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Social Discourse – 5th February

A weekend with so much action that even this bumper edition struggling to fit it all in, writes William Kedjanyi. We like a challenge here, however, so here goes with a round up of all the latest movers and shakers on the bumpy highway to the Cotswolds next month…

 

  1. How’d you like them Apple's?

She’s going: The brilliant Apple’s Jade, a wide margin winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle, is now more likely to head to the Festival’s first-day showpiece than not. In the aftermath of her brilliant performance at Leopardstown, where she stole the headlines on the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival, Eddie O’Leary, speaking on behalf of owner Michael, had suggested that she would still go the Mares' Hurdle route in lieu of a tilt at the bigger race.

"We'll go to the Champion Hurdle if you can run a gelding in the Mares'. Did she win the Mares' Hurdle last year? No." – Eddie O’Leary, speaking to Nick Luck on Racing TV in the aftermath of Apple’s Jade’s stunning win.

But overnight, trainer Gordon Elliott and owner Michael O’Leary appeared to have a change of heart.

 

Gordon Elliott, trainer, speaking to Luck On Sunday:  "Buveur D'Air is obviously a very good horse and just does what he has to do every day, but we’ll take him on. Nothing is concrete, but I'd say it's likely."

Michael O’Leary, owner: "If you are going to lose, I’d rather lose trying to win a Champion Hurdle than a Mares’ Hurdle, now that we know she can run a fast two miles."

Looking ahead: If she stays sound, then a delicious clash between Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air will be the highlight of the first day at Cheltenham.

Best of the rest: Supasundae ran well once again to be second, although his connections are between a rock and a hard place regarding Festival targets: he would be unlikely to reverse form with Apple’s Jade but the emergence of Paisley Park in the staying division makes life difficult there also.

 

  1. Anything you can do….

Dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air responded in kind with victory in a hack canter in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, having to make some of his own running before easing clear of Vision Des Flos and winning the race for a third time.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has been following the same route as last season, albeit with a defeat in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and aside from that sprint to the line where Verdana Blue beat him, he’s looked as dominant as ever. Slicker through the latter stages of the race this time than at the Sunbury venue last, he briefly looked under pressure before finding top gear and putting the race to bed.

However, we know he is likely to face perhaps his biggest challenge since becoming the Champion Hurdler in the shape of Apple’s Jade, and we didn’t learn much about him here aside from his wellbeing.

Nicky Henderson, speaking to Sky Sports Racing: “It was a muddling old race. He led down the back and then Barry took a pull and let another horse take a lead. I thought he jumped a bit slicker than at Kempton where he made one howler, but I'm not saying that as an excuse. I'm very happy as he did need this race and the timing was perfect. I was very nervous when I thought it might be off and I had Kelso as an alternative.”

Battle lines are now drawn - Britain vs Ireland, girls vs boys, Henderson vs Elliott, champ vs contender - for a Tuesday in mid-March: bring on the show!

 

  1. Joseph and his Multi-Coloured Triumph Brigade
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Joseph O’Brien has quickly established himself as one of the leading National Hunt trainers in the game – on either side of the Irish Sea – and using his high-class resources, he has emerged with a fine team of juvenile hurdlers.

Sir Erec, strongly fancied for the race beforehand, was an impressive winner of the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown over the weekend when beating stablemate Gardens of Babylon by five lengths. In so doing, he launched himself to the head of the Triumph Hurdle betting, where he’s now 9/4 generally, from 7/1 before Sunday.

Joseph O’Brien, speaking to the Racing Post: "Making the running with Sir Erec wasn't ideal but he's very straightforward and he did it very well. Stamina is probably his forte but he quickened well from the second last. It was only his second run over hurdles, whereas Fakir D'Oudairies has more experience, if not quite the same engine as this fellow."

 

In winning convincingly here, he displaced the wildly impressive Cheltenham trial winner, Fakir D’Doudaries, from the top of the market. That was the second 1-2 for the stable in major Triumph trials, as Fine Brunello was a 13 length second at Cheltenham on Trials Day.

Be smart: Given his incredibly close proximity to high-class flat horses, O’Brien could have much success in this sphere, including with horses making their jumping debut. Also, with so many options – and the backing of JP McManus to help – we could still see some targets being switched.

 

  1. Defi-nitely Maybe

Onlookers at Sandown were treated to a thrilling tale of revenge, as Defi Du Seuil reversed Cheltenham form with Lostintranslation in a battling victory to take the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase.

