Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan breaks down the Thyestes result and has a juvenile selection for Leopardstown at the weekend.

  • Wednesday 30 January
  • Blog
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Dry January is apparently a thing with some people and it has definitely been a thing for the past month of Irish national hunt racing. I’m talking less about the current period of mild weather than the decimation of the last month’s racing by the establishment of Dublin Racing Festival; the ‘festivalisation’ of the programme book is fine now we’re in the week of but it’s been tough going to get here.

Thankfully the Thyestes card at Gowran last Thursday offered respite in every sense, soft ground bringing good horses out to create strong fields, and the track deservedly got the coverage for their county-stopping feature handicap.

The big race winner Invitation Only was another advertisement for the strength of last season’s staying novice chases, particularly in Ireland. There were early signs of this as The Storyteller won the Festival Plate at Cheltenham and events since the start of the jumps campaign proper have only served to cement that view.

Snow Falcon won the Kerry National at Listowel back in September before Kemboy and Monalee provided a Savills Chase one-two at Leopardstown over Christmas and then Al Boum Photo won another Savills Chase (Tramore version) on New Year’s Day.

All of them are high-class horses but were ultimately tier two novices in 2017/18 though the top tier was probably comprised of only one horse. The daddy of them all, Presenting Percy, returned at Gowran too last Thursday, and his relative freshness ahead of Cheltenham 2019 may be no bad thing. He was a horse that had plenty of racing last term, including over staying trips and in deep ground.

Odds of 10/3 for the Gold Cup will seem skinny to many but I wouldn’t rush to say he is a terrible price or a bad favourite. Backers need to weigh his unorthodox prep and lack of experience in open company against a proven Festival pedigree and a Gold Cup field that hardly looks stellar.

The eye-catcher from the Thyestes was another of last season’s novices, Up For Review . Making his first start of the season, he was dropped out completely, tactics at odds with his previous forward-going style. He got wider and wider as the race went on, so much so that were he ridden by a jockey from outside this jurisdiction, certain podcast presenters might be making gags about it two years on!

Best of those held up and by quite a margin, he made a big move across the top, not easy at a Gowran track where the ground is rising and travelled as well as anything. Provided some slow ground can be found for him, he looks well-handicapped, perhaps even up to winning a graded race, allowing that the trainer has a wealth of options for such events.

Runner-up Alpha Des Obeaux might be the forgotten horse of the race but he was a good advertisement for Gordon Elliott’s use of marginal gains, typically via equipment, to gain an edge. Alpha Des Obeaux hadn’t seemed to have improved for the move to Elliott but the application of first-time blinkers brought out what might have been a career-best over fences.

Elliott has tinkered with headgear before in the Thyestes, Monbeg Notorious sporting the first-time visor when winning the race in 2018, but what might be more interesting ahead of the Cheltenham Festival is his use of tongue-ties.

At the last two Cheltenhams, he has used a first-time tongue-tie eight times with the following results:

  • Apple’s Jade – 2017 Mares Hurdle – Won
  • Barra – 2017 Dawn Run – 2nd
  • Mengli Khan – 2018 Supreme – 3rd
  • Jury Duty – 2018 National Hunt Chase – Unseated
  • Farclas – 2018 Triumph – Won
  • Duca De Thaix – 2018 County – 19th
  • Brelade – 2018 County – 7th
  • Sire De Berlais – 2018 Martin Pipe – 4th

With quite a few of these, necessity seems to have been the mother of invention. Apple’s Jade, Mengli Khan and Farclas all needed to get ground back with other, more fancied, runners in their races having been beaten by Limini, Getabird and Mr Adjudicator on their respective prep runs. Each of them reversed that form at the Festival.

I am sure that, no more than any other trainer, there are occasions when Elliott reaches for equipment out of desperation but at Cheltenham it might be an angle to consider. Following Samcro’s loss in the Fighting Fifth in November, he alluded to the fact that he might change something for the Champion Hurdle. The horse may not even run at the meeting and perhaps we will never know but it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if he had something like this in mind.


The action at Leopardstown this weekend will be anything but dry and there should be plenty of Cheltenham pointers on offer; eight Cheltenham winners ran at this meeting last year.

Events from Prestbury Park last Saturday suggested the Irish juvenile hurdlers are strong so Ireland could be headed for a fifth Triumph Hurdle win in seven years with what is typically the best trial, the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, to come on Sunday.

Sir Erec and Tiger Tap Tap, first and second in a maiden over course-and-distance at Christmas, dominate the betting and have abundant potential. That is already in their respective prices however and the early signs from the form have not been particularly positive.

Nor has the graded race won by Rocky Blue worked out well with both the third and fourth well beaten behind SURIN at Fairyhouse since. That filly pulled 12 lengths clear of the rest with Gardens Of Babylon who she was closely matched with on maiden hurdle form.

A five pounds pull was a help to her at Fairyhouse but even so she may be more progressive than Gardens Of Babylon (who is not a certain runner according to his trainer) having only started her career in October and there was plenty to like about her last win, jumping better than on debut and looking like a stiffer track like Leopardstown would suit. Double-figure odds underestimate her chance here.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Leopardstown 13:15, 3 February 2019

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