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A Nervous Week Ahead Part 2
No sooner had I talked of Hollowgraphic as one of those to consider for the Bumper than he is scratched from it. Such are the perils of ante-post betting so the no run no bet on offer by many is welcome. Anyway on to Thursday and the JLT is hard to read at the moment with many of those entered holding multiple entries. If Invitation Only goes here instead of the RSA he'll likely start favorite with Terrefort and Modus likely to be well fancied also. Benatar will be worth looking at if the ground comes good. The reigning Ryanair Champion Un De Sceaux defends his crown here and connections will be praying for the rain to keep falling. I would not say Waiting Patiently has sneaked in under the radar but he definitely shot to the forefront of peoples thoughts after a superb performance in a Grade 1 at Ascot beating Cue Card who loked to have regained his form. If Cue Card goes here instead of the Gold Cup, and there are those who think this could be his best option, he'll attract support. Douvan has been left in the Champion Chase on Tuesday but still holds an entry here. Tomorrow's declarations will be interesting although final decs are not until Tuesday. Supasundae and Yanworth share early favouritism for the Stayers Hurdle. Supasundae beat the latter a length at Aintree last year over 3m and it was a surprise to see him win the Irish Champion Hurdle over 2m at Leopardstown. Yanwoth dropping back to hurdles from fences is not ideal and it would have been nice if they had got a prep run into him over the smaller obstacles. Sam Spinner has caught the eye winning the last two, the latter a Grade 1. There is a suggestion that he might boil over on a big occasion as this. Twiston-Davies has finally bitten the bullet and stepped The New One up to 3m and he is undoubtedly the class horse in the race. The Mares Novices' Hurdle is a new addition to the Festival and Willie Mullins who is a Master trainer of Mares has the odds on favourite here in Laurina whom David Casey, the Assistant Trainer, was talking up on the Preview circuit. It will be interesting to see how she handles the ground if it improves by Thursday. Maria's Benefit wil be looking for a six timer and has had a small break since having a hard race at the end of January. 

Gold Cup day kicks off with the Triumph Hurdle. Before the Fred Winter was added to the program this race attracted a huge field of 20 plus runners who would go off at a break neck pace and I suspect one or two left their careers in the shadow of Cleeve Hill. It wasn't a great race for favourites up until three years ago and they've won the last three renewals. Apple Jade's half sister Apples Shakira is just about favourite and has a valuable 7LB fillies* allowance. Again ground could be key here as she has never raced on Good ground. Redicean was very impressive on Good ground in a Grade 2 at Kempton a few weeks ago and will  be in the mix. Mr. Adjudicator, Farclas and We Have A Dream are others in the mix and it looks like it could be a cracking race. The Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle can be a gruelling test for Novices with the 3m trip testing these young horses. It often poays to have a battle hardened horse to go to war with here. Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson share the top four in the betting with just one point seperating Next Destination, Duc Des Genievres (Mullins)with Santini and Chef Des Obeaux (Henderson). It looks a wide open race and there are plenty of those entered who could cause a surprise. Those brave enough to back the enigmatic Might Bite will have a few anxious seconds up the Cheltenham Hill hoping he doesn't complete last years attempt in the RSA to join the Crowd in the stand. Native River put up a spectacular performance after a long break last time but could pay the penalty for it. the reigning champ Sizing John has to bounce back from a disappointing run land there may have been an excuse. Our Duke, Road To Respect and Killultagh Vic will have there supporters while if it came up heavy Definitely Red comes into it. Could Edwulf create a Fairytale comeback after been at Deaths Door at the back of the last fence in 2017 and what about Djakadam who could face the starter for his fourth Gold Cup. By 6pm on Friday week dreams will have been realised and others crushed. In these Championship races there is no hiding place. Some horses take to it while others don't. I've often stood in the shoot which leads back to the parade ring and watched the horses return and it's obvious that they'v given their all. Here's hoping that all these magnificent beasts and their jockeys, who give us so much pleasure, return safely to their stables next week. 
* In thoroughbred horse racing female horses are Fillies up to and including 4yo and from 5yo they are Mares.