 

 

Flashback: Only ten weeks ago, Defi was being trashed by Lalor in the Racing Post Arkle Trial, ballooning each fence and looking like he’d confound Phillip Hobbs once again after his great juvenile hurdling season two campaigns ago.

But Hobbs has managed to coax the required fencing improvement from him on each run since that clumsy display, and he battled back determinedly under a fine Barry Geraghty drive. In so doing, he cast aside any lingering apprehensions about his finishing effort after Lostintranslation worried him out of the Dipper on New Year’s Day, albeit with a 3lbs weight turnaround.

Favourite Vinndication didn’t travel with any zest at all and stayed on fairly well to finish third, beaten just a couple of lengths. Kim Bailey reported that he didn’t like the ground – which was sticky 'holding' turf – so he adds further intrigue should the three re-engage in the JLT.

Philip Hobbs, after unsaddling Defi Du Seuil: “Barry was delighted with him, particularly with the way he jumped and coped with the ground. Where we go from here, a lot will depend on the ground, but he certainly saw the trip out well.”

 

  1. Here’s what else happened
  • Bellshill took a thrilling Irish Gold Cup, albeit in a decimated field, as he was driven home by a short head to beat Road To Respect under a great Ruby Walsh drive. He was cut to cut to a general 12-1 (from 16) for the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

  • Walsh was just as good aboard Klassical Dream, who is now as short as 8-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after a dramatic Grade 1 success in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, just touching off his stablemate and past Grade 1 winner, Aramon.

 

  • La Bague Au Roi struck a notable success for Britain with a gritty front-running success in the Flogas Novice Chase, holding off 33/1 outsider Kaiser Black after Delta Work was withdrawn. It’s probable she’ll miss Cheltenham for Aintree, and it is also to be hoped that Winter Escape will bounce back after bursting a blood vessel.

  • Envoi Allen booked his Cheltenham ticket on Saturday, winning the Matheson (C&G) I.N.H. Flat Race at Leopardstown. The favourite stuck his neck right out to the line and beat the closing Meticulous, owned by Michael Tabour and trained by Joesph O’Brien, and is now being aimed at the Festival Bumper.

 

  • Commander Of Fleet proved himself a promising stayer with a battling victory over Rhinestone in the the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle. He relished the step up in trip and might go further in the Albert Bartlett as Battleoverdoyen looks set for the Ballymore. Champion Bumper winner Relegate finished with a wet sail to take fifth but she must learn to jump better.

  • Min repeated his 2018 win in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown but the race was marred by a fatal injury to Special Tiara.

 

  • Le Richebourg cemented his claims as a leading player for what is now a very competitive looking Arkle with a smooth win in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase

 

  1. The Fast Show

The Dublin Racing Festival will mostly be remembered for performances on the track – as it should be – but the track itself was the subject of much attention as firm ground in places on the chase course led to a glut of non-runners on Sunday. 22 of the 26 non-runners with were withdrawn because of the ground, unusually quick for a jumps meeting, especially at this time of year.

The Irish Gold Cup was decimated, with Al Boum Photo, Balko Des Flos, Monalee, Edwulf, Noble Endeavor and Anibale Fly all withdrawn, leaving a four-runner heat that somehow still served up a fine duel, albeit a diminished one.

 

Be smart: This was a perfect storm of weather conditions. Below average rainfall had led to quicker underfoot already, and then low temperatures trapped the ground staff with nowhere to go. This might continue to be the case in future, with higher average temperatures leading to drier and drier winters. However, we could still be in for a nasty shock when the spring comes, as wet weather could make for very soft ground at Cheltenham and Aintree, just as it did last year.

Lorcan Wyer, Leopardstown’s Clerk of the Course, speaking to the Racing Post’s Richard Forristal: "In the lead into this meeting, ten days before this fixture, we were given a forecast by Met Eireann of 40-50mm of rainfall. We got maybe 20mm of that, and we started off on the Monday of this week with a forecast of 20mm to 40mm of rain, sleet or snow, and sub-zero temperatures all week. Watering with that forecast, particularly with the sub-zero aspect, would be alien to me. I'm not sure any other track would go along those lines."

Being Sensible; Noel Meade, trainer of Irish Gold Cup runner up Road To Respect: "It's a Catch-22 situation. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. The way it's turned out today, you would have loved if they had watered, but hindsight is a fine thing. They were in an impossible situation."

