It was a quiet week in Ireland but Donn McClean has three horses who need noting as they seem to have slipped underneath the Cheltenham radar.
Fury Road - Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle
Fakir D’Oudairies Ryanair Chase
Castlebawn West - Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup
Navan and Thurles fell to the elements over the weekend, which was a pity. It meant that we didn’t get to see Allaho back over two and a half miles again, taking on Battleoverdoyen and Annamix and Easy Game, and that we didn’t get to see Colreevy or Gentlemansgame or Riviere D’Etel or Column Of Fire again.
The good news is that the two weekend meetings have been re-scheduled for this week, Thurles on Wednesday, Navan on Friday, either side of Gowran Park’s Goffs Thyestes Chase meeting on Thursday. Weather permitting, it should be a highly informative week.
In the meantime, here are three horses who are in danger of dropping into the ‘Forgotten About’ folder, but in whom it may pay to retain faith.
Fury Road is one. Gordon Elliott’s horse was disappointing on the face of it on his latest run when, sent off as favourite for the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, he could finish only fourth behind Flooring Porter, but there was mitigation. For starters, he was short of room on the run out of the back straight that day, at a crucial stage of the race, which didn’t help. Also, you can usually forgive a horse one disappointing run, and a few of the Gordon Elliott horses performed below expectations at the Christmas festivals.
And it may be that, for some reason, Fury Road just isn’t at his best at Leopardstown. He was well beaten when well fancied in a bumper there at the 2018 Christmas Festival, and he only finished fourth behind Latest Exhibition in the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy and Partners Novice Hurdle at the 2020 Dublin Racing Festival. His record at Leopardstown now reads 544, whereas his record at all other tracks under Rules reads 1311131.
Fury Road was a progressive staying novice hurdler last season. He won his first three races, including the Grade 2 novices’ hurdle at Limerick’s Christmas Festival that had been won in the past by Faugheen and Martello Tower and Penhill, before he was beaten in that race at the Dublin Racing Festival in February. Then he went to Cheltenham in March and ran a massive race to finish third in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, beaten a neck and a nose by Monkfish and Latest Exhibition, despite not having an ideal run through the race.
It looked like a strong renewal of the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the time, and it looks even stronger now. Monkfish has impressed in both his runs over fences this season. Latest Exhibition chased him home in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, and they are now favourite and second favourite respectively in most lists for the (race formerly known as the) RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Also, Thyme Hill, was a close-up fourth in last year’s Albert Bartlett Hurdle, and he is now second favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle on the back of his Long Distance Hurdle win and his big run in the Long Walk Hurdle. The first four in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle were clear of Janidil, who was an impressive winner of his beginners’ chase at Naas in November. It is rock solid form.
At a very basic level, it doesn’t make sense that Thyme Hill is 7/2 and 4/1 for the Stayers’ Hurdle while Fury Road is available at 16/1 and 20/1. The Gigginstown House horse’s chance of claiming the staying hurdlers’ crown is probably a fair bit better than those odds suggest.
Fakir D’Oudairies is another horse in whom it may pay to retain faith. Joseph O’Brien’s horse was pulled up the last time we saw him, but that was in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. It was his first run over three miles, it was the first time that he ventured beyond two and a half miles, and the race was run at an unrelenting, unforgiving pace. And he travelled and jumped well, he was upsides the ultimate winner A Plus Tard for much of the race, until his stamina appeared to ebb at the end of the back straight. Mark Walsh wisely pulled him up after the second last fence.
Fourth to Klassical Dream in the 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as a four-year-old, when he had Felix Desjy and Aramon and Mister Fisher behind him, JP McManus’ horse was a high-class and progressive novice chaser last season. He beat Melon at Navan in November over an extended two miles, and he won the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse in December over two and a half miles. Samcro departed at the second last fence that day, but he still beat the talented Ronald Pump by over 20 lengths.
He was only just beaten by Notebook at Leopardstown at Christmas last season, when he was admittedly in receipt of the 7lb age allowance, but he ran Put The Kettle On to a length and a half in the Arkle, giving her the 7lb mares’ allowance, when he might have been even closer had he not made a bad mistake at the second last fence.
He was racing for just the second time this season in the Savills Chase. He is only six, he has time on his side, and it may be that two and a half miles is his optimum trip, at least for now. He is entered in the Dublin Chase over an extended two miles and in the Irish Gold Cup over three at the Dublin Racing Festival, and you have to think that, of those two races, the shorter race is the more likely option. Alternatively, it may be that the Red Mills Chase over two and a half miles at Gowran Park on 20th February would be a good next step for him now, possibly en route to the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Castlebawn West is not exactly a forgotten horse, he won the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown the last time we saw him, but it may be that he is capable of going up in grade now, possibly more capable than is generally appreciated by the markets.
There was an awful lot to like about the performance that Willie Mullins’ horse put up in winning the Paddy Power Chase. He was admittedly the beneficiary of a really astute front-running ride by Paul Townend. The champion jockey got to the front at the third fence and dictated a pace from there that suited his horse and his positioning.
That said, it is difficult to argue that Castlebawn West wasn’t the best horse in the race on the day by some way, even under top weight. His jumping was metronomic and he travelled well in front to the top of the home straight. His rider didn’t really go for him until they had landed over the final fence and, when he did, he cleared away from his rival to post an impressive victory.
There were two other chases run on the day, the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase won by Chacun Pour Soi and the beginners’ chase won by January Jets, both run over two miles and a furlong. According to some rudimentary hand timings, Castlebawn West got from the fourth last fence to the winning line in a time that was over three seconds faster than the time in which Chacun Pour Soi and January Jets covered the same ground. Remember that Castlebawn West had covered seven furlongs more than both those horses had covered before he got to the fourth last fence, and Chacun Pour Soi chicaned around the final fence instead of jumping it.
As well as that, Castlebawn West carried top weight of 11st 10lb to victory in the Paddy Power, a race in which the lighter weights usually do well. The median weight carried by winners of the race in the last 10 years is 10st 9lb, and the only other horse who carried more than 11st 3lb to victory in that time was Anibale Fly, who won the race in 2017 and went on to finish third in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup and second in the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup. History tells us that it takes a classy horse to carry a big weight to victory in the Paddy Power.
The handicapper raised Castlebawn West by 12lb to a mark of 160, which puts him on the coat-tails of the top staying chasers. And he has only run six times over fences, so he still has the potential to go higher still. He holds entries in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and in the Ryanair Chase. Also, he has now won two of his three races at Leopardstown, and he would be of interest if he took up his entry in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup on 8th February.
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