sure what was going on, so we sat on our hands for a while – but it looks like all systems go now.

“We were very disappointed at Limerick, but I would say on the day it was a good bumper. He had been showing us plenty at home, but I was doubting myself coming (to Thurles) and he was good and impressive – I couldn’t ask for any more.

“It was just good to get that win,  and he showed his true colours; he’s an exciting horse for the future, and when we go jumping we could be looking forward to better things.”

Chatham Street Lad headlines Fairyhouse entries

Cheltenham heroes Chatham Street Lad and The Shunter could lock horns in the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

The Mick Winters-trained trained Chatham Street Lad was a brilliant winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Prestbury Park last month, while The Shunter won the Greatwood Hurdle in November for Emmet Mullins.

The pair are among 25 remaining contenders for this weekend’s 75,000 euros contest, with Joseph O’Brien’s Front View and Impact Factor from Jessica Harrington’s yard potentially bidding to follow up recent course wins.

Gordon Elliott has left in six horses, including Chosen Mate, winner of the Grand Annual at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, while Willie Mullins has both Fan De Blues and Pont Aven.

Noel Meade’s Daly Tiger made an impressive start to the current campaign at Punchestown in November, but disappointed at Fairyhouse on his latest appearance.

Meade said: “Daly Tiger may run in the Dan Moore at Fairyhouse on Saturday. We’ll see how things progress this week.

“I don’t know why he ran so poorly the last day. Nothing went right for him and we’ll just have to put a line through it.”

Also featuring on Saturday’s card is the ITM Virtual Stallion Trail Hurdle, for which Gordon Elliott has entered Quilixios.

An impressive winner at both Punchestown and Down Royal, he tops a bumper entry of 17 along with the Willie Mullins-trained Youmdor.

Cape Gentleman makes his mark on hurdling bow

Irish Cesarewitch winner Cape Gentleman made an impressive start to his career over hurdles at Punchestown.

An 80,000 euro purchase out Nicolas Clement’s yard in France, the four-year-old filled the runner-up spot behind the high-class Mt Leinster on his Irish debut for Emmet Mullins at Listowel in September, before going one better at the Curragh the following month.

The Champs Elysees gelding was the 5-4 favourite for the Gift A Donation This Year Maiden Hurdle – and bar one mistake in the back straight, jumped accurately in the hands of Brian Hayes.

Petibonome and Homme D’un Soir tracked the leader into the home straight, but Cape Gentleman ultimately proved far too good, coasting clear under his motionless rider on the run-in for a two-length victory.

“That was great – it was great to get him on the board on his first run over hurdles,” said Mullins.

“He jumped well for most of it, I missed the mistake so I must go back and look at that.

“Brian seemed very happy – he’s over the moon with him.”

Betfair make Cape Gentleman a 20-1 shot for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Mullins added: “We’ll have a look at the programme book now. He’s hopefully a horse to look forward to in the spring.

“I was very sceptical if he’d handle the heavy, winter ground today. I had a Leopardstown maiden hurdle at Christmas in the back of my head, but that’s knocked on the head now.

“I’m not sure where we’ll go now, but we’ll look at a step up in grade and he should be able to cope with it.”

Cape claims clear-cut Irish Cesarewitch verdict

Cape Gentleman ran out an emphatic winner of the Paddy Power Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh.

Formerly trained in France by Nicolas Clement, the four-year-old was snapped up for 80,000 euros by Emmet Mullins last October and made an encouraging start for his new connections when runner-up to Mt Leinster at Listowel last month.

Ronan Whelan’s mount was a 15-2 chance for his handicap debut and after being ridden positively from the off, he took over the lead from his stablemate Sneaky Getaway early in the home straight.

The result was never really in doubt thereafter as Cape Gentleman readily extended clear, passing the post two lengths ahead of 100-1 shot Aircraft Carrier, with De Name Escapes Me making late gains to finish third.

Hot favourite Royal Illusion passed the post in sixth, but was later disqualified after rider Joey Sheridan failed to weigh in.

Mullins said of the winner: “We got this horse a year ago and it’s all worked out well. We had him ready to go during the summer and he just met with a little hiccup and it was great to get the run into him at Listowel before coming here.

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“My only worry was that he hadn’t ran for a year and it was just 16 days back from the Listowel run. It was a quick enough turnaround considering that he hadn’t run for a year.

“This is a huge race to win. We’ll see what the handicapper will do now. He was primarily bought to jump hurdles and I’m sure he will do that at some stage.

“We have options now and we are in a good place.”

The stewards inquired into Sheridan’s failure to weigh in and suspended the rider for two days.

John McConnell’s A Case Of You impressed in the Group Three Jebel Ali Racecourse And Stables Anglesey Stakes.

A Case Of You after winning at the Curragh
A Case Of You after winning at the Curragh (Alan Magee/PA)

Third on his Bellewstown debut before opening his account at Down Royal last month, the 6-1 shot successfully graduated to Pattern class with a one-and-a-quarter-length verdict over Lipizzaner under Gary Carroll.

McConnell said: “That’s my first Curragh winner as usually if I have a good horse, I stay away from the Curragh because the competition is so good, but he justified coming here and was impressive.

“It’s my first Group winner on the Flat. I doubt if he will run again this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets faster and faster and the dream could be something like a Commonwealth Cup (at Royal Ascot).”

Helvic Dream (6-1) continued Noel Meade’s excellent run of form with a comprehensive victory in the Novi IT Services International Stakes.

Third behind the reopposing Sonnyboyliston over the course and distance four weeks ago, the three-year-old comprehensively turned that form around to claim Group Three honours under Colin Keane.

“I thought he was good all year, but things just haven’t gone right for him with one thing and another,” said Meade.

“I don’t know where he will go next, and there is the possibility we could travel with him. He’ll stick to Stakes races now. We have schooled him over barrels, but that will probably go out the window.”

Keane had earlier partnered his first winner for Aidan O’Brien aboard 2-1 favourite Khartoum in the Curragh Where Champions Are Made Maiden, before Paddy Twomey and Billy Lee teamed up to land the Listed Staffordstown Stud Stakes with 10-1 shot Fantasy Lady.

Patrick Mullins steered 1-3 favourite Mt Leinster to victory for his father Willie in the Chapmans Kildare Amateur Riders Derby.

“This fellow has schooled over fences and he’s very good, so I’d imagine that is going to be on the cards for him,” said the rider.

“I was able to twist Willie’s arm and get him to run here rather than the Cesarewitch.”