Cheltenham Festival 2017 – Mad March Musings (5) February 13th 

Great weekend of racing action but are we anywhere closer to cracking the code to Cheltenham 2017? I don’ think so! So I am just going to let rip with some random thoughts concerning Gloucestershire’s finest four days and then tack on all the relevant quotes from the important races over the last 72 hours!

The Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup are a real mess and you just have to wait and see who actually lines up and the prices on offer. I do think that anyone who owns a two mile hurdler or a 3m+ chaser with an Official handicap mark of OR160+ should run it in the relevant Championship race and I could see fields of 16+ in both races!

One of racing’s greatest cliché’s is “you should never be afraid of one horse!” Well I certainly wouldn’t be in a hurry to oppose Douvan (QEII Champion Chase) or Altior (Arkle) and for betting win purposes I’m in no hurry to take on the JP McManus trio of UnowhatImeanarry (Stayers Hurdle), Cantlow (X Country) and On The Fringe (Foxhunters) as all five have the form firmly in the book!

The Supreme (2m) and the Neptune (2m5f) novice hurdles are wide open but I’m going to hazard a guess that Mr Mullins could run as many as six in each race! Talking of young Willy as far as I can see he has the aforementioned Douvan and Vroum Vroum Mag to possibly retain her Mares hurdle  title and a very strong hand in the Mares novice hurdle with Airlie Beach, Augusta Kate and Let’s Dance, otherwise he will either have to box clever or go mob handed! Personally I think he will go the latter route and if they win, Happy Days, if not they will all be one race closer to finding the right target at an Irish-Trainers-Title-deciding Punchestown Festival six weeks later!
As for the handicaps my shortlists are getting shorter and I’m quite excited about a few of them. Patience, Simon!!

Right here are the quotes from the weekend.

Gold Cup

Sizing John “Robert (Power) said they went very steady and he was a bit keen over the first three fences and he kept wanting to go,” said Harrington. “He said it was a good thing he made a mistake at the second last first time around as he sort of spat it out after that. He was just brilliant. He was still cantering turning in, as far as I could see, and when he asked him he quickened up. I know he didn’t win very far but he still won and he wasn’t stopping. I have no idea of the plan and I have to talk to Alan and Ann. It makes for a nice decision. It’s my first runner in the Irish Gold Cup and my first winner. It’s very exciting. He looks like a three-mile chaser rather than a two-miler. Seven times he’s been beaten by Douvan, second five times and third twice. If he had won all those races he’d have started favourite for this race. Everyone was doubting that he would stay and I got a bit more worried when the ground got soft, as I think he’s a horse that’s probably better on slightly better ground. He’s in all three races at Cheltenham so we’ll see what happens. He’ll be coming out of the Champion Chase though! They were all good Grade 1 horses so it was a fair test.” When hearing Alary had fell today Harrington added:- “I’d say we’ll be going for the Gold Cup. I don’t know as I haven’t spoken to Alan yet. He really wanted to win this race. I suggested we might come here and he said ‘that’s a race I’d love to win’. To win any race is brilliant and to win a Grade 1 is fantastic. That’s only his third run this year so he’s a relatively fresh horse. We’ll freshen him up now and get him right. Robbie was absolutely delighted. He said after Thurles he will relish going up in trip to three miles as all he has been doing is galloping.”

Power added:- “He did a good piece of work the other day, and when I got off him I told Katie (Harrington) I thought he was a certainty today. After he ran behind Douvan at Christmas I told Jessie to enter him in the Ryanair and the Gold Cup. His work at home always gives you the impression that he stays. They went very steady early on, and Don Poli is not the most natural front runner in the world. I was a bit surprised that Gigginstown didn’t stretch the pace a bit more. I was definitely on the horse with the most toe in the race, and he settled very well. When they don’t go quick then the first person to commit is in the best position. A faster pace would suit him even better, and he’ll learn a lot from that race today. The original diagnosis I got was that I would be out for six weeks (after suffering a back injury at Gowran on Thyestes Day), so it’s great to make it back quicker and be able to ride today.”

Gordon Elliott filled the places with Empire Of Dirt and Don Poli and he said:- “They both ran good races. I suppose with Don Poli we’ll look to run in the Gold Cup and Grand National,” said Elliott. “Empire Of Dirt could be a horse for the Ryanair the way he travels. We have no excuse. The winner is a really good horse and he beat us fair and square. We’re happy enough.”

Native River – Tizzard said: “I only think he asked him coming down to the second last. He just nursed him along. It showed he was a bit classier. His last two races he went a few lengths clear four out and just held on. We wanted to ride him a little differently and have that finishing spurt at the end and it’s worked brilliantly. He’s gone away at the line.” Of his three Gold Cup contenders – Native River, Thistlecrack and Cue Card – Tizzard said: “They are all lovely horses. I’m just so proud to have them in our yard. A three-horse race today I thought we might get outmanoeuvred, but no, he’s got a bit more class and is just a thorough stayer and he’s got a bit of pace as well.”