Until the next time 
Keep Kicking

A Nervous Week Ahead
It's going to be a nervous week for Owners, Trainers, Jockeys and Stable Staff as they do all they can to keep horses and riders sound before the Cheltenham Festival. Along with the punters they'll be keeping an anxious eye on the weather forecast. Although the Going is currently Soft, Good to Soft in places, rain is forecast. Willie Mullins will appreciate rain for Getabird in the opening Supreme Novices Hurdle. He's a fragile sort who has had just six runs since starting off in a point in March 2016, where he ran out. He's won his next five starts. he's a short enough priced favourite. If it comes up really heavy will Elliott/Gigginstown be tempted with Samcro here instead of the Ballymore on Wednesday? The British Press will be talking up Kalshnikov and his trainer Amy Murphy who has a relatively small operation at Newmarket wher she trains a mixed string. Newmarket is predominantly a Flat training centre and if Kalshnikov was to come up the hill with all guns blazing and win it wouyld not be a total shock. He cost just €35k as a foal compared to Getabird for whom  Team Mullins gave €200,000 as a 4yo out of the Point to Point field. The Arkle Chase could be the race of the meeting despite the withdrawl of Sceau Royal who is in the same ownership as the favourite Footpad. With just nine runners still standing we could end up with a small field come post time. Petite Mouchoir, Saint Calvados and Brain Power who is looking for redemption, should put it up to the favourite. If Faugheen fails to regain his old ability then the Champion Hurdle is Buveur D'air's to lose. Yorkhill returns to Hurdles here and might be each way value as could Elgin who will be supplemented following an impressive win at Wincanton. Apples Jade is odds on for the Mares Hurdle but Wilie Mullins will be throwing a few darts at it. The each way value available yesterday (6/1) is now gone for Benie Des Dieux (now 7/2 2nd Fav) following the five day declarations. The Natonal Hunt Chase over 4m for Amature Riders can be a nightmare and it sometimes pays to follow the jockey. If  the ground comes good Sizing Tennessee could be E.W. value and I know connections are looking for a top amature to ride. Derek O'Connor anyone (Codd and O'Neill, B and L already booked).

The advance talk for Tuesday will be all about Samcro and Altior. Next Destination, On The Blind Side and Black Op will by trying to overturn the odds on Samcro but he looks very very good.  In the Champion Chase Altior is odds on Favourite. He won back in February on his only start after a wind op. If it turned up Heavy on Wednesday it could be a worry with Min waiting in the wings. Douvan is also lurking around in this one while Politilogue might be place value if we get the numbers to the start. The RSA Chase is another potential cracker. Presenting Percy (5/2) is currently favourite with Monalee (100/30) next in the betting. Both have looked exceptional novices apart from Monalee's fall at Leopardstown at Christmas. He redeemed homself last time at Fairyhouse beating Al Boum Photo. Presenting Percy has impressed and ran Our Duke to 1L over a trip too short (2m4f) last time at Gowran. He acts around Cheltenham and Davy Russell was in cracking form before the Big freeze halted racing. Black Corton and Brony Frost will have the whole if the West Country idf not England cheering her on and you wonder if they will ever get to the bottom of this horse as this is his thirtennth start since April 6th last year. In the Bumper, Willie Mullins has the first two in the betting, Blackbow and Hollowgraphic both at 5/1. Gigginstown have rare runner in the race and I'm not sure that this is not there first one in Felix Desjy who is unbeaten in threestarts. Rhinestone, beaten by Blackbow at the Dublin Festival looks a bit of Each Way value at 8/1, particularly if the ground dries out.  

I'll have early thoughts on Day's 2 & 3 tomorrow.

We'll look at all these races in more detail over the weekend where it will be interesting to see the jockey bookings for the Mullins horses. Ruby, Ruby, Ruby.

