Donn McClean looks back on the key Irish action this weekend including more chasing success for the upwardly mobile Carefully Selected.
It was some tussle between Andy Dufresne and Captain Guinness at the end of the Grade 2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.
It probably wasn’t the plan to lead with Captain Guinness, but he was just keen early on and his jumping took him there. Rachael Blackmore allowed him stride on down the hill on the run away from the stands, see if he would settle better in front.
He did, he wasn’t as keen there as he had been in behind, and his jumping continued to be accurate and fast. Mark Walsh allowed Andy Dufresne move up in behind the leader as they started down the back straight and, very quickly, as the betting suggested it would, it was only about the pair of them.
When Captain Guinness flew the second last flight and railed around the home turn, it looked like he had the favourite on the stretch. But the leader got in tight to the last and landed a little flat-footed, while Andy Dufresne flew it. That took Gordon Elliott’s horse to within a neck, and he dug deep on the run in to draw level and go on to win by three parts of a length.
It was a compelling duel and both horses emerged from it with reputations enhanced. They pulled 15 lengths clear of the talented and tough Anything Will Do, a 136-rated rival who was four for five going into the race.
Andy Dufresne was bouncing back from defeat – the first of his career – at the hands of Latest Exhibition in the Navan Hurdle last month, and a strongly-run race over the minimum trip seemed to suit him well. JP McManus’ horse showed a resolution here that we hadn’t seen before, and he can only benefit from the experience.
Captain Guinness was racing for just the second time in his life in public. Henry de Bromhead’s horse had made his racecourse debut in a maiden hurdle at Navan on the day of Andy Dufresne’s defeat, and he had shown a sparkling turn of foot to come clear of his rivals on the run-in in that race, a race that had worked out well in the interim. He jumped really well that day too for a debutant.
He traded at 1.31 in-running on Sunday, probably at the point at which he led on the run to the final flight and, if he hadn’t been as keen as he was early on, he might have prevailed. He should learn to settle better as he gains in experience, and he could improve significantly when he does.
He should do better too in a better race, with a stronger pace and a larger field. His fluent jumping will be a potent weapon for the remainder of the season against fellow novices. He remains an exciting horse.
Carefully Selected was very good in winning the Grade 3 Killiney Novice Chase. Paul Townend sent him to the front at flagfall, and neither horse nor rider saw a rival until they were pulling up after passing the winning line.
His jumping was safe early on, not electric, but he warmed up as the race developed and as he increased the pace, and he was particularly good at the third last fence at an important part of the race.
He travelled well around the home turn and, while Speak Easy mounted a challenge on the run to the last, it never really looked like he was going to catch the favourite. Joseph O’Brien’s runner took an awkward looking fall at the final fence from which, thankfully he got up okay.
This was another step forward from Carefully Selected - Willie Mullins’ horse is lightly raced for an eight-year-old, he didn’t appear over hurdles last season until March, when he won a maiden hurdle at Limerick, and he followed up by finishing third behind Minella Indo and Allaho in the Grade 1 three-mile novices’ hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.
He was a seriously talented bumper horse, he was only beaten a neck by his stable companion Relegate in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, and he finished third in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown, and he has the potential to go high as a staying chaser.
Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile trip should have been on the sharp side for him, but it always looked like he was in control. He should be even better now when he steps back up in trip. It appears that the National Hunt Chase is the Cheltenham Festival target that is being favoured by connections, but he would also be a player in the RSA Chase if connections decided to go there instead.
City Island inherited second place after Speak Easy’s departure. The primary objective for Martin Brassil’s horse here was surely a clear round and a completion after he was pulled up after making mistakes on his chasing bow at Leopardstown at Christmas. In that sense, it was job done. And while he never really threatened the winner, his jumping was much better than it had been at Leopardstown, so at least there is a platform there from which his trainer can build. You can’t forget how impressive he was in landing the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham last March.
Rider Derek O’Connor appeared to be happy with the performance, and he said that he would be even better when he gets back on nice spring ground.
The amateur rider was very good on Rocky’s Silver in the Amateur National. He hunted around in behind, waited for the gap to appear up the inside as leader Biddy The Boss jumped to her left, secured the inside position on the run around the home turn and drove his horse home.
This was another nice step forward by James Dullea’s horse, back over fences and back up in trip. He is only seven and this was just his eighth chase, and he is on a nice upward trajectory. Now two for two at Punchestown, and two for two over fences over three miles or further, his trainer mentioned the Grand National Trial back at Punchestown on February 9 as his next potential target, and that makes a lot of sense.
Le Musigny stayed on well to land the concluding maiden hurdle on his debut under Rules. Held up early on by Rachael Blackmore, Henry de Bromhead’s horse still had a lot of ground to make up as they raced to the home turn as Blackbow and Port Stanley duelled up front. But he stayed on strongly over the last and up the run-in to win nicely. A half-brother to Le Richebourg, it will be very interesting to see where he goes next.
Charlie Stout ran out a good winner of the feature race at Fairyhouse on Saturday, the Dan & Joan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase.
Racing from 8lb out of the handicap, Shane Nolan’s horse jumped well for his young rider Conor McNamara – who also rode Wolf Prince to win the four-year-olds’ hurdle earlier on the day – and he travelled best of all when he moved into the lead on the run to the second last fence. He was challenged by Avenir D’Une Vie from there, and Gordon Elliott’s horse chased him from there over the last and up the run-in, but the winner was always holding the challenger.
The handicapper will have his say now, but this was probably a career-best by Charlie Stout, and he remain be of interest wherever he goes next. A strongly run race over two miles on soft ground suits him well.