JLT/RSA Novice Chases

Noel Meade on Disko “It’s a great thrill to have one to jump as well that and it never really looked a problem, he was gaining ground at every fence,” said Meade. “Everything seemed to be going really well and it’s lovely to be able to watch something like that. You would never be confident in a Grade 1 especially with the lads in behind you. You never want to build your confidence up too much but I was happy when he jumped the last alright. There was only a half and a half between the three of them the last day and it’s only one good jump really. It might have been the trip. That trip (2m 5f) seems to suit him and that’ll be the way we go I’d imagine. I’ll talk to Eddie and Mike and see what they say.

He said the ground wasn’t as bad on that track and he loved it. I was slightly worried because he worked on very soft ground at home last week and I thought he wasn’t as effective on it. It was the perfect ride. He jumped great for him and did everything right. He jumped that well he got the others in trouble. I’d say Cheltenham ground will suit him alright – the usual Cheltenham ground. I would never think that he would want quick ground. He’s a beautiful moving horse.”

Flanagan added:- “He’s had his little bits of problems here and there but today to me he’s shown what he is. He’s got his jumping together which is the main thing, and got into a great rhythm. He missed one or two here the last day.

He missed one away from the stands today which he can do when he gets a bit gassy but he was very clever. The plan was to get a lead over the first few, and then mosey on away. I think that’s his ideal trip once it’s strongly run. He can go ahead and make it himself or take a lead. It’s great to get that first Grade 1 win, although it’s taken me a while to get it.”

A decision has still to be made over which race Coney Island will run in at the Cheltenham Festival. Eddie Harty’s six-year-old, a Grade One winner in the Drinmore Novice Chase, is prominent in the ante-post betting for both the JLT Novices’ Chase and the RSA Chase at around 10-1. “He could go straight there, we might take him away for a racecourse gallop,” said Harty. “Sometimes you can be better off going there fresh, anyway. He’s in good form, we gave him a good break after his last race and he’s currently very full of himself. Fingers crossed everything goes smoothly between now and then. At the moment I’m not favouring one race over another, I’ve spoken to Frank (Berrry, owner JP McManus’ racing manager) about it and we’re just going to keep our options open. There’s no rush, I’m not going to train him differently for one race or the other. There’s no point committing this far out, so much can happen as we’ve already seen recently. The key thing is he’s only a young horse and I’m not just thinking about March but the rest of his career.”


Neptune/Supreme Novice Hurdles

Ballyandy -Twiston-Davies senior said: “It’s lovely when a plan works out. He’s been unlucky and hasn’t won any of the races we thought he would. What a consolation! He’ll go to Cheltenham now for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. I was gutted he was beaten the three times before. We were not hiding anything under a bush, he was unlucky to get beaten.” On reflection, Twiston-Davies will also consider the Neptune at Cheltenham for Ballyandy. “He could go for the Supreme now, but at the moment he is also in the two-and-a-half-mile race as well, if it is good ground he does stay, so it maybe he goes for the two-and-a-half-mile race. We could not understand him getting beaten in those first three races, there were no real excuses. He has always been a superstar, as we know from Cheltenham. The strong pace helped. The world is his oyster at the moment.”

Paul Nicholls said of runner-up Movewiththetimes: “He will be some chaser. He is still a bit babyish, but has run a nice race and there are no excuses. He was just a bit green as that was his only fourth start over hurdles and he has never been off the bridle before. He is just a really nice horse. He is in the Supreme and the Neptune. We will see what the owner wants.”

High Bridge – Winning trainer Ben Pauling said: “He quickened very nicely off terrible ground, but he has got plenty toe as he is out of a Guineas winner (Ameerat). I think a true run two miles might suit him very well. You only change plans for a reason and I don’t see any need to do so. I think it would be quite brave to go into the unknown over two and a half. I think the Supreme is a bit more open as the Neptune looks quite hot.”





Mullins after Deloitte (2m 2f) Trainer Willie Mullins, who saddled six in the race, said afterwards:- “I’d imagine the way he (Bacardys) stayed and jumped there we’ll be looking for a trip. I’m delighted to get a Grade 1 with him for Shanakiel Racing and of course for Patrick as well. I didn’t think there was much pace but obviously there was huge pace as Patrick came from last. He’s improving all the time. I needed to run him there to get experience into him as he had a hold up after Christmas. I’m actually surprised that he stayed on the way he did. He obviously doesn’t take a lot of training. His jumping was much better. Patrick said he jumped a little bit left but it was a big step up in class for him. He’s had point-to-point experience so he’ll be fine and that race will bring him on hugely as well. I’d imagine Albert Bartlett would be the one for him but I have two or three others for the race so we’ll see.”

