TRAINERS COMMENTS...TRASH TALK OR WISE WORDS?
You know the jumps season is getting going when all the stable tours roll in, and these days they are everywhere: in print, on digital and even at the end of a selfie stick.
This type of content is not for everyone, but passing them off as filler seems harsh; forming your own opinion is one thing but ignoring the views of everyone else might swing too far the other way.
Over the years, I have held different views on this subject. When first getting into the sport, I probably accepted what the trainer said entirely at face value before later doing a complete 180 shift and deciding that they were all worthless. But, in recent years I’ve tried to balance the two and appreciate the nuances in what they say.
To believe nothing that a trainer says seems to dismiss them all as either eternal optimists or inveterate liars. Some might be one or the other but I suspect they are in the minority and accepting what they say at face value, with a little interpretation mixed in, seems a good starting point until proved otherwise.
There is information of value in what trainers say, especially on things like future targets, preferences for ground or trip, and injuries or setbacks their horses may have had, along with treatments used to remedy them.
ELLIOTT A TRAINER WORTH LISTENING TO
For instance, there is still no declaration of breathing operations in Ireland, but certain trainers like Gordon Elliott tend to be quite open when their horses have undergone such a procedure.
Clearly, they will get plenty wrong, but few – if any – methods are failsafe and can be a useful part of the puzzle, suggesting they might well be in the market a little less than you might think.
There was probably a time when trainer’s comments made a big impact on the betting - for instance, when Paul Nicholls had his high-profile column flagged on the front page of the trade paper, but now the thoughts of these vital human players in a horse race are much more diversified.
We still have major websites such as this one that punters come to for information, but there are also thoughts from trainers on betting sites, on their own webpages, in short interviews with social media people, all of which can provide things of interest, if not massive edges.
Having read quite a few of these over the last few weeks, a couple took my eye away from the more obvious big-name horses. It was interesting Gordon Elliott commented that Pencilfulloflead had been "schooling very well at home" in a recent Racing Post stable tour. That may seem an innocuous comment for a prospective novice chaser, but it came against the backdrop of a brief hurdling career when he jumped like a snooker table.
Bar one big jump on his chase debut, he was good at his fences in winning what is traditionally a strong Galway beginners’ chase and looks a player in the Florida Pearl at Punchestown on Sunday.
Joseph O’Brien’s comment in the same publication on Slige Dala was also notable, saying that “we probably backed up too soon after Listowel when he got beaten at Limerick [and the plan now is] Leopardstown at Christmas”.
That Limerick run was his fourth in little over two months, and his defeat there means he should not be too highly rated over hurdles, having only won his maiden by a nose with the novice handicap hurdle on the final day of the Christmas Festival looking a good target.
FRENCH DYNAMITE LIGHTS EARLY SEASON FUSE
One doesn’t like to overreact too much regarding a single performance early in the season, particularly with older horses returning from an absence, so being forgiving of defeats about A Plus Tard at the weekend makes sense, but at the same time you don’t want to underreact either.
Every November and December there are horses who put up vastly improved performances seemingly out of nowhere, and rather than those efforts being false and the result of facing unfit rivals, they are actually just a sign of progression.
One such horse might be French Dynamite in the Lismullen Hurdle last Sunday. He went into the race as the second-lowest rated runner in the field on 136, but made the 158-rated Sire Du Berlais work to win by half a length, having been keen from the front and jumping well - the race finishing speed saying his lead was not a soft one.
Sire Du Berlais wasn’t likely at his very best over a trip short of his best, but even so French Dynamite still took a marked step forward – the handicapper now has him on 149 – though placing him could be a challenge; he has an entry in the second-season hurdle at Punchestown this weekend, but that might come too soon, while also being an early entry in the Hatton’s Grace.
For a five-year-old that only started under rules late last November, he has come quite a way already, with his only disappointing run when fast-tracked into Grade 1 class against Envoi Allen after just one start. He also comes from a yard that are enjoying a resurgence this season.
It is still early days for 2020/21, but Mouse Morris’s win and place strike-rates this season sit at 16.4% and 37.2%, with his average over the last decade having been 8.4% and 25.0%. He has not run any Gigginstown horses this season, but Robcour have been backing him quite strongly - French Dynamite costing £165,000, with Indiana Jones and Barney Stinson coming in at €280,000 and €105,000, respectively. Sams Profile also holds an entry this weekend having missed last season.
MULLINS TO START FLEXING MUSCLES AT PUNCHESTOWN
The entries for the big Fairyhouse two-day meeting at the end of the month came out last week, and Gordon Elliott unsurprisingly dominates, including eight of the 18 initial entries for the Drinmore.
Joseph O’Brien is also well-represented, albeit mainly with horses yet to run this season, so that seems a case of covering every eventuality. However, the most interesting entires are the Willie Mullins picks.
Mullins-trained runners have been thin on the ground at the big meetings recently, three across the two days of Down Royal and only one last Sunday at Navan, but that is expected to change this weekend at Punchestown.
He has his share of entries in the Royal Bond, with nine of the 26 runners including Concertista the clear pick; she qualifies for the race having broken her maiden over hurdles after 1 February, and would be an intriguing runner as she is already rated 148 and in receipt of a 7lb sex allowance - Envoi Allen having been rated 152 after the race last year.
The sole Mullins entry in the Drinmore was a surprising one, Mt Leinster, but reports are him schooling well over fences despite looking like one that preferred the absence of obstacles on the Flat this summer.