The Christmas racing feast marks the halfway point in the National Hunt season – and it’s over! Which means there are only around 12 weeks to the Cheltenham Festival. Once that’s out of the way – like it or not – the jumps season is entering its final few furlongs. Things appear to be moving at even more of a whirlwind pace than usual this season.
That applies in more ways than one, too. After the Fairyhouse Winter Festival, it was opined that several pointers towards potential March winners had been thrown up and that Leopardstown over Christmas was likely to unearth even more thereof. As well as franking a few views.
Following the two day fixture at my local track and – in particular Jezki’s garnering of the Hattons Grace Hurdle thence, I made known my feelings that he wasn’t fancied to depose the incomparable Hurricane Fly. To his credit, Jessica Harrington’s gelding was closing the gap at the end of what was a very messy race when they recently clashed. Yet you still felt champ won a shade cosily.
Apart from the Hurricane, the other horse of intrigue to me lately has been the Tank – The Tullow Tank, that is! Like the rugby player he was named after (Sean O’Brien), this lad looks more impressive with every viewing. His Fairyhouse victory was good, but his Leopardstown effort was even different gravy to that. Yes, Moyle Park ran deplorably and is unlikely to again, but, the most exciting thing regarding the tank is the sense there’s more to come from the Tank.
It’s good to see Philip Fenton with a top horse again, having seen other stars Dunguib, Last Instalment and the sadly ill-fated Venture Capital redundant . Value At Risk is another to watch for the trainer while also noteworthy is the roster of horses assembled by owner Barry Connell.
This lad, Mount Benbulben and Minsk being the pick of the more exposed ones thus far while – going forward – the Ted Walsh trained duo of Champagne James and Foxrock as well as Golantilla (Tony Martin) could be well worth jotting down.
As ever, the Lexus Chase was the highlight of the four days action. That Bob’s Worth won it shouldn’t be a shock. Nor should the admirable First Lieutenant running another blinder in defeat. What was startling, though, was the storm which whipped up in the following days as Davy Russell was removed from his position as retained rider to Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud.
However, maybe, in fact, it wasn’t such a storm. The feeling that all hasn’t been well for a while wasn’t far beneath the surface. It still seems a lousy thing to do though. Especially mid season. And especially as the combination were Champion jockey and owner respectively only last season.
O’Leary’s operation has – in recent times – usurped JP McManus as Ireland’s leading owner. Would that have happened minus DN Russell? On reflection, the sense that all hasn’t been well has prevailed for some time. How many times did Davy ‘end up’ on the wrong horse in races where his erstwhile employer had multiple runners? Still, when somebody as high profile as the man in this case is cast from the ship it’s bound to whip up a few gusts.
Looking at it now, wasn’t it more than telling that, on occasions when Russell did end up on the wrong steed, Bryan Cooper was on the right one? The latter has been one of the burgeoning talents on the scene here in recent seasons. There’s no doubting he has the ability to fulfil the role. Or there was never any doubt from the moment the vacancy came up that he was the one going to be given the onerous task of filling it.
You’d just hope that he’d be able for the undoubted pressure that will accompany the package. His record to date indicates it shouldn’t be a problem. Still, his new boss’s ruthlessness is well known. Despite vehemently disagreeing with what must be classed as an unfair and uncalled for treatment of Russell, this corner would be very fond of Michael O’Leary.
It’s often said nice guys get nowhere, the thing is, however hard-nosed and tunnel vision driven he might be in ways, he does an awful lot of good too and often doesn’t attain due credit for same. Gigginstown and Russell enjoyed great years together, there’s no reason the new arrangements shouldn’t transpire likewise.
The vanquished in this case shouldn’t be forgotten either. Whatever about those who used to pay his wages, eaten bread will not be forgotten by those who dined on Russell’s doings for a long time. You can fully expect him to continue to serve up delights for a long time to come. Either way, some tasty times ahead!