Perennial standard bearer possibly facing ‘new’ competition

Musings on mixed feelings regarding such luminaries of the flat scene as Bob Bafford, Todd Pletcher, Aidan O’Brien, Dermot Weld and John Oxx might seem a strange place to begin a look into the jump racing season unfolding by the week. Such are the vagaries of racing, however, very often one code overlaps the other. The first two mentioned above are, to my mind, the top trainers on the level in America. Both enjoyed (or endured) a cacophony of outcomes during the recent Breeders Cup two day fixture at Santa Anita. In the end, though, they were both – to some extent – left playing second fiddle to the O’Brien camp.

Robbie Power
That said, even Ballydoyle were left in the shade by the victory of and story behind Mucho Macho Man. Only beaten last year in the biggest race of a night of mammoth contests, the ultra consistent steed – whose trainer is a heart transplant survivor – made amends this team round. Only after a heroic effort by Joseph O’Brien and Declaration Of War. Presumably that combination will be back to try again next year.
Irish eyes had, of course, been smiling when Ryan Moore waved the wand and got Magician up to nail the British ‘talking horse’ The Fugue. Thus continuing O’Brien’s excellent record at the Breeders Cup. The following day, the team rounded off the final day of the flat season in the manner they had influenced it throughout – by dominating with a treble.
Johnny Murtagh rounded off a truly remarkable campaign fittingly as well, by capturing the (M)November Handicap aboard Jimmy Lambe’s Sir Ector. Alas, it was impossible not to feel a deep pang of sadness throughout the day. That’s not to take away from Dermot Weld having his first winner for the Aga Khan – or to bemoan the fact that Rosewell now has stock from His Highness – but the way John Oxx was treated will forever leave a sour taste.
Anyway, the conclusion of the flat season would normally see Aidan O’Brien fade from view until early March. No chance of that this year. When bumper runners began emerging from Cashel towards the end of the last National Hunt campaign, it was clear something major was most likely afoot.
Optimism opined at the time was well founded. A few bumper winners duly followed, but, matters were ramped up another notch when Carraiganog put in a polished performance when claiming a Clonmel maiden hurdle. More significant, still, is surely the fact that when that one sauntered up again at Wexford, it was bedecked in the green and gold silks of a certain Mr McManus. Memories of Istabraq, anyone?!
Originally, overtures emanating were that Aidan was “Training a few bumper horses for Sarah (his daughter) to ride”. JP now being on board, not to mention Con Power being brought in to school the jump horses, suggests something much more significant than that. Indeed, things could be said to have been upped another gear when Ann Marie O’Brien’s colours were again carried to victory by Robbie Power at Naas on another jumping recruit, Noah Webster. Factor in that McManus and the Coolmore partners rarely do things by half measures and it beings even more intriguing.
For racing on a broader scale, that can only be a good thing. Willie Mullins remains considerably ahead of the rest of the pack, simply because nobody can match the firepower based in Closutton. In fact, it must be with trepidation others see leading UK owners like Ronnie Bartlett and Simon Munir added to the roster.
They should, however, draw solace from knowing the perennial standard bearer is possibly facing ‘new’ competition with Ballydoyle back in the mix. For it’s most unlikely that O’Brien has returned to the jumps sphere in a flippant manner designed to see him make up the numbers. To that end, recruitment of show jumping legend Con Power to assist in the preparatory work for the jumping horses is surely a statement of intent.
Willie and Aidan are two of the greatest trainers the sport has seen. If their horses do clash over obstacles in the weeks and months ahead – a scenario that seems inevitable – it will again underline the instances in which the racing codes crossover. Perhaps, though, the greatest manifestation of that has already occurred after Mullins’ Simenon came within yards of winning what some would call the greatest flat race in the world, the Melbourne Cup.
Speaking of intent, don’t be surprised if he pulls the feat off soon. He’s already stated this year’s runner will go back and will next time have company. In the meantime, the prospect of Mullins and O’Brien tangling in the other arena will surely add even more spice to should be a great jumps winter to speed things towards better weather and hopefully improvements on other fronts too.
To make things even more interesting, punters could do worse than keep an eye on the following:

VERY WOOD  (Noel Meade)
TEXAS JACK (Noel Meade)
CHAMPAGNE FEVER (Willie Mullins)
MOYLE PARK (Willie Mullins)
RATHVINDEN (Willie Mullins)
UN DE SCEAUX (Willie Mullins)
GOONYELLA (Jim Dreaper)
SIZING COAL (Jim Dreaper)
SIZING RIO (Henry De Bromhead)
MINELLA FORU (Eddie Harty)
AZORIAN (Eoin Griffin)
FLEMENSTAR (Tony Martin)

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