Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan gives his thoughts on the major Irish races over the Christmas period.

  • Wednesday 02 January
  • Blog
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Trying to condense four days of Irish Christmas action from Leopardstown and Limerick along with a sprinkling of Down Royal would be ambitious in the extreme so instead the focus here will be on three of the big races from the last week: the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle, the Savills Chase (Leopardstown version) and the Ryanair Hurdle. Each had a main storyline post-race along with some intriguing subplots worth considering for racing ahead. 

Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1)

Faugheen was the lead story in the Christmas Hurdle as he is basically every time he runs, even when not sent off favourite. His fall two out left unfinished business but thoughts that he might have won look misplaced as the race was run in a finishing speed of 113.0% per Timeform, meaning the pace was quickening in the closing stages and the three or so lengths he was adrift of Apple’s Jade at that point would have been hard to get back. Indeed, he may have needed to be Champion Hurdle 2015 Faugheen to have that sort of pace.

That second last was the best jump Apple’s Jade put in the whole race but her hurdling – at least with a view to her going to back to two miles – is a concern; of the 12 hurdles in the race, she went right at 10 of them. Those small margins may not matter much at three miles but they could matter a lot at the minimum distance.

Connections expressed an intention to run her at the Dublin Racing Festival next and that can only mean the two miles of the Irish Champion Hurdle as there is no other suitable race; she does have the (likely softer) option of the Quevega Hurdle for mares only on February 20th. More than anything, the decision to run her around this time might be made with the view to keeping her on the go; her form lulled last spring when she returned from a break though the impact of a prep run on her now apparently settled menstrual cycles is unclear.

Savills Chase (Grade 1)

Road To Respect probably wasn’t an unlucky loser in the Savills Chase but his trouble – tight for room after four out and more significant hampering that cost two/three lengths and momentum between three and two out – could not have come at a more inopportune time as the pace those in front were quickening.

His was a perfectly adequate run with a view to the Cheltenham Gold Cup but concerns about his stamina over the extended trip there remain. He is inclined to race freely as he did here and while the ground could be put forward as an excuse for last year, he doesn’t shape like a horse that wants a slog at the Gold Cup distance, even on decent ground.

With Kemboy apparently likely to swerve a rematch in the Irish Gold Cup, Road To Respect may be favourite for that race but the trouble he met at Christmas may not be as significant as Bellshill's lack of fitness. The only horse without a run this season in a race his trainer targets less than the February equivalent, he travelled as well as anything bar the winner, seemingly lying to rest questions about his ability to go left-handed.

Cheltenham may not be his thing – rather than not coming up the hill there he has struggled with the downhill parts of the course in past attempts – but he looks made for the Dublin Racing Festival in light of this.

Ryanair Hurdle (Grade 1)

Samcro was again strong in the market for the Ryanair Hurdle and if we take nothing else from the race it is that he is a huge public horse; his connections had been negative about him in the lead-up to the race, talking of giving it another go at two miles rather than brimming with confidence after a second to the reigning Champion Hurdler, and still the money came.

Again his jumping wasn’t really fast enough for the trip but he did come there going well in the straight only to curl up completely. Concerns about a physical issue could be real. Sharjah was the only one to travel better than Samcro, the ground suiting well, and perhaps Patrick Mullins on top helps too; his figures on him are:F611, the fall coming when he had a Grade 1 at his mercy, the 6 when likely over-the-top at Punchestown last backend.

Melon might be the one to take from it for Cheltenham though. Along with Petit Mouchoir, he conceded fitness to the rest and reports of his preparation were not good as he missed two intended targets in the Morgiana and the Hatton’s Grace. He made a bad mistake at the middle one down the back and wasn’t slick two out either, so this was a good starting point for him, especially as Cheltenham has shown him to good effect in the past.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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