The Irish Road to Cheltenham : 19th November

The Irish Road to Cheltenham

The Irish Road to Cheltenham

The Irish Outsider – November 19th, 2013, by Tony Keenan

Small-field graded races have dominated the Irish national hunt scene this past fortnight, none more notable than the five runners that took part in the Hurricane Fly’s record-breaking Morgiana, four of those trained by Willie Mullins and the other a 106-rated 50/1 shot.

Clearly this race told us little about the Fly and connections of Jezki might feel they left a Grade 1 behind here with the dual Champion Hurdle winner running about 20lbs below his best. As to Jezki, the decision to run him in the Hatton’s Grace – which appears a judgment call rather than forced by training issues – is a strange one as he’s been all about speed so far and a slog around Fairyhouse may not suit.
The small fields began however at Navan the previous Sunday with only 13 horses taking part in three graded events; Alan Sweetman was very good on the subject in the his Irish Racing Post column last Wednesday and the industry figure who accused him of ‘giving Irish racing a bad name’ by ‘bleating about small fields’ clearly doesn’t know much about the job of journalist.

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In the races themselves, the For Auction looked a poor renewal, Very Wood doing everything wrong yet still nearly winning and that Minella Foru couldn’t beat him further is hardly encouraging.
Dedigout won well on his return to hurdling and he’s one with scope in that discipline; now a winner of five of his six hurdles starts, he looks better over the smaller obstacles and a step up to three miles could bring further improvement with something like the newly minted Grade 1 at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting or the Galmoy looking ideal. That said, this Lismullen looked a weak renewal and Mala Beach may have made his move too soon.
The real talking point from Navan was Flemenstar and I wasn’t as negative on him as some; this was an inconclusive effort. His jumping was very big but he has only been with Tony Martin a matter of weeks and he travelled like a class horse again here; the John Durkan should tell much more.

On the subject of Martin, he really has carried on his rich vein of form from the summer; the Navan card saw a treble while he won a competitive handicap hurdle at Cheltenham with Quick Jack last Friday who looks an early fancy for the Pierse.
This column could easily become the Willie Mullins watch with seven winners for the trainer on Sunday but rather than bemoan the lack of competitiveness – though clearly, in an ideal world, there would more opposition to him – it might be best to accept that we are where we are with him.

Of more interest might be revisiting his stated aim of having more runners in England prior to the Festival this season, a claim that rang hollow over the weekend when he opted to keep most of his best horses at home and sent only a pair of token runners to the Open Meeting.
Marito’s absence from the Paddy Power was galling from a personal perspective as I’d backed him ante-post for the race and became all the more so when he ran second to Hurricane Fly; he might go back to Cheltenham for the December equivalent of the Paddy Power though his cover is blown now.

Clearly, punters need to tread carefully with backing Mullins horses ante-post for English races though there were green shoots in terms of the ‘English project’; he mentioned City Slicker in relation to the Ladbroke at Ascot after Sunday (the horse is best right-handed) and was Indevan, clearly one of his lesser novices, a Ballydoyle-esque sighter on Saturday?
Mullins is strong again in the novice chase division and Felix Yonger and Champagne Fever both impressed over the weekend. The former defied a break to win in the Craddockstown, jumping and travelling well, though the trainer’s comments that he would stay at two miles were surprising as he’s the sole stable entry in the Drinmore and it seems unlikely that he’d be without a runner.

To me, he looks made for the Jewson, two and a half miles on decent ground ideal and he has already handled Cheltenham. Champagne Fever was just relentless, visually impressive which is surprising as he is often workmanlike; he is one that can throw in a shocker now and then but tends to bounce back quickly.
The hyped pair Defy Logic and Don Cossack both got turned over at odds-on on the Morgiana card and they remain horses to be against; they finished close up so still have a high level of form and are likely to be supported again next time but can be opposed until they win a good race over fences and probably afterwards too, types to be overbet.

Morning Assembly impressed with his attitude in beating Don Cossack and he will do better up in trip and on softer ground; he’s efficient and dogged rather than flashy, the ideal staying type.
Irish-trained winners were in short supply at the Open Meeting with Quick Jack the sole success but there were some positives. Flaxen Flare and especially Rawnaq enhanced the form of the Galway Hurdle by hitting the frame in the Greatwood while Hidden Cyclone showed more of his old sparkle in the Paddy Power. Admittedly this looked a weak renewal but he jumped and travelled with panache and might be back to the form he showed as young horse.

The flop of Sea Lord in the Sharp aided The Liquidator but his success was facile in any case and he was yet another boost to the Punchestown Champion Bumper that has already thrown up a host of winners like Gilt Shadow, Apache Stronghold and Blackmail; the Willie Mullins pair Sizing Tennessee and Outlander are the most interesting yet to run from the race.
Away from the bigger meetings, Arvika Ligeonniere won the Clonmel Oils well on ground faster than ideal and raced more tractably than has often been the case; he would be my early fancy for the John Durkan, a race that looks made for him.

In the closing race at Cork on Sunday, Rathvinden was an easy bumper winner; he looked a good horse when with Ian Ferguson up north but has improved for the switch to Mullins and is one to follow.

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