**

The countdown to Cheltenham's Festival continues apace, and next weekend the focus will be on Newbury, where the Betfair Hurdle, Denman Chase and Game Spirit Chase all offer Festival aspirants the chance to rehearse ahead of the big week in March. Join us early next week for another thrilling instalment of Social Discourse!

- William Kedjanyi

 

Samcro Cruise, Faugheen Blues and bags of Cheltenham Clues

Edwulf caused a monumental upset when landing a thrilling Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

This was a truly remarkable success, as the horse had almost died at the Cheltenham Festival little more than 10 months earlier. He’d collapsed in the latter stages of the four-mile chase, and vets had worked tirelessly to save him. Only after a summer vacation did connections give any thought to a return to racing.

Our Duke was sent-off the 9/4 favourite, but Jess Harrington’s young chaser fluffed his lines when getting the second-last all wrong and stumbling badly on landing. The Willie Mullins-trained Djakadam had bowled along in front, but as the leading contenders approached the last it was his stablemate Killultagh Vic that looked to have made a decisive move. However, he too made a crucial jumping error, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Outlander was left at the head of affairs as he looked to add to his terrific track record. But in a pulsating finish he was unable to withstand a power-packed finish from Edwulf and jockey Derek O’Connor. A neck separated the pair at the line, with Djakadam 10-lengths further back in third.

It was one of the finest moments in the saddle for O'Connor and he said of his mount: “I'm exceptionally happy for the horse. He ran himself into the ground for me at Cheltenham and we thought his career was over but he's after coming back to his best.”

For trainer Joseph O’Brien, this is yet another prestigious prize in such a fledgling career. He looked stunned when speaking on At The Races and said: “He's always been a great horse. It's a credit to everyone involved - the staff at home, the vets at Cheltenham last year and JP (McManus, owner) and Frank Berry (McManus' racing manager), who gave him all the time in the world. It's been a long road to get him back from where he was at Cheltenham when we thought he was gone.

“Derek is an unbelievable horseman. Horses just jump unbelievably well for him and he gets on great with this fella. We're over the moon. We'll see how he comes out of this first and we'll think about Cheltenham then. It's not too often you get a horse good enough to run in the Gold Cup so if he's well, I'd imagine he might go there.”

Gordon Elliott will also send the runner-up to contest the blue riband at Prestbury Park. The County Meath handler said: “He ran his heart out and seems to like it here. We have to run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Where else would you go?”

Our Duke’s error at the second-last put-paid to any hopes of winning, but jockey Robbie Power was pleased with his efforts, saying: “I'm absolutely delighted with him. Down Royal was a non-event for him and realistically this was his first run of the season. He was very ring-rusty and he'll improve an awful lot from it.”

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Earlier in the day Gordon Elliott’s Samcro had further enhanced his reputation as one of the sports most prodigious new talents. He cruised to victory in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, slamming a strong field by more than five-lengths. The powerful six-year-old is now a shade of odds-on for the Ballymore Novices’ at Cheltenham. He also heads many Supreme markets along with the Willie Mullins-trained Getabird. The Ballymore may prove the easier option, though connections will no doubt decide nearer the time.

The Flogas Novice Chase had looked an exceptionally competitive renewal, with a field of 11 going to post. And so it proved as five jumped the last almost in a line across the track. Monalee had led from the off and despite plenty having a crack at him, he simply refused to let anyone past. Henry De Bromhead’s chaser is now second-best to Presenting Percy in the RSA betting.

On Saturday many had flocked to Leopardstown in hope of seeing a resurgent Faugheen. The ex-champ has had his problems of late and was on a recovery mission after a poor performance over Christmas. He was sent-off an odds-on favourite to land his second Irish Champion Hurdle, but despite a much-improved effort he was unable to hold off the prolonged challenge of Jess Harrington’s Supasundae.

Mullins had clearly hoped for more when saying: “I was disappointed with him. He's sort of half back on track, but he'll have to improve a lot to be back where he was. I was actually very happy when he was coming round the last bend, but by the time they lined up for the last, the writing was on the wall. I was hoping at that stage he might pull something else out, but it wasn't to be. I'm just hoping spring ground, spring air and spring sunshine might rejuvenate him, but there's just no spark there, I think.”

