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FAIRYHOUSE, 1st December 2018
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My first trip to Ireland for ages and first visit to Fairyhouse, where heavy overnight rain and morning drizzle meant that any good to firm that in the ground had gone and the going was given as good all round.
There was a really strong entry at the four-day stage for the two-mile five-furlong beginners' chase, Bleu Berry and Champagne Classic rather jumping off the page, but neither of them were declared and it looked a good opportunity for Any Second Now to finally break his duck over fences, only for him to decline the chance to do so on the run-in, Mortal outbattling him.
Mortal (8/1 to 10/1), a well-made, deep-girthed gelding out of useful steeplechasing mare Pomme Tiepy, didn't look absolutely spot-on for fitness, but jumped soundly up with the pace, pulled clear with the favourite going to the last and, though outjumped by him, pulled out more under pressure in the last 150 yards, Rachael Blackmore (replacing JJ Slevin) seen to good effect.
As genuine as Mortal was, you have to say that Any Second Now spurned a good opportunity. A tall, workmanlike gelding who looked well, he edged closer from the midfield, was shaken up at the second last and the first two pulled clear; he looked to have it after getting the better jump at the last and going half a length up, but he didn't find anywhere near as much as Mortal under pressure. The ability is there, but he could probably do with being produced as late as possible.
Cherokee Bill (tallish, well made) set the early pace before being collared and will be one for mid-grade handicap chases, while Moonshine Bay (tall, well made) survived a blunder at the eighth before boxing on well late, almost getting third from Cherokee Bill.
Dolciano Dici was one of the less impressive types in the paddock, only medium height, but was fancied at 7/2. His pedigree suggested that he might struggle with the longer trip, and after a mistake at the third last he dropped away to finish tailed off - he could do with dropping back to two miles, while Agent Boru, for all he'd shown promise at Naas in November when fourth to Discorama (Any Second Now fifth), is only smallish in size and didn't jump well here, unable to challenge as a result.
The biggest disappointment of the race was Flawless Escape (medium to tallish, workmanlike), who wasn't bigger than 3/1 in the market; he looked well for his seasonal and chasing debut, but lost his place a mile from home and trailed in, having ended up 15 to 20 lengths behind with four to jump. He was a disappointment when fancied for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival also, and possibly isn't as good as many thought he was back in March.
In the two-mile four-furlong mares' handicap chase two in-form mares came to the fore; tearaway leader Presenting Mahler, who started sweating behind as the preliminaries wore on and probably wasn't herself when the race got underway, was ignored and eventually emptied after the third last.
Mrs Lovett (medium height, leggy) travelled best when looming up to Teacher's Pet from the second last and went on at the last, ridden out and just holding on from the staying-on runner-up. She's unexposed and there might well be more to come.
Timeforwest (about medium height, well made) was held up in rear and given a bit to do in relation to the winner, closing up to get into the midfield on the home turn, shaken up at the second last, ridden and staying on into second at the last and finishing well, never quite getting there, and giving the impression that if she'd been ridden closer to the pace, she might well have challenged the winner. There's another win in this one too.
Teacher's Pet (medium height, deep girthed) was well positioned throughout the race and led at the second last once Presenting Mahler finally dropped away, and stayed on under pressure, but Mrs Lovett was clearly going the better between the last two and Teacher's Pet couldn't find extra. She's more exposed than the first two home, but is likely to go well again next time - she's proven on heavy ground, and over two miles seven furlongs.
On to the feature on this card, the two-mile EasyFix Handicap Chase; it wasn't the most competitive renewal, but those at the head of the market came to the fore, and there may be more to come from the first two home, particularly the runner-up Arvico Bleu, who rather pressed on with long-time leader Balbir Du Mathan from the seventh to the ninth.