Until Then
Keep Kicking

Life Comes At You Fast

Yes indeed. No sooner had sung the praises of Gordon Elliott's terrific mare Fayonagh when word came through that she had suffered a fatal injury on the gallops doing a piece of work. Coming close to the fatal injury Mega Fortune suffered it was a crushing blow to the stable. Fayonagh's owners, the Gittens family, must have been crushed by the news. They coud quite easily have retired her to the paddocks after her terrific season where she won the Champion Bumpers at Cheltenham and Punchestown as she would have been a valuable brood mare. Some years ago we might not had even seen her on a racecourse as there seemed to be a reluctance to run mares as there was no specific program for them. However following discussions among all parties it was felt that a mares programme would encourage owners to race them in the interest of benefiting the sale of their offspring. the result has been to give us some great Mares like Quevega, Vroom Vroom Mag, Annie Power and more. Sadly these accidents are part and parcel of racing. No one feels the pain more than the stable staff and owners and while the stable maybe empty for a while with the empty head collar hanging on the door, trainers will be out in force this week the Tattersalls Horses In Training Sale and soon the box will have a new occupant and the head collar an owner. The day after the sad demise of Fayonagh, Thurles had two mares races on it's card. The Mares Beginners Chase attracted fifteen runners while the Mares Maiden Hurdle attracted seventeen. The show goes on.

Elsewhere last week, Yanworth made his Chasing debut at Exeter and despite jumping a bit big early on and then clouting the second last ran out an easy winner as he was entitled to on his hurdle rating. Tougher tasks lie ahead. One to note in the Mares Hurdle from the above Thurles card was Glens Harmony, a full sister to the brilliant Glens Melody, who can only improve and could be well capable of Graded success in a Mares race. I think given that she's an inmate of the Willie Mullis yard we can bank on that if she stays sound. Sceau Royal was beaten at  Cheltenham on Friday, failing to give 5lb to North Hill Harvey while confirming the form of his previous start with Ballyhill. North Hill Harvey. All three might benefit from a step up in trip from this 2m race. Colin Tizzard has his horses in fine fettle and Slate House kept up the stables good run in the Maiden Hurdle on the card. An easy winner on his second and last start in a point at Fairyhouse a year ago, he was bought for £260,000 at The Cheltenham Sale last March. He won readily here over the 2m trip and will surely appreciate a step up in trip. I was a bit disappointed with our selection, Oldgrangewood in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree on Sunday. It could be that he'd prefer better ground and we'll hold judgement on him for the mentime. Smad Place was a bit of a surprise winner and while he's probably just below Grade 1 class there are still prizes to be won with him. Runner up Cloudy Dream can also be given another chance in Graded Company.

Wexford and Galway staged two days racing each over what was a Bank Holiday weekend in Ireland. Although it's hard to know the quality of what he beat I was taken by Templemore Dream's win at Wexford. He tarveled nicely in the race and won a bit snugly. Hardline is another who may not have beaten much but won in the style of a classy horse. Calino D'Airy had already won around Galway earlier in October and put in a jumping display here winging the last two. It'll be interesting to see if the 5yo is stepped up in Grade soon. They say bad luck comes in three's and Gordon Elliott will be hoping that's true. Having already lost Fayonagh and Mega Fortune he must have been gutted when Lucky Pass, off since December 2015 having won his only three starts, returned with a display full of promise only to collapse after the line having apparently suffered a broken shoulder. Keith Donoghue, his jockey, said that he could have been anything. At Wexford on Monday, Early Doors who finished third in the Land Rover Bumper in Punchestown when last seen justified odds on favouritism and was worth more than the winning margin. However the most impressive performance of the week in my opinion was Presenting Percy on his chase debut at Galway on Monday. There were some decent sorts in the field for this Novice Chase. In the Heavy ground the early pace looked steady enough. However Presenting Percy was jumping great even shortening up at a few to put himself right. The pace quickened coming down the hill to the second last which he winged and then was very good at the last to battle up the hill and assert in the closing stages. De Plotting Shed ran well to be second while I'm putting the third, Champoleon, who was doing his best work at the finish having been held up out the back for much of the trip into the tracker.

In the last fourteen days Gordon Elliot has trained thirteen winners from forty five runners. In the last three weeks he has lost three horses who could have brought him, his staff and their owners to the summit of racing. It's a cruel game at times which can and does make adults cry. Stable Lads and Lass's who lose horses in accidents are heartbroken as they look after the horses continuously. This week one thousand seven hundred and fifty six horses have been catalogued for the Tattersalls Horses in Training Sale. Some won't even make the sale. Others will be led out unsold. Some will continue their careers on the flat while more will be bought for export. No doubt many will find their way to National Hunt Trainers and some may even fill the stables and head collars of those horse we've lost this past few weeks. 
It can be a cruel game but the show carries on.

