Summer Jump Racing rarely produces a star of the future. The leading lights of the National Hunt scene are normally on vacation at this time of the year, out in the field. The likes of Sprinter Sacre, Bobs Worth and Hurricane Fly are likely to be laying in the long grass, still months away from entering into the new campaign. An overwhelming majority of March and April Festival winners started their Jumps Racing season in October, November or even December of 2012. Simonsig didn’t jumps a fence until a few days before Christmas. Just occasionally a star of the Winter can be seen competing at this time, with the sun on his or her back. Last year’s summer action saw Countrywide Flame strutting his stuff on the Flat, in preparation for a stunning winter jumps season. There’s often a chance that a decent bumper horse may have a run in July or August over in Ireland, taking advantage of the better ground. But horses such as Baily Green are rare. He started his education over fences during the Spring and Summer of 2012, culminating in a stunning Cheltenham Festival runner-up slot in the Arkle Chase. Roscommon and Limerick are unlikely places to spot a Winter Festival contender, but he proved that on occasion it can happen. He clearly enjoyed the better ground, and went on to run a career best when it mattered. So to this summer. Whilst messrs O’Brien, Bolger, Stoute and Gosden take centre-stage, and rightly monopolize the attention of race fans, have any Jump Racing trainers unleashed a future star, sneaking one along the rail, relatively unnoticed to a distracted eye? Next week Killarney hold their Summer Jumps meeting. The likes of Willie Mullins, Noel Meade and Jessica Harrington will have runners. One of these in particular has a very interesting runner, having already shown a good level of ability. Beachdale Lad is due to run on Tuesday in the Christy McSweeney Memorial Novice Chase. Trained by Jess Harrington he is 2/2 over fences, having won both in impressive fashion. He was a fair sort over hurdles, but by Carroll House out of a Over The River mare, his future always lay over fences. Of course, he could prove to be no more than a decent Summer jumper. But he looks likely to add to his two wins over the coming months, and who knows what may lie ahead. Another horse that has caught my eye over recent weeks is Benemeade. Trained by Noel Meade, sired by Beneficial, out of yet another Over The River mare, he has been winning novice hurdles. At Wexford and earlier this week at Roscommon, he showed a great attitude to win. He should stay further and again should be even better over a fence. Dreaming of Cheltenham Festival winners at this time of year may seem strange to many. But Summer meetings at Killarney and soon at Galway, are to be enjoyed by Jumps Racing fans no matter what level of horse competes. Whilst the Flat season rightly makes the headlines at this time of year, Jumps fans can still get their ‘kicks’, and maybe on a barmy summers evening, dream of glorious Winter winners that lie ahead.
So that’s it then. The season is over and Jump Racing fans are left with this terrible empty feeling. Sure it’s nice to see the sun and feel a little warmer, and there’s always the Flat season to look forward to, but for many the stand out date on the calendar is now Cheltenham in October.
It’s awful to wish the summer away, but the thought of six months or more without Sprinter Sacre is hard to bear.
It really was a fabulous winter full of dramatic racing. So many stars came out to shine, none brighter than Nicky Henderson’s equine superstar. Sprinter Sacre opened his campaign in the Tingle Creek at Sandown; an emphatic win over his main rival Sanctuaire, was delivered with such style.
His win in the Victor Chandler ensured that he would be a short-priced favourite for the Champion Chase in March. Sizing Europe would prove to be his main rival, but in truth the Seven Barrows sensation performs on a different level to other horses. Sprinter Sacre cruised to a 19 length victory.
To Nicky Henderson’s credit he then sent his star to Aintree and finally to Punchestown. It was a brave move to expose the horse to three Grade One races in such a short period, but Sprinter Sacre is exceptional.
The Melling Chase at Aintree proved to be one of the races of the season. His demolition of Cue Card and Flemenstar was breathtaking. Irish racing fans at Punchestown were thrilled to see him in the flesh. Another victory over the wonderful Sizing Europe, brought his season to a close.
