You know October has dawned when Noel Meade’s horses begin to hit top form. It’s also a fair indicator that the National Hunt season is about to hit top gear. Now, it has often, wrongly, been said that, from a betting perspective, the Tu Va team aren’t as good a value after this part of the season. Of course this is utter twaddle, Noel wouldn’t have been champion trainer seven times and led the money list a dozen times were his horses not in good form throughout the season.
The undoubted highlight from October this year, though, must actually steam from a race one of his didn’t win. That might seem strange, but, to get Go Native back on track at all represented a remarkable effort but Noel, his staff and all concerned. To see the horse run as well as he did in the October Maiden at Navan was even more remarkable. The view was expressed after the race that, had the jockey followed his instructions the horse may actually have won. Still, coming third was a commendable comeback run and hopefully there are more good days to be had with 9yo gelding.
A few days before Navan were the first signs that Meade’s charges were hitting form. Protaras, a recruit from the flat in England, followed up on a very promising chase debut at Galway when scoring at Gowran Park. More noteworthy on that card, however, was a winning return for Andrew Lynch aboard the evergreen Sizing Europe. The Ashbourne jockey has been dogged by injury in recent times but can look forward to another great season with the considerable strength of the Potts team behind him in both Henry De Bromhead’s and Jim Dreaper’s.
For this corner, however, the NH season really kicks off with the first meeting of the winter at Fairyhouse. It’s hardly coincidence that the second Saturday in October is also when Ruby Walsh heads back across the water to take up duty with Paul Nicholls. In terms of the Fairyhouse fixture, winter’s greatest pleasure wouldn’t be back in full swing with a few winners for the Meade team!
And this was no different. Firstly, Benevolent made up for a disappointing Bumper run to comfortably take the Maiden Hurdle under Davy Russell before trainer and owners Gigginstown House Stud when Ally Cascade skated in to take the concluding bumper under Nina Carberry. Nina has hardly ever partnered a more fitting winner, with her having sold the horse to Michael O’Leary.
The following day at Limerick, Noel’s horses continued to run well but other members of the local racing fraternity stole the headlines. Topping the bill was Skryne owner James Swan who saw his Raz De Maree claim the Munster National for trainer Dessie Hughes under Bryan Cooper. And it was Moynalvey based Tony Martin who tasted success as Sraid Padraig was an easy winner of the Beginners Chase in Barry Connell’s silks.
Roscommon’s final engagement of the season also brought local success as Gordon Elliott took the last race at the Connacht venue for this season as former point to point winner Bonisland scored on his racecourse debut in the Gigginstown colours. Elliott recently began working out of his new Longwood base and the undoubted star residing there is another O’Leary owned steed, Don Cossack.
With the likes of him, Mount Benbulben and Bold Optimist, the former Grand National winning handler seems sure to enjoy another successful campaign. Meade and Martin are bound to field strong teams too and don’t be surprised if Jim Dreaper also enjoys a resurgence in form.
They may all, however, end up playing second fiddle to Willie Mullins yet again. Even at the time of typing, the multiple times top trainer has amassed 62 winners. Leaving him a full score of winners clear of his nearest challenger. It’s no coincidence, either, that said individual happens to be Meade!
Putting a number on the quality stars Mullins has at his disposal might be impossible. Foremost among them, though, is unquestionably Champagne Fever. It speaks volumes of what is thought of this season’s Cheltenham Bumper winner when rumblings seem to be that the grey will head straight over fences.