Until the next time 
Keep Kicking

Elliott and Gigginstown Lay Down an Early Marker

The week gone by saw  Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown  lay down early markers for the season ahead. Gigginstown started the ball rolling on Wednesday, the first day of the two day Punchestown meeting, when the Henry De Bromhead trained Petit Mouchoir ran out an easy winner n his Chasing debut. It was an impressive performance from the grey 6yo who was rated 164 going to the Champion Hurdle last ear where he finished third 7l behind the winner. Bar a slight mistake at the last he was foot perfect and won as he liked. He will step up in class next time. Gordon Elliot had a day to remember on the Thursday winning six races. Samcro was 1/5 to win on his hurdles debut and the 5yo, unbeaten in three Bumpers and a Point easily justified the odds over this 2m trip. He had his nearest challengers under the pump three furlongs out and just galloped away from them. Whether he stays at two miles remains to be seen as he is not as quick over his hurdles as the top two  milers tending to give them a bit of air. Nonetheless it was an eye catching performance. Death Duty was very impressive on his second start over fences in the Grade 3 Buck House Chase. Davy Russell only had to change his hands between the last two fences and he quickened nicely. No doubt the benefit of his previous run helped but I was impressed by this performance and he should have his next outing in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse on December 3rd. The Elliott/ Gigginstown combination rounded off the day with Felix Desjy who was an easy winner of the Bumper. He was a 15l winner on his only other start in a point so Chasing will prbably be his game and he will probably go over Hurdles in the New Year. In between these Elliott winners last year's Fairyhouse Gold Cup winner, the Gigginstown owned Noel Meade trained Road to Respect looks like he has strengthened up over the summer and stayed on well in the closing stages of the Grade 3 Irish Star Chase. Trainer Meade hinted at a tilt at the JN Wine Chase at Down Royal in early November.

J.P. McManus wasn't to be outdone and introduced a French import, the Gavin Cromwell trained Espoir D'Allen in the Juvenile Hurdle. Making his hurdling debut after just one start in a 1m4f French Bumper which he won last April, the 3yo travelled beautifully and despite being a bit hesitant at the last ran out an easy winner with Barry Geraghty looking around for non existant trouble. 

Over in Britain another 3yo to impress was JonJo O'Neill's Knight Destroyer who ran out a 10l winner at Uttoxeter. Whether he will make top rank remains to be seen. The season in Brittain seems even slower to get going than in Ireland. But one man who has his horses forward is Colin Tizzard. Following Finians Oscar's nice debut last week he introduced West Approach to the larger obstacles at Ffos Las. This half brother to Thistlecrack was rated 157 over Hutdles  and hopefully can improve on that over fences. He jumped left at times down the back but appeared full of running up the home straight in this 2m5f test on soft ground. He cleared the last with plenty of daylight to spare suggesting there was plenty left in the tank.

The last few weeks seem to have been more about the Novice Hurdlers and Chasers and these divisions look they will be ultra competive and no less exciting come the big meetings between now and the New Year.

We have only one Graded race this week as the season stutters into gear. That's the Old Roan Chase at Aintree on Sunday. However Cheltenham get their season under way with a two day meeting on Friday and Saturday where Defi Du Seuil is among the entries. I also think I may have seen a couple of dark horses for up coming Graded races. But more about that nearer the day.

Until the next time

Keep kicking

Some thoughts on the last few weeks.  

For National Hunt followers in Ireland the season proper begins with the Gowran Park meeting at the beginning of October which features the Grade 2 PWC Chase. It probably owes it's prominence to Sizing Europe who won it four times in a reow (2011-2014). Ballycasey won it from a poor field last year but was soundly beaten this year by A Toi Phil who accouted for another Gigginstown runner Balko Des Flos with Shaneshill a long way behind in fourth. Balko Des Flos was travelling well when clouting the third last and immediately came under pressure.  It was a decent performance from the winner who had to give the runner up 5lb despite being rated 7lb inferior by the handicapper. The handicapper has dropped Ballycasey just 1lb to 157 while Shaneshill and Balko Des Flos remain on 158. However A Toi Phil got a hike of 8lb to 159. It remains to be seen if Gordon Elliott can find more improvement to make him competitive in Grade 1 Chases.