The Festivals in March and April were terrific, but great races occured throughout the winter. Bobs Worth was brilliant in the Hennessy at Newbury. Silviniaco Conti maintained Paul Nicholls dominance of the Betfair Chase at Haydock when beating Long Run. And who could forget the King George at Kempton when Long Run got up on the line to beat Captain Chris?
Yet for many, the race of the winter had to be the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. An incredible finish saw four horses hit the line together. Flemenstar had looked a certain winner, yet the ‘old monkey’ Tidal Bay burst through between horses to sneak his head in front where it mattered. First Lieutenant and Sir Des Champs could easily have won in a blanket finish. A length separated all four warriors.
Sir Des Champs went on to chase home Bobs Worth in a wonderful Gold Cup at Cheltenham before getting a much deserved win in the Punchestown Gold Cup in April. He is a top-class staying chaser and looks set to be the main challenger to Bobs Worth next season.
Away from fences, the resurgence of Hurricane Fly was truly thrilling. His win in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January was stunning, and made him the horse to beat at Cheltenham in March. Many, including me, doubted that he could regain his crown, yet he did so in stunning fashion. He followed up with a devastating display at Punchestown.
It may be hard to see new chasers coming through to challenge for top honours, but the opposite is true of the hurdlers. My Tent Or Yours won the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury with ease, before being narrowly beaten at Cheltenham. He is highly thought of by his stable and by the Champion jockey AP McCoy.
Our Conor had impressed in Ireland before arriving at Cheltenham and destroying the opposition in the Triumph Hurdle. His trainer Dessie Hughes believes he’s the real deal. The New One won with a devastating turn of foot in the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham. He seems to have that crucial mix of speed and stamina that is needed to be a Champion Hurdle winner. Add to the list Jezki, another for the JP McManus team, who looked so impressive at Punchestown.
Sadness at a season over, quickly turns to this anticipation of a thrilling season to come. These emerging stars will attempt to topple the established heroes. The likes of Hurricane Fly, Bobs Worth and Sprinter Sacre will look to continue their dominance. Let’s hope Big Buck’s can return to take up the challenge laid-down by Solwhit and the hugely talented At Fishers Cross.
It all sounds rather exciting. Away you go Tweed Jacket and Mustard Cords. I’ll see you soon.
Could Punchestown Festival 2013 be the greatest of all time? Jump racing superstars are set to gather for a season finale celebration.
Sprinter Sacre is the headline act, but what a supporting cast. Hurricane Fly, Quevega, Sir Des Champs, Long Run and Solwhit to name just a few, are set to make this a week to remember.
One man who has to be followed closely is Irish Champion Trainer, Willie Mullins. His horses are regular visitors to the winners enclosure at Punchestown. Over the last three years he has averaged two winners per day at the festival. This year should be no different.
Conditions are set to be testing during the week, with further showers forecast.
The Willie Mullins team will hope to open their account on the opening day with multiple festival winner Champagne Fever. He renews rivalry with Jezki in the Champion Novice Hurdle. Jessica Harrington’s horse came out on top in the Royal Bond back in December, but Champagne Fever got his revenge at Prestbury Park.
This is a tough one to call. I’m of the opinion that Jezki will improve for his Cheltenham run. He is however a speed horse and it is likely that Ruby will adopt similar tactics to those in March, forcing the pace, trying to draw the sting out of his opponents. Soft ground should favour his horse. I fancy a gutsy win for Champagne Fever. But only just.
The star attraction on the opening day is the magnificent Sprinter Sacre. It is wonderful that Irish race fans will get the chance to see him ‘up-close’ in the flesh. At this stage it is unclear as to who will oppose, but the result is inevitable. Simply sit back and admire equine royalty.