Patrick Mullins added:- “I knew him well as I won a bumper on him here last season and at Aintree. I thought the 2m2f and a strong gallop would suit him. He jumped left a bit throughout which didn’t help. Stepping up in trip will help him. He could easily go up to 2m4f and three miles may end up his best trip. That completes a full set of Grade 1’s for me in bumpers, over hurdles and fences. It makes up a bit for Cousin Vinny who I came off at the last in this race (eight years ago).”

The winning handler said of the runner-up Bunk Off Early:- “I’m delighted with him. He jumped well and he’ll improve hugely for jumping at that speed as that was only his second run over hurdles. We think of him more as a two-mile horse rather than two-and-a-half or three. The way he travels we’ll be going for the shorter options.”

5/4 favourite Saturnas trailed in last and Mullins said of him:- “He was never going. We’ll go and investigate that and see what’s up. I thought he’d like this heavy ground but maybe the ground didn’t suit him.”

Ruby Walsh reported that Saturnas made a noise in running. Vet reported post race normal.


Colin Tizzard on Finians Oscar “That hasn’t told us anything and I’m still in the dark as to whether he will run in the Neptune or the Supreme. I really don’t know which one. We will talk about it in the next two weeks. All we know is that was only his third hurdle race and it shows his well-being, nothing more. He’s a very relaxed horse, as we saw today, but we haven’t really gained anything. Everyone was in today’s race at the five-day stage, but they backed off.”


Handicap Hurdles

The Tom Mullins-trained Grand Partner booked his ticket to Cheltenham when running out a convincing winner of the 1888 Restaurant Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown. The 14/1 shot made little impression on his return to action at the track last month but showed the benefit of that run today. Danny Mullins drove his mount into the lead going to the final flight and he stayed on well in the closing stages to record a length-and-three-quarter victory over Joshua Lane. “He was off the track for so long and that’s maybe why he didn’t run so well the last day. It made him a bit fitter,” said the winning handler. “Considering he beat Swamp Fox in a Flat maiden here last July he has the ability to win a race like that and he did. After he won that race he needed a long lay-off as he went wrong and we couldn’t get him back any quicker than we did. If he had disappointed today I was going to go novice chasing but we could look at the Coral Hurdle now as he’d be in at the right weight. (9yo won off OR125 irish)  If all is well he’ll probably go to Cheltenham. We could also look at the County and the Martin Pipe for him.”


Pertemps Handicap Hurdle

Impulsive Star, who also came from the Irish point-to-point ranks, continued his progression with victory in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle. The Neil Mulholland-trained seven-year-old was making his handicap debut and jumped into a clear advantage three out, and while Rocklander looked a threat, his chance was not helped by a mistake at the second-last. The winning margin was eventually three and a half lengths for the Sam Waley-Cohen-ridden 11-4 favourite, with Mulholland now keeping his fingers crossed he gets into the final at Cheltenham.

He said: “Hopefully he will go up 7lb or 8lb, but at least we have him qualified for the race now. The bottom was (a mark of) 135 last year. Unowhatimeanharry missed the cut and went for the Albert Bartlett. We needed to win well today, which we have, so let’s keep our fingers crossed we get into the handicap. He travelled, jumped and it is job done.” Latest News ROCKLANDER (IRE) takes on a competitive field in the 2:50 Pertemps Qualifier Handicap Hurdle over 2m7f. He’s been a model of consistency all season, never finishing out of the first two. He ran a great race at Cheltenham last time out when beaten a neck on his first attempt over 3m. Conditions won’t be a problem for him on Sunday and the aim is to finish in the first six to qualify for the Listed Pertemps Network Final at the Cheltenham Festival.” Finished 2nd, job done. OR137+


Champion Bumper

Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham Bumper prospects were harmed with the news of his Getabird’s injury earlier today but the Champion Trainer typically bounced back with another contender at Naas today as Carter McKay easily landed the concluding Cavan Developments (Pro-Am) INH Bumper, under his son Patrick Mullins. Dual bumper winner Getaway’s absence was the latest injury to hit the Closutton handler but Carter McKay’s exciting win did improve his Festival prospects. Mullins, locked in a Trainers’ Championship tussle with Gordon Elliott, later stated “he’s improved since Christmas and did a lovely bit of work during the week. He’s one we’re looking forward to and is going to have to step in now. He’s improving away all the time so hopefully he keeps doing that.” When asked if he had booked his ticket to Cheltenham, he quipped “I thought he had it booked at Christmas anyway but I’m very pleased with that.”


Handicap Chases Latest NewsWHAT’S HAPPENING (IRE) will make his reappearance in the 3:20 Veterans Handicap Chase over 3m after 477 days off the track. He was the very game winner of his last two starts at Cheltenham then missed the second part of the 2015/16 season due to injury. This should be a nice comeback run and will put him straight for the Cheltenham Festival where he will have entries in the Ultima Chase and the Kim Muir.” Excellent staying on 2nd. OR137+


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