A few days later Death Duty made his seasonal and Chasing debut at Tipperary for the Gigginstown/ Russell team. Going off the 1/5fav he made a couple of minor jumping errors and loked to have the race at his mercy when he eased down with Russell content to pop the last where Ruby Walsh conjured a run out of Cap D'Aubois. Death Duty mad a mistake but recovered with a remarkable turn of foot to win snugly in the end. It was a slow run race but the winner should definitely improve. He is entered at Punchestown this Thursday and will be entered for the Drinmore at Fairyhouse.

Four Days later at Fairyhouse another Gigginstown horse, Tombstone, made his Chasing debut. It looked a match between him and Bamako Moriviere and so it turned out. The latter had the benefit of four previous starts over fences albeit he had fallen in two, the first on his debut at Kilbeggan and then on his fourth start with the race at his mercy at Listowel. In between these falls he'd been placed twice. On beautiful ground he set out to make his fitness tell and despite having a bit of a look at the first two he led all the way jumping well and as Willie Mullins pointed out jumping fences bigger than he'd met around the country tracks he'd raced on previously. Tombstone was settled in around fifth by Davy Russell. He seems to jump low but quick at his fences and not having had a run since the end of April he should improve for that. He did carry his head a bit to the left between the last two fences and maybe stuck it in the air again on the run to the line. Both were rated 148 over hurdles and the handicapper has decided not to give the winner a rating over fences yet despite that being his fifth start over fences ( normally you would expect a rating after three runs). The winner is probably not up to Grade 1 class but might go in again before some others get going. Tombstone is a talented horse but according to Elliott is a hard horse to train and has had his share of problems. I'd like to see him knuckle down in a dogfight before passing any judgement.

Another Gigginstown/Elliott runner on the card was the mare Shattered Love who went of the 1/6fav in the Mares Beginners Chase and won as she liked. She looks to have the size and scope to do well over fences and if kept to her own sex could mop up a few Graded races

Elliott also gave the exciting Fayonagh her Hurdles debut . This was her first run since winning at Punchestown back in April but she sill went off at 2/13fav and was eased clear after the last to win comfortably having led from after the second hurdle. It looks like she'll appear next at Down Royal in a Grade 3 Mares Novice Hurdle . She looks pretty exciting.

In England the season proper kicks in with The Chepstow meeting mid-October. Finian's Oscar got his Chase career off to a good start although he was helped by the slip up on the flat of his only serious opponent Alcala. His jumping wasn't great early doors butt Brian Cooper allowed him to find his feet  and he ran out a very easy winner. He could re-appear quickly at Cheltenham at the end of the month. 

I think we saw a very exciting horse in the Juvenile Hurdle. French import Gumball had won on his seasonal debut at Stratford by 31l having made all but faced a stronger field here with the Paul Nicholls filly Mayala, who had plenty of experience in France having won two from three over hurdles, attracting plenty of support. Gumball again made all and while his jumping left a lot to be desired at times he stayed on strongly from the last. There should be further improvement from him and he is now in to 16/1 for the Triumph Hurdle.

Poetic Rhythm won the Grade 2 Novices Hurdle but the horse to take out of the race for me was Vision Des Flos who finished third. This was his first start over hurdles and only his second racecourse start having won the Land Rover Bumper at Punchestown in April after which he was bough for €270,000. He pulled hard early on here and mad a couple of mistakes but was still there between the last two but couldn't get in a blow at the first two who finished about 4l ahead of him. Still only a 4yo he was up against older and more experienced horse and I think Vision Des Flos can only improve a take a big hand in some of the top novice hurdles this winter.

Until the next time, Keep Kicking.

Whiteflagisraised is pleased that Joe Mc Nally is happy for us to republish his excellent articles covering the world of Steeplechasing. Joe has worked in the racing and betting industry most of his life, latterly as marketing manager for Aintree Racecourse then commercial director on the board of Tote Bookmakers. He has been writing part-time for thirty years - freelance articles and fiction, seven published racing novels co-written with his friend, ex-top steeplechase jock, Richard Pitman.
Joe's knowledge, experience and enthusiasm provides so much to lovers of National Hunt racing.

Joe's own Blog can be viewed @