Of the much-improved winner, Jess Harrington said: “He's never jumped as well before, he jumped absolutely super and was always travelling. I thought they'd go too quick for him over two miles and Robert was sure when he had Faugheen in his sights at the last he would stay every inch of the way, and he did. I came here to give him a prep run for the three-mile hurdle at Cheltenham and to win this is some prep run!”

She added: “He's only in the Stayers’, so that's where he'll be going. He is a much better horse on better ground, he doesn’t like slogging around in very muddy ground and that's why he comes into his own in the spring.”

Footpad put in a commanding performance to land the Arkle Novice Chase. Run at a cracking pace, the young chaser led from the drop of the flag, chased throughout by Petit Mouchoir. The runner-up, returning from injury, lost little in defeat, and should get a lot closer to the winner at Cheltenham.

Mullins was more than satisfied with Footpad, saying: “He did it the hard way and jumped well in front. I think he pecked a bit at the last, but it was a very good performance. We didn't set out to make it, but Paul wasn't happy there was enough pace so he went on. We are heading for the Arkle unless something else changes.”

He added: “Footpad was fourth in a Champion Hurdle, but we thought he would be going two and a half miles or more over fences. The first day he jumped he was very good and when you can jump, you can go any trip.”

The trainer’s comments were interesting, especially as owners Munir and Souede have Sceau Royal lined up for the Arkle at Prestbury Park. The bookies were taking no chances, shortening Footpad to a shade of odds-on for the two-mile event, whilst several cut him to as short as 2/1 for the JLT.

Any Mullins and Ricci disappointment in Faugheen was tempered by the stunning success of Min in the Dublin Chase. He romped to victory and now looks a serious challenger for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, with or without Altior. Travelling powerfully throughout, he breezed past long-time leader Special Tiara as they approached the last before stretching clear for a 12-length success. Ordinary World had looked like throwing down a challenge, but he blundered badly at the last and Davy Russell did well to stay on-board.

The inaugural Dublin Racing Festival has proved to be a huge success. And many horses took the opportunity to enhance their reputation with Cheltenham little more than a month away.

Supasundae must have a great chance in the Stayers’ following his stunning success in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Better ground will suit, and he already has a Festival victory on his CV. Footpad has looked sensational over fences and is sure to go close in the Arkle Chase. He’ll have a slightly fitter Petit Mouchoir to contend with at Cheltenham and I’d expect the rematch to be a thriller.

Monalee was a gutsy winner of the Flogas Novice Chase and should go close in the RSA. Runner-up in last year’s Albert Bartlett, the seven-year-old clearly goes on the track. However, don’t discount Al Boum Photo when looking for a likely winner. The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old finished to great effect and was less than a length adrift at the line. And he’s still available at 25s with a couple of bookies.

Min must have a great chance in the Champion Chase having romped to victory on Saturday. But I’d also be interested in Ordinary World back at Prestbury Park on decent ground. De Bromhead’s chaser was mounting a fair old challenge when getting the last all wrong. He was third to Altior in last year’s Arkle and though he’s not good enough to win, he could be on hand to pick up a place as others fall by the wayside. He’s available at 50/1, with many of those above him in the betting likely to run elsewhere. I’ve had a little each-way, as that price is simply wrong.

It’s also interesting to see that the bookies have given-up on Espoir D’Allen after his disappointing effort in the juvenile race. He ran far too freely yesterday before floundering in the mud. Cheltenham will be different, with a decent pace assured, and better ground likely. A couple of years back Ivanovich Gorbatov flopped in the same race, yet at Prestbury Park a month later was able to fend off Apple’s Jade in the Triumph Hurdle. Footpad was a well-beaten third that day. You can now get 20s on an Espoir upset and I’m seriously tempted.

Unfortunately, I’ve probably missed the boat on Samcro. His price has contacted too much for the likes of me, though those with deep pockets will no doubt be lumping on for what looks the banker of the meeting. Those going antepost will hope that they choose the right race, which, at the moment, appears to be the Ballymore Novices’.

And what of Edwulf? Can he really go to Cheltenham and win the Gold Cup? It would be some story, if he was to return to the track that almost took his life, only to win one of jump racing’s most sought-after prizes.

Can Mullins Stay The Distance?

It looked inevitable, and yesterday they confirmed her inclusion in the Champion Hurdle.

