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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.

https://twitter.com/Sandownpark/status/1091696804146630657

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.

https://twitter.com/SportingLife/status/1090254314671689728

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.

https://twitter.com/SportingLife/status/1090254314671689728

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.

 

https://twitter.com/TheJockeyClub/status/1091789376663838725

 

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.

https://twitter.com/TimeformLive/status/1091683067209633792

  • 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.

https://twitter.com/ODDSbibleRacing/status/1092007571341393920

 

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

 

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.