The Betway ambassador reviews an eventful weekend of racing at Cheltenham and Navan by revealing her standout performers on both sides of the Irish Sea.
I’ll start with an old friend of mine, Foxy Jacks, who regular readers of my blog will know I’ve been a big fan of for years. He’s quirky and isn’t straightforward, but he has a big engine and has now won two big races this year – the Midlands National at Kilbeggan and now this cross-country race at Cheltenham. You can imagine all roads will lead back to the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham in March. That race could really be a hot contest this season, with Delta Work, Galvin, Minella Indo and Foxy Jacks making it a much classier race.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEKEND
Despite all of the good racing this weekend, my top performance was pretty easy to choose. Burdett Road absolutely dotted up in the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham on Saturday. I appreciate that it might not have been the deepest of races, but he travelled so strongly and galloped right through the line. He was a high-class horse on the flat, having won at Royal Ascot, and not many switch from that level to go jumping. It’s exciting for trainer James Owen in his first season.
Sometimes in racing you can be a victim of your own success, and I feel that’s the position that Stage Star may find himself in now. His victory on Saturday was off 155, so you’d imagine he’ll now be in the low 160s, making him almost top weight in any handicap he’ll run in or, more likely, pitching in at Grade 1 class. You have to question whether he’d be able to beat Allaho, Envoi Allen and co. It was another great win for the Owners Group, though. It will have been be a day out they won’t forget and that’s only a positive for racing ownership syndicates.
RIDE OF THE WEEKEND
It has to be Nico de Boinville on Jonbon. Nico is riding out of his skin of late, and his ride on Iberico Lord in the Greatwood could have easily been picked for ride of the weekend. I loved the way he let Jonbon roll down the hill, though, putting pressure on Edwardstone to keep up with him. Knowing that he was on a faster horse, Nico took the pace from Edwardstone and that was the winning move, for me. It was a great performance from both horse and jockey and all roads will lead to the exciting rematch between him and El Fabiolo in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase come March.
BEST OF THE REST
Stellar Story didn’t have a lot to beat, but he did it well. He won’t blow you away, but he gets the job done and deserves a crack in a better grade now.
It was good to see Bob Olinger look somewhat back to his best. He was a high-class novice hurdler but it didn’t work out for him over fences. He’ll continue on the staying hurdling route, which could be very strong this season with Theleme, the French horse who is seemingly incredibly smart, and Teahupoo, whose owner Robcour also own Bob Olinger. On that note, Robcour have invested very well and have plenty of smart young horses. It would no surprise to see their silks continue to be carried to top level success over the coming years.
Facile Vega did well enough on his debut over fences. He didn’t blow me away, but he did it smartly enough. The second horse of Henry de Bromhead’s, Inthepocket, also ran well. They will both be at the top table in novice chases this season. Last year’s supreme winner Marine Nationale is yet to be seen over fences, so that division could be very good this season.
How can you not love Coko Beach? He’s so honest and genuine and loves the big-field handicaps. He was given another great ride by Danny Gilligan. He’ll be running in all the big staying handicaps, with the Grand National his most likely target. The second in that race, Limerick Lace, ran very well and will be very hard to beat when she goes back into races against her own sex. She’s improved over the summer.
It didn’t work out for American Mike following his excellent bumper season, but he looked very good over fences at the weekend. He beat Fact To File, who lacked the experience of racing having skipped hurdling and gone straight over fences – something Willie Mullins has done to good effect in the past with Florida Pearl and Alexander Banquet. I’d say he’ll stay further, but there’s no need at this time in his career and he’ll stick at those middle-distance novices.
One who will want to go up in trip sooner rather than later is Croke Park. He took my eye with his win at the weekend. He loves soft ground and, being only five, he’ll have tonnes of improvement in him.