In one of the most open looking renewals for many a year, Annie Power sits at the head of the market, and finally we get the chance to see how good she really is. The talented mare is now an eight-year-old, and has won 13 of her 15 career starts. It should have been 14 of course, having hit the deck in last year’s Mares’ Hurdle, with the race at her mercy. Her other defeat came in the World Hurdle, when seemingly outstayed by the powerhouse More Of That.

Her inclusion adds to the fearsome look of Mullins’ opening day challenge. Three out of his four short-priced favourites struck gold on day one last year. And even when Annie fluffed her lines, Mullins still came out on top with Glens Melody landing the spoils.

The Willie Mullins dominance has been developing over recent years, but it is the opening day of the Festival when the Closutton team are at their most potent. On Wednesday 12 months ago Mullins had two ‘shorties’ at the head of the market, but only Don Poli came out on top. Thursday’s lone win came from Vautour at 6/4, and though they took two races on the Friday, neither were easy to find, with Wicklow Brave winning at 25/1 and Killultagh Vic getting home in front at 7/1. Both their market leaders on the day were turned over, as Roi Des Francs could only manage third and Black Hercules coming in a disappointing seventh when a well-fancied 5/2 shot.

The Festival of 2014 followed a similar picture with an opening day stacked with short-priced fancies. On that occasion only two of the four well backed favourites prevailed. Vautour romped home in the Supreme and Quevega made no mistake in her last Mares’ Hurdle success. Champagne Fever was within a whisker of making it three in the Arkle, whilst Hurricane Fly suffered a rare defeat in the Champion Hurdle.

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Wednesday 2014 brought only one win from three favourites, thanks to Faugheen. Shaneshill came close in the Bumper, but Ballycasey disappointed in the RSA. Thursday drew a blank though Annie Power came close, and Friday brought one win; step forward Don Poli, whilst Briar Hill fell when a short price in the Albert Bartlett.

The Closutton world domination thing was only in its embryonic stage in 2013, yet the pattern of being quick out the blocks was already emerging. Hurricane Fly and Quevega were the heavily backed winners, while Champagne Fever completed a first day treble having taken the Supreme. Two on day two became nil and nil on days three and four.

Clearly the Mullins team are now infinitely more powerful with winners likely on each and every day of the Festival. Nevertheless, it is again the opening day that looks sure to be the most fruitful.

Min opens proceedings in the Supreme and it appears that Yorkhill is set to play wingman to the lead. Douvan takes centre-stage in race two; the Arkle Chase. Currently 1/3 with most bookies, many believe he merely has to get round to win.

Annie Power is the next Mullins hotshot, as she sets out to fill the void left by the injured Faugheen. She too has an accomplice, in the talented multi Grade 1 winner Nichols Canyon. The pair stand at the head of the market, though numerous entrants will arrive on the start line with a live chance of success.

Few would argue that Vroum Vroum Mag looks to have an outstanding chance in the Mares’ Hurdle. Mullins has taken the last seven renewals and VVM is a short price to make that eight.

It would come as no surprise should all four short-priced favourites prevail, and we can add to these Roi Des Francs who is vying for favouritism in the National Hunt Chase. He impressed last time in a Grade 2 at Naas and looks sure to appreciate a thorough stamina test.

A dominant opening day looks to be on the cards, and with horses of the quality of Un De Sceaux, Outlander, Vautour, Don Poli, Djakadam and Limini waiting to be unleashed during the remainder of the Festival, more winners are assured. However, blindly following everything Mullins saddles later in the week could prove expensive. Indeed, recent history has shown that his supposed second or third string are just as likely to hit the target as the week progresses.

I’m certainly not saying that after day one we should be taking on every Closutton ‘sure thing’, but there’s no doubting that his dominance diminishes as Friday’s finishing line approaches. The likes of Gordon Elliott, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson may leave Prestbury Park on Tuesday evening with a bloody nose, yet they will know that the bell has only sounded to end the opening round.Let’s not forget that Mr Nicholls fired in a treble on day two a year ago.

Monday Meander: A Walk In The Park

Monday meander

By Tony Stafford

This Monday lark ought to be a walk in the park – dictionary definition; something very easy to do and usually pleasant – with a whole weekend to fall back on rather than a Saturday cut-off each week.

Now before writing this stuff I can get to read Steve Palmer’s betting highs and lows on the back page of the Racing Post’s Sunday pull-out, at once envy-inducing and totally cringe-making. From his base in Weymouth his mixture of raw common sense and nonsensical wishful-thinking reminds me in some part of my earlier days. Hope he takes a little less time than me to grow out of it.