The Champion Novice Chase looks likely to see Back In Focus taking on RSA runner-up Lyreen Legend. The staying novice chase division has lacked an outstanding horse this season, so a surprise result is a strong possibility. The field could include Dedigout who has been second and first in his two previous Punchestown Festivals. I’m willing to take a chance that he can ‘out-battle’ his more fancied rivals.
Willie Mullins will be hoping for multiple winners on Wednesday. Call The Police and Briar Hill are two that I strongly fancy. He has no fewer than five horses capable of winning the 3m novice hurdle. But the horse he would most like to see win on Wednesday is Sir Des Champs.
The Punchestown Gold Cup looks a cracker. The Gigginstown team are double-handed with First Lieutenant joining Sir Des Champs.Nicky Henderson sends over the King George winner Long Run, and Captain Chris represents the Hobbs team. There’s also a chance that Sizing Europe will swerve Sprinter Sacre and go for this instead.
Sir Des Champs is my choice to win the race, but I fancy Captain Chris to go very close. Philip Hobbs has a great record at the Punchestown Festival and his horse is far better going right-handed.
Malt Master can give Nicky Henderson and JP McManus a win in the opener on Thursday. He was second at this Festival last season. I fancy Dylan Ross in the 2m handicap chase, whilst Big Shu can confirm himself as the ‘Cross-Country King’ by winning the La Touche Cup.
All this acts as a tasty hors d’oeuvre with a stunning main course to come. The World Hurdle could be the race of the week. The new staying sensation Solwhit takes on the ‘Queen of Punchestown’, Quevega. The two Cheltenham Festival heroes clash in a stunning head-to-head. Solwhit has had a hectic period, winning at Cheltenham and then at Aintree. He will have to be at his very best to have a chance against Willie Mullins star mare. I take the fresher Quevega to edge it in a thriller.
Twinlight can make it another day to remember for Willie Mullins by winning the Ryanair Novices’ Chase.
The winners are set to continue for Ireland’s top trainer on Friday. The ground is set to quash any hope of a Rock On Ruby win in the Champion Hurdle. He needs quick ground if he is to have any chance against the great Hurricane Fly. Another Grade One looks set to go to the Mullins star.
The champion trainer also holds a strong hand in the Champion Novice Hurdle over 2m4f. However, it is the Gigginstown team that appear to have the ‘Ace’ in the pack. Rule The World will be very hard to beat.
The curtain comes down on Saturday, but what a way to finish. Two stars of the future are set to ‘wow’ their audience. Annie Power should storm to victory in the Mares Hurdle, before Our Connor destroys all-comers in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
The Eurythmics were right. Sweet dreams are made of this.
Spine-tingling sporting performances are rare. Every once in a while the fortunate sports fan is treated to a sporting achievement that hits stratospheric heights. On Friday at Aintree a horse, no ordinary horse admittedly, performed to such a level that onlookers were left grasping for new superlatives.
Sprinter Sacre was running over two and a half miles for the first time. Unbeaten and peerless over fences at two miles, he was stepping out of his comfort zone taking on Cue Card and Flemenstar in the Melling Chase. Nicky Henderson’s superstar looked certain to be tested by top-class opposition who were more experienced and maybe better suited to the distance.
Many pundits questioned whether Sprinter Sacre’s stamina would hold-out in the likely punishing end to end gallop. Both Flemenstar and Cue Card shared the burden up front. Even a rejuvenated Finians Rainbow had a brief spell at the head of affairs. Yet turning for home the writing was on the wall. An ice cool Barry Geraghty pulled the favourite out into the open and released a few inches of rein. Sprinter Sacre breezed past his opponents and cruised to victory with minimum fuss.
Cue Card gave chase and performed admirably. But Sprinter Sacre is in a league of his own. Usain Bolt once won an Olympic 100 metre title after jogging for the last 40 metres. This performance from the world’s greatest chaser was very similar in style and in its impact on the watching fans; we were witnessing an untouchable sporting sensation.
