The curtain came down on another Jumps season with familiar trainers crowned King on either side of the Irish Sea.
There’s no doubting that Gordon Elliott has made great strides and is now a serious threat to the Mullins dominance. He does, however, still lack the quality that will finally see him fulfilling the dream of a trainers’ title. He needs several more Samcro’s if he is to wrestle the title from his rival. This was blindingly evident at Punchestown, as Mullins monopolised Grade One events thanks to the likes of Un De Sceaux, Bellshill, Faugheen and Footpad.
The Closutton master was clearly relieved, saying: “It’s nice to do it. It’s tough, as I feel for Gordon. He’s had a fantastic year and he was hoping this year would be his year. Certainly coming out of here on Tuesday evening I thought our chance was totally gone. It’s a little bit cruel, but I suppose Gordon has ended the year with over 200 winners and over 5 million euro in prize-money, so it’s probably not too bad! I’m happy to win it and I’m very happy for my staff. It’s great competition and great for racing. It’s been a huge narrative throughout the year and it’s better for the game.”
Whilst the Elliott/Mullins battle went down to the wire, over here in the UK Nicky Henderson has surged clear of the pack. Buveur D’Air, Might Bite and the phenomenon that is Altior, ensured that Henderson scooped the major pots. Paul Nicholls was again, best of the rest, though he continues to struggle in his search for new stars. Politologue was impressive at times, though lacks the X-factor. Clan Des Obeaux is a horse of huge potential and may be one for the King George at Christmas.
Henderson was thrilled to land the title and said of his powerful battalion: “They have delivered. Like always, you have your ups and downs and it started with downs before ups when we had to stop with Altior. That was a pity, really, as it took him out of the first half the season and it was a rush to get him ready for Cheltenham, but it has been good. It has been a long, wet winter and it has been hard work, but I’ve got a great team that has in some ways swam their way through it and we are now out at the other end.
“Everything was good, the horses have been good across the board. Might Bite, Altior and Buveur D’Air had to show up again and they did, within reason. It’s not been easy (winning the title once more). Cheltenham was good and that put us at a bit of an advantage and plenty more came in at Aintree. It wasn’t until the Scottish National was over, that is when we thought we were safe.”
Of the big three he said: “I think Might Bite’s performance at Aintree was the outstanding moment as he came back from such a battle at Cheltenham (runner-up in the Gold Cup) and to come back from that was a great performance. Altior (Champion Chase) and Buveur D’Air (Champion Hurdle) were great at Cheltenham and if picking other moments, they would be two other highlights.”
The concern for the chasing pack is the strength in depth of the Seven Barrows squad. Henderson added: “They (Altior, Buveur D’Air and Might Bite) have to deliver on the big stage and if you have got them you are the guy that is under pressure, but they have been great. They are still young and some pretty good ones have come through with them, like Santini, We Have A Dream and Terrefort. There is plenty to back them up. I think Santini could be a very exciting novice chaser and I think he could be a very exciting horse.”
With the Jumps season proper, now closed for the Summer, we can look forward to the first Classics at Newmarket, less than a week away. And yesterday at Longchamp we were reminded of just how thrilling the latest Flat season could be, as Cracksman made a stunning return in landing the Group One Prix Ganay.
Sent off a short-priced favourite, Gosden’s four-year-old powered clear in the latter stages of the race, with Cloth Of Stars and Rhododendron among those swept aside.
Gosden spoke to At The Races immediately after the victory, saying: “He’s a stronger horse this year and is still growing. It was a nice pace, without being anyway near crazy. Frankie knew he was going to use the pacemaker and I particularly liked standing over a furlong down and seeing how he stretched past me. It’s a lovely run. There’s Cloth Of Stars and Rhododendron in there and we’ve shown them a clean pair of heels and the race will bring him on a lot.”
Conversation turned to the inevitable clash with Gosden’s wonder-filly Enable. The trainer confirmed that she was on target to run in the Coronation Cup at Epsom, and that the stable stars will likely meet, assuming all is well with both, in the Arc at Longchamp. For Cracksman, a trip to Royal Ascot now appears likely, with the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes a short-term target.