Steve, I’m sure, would have reckoned Rory McIlroy was about to embark on said walk in the park when taking a three-shot lead into last night’s final round of the Cadillac World Golf Championship at Trump Doral in Florida. He failed by two to match Adam Scott, sharing third place with the Englishman Danny Willett after hitting maybe one decent shot in 18 holes. Again, I trust Steve went with the Scott rather than the somnambulant Northern Irishman.

It was a bit parky yesterday to consider a walk in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, but we still had a spell in the garden with the boss supervising some rose bush thinning. I was, though, given licence to return to the sofa in time for the re-opening of racing at Auteuil, in the company of Mark Johnson and Claude Charlet.

Apart from an unexpected gaffe from Mark, doubling a French rating to convert to British, surely it should be x 2.2?, their partnership was as informative and entertaining as ever, making up for the more mundane domestic fare at Huntingdon and Sedgefield, along with Naas from Ireland.

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We were still thorn avoiding when the opener took place, but it was impossible to miss the enthusiasm with which Mark greeted the next, a maiden hurdle for horses that had never previously run over jumps, but included a number of decent Flat horses.

My ears pricked – dictionary definition: listen carefully – at the mention of one of the pair’s selection, Montalbano. Wished I was in a café in France with PMU access at the mention of my favourite BBC4 Saturday night hero, not in any way supplanted in my affections by “Taken” and he ran a blinder, too, finishing second.

But for the winner, Park Light, it was indeed a Walk in the Park, for this triple Flat-race winner, by the eponymous stallion, came through with a devastating late run to win by daylight. It might seem a little late aged six for him to take high rank as a hurdler, but with such as Douvan and Min already representing the sire, I’m sure the bids would have been raining in all afternoon even if Cheltenham this month is out of the equation. As a half-brother to 20-race jump winner Cyrlight, the appeal is obvious enough.

Happily and indeed hastily ensconced at Grange Stud after spells in Haras du Val Raquet – fee €2,500 to €3,000 and then Haras du Granges, where it fell to €1,500 – Walk in the Park is sure to have more foals in the next stud season and a half under the Coolmore banner than the total 153 registered in the six years since 2009 in France.
Park Light and Douvan are among 39 registered from the 2010 crop, after an initial 37 with no real notables. There was a steady decline from the 27 including Min in 2011 to 18, then 12 and six in 2014 before presumably the Douvan factor brought the relative bumper harvest of 14 last year.

I can’t say I’ve ever noticed the phrase emanating from Michael Tabor’s lips, although I’m sure enough of his own or Coolmore’s winners, or merely his successful bets, might have induced such an exclamation. But the horse, runner-up to Motivator in the Derby and like him a son of the peerless Montjeu, was named by Mr T and raced for the John Hammond stable in his colours, as did Montjeu.

It should indeed have been a walk in the park for Blue Dragon, almost immeasurably the best four-year-old hurdler at Auteuil last year and 1-5 to resume normal service in the Grade 3 for five-year-olds. But after a slightly precarious course, albeit miles ahead of the rest, he fell at the last leaving rider, David Cottin, not to mention Mark and Claude, in shock. After eight wins in a row this was a true coming down to earth.

Changing the subject with an almost incongruous clumsiness, did you hear the one about the Scotsman, the Manxman and the Belgian? Well if the Northern Irishman, who for all his accomplishments has only ever managed second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, the other trio have all won it. Indeed, only a certain car driver from Stevenage has intervened over the past five years following Sir A P in 2010.

All three were in action: first the Scotsman – Andy Murray, at 28 the youngest of the trio –  laboured with skill and resource to win a five-hour battle with Kei Nishikori to clinch GB’s place in the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup, which almost entirely due to his efforts we presently own. Unfortunately it’s Serbia next, but he has beaten Novak Djokovic, if not for some time.

The other two were also on display, you’ve guessed it, in the Olympic Park velodrome – about a mile, so a short walk through the park – from my door. Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish teamed up in the Madison at the World Cycling Championships meeting. Sir Brad, now 35 and Dr Cav – he has an honorary science degree from Chester University for services to cycling - 30, thrilled the capacity crowd by repeating their 2008 victory in the same event.