Enormous credit to Simon Holt for his wonderful commentary. “This is unbelievable, Sprinter Sacre’s going to beat the best on the bridle, seeing is believing, see the swagger, what a superstar, nine from nine over fences.”
Seeing was believing. What a performance. What a horse.
Sprinter Sacre, take a bow.
Sporting history is shaped by memorable moments. These moments are often captured in both pictures and words. Three of my personal favourites are: “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over, it is now.” “Brilliant by Quinell, this is Gareth Edwards, a dramatic start, what a score!” And from the great Sir Peter O’Sullevan; “A tremendous reception, you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool, Red Rum wins The National.” In 1977 the greatest Grand National horse, Red Rum, won the World’s greatest race for the third time. It was the moment that I became hooked by the Aintree spectacular. The Grand National is one of the great sporting events. It’s the ultimate equine test. The race distance of over 4 miles along with those wonderful fences and an enormous field of 40 runners, all combine to create ten minutes of sporting drama. Last year’s race was one of the most thrilling for many years. Neptune Collonges, a classy grey from the Paul Nicholls stable, defeated Sunnyhillboy by the smallest of margins. While Cheltenham has its famous hill, Aintree has the incredible run-in from the last fence, around the ‘elbow’ to the finishing line. Races are often won and lost in extraordinary fashion. This year’s renewal is as competitive as ever. Racing experts have studied the field, and in their guides to the Grand National have concluded that all 40 horses are in with a chance. I personally feel that Tatenen will struggle, but if I were to draw him in the office sweepstake I would still sit down to watch the race with a fair amount of optimism. Trends always play a role in selecting possible winners of the Grand National. Horses aged 9, 10 and 11, have a great record. Carrying too much weight is a definite negative, though in recent years, ‘too much weight’ seems to have risen to around 11 stone 6. Last year’s runner-up, third and fourth all return for this year’s race. They could all be in with a chance as the field turns for home. Cappa Bleu is favourably handicapped and could make the frame for each-way punters. Seabass has to carry 11-6, though I still see him running a big race. Sunnyhillboy is less favourably treated and may have missed his chance after last year’s agonising defeat. I cannot see him carrying 11-4 to victory. On His Own is the big-race favourite. The Willie Mullins horse was running a big race last year when falling at Beechers. His handicap mark is fair and he has to be considered. My worry is that he lacks experience having only run seven times over fences. The horse I’m most keen on in this year’s race is Teaforthree. He won the four-miler at Cheltenham last season on good ground and he was a terrific second in the Welsh National in January. A slight concern has to be his last run at Haydock. He fell away tamely that day, though under top weight in heavy ground. He has been rested since, and if his Welsh National exertions have not left their mark, I feel he is the horse to beat. Across The Bay has to be of interest. He is thought to need soft ground, but he has form figures of (232) from his three visits to Aintree. He is a gutsy performer and at 40/1 is well worth an each-way punt. Chicago Grey is ‘thrown in’ on his best form. He was brought-down in last year’s race, but is also a previous winner of the Cheltenham Festival four-miler. His jumping can be a little sticky, but he is very talented. His rider Paul Carberry has already won the Welsh National this season. Finally, two other well-handicapped horses with an each-way chance are Rare Bob and Quiscover Fontaine. Both came down in last year’s race, with Rare Bob brought-down whilst Quiscover Fontaine got in too close at the 17th when going well. Quiscover Fontaine was only just behind Sunnyhillboy in the Irish National two years back and looks a forgotten horse to me. He is now the right age and only carries 10-7. Rare Bob is classy and only carries 10-6. So there you have it, simple. Back every 9, 10 or 11 year-old each-way and sit back with a huge smile on your face, waiting for sporting history to be written. My Grand National first six prediction: 1 Teaforthree 2 Chicago Grey 3 Rare Bob 4 Seabass 5 Across The Bay 6 Quiscover Fontaine Good luck!