An acquaintance who gets into a sweat about ratings and the pattern and such like opined at the weekend that calling the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle a top class race because it is “Grade 1” is like calling Sligo Rovers top class because the word “Premier” is in the League of Ireland title. Which is very unfair – on the Hatton’s Grace.
Every so often the race doesn’t just throw up a top class winner, but an iconic one. Istabraq certainly qualifies. Brave Inca in his own way too. And Hurricane Fly might yet come into the category. Any iconography in the League Of Ireland is purely wishful thinking.
But his point is that Zaidpour & Co would have run in this year’s Hatton’s Grace if it was a Grade 2, and been grateful for the opportunity.
There are holes in the argument. Zaidpour had after all already won a Grade 1 before Sunday. And Voler La Vedette might have won her sole Grade 1 to date in 2011 but that World Hurdle effort afterwards was surely a topper.
But it’s hard to argue with ‘Statto’ when he throws Oscar Dan Dan, Catch Me and Aitmatov at you, and throwing Solerina back at him earns the riposte that she never won a Grade 1 anywhere else, which isn’t true but doesn’t stop him looking smug.
This corner learned its lesson long ago when it comes to such arguments.
After a succession of less than inspiring Phoenix Stakes winners in the 1990’s, a mild query as to whether the race was really worth Group 1 status provoked a world of pain, which subsequently got worse when the first two in the renewal slagged off by yours truly proceeded to race as three year olds.
Las Meninas won the Newmarket 1,000 Guineas and Turtle Island managed to win the Irish 2,000 Guineas by fifteen lengths – that’s fifteen! Best to stay ‘shtum.’
What Sunday showed, indeed what most big-race weekends in Ireland show, is that while there is a gratifying mix of class performers out there they swim in a relatively shallow pool.
And that is usually the way here. Dawn Run didn’t have much to run against domestically bar Buck House. Istabraq mostly enjoyed solos when staying at home. Moscow Flyer was the same. There was a golden era of hurdlers with Brave Inca, Hardy Eustace & Co but that was exceptional.
What the weekend also showed is the overwhelming strength of Willie Mullins. Just sixteen runners lined up for the three Grade 1’s at Fairyhouse and he had six of them. It really is getting Ballydoyle-like, which is incredible considering so much is reliant on Mullins’s own eye for spotting and then acquiring talent.
To other things: A verdict of a ‘nose’ equates in strict measurement terms to about an inch. That’s what First Friday had in hand of Balmont Flyer at the end of almost a mile and a half at Dundalk last month. So, did his gradual drift right, even if he didn’t physically interfere with his rival, gain him more than an inch?
The stewards on the night decided it did and reversed the placings. Last week the Appeals & Referrals Committee decided it didn’t and switched them back again.
No one can say for certain who’s correct but when it comes to such a miniscule distance, on what basis did the committee believe their racecourse colleagues got it wrong enough for them to switch it again?
The appeal was based on the simple proposition that the Dundalk stewards “erred.” And the committee decided they were not satisfied First Friday improved his placing.
But on the basis that a straight line is the quickest way of getting from A to B, Balmont Flyer was taken off his optimum racing line by First Friday. Was that worth an inch, or more? Who knows for certain, but surely in such a marginal call, there should be an inherent swing towards the sinned rather than the sinner.
Declan McDonogh and the Aga Khan always looked a logical fit for next year and so it has proved.
In fact the only surprise is the 2006 champion jockey hadn’t been snapped up by one of the major outfits either here or in Britain before this.
Hugely strong, and polished in a finish, the Group 1 opportunities presented to McDonogh by Kevin Prendergast over the years have been availed of with an efficiency that might have been expected to catch the eyes of the big battalions.
But the jockey will have the ammunition now to press on in a major way. Especially since by statistical averages, John Oxx must be due one of his top-notchers again soon.
There’s no doubt Bob’s Worth is a top-notcher and there’s little surprise he has been promoted to the top of some Gold Cup ante-post lists on the back of a fine Hennessy success.
There’s plenty to like about the horse, especially an attitude that makes him keep pulling out more each time Barry Geraghty asks.
But it’s significant the jockey’s immediate post-race comments included an observation that he was at the pin-of-his-collar for much of the race.
Unless the Gold Cup ground turns bottomless, the ability to travel through the race is vital, as is a pretty much flawless round of jumping. Maybe it’s delusional but Bob’s Worth looked sticky at a few of the obstacles at Newbury.
All it will take at Cheltenham is one mistake and even all the grit in the world may not be enough.