I first got the taste for watching track cycling in the late 1960’s when I got a press freebie ticket to the Wembley six-day cycling championship. It was eye-opening to see the skills of the legendary Dutchman Peter Post, teaming up with Belgian Patrick Sercu to win one of 45 such events he collected around the world. The Madison was the thing I best remembered, with one partner waiting high on the banking before the other “handed him on” literally, with a degree of momentum.

Re-reading reports of the 2008 win for the Sir and the Doc show just how minutely they followed the pattern yesterday. Their collectively almost inhuman sprinting (Cav) and endurance (Wig) brought a series of points for intermediate sprints and then almost on cue from the previous time, they set about retrieving the gained lap that some of their opponents had contrived earlier.

But then we shouldn’t have been surprised, as along with Murray, they are among the all-time greats of their respective worlds. Wiggins, son of an Australian father and English mother, was born in Ghent but moved to London aged two. Cavendish was born in the Isle of Man which he still regards as home, but day-to-day lives in Essex with a pad in Tuscany.

Sir Bradley has seven World Championship gold medals, three Olympic golds and a Tour de France win on his palmarès. Cavendish pitches in with three World championships on the track, and 26 Tour de France stage wins, including four in a row in the final stage on the Champs-Elysees as well as a world championship win on the road in 2011. To see him bash through in the final 50 yards of a sprint stage in one of the Grand Tour events is among my favourite experiences watching sport.

Most of us rue the day when the BBC started the drip-drip loss of the major sports. For once yesterday pretty much everything I wanted to see was on the network and the Scot, the Manxman and the Belgian made it a great day for the Brits. It was pretty good for the heroes’ mums, too. Both Brad’s mum and Andy’s were in the audience in London and Birmingham respectively, fittingly for Mother’s Day.

When I tried to discover whether Mark’s mum was there, the main historic reference to her was when the Tour de France was going to go through Yorkshire and Harrogate where Adele, for that’s her name, lives. Unfortunately, if you look up Adele Cavendish you get merely copious references to Lady Adele Astaire Cavendish, elder sister to and original dance partner of Fred Astaire, who stopped dancing when she married a son of the Duke of Devonshire. Don’t blame her.

What we’ll learn should Min win?

Weather permitting we’re in for another exciting weekend of National Hunt action.

The Lanzarote is the feature at Kempton, whilst the Coral Welsh Grand National takes centre-stage at Chepstow. With heavy ground guaranteed, the latter will prove to be an absolute slog. As tipping is not part of my remit, I’ll gladly let the boss take care of this one. (Sorry Matt)

Instead, I wanted to focus on an exciting weekend in Ireland. Much attention will be focused on Punchestown with the Supreme Novices’ favourite Min hoping to further enhance his lofty reputation.

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Willie Mullins has won The Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle five times in the last seven years. The past two victories have gone to horses trained by the Irish Champion and he will be hoping that the trend continues. Douvan and Vautour were the successful pair, both owned by Rich Ricci, with both going on to win at the Cheltenham Festival. Min is by the same sire as Douvan and after his debut demolition last month hopes will be high that this fella can prove just as successful.

However, at this stage there is little doubt that his reputation is built on potential rather than actual racecourse evidence. The horses in behind last time at Punchestown were a pretty ordinary bunch, and we will hopefully learn more about him on Saturday. Should Tombstone take up his entry we could be in for a real treat, though he ran at Christmas when second to Long Dog in a Grade 1, and it would be a surprise if he was sent out again so soon.

Similar can be said of Ball D’Arc, also trained by Gordon Elliott, who won impressively at Limerick over the holiday period. He lacks the class of Tombstone, but will certainly appreciate the heavy ground should he take up the entry.

There’s a danger the race could cut up badly, with the result that Min may find himself left in a rather uncompetitive Grade 2, with onlookers once again learning very little of his true ability. Mullins may well run Thomas Hobson, also carrying the Ricci colours, though this trip would prove plenty sharp enough after his win at the track over two and a half miles in December.

It’s fair to say that Douvan’s win in last year’s renewal came against staying types rather than classy two milers. Mullins would, I’m sure, be more than happy collecting a Grade 2 with the minimum of fuss, whilst at the same time allowing Min to gain valuable racing experience. If Min impresses, this may well be the last we see of him before Cheltenham in March. The same routine worked a treat last year, though Vautour took in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle en route to his Supreme victory.

Whatever we learn from Saturday’s race, I’m certainly excited at the prospect of seeing him on the track again. Mullins, Ricci and Walsh will hope that the hype surrounding this fella is justified.