Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer, Kevin Blake has three takeaways from the busy Irish Christmas period which left us with plenty of drama, shocks and talking points.

  • Wednesday 03 January
  • Blog
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Mengli Khan and Sharjah the ones to take from Future Champions

The Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown was an odd race to watch and there have been multiple opinions put forward as to what transpired, why it happened and what we should take from it. While visual analysis of the race is likely to lead to mixed views on how the race was run, hurdle-by-hurdle sectional times leave no doubt as to what happened.

In a nutshell, the Future Champions Novice Hurdle was run at a notably strong pace. The leaders arrived to the third-last hurdle approximately seven seconds (35 lengths) faster than the leader did in the handicap hurdle run over the same trip 35 minutes later and approximately 12 seconds (60 lengths) faster than the leader did in the juvenile maiden hurdle over the same trip earlier on the card.

It is within this context that the performance of a couple of the runners can be upgraded. While the eventual winner Whiskey Sour and Real Steel were quite a long way off the strong pace, the former by design and the latter seemingly due to not having the pace to lay up with the gallop, Sharjah and Mengli Khan were right in amongst it all the way.

For Sharjah to still have been travelling as smoothly as he seemed to be when coming down at the final flight marks him down as a fine prospect that has perhaps been underrated in the aftermath of the race.

As well as that, while Mengli Khan’s exit through the wing of the second-last hurdle came a bit too early to draw firm conclusions of how he would have fared had he stood up, the race had gone all wrong for him prior to that.

He didn’t seem to be suited by being left in front as early as he was and his formerly nimble jumping suffered as a result. While he showed a quirk in doing what he did, he shouldn’t be deserted and if the main protagonists meet again in the two-mile Grade 1 novice hurdle at Leopardstown next month, it will make for a fascinating contest.

Min left with questions to answer

It was widely expected that Min would advertise his Queen Mother Champion Chase prospects in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown on Wednesday, but 2/7 favourite fluffed his lines in dramatic style.

While the six-year-old was harried and fired up by the aggressively-ridden first-time blinkered Tell Us More in the early stages, one would still have hoped that he could have readily seen off the challenge of the well-exposed Simply Ned in the closing stages.

As it transpired, we were denied the chance to see the true result of their battle, as Paul Townend steered Min into Simply Ned’s path on two separate occasions on the run-in, almost putting him through the running rail on the second occasion.

The inevitable stewards’ inquiry saw what will likely be remembered as the most straightforward decision to reverse the placings in a Grade 1 in recent memory. Willie Mullins seemed inclined not to judge Min too harshly on his performance in light of his early exertions, but there is no question that this effort leaves him with plenty to prove as a potential Queen Mother Champion Chase contender.

Min wins at Gowran Park
Kevin feels Min now has questions to answer

An interesting postscript to the race was that Paul Townend only received a two-day ban for careless riding. Perhaps the stewards took the view that taking the race off him was sufficient punishment, but a two-day ban seemed a notably lenient penalty for what was riding that could readily be argued bordered on dangerous.

Had the same manoeuvres that Townend made resulted in Simply Ned clipping heels and coming down or being put through the running rail, one suspects his punishment would have been far meatier. It doesn’t seem right that notably careless actions seem to need to have serious consequences for an appropriate punishment to be dished out.

If such riding is to be discouraged, the stewards should come down hard on it regardless of how severe or not the direct consequences of it were.

Rich Ricci due a change of luck

Rich Ricci is one man that will be happy to see the back of 2017. The charismatic owner is well established as one of the leading owners in National Hunt racing, but having had seven Grade 1 winners in 2012, seven in 2013, nine in 2014, 11 in 2015, 14 in 2016, he has just two such victories to show for his efforts in 2017, namely the Champion Four-Year-Old at the Punchestown with Bapaume and the Morgiana Hurdle with Faugheen.

Injuries and bad luck have more than played their part in this remarkable dip in fortunes, but such a run of form must be tough to take for a man that has had so much success since the very early stages of his time in National Hunt racing.

Kevin Blake
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