Our columnist reflects on Clan Des Obeaux's King George win, the Rooneys boycott of Cheltenham, Road To Repect's Christmas run and much more.
DON'T UNDERESTIMATE CLAN DES OBEAUX
I thought the King George VI Chase failed to deliver on the excitement front this year, in spite of it being one of the most anticipated that I could recall.
It all rather fell into Clan Des Obeaux’s lap and by saying that, I am not having a go at him. He travelled beautifully throughout the race – run at a right old gallop - and Harry Cobden was coolness personified as he delayed his challenge to Thistlecrack (who performed so well).
Clan won the race very decisively and took a massive step forward, which was not easy to predict beforehand.
Perhaps his trainer had seen it differently. Remember, Paul Nicholls had made no secret of the regard in which he held him. Nicholls’s intuition told him he was a top-class chaser in the making and this marked his and Cobden’s arrival onto the top stage.
But what happened to the opposition? Might Bite, the defending champion, looked a shadow of the horse he has been before. He is not finishing his races this season and clearly has problems. To be honest, it was no surprise to hear he had burst blood vessels and, indeed, that might also have been the issue at Haydock.
For the second year running, Bristol De Mai lost the plot around here and it is clear that this is simply not his track. He remains a mystery wrapped up in an enigma or, on Haydock evidence, a monster wrapped up in an enigma.
Native River getting outpaced and then staying on might have been predicted from this out-and-out galloper and he is a horse that never lets you down.
Politologue, my selection, ran as if he didn’t stay but I am not sure if I can believe it just yet. He made a horrendous error at the first down the back straight on the final circuit that stopped him in his tracks and did well to recover.
At least he finished the race, something that was denied Waiting Patiently who was brought down by Bristol De Mai at the ninth fences with a full circuit to go. No wonder Brian Hughes slammed the turf in frustration!
Ruth Jefferson’s gelding is so well named. We hadn’t seen him since last February, when he had looked so classy at Ascot, and now we must wait again before we find out whether three miles (or longer) is his thing. He remains very exciting and, yes, we must just remain patient!
We still don’t know how good he and Clan Des Obeaux are and the same can be said, to some extent, of Kemboy who took the Savills Chase in good style at Leopardstown.
ROAD EARNED MASSIVE RESPECT
Rarely does a chaser suffer as much bad luck as Road To Respect did in that Grade One chase.
Twice in the closing stages, after the fourth last on the bend and then significantly after the third last, Road To Respect nearly came down. Grabbing third place was a real feather in his and Sean Flanagan’s cap, especially as the race was run to suit those sitting handy after an early crawl.
Although Kemboy might well have been flattered (and greatly aided by a tactically astute ride from David Mullins), he still has a bright future.
He has turned just seven and has won his last four chases in decent style. It will be interesting to see how things pan out with him. He has shown a tendency to race keenly, which might have prompted that inspired mid-race move at Leopardstown by his jockey.
However, to these eyes, he does not look Gold Cup type although the syndicate that owns him will surely point him in that direction.
Willie Mullins will finally win the Gold Cup one day but I am not sure it will be with Kemboy.
Although it didn’t pan out for Road To Respect, Noel Meade and Gigginstown will take that on the chin but they were left grief stricken after Disko, their other runner together, suffered a fatal fall.
This hugely talented grey had been off the course for almost 14 months and the joy of getting him back onto the track was horribly short-lived. It can be such a tough game.
ROONEYS BOYCOTTING CHELTENHAM
For Paul and Clare Rooney, running a horse at Cheltenham is too high a risk to take after they instructed their team of trainers not to make entries there for the foreseeable future.
This is their prerogative but it is interesting that over the past five seasons, a strike rate of just 4% at jumping’s HQ is the lowest on their list of winning courses.
Clearly they have not had much luck there at all. Compare that to strike rates of over 30% at more regular haunts such as Cartmel, Fontwell, Hexham and Musselburgh.
The biggest loss to the Festival of the Rooney-owned horses might be If The Cap Fits, an honourable third in the Christmas Hurdle, but who to me was shaping up into a genuine contender for the Stayers’ Hurdle.
He is quoted at just 12-1 by Sky Bet but that is meaningless now as clearly, in his case, the cap definitely doesn’t fit.
JOE MERCER – A PROPER LEGEND
My recent interview with the great Joe Mercer, as part of the new “Legends” series on Sky Sports Racing, was a labour of love.
Joe is a real hero of mine and I got to know him just after he had retired when I volunteered to help finish his biography, which had been started by the then ailing veteran scribe, Richard Baerlein of The Guardian.
It meant regular visits to Joe’s farmhouse in Hermitage just outside Newbury and I couldn’t believe I was staying over and chatting to the man who had ridden Brigadier Gerard, Kris, Bustino, Highclere, Le Moss etc etc.
When making a feature for television, you can’t touch on everything and not everything you have touched makes the final edit.
One thing that was missed out was Joe’s remarkable feat of never ringing up for a ride, very unlike his old mate Lester!
Well, this is not quite true, he did ring up just the once - to ride Time Charter to victory in the 1983 King George after Billy Newnes was banned. What a call to make!
Joe was renewing an association then with Henry Candy’s stable, which dated back into the 1960s, most notably with the champion sprinter Song, trained by Derrick Candy, Henry’s father.
Joe rode 2,810 winners in Britain and you wonder how many more he would have partnered if he had had the inclination to make those calls.
But that simply was not in his nature. And for me it just adds to his appeal.