Duca De Thaix (medium to tallish, workmanlike), a flop in the County Hurdle at the last Cheltenham Festival, arguably hadn't found much in beginners' chases at Navan on his previous two starts, but was wearing cheekpieces for only the second time and his resolution couldn't be faulted, tracking the leaders from the fifth, closing up further on the bend and asked for an effort between the last two, ridden clear from the last. The Grand Annual at the 2019 Festival picks itself as his Cheltenham target, as long as his rating doesn't nudge 150.
Arvico Bleu, tall, well made and on his toes, might beat Duca De Thaix if they meet again, for he rather pressed on in front with Balbir Du Mathan from halfway and left himself with nothing in reserve after the last, having been towards the head of the main group from the start, he finally got the lead at the third last and held it under a ride until approaching the last, finding no extra on the run-in.
Stowaway Forever (well made) is yet to win a race, and though the ability to do so is clearly there, his resolution at the business end is holding him back; after making good ground from the back after the fourth last, he hung right under a ride between the last two, and though he kept on a little, he was never reaching the first two.
All The Answers (well made), made favourite on account of his last time out-win in a similar contest at Cork - with Blast Of Koeman in third - found this a stronger race and, after seeming poised on the home turn, couldn't do any more between the last two fences, not fluent at the last, while the aforementioned Blast Of Koeman (tall, workmanlike, was available at 8/1 in the last 30 seconds before the off) had blinkers instead of cheekpieces and though they worked to an extent, for he was going comfortably off the home turn, nothing much happened after he put in an awkward jump at the second last.
Much of the interest in the 20-runner two-mile two-furlong maiden hurdle was lost with the withdrawal of Raya Time, who'd shown promise at Down Royal after trying to run out at a hurdle on the back straight, and expensive point-to-point recruit At The Acorn, but there was still something about it on paper and the most interesting horses who took part came to the fore, with the exception of Diamond Hill.
Lone Wolf (about medium height, deep girthed), who returned to bumpers and won at the Punchestown Festival over two and a quarter miles after shaping as though wanting a step up in trip already on his only hurdles start, once more suggested that in the region of two and a half miles will suit him after needing to work hard to land this, prominent (mistake second), hard ridden after the second last and making up two to three lengths on Defy De Mee to prevail, going away at the line.
Defy De Mee wasn't the number one of Willie Mullins' pair here, but was the pick of the paddock, a tall, workmanlike chasing type who looked very well. He ran as well as he looked, setting the pace, making a mistake at the fourth, sent clear from the third last, ridden two out and hanging right between the last two, sticking to his ground when Lone Wolf took the lead from him on the run-in. He has a bright future, with fences sure to bring out the best in him.
Wide-margin Navan bumper-winner Column Of Fire is only smallish and not one for the long term; his lack of size might well have contributed to the two mistakes he made, at the fifth and last, and he wasn't getting to the first two with two to jump.
None of the others shaped with real promise, including third favourite Diamond Hill, who having raced prominently, stopped very quickly before a mistake at the fourth last, weakening markedly and about to end up tailed off when pulled up before three out.
The two-and-a-half mile rated novice hurdle, in which horses rated higher than 125 were barred, looked mildly competitive, the whole field evenly matched on my ratings, and therefore Eclat Des Mottes didn't deserve to be a short-priced favourite - sure enough he didn't figure, but those who were up there at the business end give the result a solid look.
Jack Dillinger (only workmanlike, unlikely to make a chaser) has all the stamina going in his pedigree, but up to this point was struggling to last even two miles, having usually pulled hard in front. This time he was ridden differently, dropped in midfield, and produced to challenge after the second last, clear at the last, where he made a mistake, and ridden out. He should go on from here.
Court Tycoon (tall and leggy) was in theory the pick on form, thanks to running well in a Class 2 handicap hurdle at Carlisle when last seen - runner-up to the progressive Aspen Colorado off a British mark of 122, significantly higher than his Irish rating coming into this, which was only 111 - if it was once the case that Irish horses were leniently treated in British handicaps over jumps, it isn't always so now. He was ridden at the second last and couldn't match Jack Dillinger from between the last two, already held when making a mistake at the last, giving his running all the same.
