Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan has a good look at some of the contenders for the Two Mile Champion Chasing Crown.

  • Wednesday 11 December
  • Blog
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Two Mile Champion Chase Contenders

There’s an alternative universe somewhere in which last season’s Arkle was the race of the Festival, one where Chacun Pour Soi, Cilaos Emery, Le Richebourg, Defi De Seuil and Dynamite Dollars all went to post off healthy seasons.

Instead, we were treated to an outlandish performance from Duc De Genievres, an effort that looks a bigger mirage with each run since, at least in terms of its repeatability. The Duc may not even have run had all the others got there intact, likely to have headed for the longer JLT.

Who would have won this imaginary race is anyone’s guess but there is a chance we get to live it next March in the Champion Chase, with the possibility of Altior, Un De Sceaux and Douvan mixed in too, the one-time moribund two-mile chasing division having sprung to life in the past few weeks.

I will leave analysis of Defi De Seuil’s Tingle Creek win to those better versed in UK racing though from an Irish perspective it was positive to read that the great bay hope Chacun Pour Soi at least made it to the racecourse for a gallop at Punchestown on Sunday.

He possesses an otherworldly official rating of 167 already after two Irish chase starts, merited on the bare of beating Defi De Seuil at the Punchestown Festival, but ideally one would like to see it again as he was the fresh horse at the end of the season. There will always be concerns about his availability having had just two outings since March 2016 and an ante-post proposition he is not.

Cilaos Emery seems to be the Mullins 1B to Chacun Pour Soi’s 1A, but it is hard to knock what he has done in the early part of this season, his trainer looking to gradually build him up to Grade 1 level over fences.

That experience is needed after a one-race novice chase campaign but there were plenty of positives to take from his Hilly Way win on Sunday, not least his strength in the market and the way he came back on the bridle having gone to the lead at the third last. Ballyoisin looks to possess an inflated mark having beaten unfit horses in the Fortria but even so this was good.

Cilaos Emery has wellbeing issues of his own having missed time as a hurdler too and at least some of these concerns seem to stem from his jumping. He was close to being Arkle favourite when he did himself a mischief in a Navan schooling session last spring, his trainer commenting afterwards that ‘he pulled a muscle…but when you school them you take your chance.’

Mullins is not quite a ‘jumping doesn’t matter’ trainer but he must be as close as there is to it among the top handlers having made repeated references to not being the most extensive schooler of his horses over the years, something that tends to be reflected on the track though not in his overall returns.

So, are last season’s [real] Arkle runners a complete basket case? Yes and no. Duc De Genievres and Us And Them have both being disappointing this term but the third Articulum has shaped well on both his recent starts, part of an overly-strong pace at the Fairyhouse over hurdles the Sunday before last, looking like he would be much better suited by fences. His trainer’s recent comments that he could go three miles over Christmas are disconcerting, however.

The Arkle favourite Hardline is another that has enjoyed a good start to this winter. He had a strange second half to 2018/19, running a bizarre race at the Dublin Racing Festival when perhaps finding the ground too fast before a dismal effort at Cheltenham, never taking to the place.

His final run of the campaign when second to Real Steel was much better, especially in the context of his having had a much tougher season than the winner, doing well to finish as close as he did having met with significant hampering four out.

He shaped well on return in the Fortria, trading odds-on in-running, and his John Durkan second was a further step forward, comfortably reversing form with the much shorter-priced Real Steel with no fluke about it.

His jumping on Sunday was excellent bar a mistake at the last when in mattered most while he also impressed with how he made up his ground in the middle part of the race, looking to hit the front too soon as well. Perhaps he’s more Grade 2 than Grade 1 class but there are good races to be won with him.

Being Open About Plugs

Minella Melody was an underwhelming winner of a listed hurdle for mares on Sunday, at least relative to the market expectations which sent her off 4/9, though it was interesting to consider the possible reason Henry De Bromhead gave for her seeming underperformance: ‘she didn’t seem to carry Robbie and he thought she might have been a little bit flat…we had cotton wool in her ears the last day and again today but I’d say we’ll be pulling that out the next day.’

The ‘cotton wool’ he refers to is a form of ear-plug, a method of blocking out noise that can be used to help settle a keen horse. I don’t know how extensive their use is as I don’t get racing as much as I used to and with them not being declared the only way to check is to get up close in the parade ring.

They certainly aren’t uncommon though and anecdotally at least Willie Mullins seems to use them a lot, hardly surprising that the Champion Trainer is always looking for an edge. As a method of settling a keen horse, he does seem to prefer them to the hood; since that piece of equipment was first declared in 2013, his strikerate with it is 18.8% while without it in the same period it is 28%.

In an ideal world, information about ear-plugs, cotton wool or otherwise, should be declared, something trainers would hardly be delighted to do as it adds another layer of administration. But minutiae of this kind – indeed all kinds – can matter.

Consider the case of Mr Adjudicator winning a valuable handicap hurdle at Punchestown last May after being pulled up at Fairyhouse just 11 days previous, Ruby Walsh reporting to the stewards that his mount had been ‘reluctant to race.’

Following his win, the improvement in form was put down to his not wearing ear-plugs at Punchestown and also a new bit being tried though Walsh – by this time retired and on TV duty with RTE – also said that his tongue-tie had been applied too tightly at Fairyhouse.

I appreciate those are mixed messages and that can be the way with the multiple voices in the Mullins yard, but the overall point is clear; Mr Adjudicator had underperformed on his previous start and they felt some new things had to be tried. It would have been nice to know what they were in the race-card beforehand.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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