Remember last year? When Edwulf came out of the clouds and back from the brink to land the Unibet Irish Gold Cup?
It was some day. It was some training performance by Joseph O’Brien, and it was some riding performance by Derek O’Connor, an amateur among professionals. (Try playing the game, Spot The Amateur. No chance.) O’Connor won the Ride of the Year award at the HRI awards in December for that ride. They said that it was the best ride of 2018, and nobody argued.
Edwulf is as big a price for this year’s renewal as he was for last year’s. The defending title holder. It is a shame that Monalee and Anibale Fly and Balko Des Flos and Noble Endeavor have come out of the race this morning, but it is still a hugely competitive race.
And there is precedent for Edwulf. Carlingford Lough was a 20/1 shot when he won the race in 2016, a year after he had won it in 2015, and the John Kiely-trained gelding’s rider Mark Walsh wore the JP McManus colours that AP McCoy had worn a year earlier, and that Derek O’Connor wore on Edwulf last year. Stranger things.
Road To Respect is the correct favourite for today’s race. Noel Meade’s horse had no luck at all in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas. The sedate pace didn’t suit him, and he was around the inside, where racing room was at a premium, and he stumbled twice at the end of the back straight. In the circumstances, he did really well to get up and finish third.
The Gigginstown House horse is all class. He won the Savills Chase last season, and he finished fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, at a ground/trip/track combination that probably stretched his stamina to or beyond its limit. He should be happier back on better ground today and back over three miles. And he was impressive in winning the JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal on his debut this season.
And Sean Flanagan will wear the blue Gigginstown House cap. That’s massive.
That said, all of that is factored into his odds, and Al Boum Photo could represent the value of the race against him. Willie Mullins’ horse was a high-class and progressive staying novice chaser last season. He was running a big race in the RSA Chase when he came down at the second last fence, and he probably would have won the Grade 1 Growise Chase at the Punchestown Festival had he not run out at the final fence.
In the interim, Joe Donnelly’s horse beat last season’s JLT Chase winner Shattered Love and this season’s Thyestes Chase winner Invitation Only in the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse.
It looks like his upward trajectory has continued this season so far on the evidence of his win in the (other) Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year’s Day, and there is every chance that he will progress from that, his seasonal debut. He is only seven and he has raced just seven times over fences. He has lots of potential for further progression.
It is not ideal that Ruby Walsh prefers Bellshill, and Bellshill is a big danger, but it may have been a marginal call, and that has been factored into Al Boum Photo’s odds. Also, it goes without saying, Paul Townend is a top class rider.
You can argue that case for many in the William Fry Handicap Hurdle, but the case for Cuneo is stronger than most.
Henry de Bromhead’s horse put up the best performance of his career so far when he was stepped up to three miles last time for the Pertemps Qualifier at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.
He hit the front on the run to the final flight that day, and he appeared to idle once he got there. He only got home by a half a length in the end from the fast-finishing Walk To Freedom, but it is probable that he had more in hand than the bare winning margin.
The handicapper raised him by 7lb for that win, but it is difficult to argue that he wouldn’t have won that day with an extra 7lb on his back. As well as that, that was just his fifth run over hurdles and his first over three miles. He has plenty of scope for further progression over stayers' trips as he gains in experience.
The Gigginstown House horse goes well on goodish ground and he goes well at Leopardstown and he stays three miles well and he will have Rachael Blackmore for company. There are lots of positives.