Jack Fiasco, a well-made chasing type, was tried in cheekpieces after racing lazily on previous starts. Having been placed over three miles when last seen, sensibly he was made plenty of use of up front, making the odd mistake, and pressed on from four out, but the game was up at the second last, unable to hold on to second after his final error at the last. Stamina is his forte and strong handling is what he needs, but he'll do better over fences - it wouldn't be a surprise to see him in an Irish Grand National one year.
Eclat Des Mottes, not a chaser in the making, had the same chance as the majority rather than that of a favourite and shouldn't have been as short as he was (6/4 to 5/4) – already struggling at the fourth last, nothing much happened when he was ridden after the next. The stewards reported that he was found to have sustained a wound in running.
What looked a tricky 80-130 handicap, run over two miles four furlongs, was anything but, with Nobody Home sailing off into a clear lead and nobody making inroads at any point, and Jetez occupying second throughout despite a less-than-perfect round of jumping - behind those there were a couple of horses whose efforts could be marked up.
Nobody Home poached a lead at the tape, was 25 lengths clear at the fourth last and still some 15 to 20 lengths ahead on the home turn, ridden out for an unchallenged victory. He's unlikely to be allowed such rope next time.
Jetez (medium height, well made) chased Nobody Home throughout and was clear of the rest himself, disputing that position with Bog War for a chunk of it, and was hard ridden and unable to come up with extra in the straight, fading and just holding second. He could do with improving his jumping, having made mistakes at the third, seventh and last.
Fruits Of Glory, a well made, chasing type (maiden after six chase starts), hasn't won over hurdles since February 2015, so maybe his run here isn't the promising performance that it seems, last of all early on, starting to pass rivals from the sixth and having a lot to do with three to jump, staying on and challenging for second when blundering at the second last, keeping on from the last; there are lower grade handicaps he could go for off a rating in the region of 100, which he had here.
The only other one to show any promise was Small World, who'd stayed on from mid-pack when making a mistake at the third last, after which he was playing catch-up under a ride, and unable to make any gains from the second last. He may well have made the frame without the mistake and might go well next time.
So to the closing bumper, this for five- to seven-year-olds, and it was one for those who follow positive market signals, Desir Du Large beating the two most fancied.
Desir Du Large (well made), formerly with Mouse Morris, was debuting for Joseph O'Brien here and became the trainer's fourth winner on this card: looking as though the run would bring him on, he covered the move when Valdieu went on turning for home and swept to the front in the blast two furlongs, winning decisively. He's got a future, and should crack it as a chaser down the line.
Valdieu, only workmanlike and not a chaser of the future, was produced to lead on the bridle turning in, but had no answer to Desir Du Large's turn of foot, and it's beginning to look like he won't win a bumper, this his sixth try, but the third Boston Hill (well made, patchy in his coat), who has stringhalt in both his hind legs, shaped with promise, not well placed in the blast half mile but nothing finishing faster as he took third in the straight.
Yendo, from the family of Looks Like Trouble, was well touted beforehand and looked the part, a tall chasing type, unfurnished at the moment, and was fit. Asked to make the running, initially at a steady pace, he increased the gallop after the first mile, but the response wasn't much when he was tackled on the home turn. He's more of a long-term prospect though, so perhaps little attention should be paid if he's beaten again in future bumpers.
Horses to take out of the meeting
Dolciano Dici (over two miles)
Defy De Mee
Jack Fiasco (in the long term, when going chasing)
Trainer to keep an eye on
Joseph O'Brien - any more four-timers, like he had on this card, and we'll be talking in terms of 'the big three Irish jumps stables', rather than the present big two
Where to go before racing
If you're off to Fairyhouse and you've got time on your side, head to Caldwell's Coffee House in Ratoath - as well as making one of the best cappuccinos, they're huge on cupcakes
A mural of Desert Orchid in Ratoath. Dessie won the Irish Grand National in 1990