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Apologies for the lack of blogs recently. It has been a case of all hands to the deck writing my new punting theories book, From Soba To Moldova, with any spare time dedicated to that project, which will be going to print in just over a couple of weeks and despatched to website members on February 27th. I’m pleased to say that I have finally found a front cover I am happy with of Soba and have the final three chapters of 20 to finalise before proofing and editing.
It has been a case of the quiet before the storm for the first weeks of January but the action is set to ratchet up a gear this weekend for Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham and a good supporting card at Doncaster before it moves up another couple of gears for the inaugural Dublin Festival the following weekend. I wish I could attend but I can’t give up two days to meet the print deadlines but can see it being a regular racing weekend break for years to come as I’m convinced it will be a massive success.
I see that Gigginstown’s Michael O’Leary, after injecting more cash into the Ryanair Chase which now means that Day 3 of the Festival is to be officially known as Ryanair Day rather than Stayers’ Hurdle Day, has been stirring the pot again. This time with comments that he thinks there should be the equivalent of a Ryanair Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. That’s hardly a surprise of course and on many occasions I have vented my anger over this proposal and here I go again. The Champion Hurdle has not managed to attract a double-figure-sized field in three of the last five runnings and such a move would cut its numbers further still. On twitter I read a tweet that summed up the situation succinctly: “Here’s the problem with O’Leary. He thinks his ‘money talks’ approach should supersede any tradition.”
I can’t say that the favourite for a new Festival race of a mares’ novices’ chase particularly gets me excited but I’d take that over a Ryanair Hurdle for fear of the two most important hurdle races being devalued further, which is what the Mares Hurdle did. Apple’s Jade would be clear favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle if she headed there.
The best suggestion of a new race is moving the popular Veterans’ Chase Final from Sandown in the first week in January to a fellow Jockey Club Racecourses-owned course (the Festival at Cheltenham) and replacing the Kim Muir. In one of my very early Cheltenham Festival Betting Guides I put forward a Veterans’ Gold Cup as a suggestion which no one seemed to take very seriously. The difference here being the Final is a handicap so that wouldn’t take runners out of the Gold Cup and the Kim Muir tends to attract a few veterans anyway. I’m in favour.
In addition to his Ryanair Hurdle equivalent suggestion, in defence of the Ryanair Chase which O’Leary sponsors, he laughably argued was the Gold Cup any worse for not having Vautour in it two years ago? Of course it bloody was! Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the conclusion he reached was ‘no’ given that it was his horse, Don Cossack, who then won it whilst the main danger ran in his sponsored race over a shorter trip instead.
I’ll say one thing for Gigginstown, they generally don’t mess punters around by trying to land big handicap coups (maybe not the best timing for that comment as Monbeg Notorious landed a gamble to win yesterday’s Thyestes!) and they support the big races in Ireland with multiple runners but, I think it was interesting that in an interview with Rich Ricci a year or so ago that the most flattering remark that he gave about his main rival was along the lines of that they are very important to Irish racing.
The Grand National weights will be unveiled in a few weeks’ time and let’s hope that Mr O’Leary won’t throw his toys out of the pram like last year. Empire Of Dirt was one of the horses whose allocated weight he took particular exception to and ruled him out immediately. Since then, his eleven-year-old has run two races that were below expectations (so he will surely get a lower weight this year) and he has not yet run this season which leads me to wonder if the Grand National is the big plan for this spring. His Gold Cup entry would suggest all is well.