Monday Musings: Hearing is believing

Spectacular! Scintillating! Jaw-dropping! Eye-opening! All of the above, except for Paisley Park’s owner Andrew Gemmell who, of necessity, merely listened to the brilliant performance of his fast-improving hurdler as he romped to victory in Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham, writes Tony Stafford. The Emma Lavelle-trained gelding is deservedly now favourite for the Sun Racing Stayers Hurdle back at the track in March.

Andrew, blind from birth, had his loyal friend Tony Hunt and some other regulars in Paisley Park’s fan club close at hand as he reacted with increasing optimism as the race unwound.

Before racing Gemmell admitted to being “Nervous, more nervous than Ascot”, presumably remembering the disappointment of his horse’s 13th place in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Festival last March. Afterwards the soft ground was attributed principally to what was a below-expectations effort. In retrospect Paisley Park, a 33-1 chance, previously had only a small Hereford novice win among only three hurdle races on his record.

Now a seven-year-old, he has fully matured and Saturday was his fourth win of an unbeaten season. Starting in handicaps at Aintree and Haydock, he then polished off Ascot’s Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle before this emphatic victory.

I stood a yard or two away from Mr Gemmell in the paddock as, with back to the big screen, he strained to hear. When commentator Ian Bartlett observed soon after the fourth-last that Paisley Park had not immediately responded to his rider’s urgings, his face gave away inner doubts.

Until then, the jumping had been fast and accurate and the first few strides after each jump, fluent and constantly resulting in net gain. Bartlett’s attention had been drawn to the only occasion when a slight misjudgement altered the status quo, instant recovery translating to a few sluggish strides.

From the downhill third last, which he jumped in eighth, to the home turn, at which point he was still in that same grouping but a few lengths nearer, Aidan Coleman had him level with Unowhatimeanharry. He was on the outside, but as they turned for home the jockey manoeuvred him between horses at which point it was obvious he was going best, with just a slight worry of potential crowding.

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At Ascot, off level weights, he had needed to catch the Colin Tizzard-trained 40-1 shot West Approach, which he did to the tune of two lengths. Here, conceding 6lb for that Grade 1 win, he again had West Approach as the final horse to overtake. This he managed easily before the last this time. By the line, three lengths there had been stretched to a dozen with another two to Black Op in third and Sam Spinner a further ten away in fourth.

This field, which contained most of the home candidates for the Stayers Hurdle, had been blown away. Unowhatimeanharry, a multiple Grade 1 winner and, like Sam Spinner a Long Walk faller which caused many to question the worth of Paisley Park’s win there, was 30 lengths behind at the finish, all lost in the last quarter-mile.

A strict interpretation of the two runs through the runner-up, suggests an improvement of at least a stone in barely a month and with the ground riding softer than the official pre-race verdict, any going and course fears can be consigned to the rubbish bin.

Before and after the race Andrew, who has shares in 20 horses including in Australia, unsurprisingly was the target for interviewers and he clearly gets a large kick out of owning such a good horse. I remember when Tangognat won the corresponding opening race on the same card 33 years ago to set up his illusory Triumph Hurdle prospects – he was a very disappointing second favourite – I could think of nothing else for the next six weeks. Let’s hope Andrew has other matters to concentrate on. I know he’ll never tire of listening to the commentary of the last part of Saturday’s race.

A couple of weeks back Joseph O’Brien was quoted as saying he’d just taken charge of a number of  horses bought from France for J P McManus. One of them, Fine Brunello, made his debut for the stable with a very promising second in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle which opened proceedings.

A 25-1 shot, he will have pleased connections but while comfortably beating off the seven home defenders, he was nowhere near good enough to cope with stable-companion Fakir d’Oudairies, a son of Kapgarde, who sluiced in by 13 lengths in the manner of a potential champion.

Five jump races between April and August of his three-year-old season for top trainer Guy Cherel did not provide a win, and he fell in the second of two chases – that’s right, they can run over fences there while our backward Flat racers are just getting going!

But since joining O’Brien he already had a win in a 22-runner juvenile race at Cork and now dominated stronger company going ahead of the field three from home and winning by 13 lengths. With five French and one German import in this nine-runner field, the domination in jumping at the top end for owners wealthy enough to buy these horses is ever more obvious. The winner here was owned by M L Bloodstock Ltd, interestingly the breeders of the runner-up!

In all, 25 French-breds helped swell the wonderful Cheltenham card and one of them, Frodon, provided another highlight when making all under an inspired Briony Frost to deny Elegant Escape in the Betbright Cotswold Chase. He’ll give it everything if he turns up for the Gold Cup and if he does, Frodon will be the darling of all the non-racing media at the meeting. They’ll love Briony for sure. Who doesn’t?

Three weeks back I gave a mention to the former Andrew Balding trainee, now called Ka Ying Star, after his lucrative first run and win at Sha Tin. He made a big step up in class there in Sunday’s Hong Kong Classic Mile worth £570,000 to the winner and after a brave front-running effort compromised by having to go very fast from a wide draw to get the lead, held on for a good third. He earned his new owners £115,000. Hong Kong Derby here they come!

The proper Derby, run at Epsom, is one of the 43 Classic or Group 1 races that have fallen to products of David and Diane Nagle’s Barronstown Stud in Co Wicklow. Their Epsom winner was Generous, but they will rarely if ever have had a better weekend than early last September when Kew Gardens won the St Leger at Doncaster and Flag of Honour the Irish St Leger at The Curragh the following day.

In that context it is hardly surprising that their achievement has been officially recognised by their being inducted into the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Hall of Fame. The slight surprise is that after more than 30 years’ excellence, and with horses of the calibre of Yeats which Diane owned with Sue Magnier, they were not already in it! Well done indeed!

Mrs Magnier, as part of the Coolmore team, had a nice pay day in the US on Saturday. Magic Wand, winner last year of the Ribblesdale, was shrewdly sent by Aidan O’Brien to run in the first Turf Pegasus Invitational race at Gulfstream, which hosted its third year of the main event won previously by Arrogate and Gun Runner, both earning more than £5million for their trouble.

Now track owner Frank Stronach has decided to split the overall money three to two in favour of the Dirt race, but that still left $6 million to be divvied up in the Turf race and $9 milllion against the previous $15 million for the dirt, won easily on Saturday by City of Light. Stronach also offered the incentive of a 7lb allowance for any horse not using Lasix. Originally Magic Wand was due to carry 8st 7lb and Ryan Moore, who had been preparing himself for his lightest weight with rides on the all-weather.

In the event, O’Brien, who usually uses Lasix for his US runners, decided to take advantage of it and with Wayne Lordan in the saddle at 8st, Magic Wand ran home well into second place behind easy winner Bricks and Mortar, who conceded 12lb. Without the 7lb kicker, she would probably have been no better than fourth – a difference of almost £250K in prize money. Smart work!

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