Of all the races viewed in recent times, particularly since Christmas, two stand out. Both won by the same horse. Trained by one of the smallest operators in the country. A man, mind you, with a proven record in demonstrating that size need be no impediment to chasing the dream with horses. Now read on…
The first time the name Dan O’Neill crossed these ears was when my famous neighbour and namesake sent an uncle of mine with a bad back complaint down to the legendary bonesetter in Myshal, Co Carlow. Little was it known, then, that just over a year thereafter O’Neill and a then little known trainer would be garnering national and international stardom thanks to a horse who, fittingly, earned the moniker of ‘The People’s Champion’.
Tom Foley was, you suspect, more farmer than horse trainer before O’Neill’s beloved steed Danoli catapulted him into the amphitheatre with the higher echelons of the sport when capturing what was then the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle. Incidentally, another who would go on to be a doyen of the racing public – Dorans Pride – fell in the same race.
Stories like that of Danoli don’t emerge that much anymore. Mostly because an elite group of seemingly monetarily unbreakable individuals – or operations in the case of Gigginstown – tend to dominate at the flagship events. Everywhere else, as well, for that matter. And, when the jet set get even bigger as certain owners add to their roster, the chances somebody piercing the bubble diminish still further.
Yet Foley may well pitch up at the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival with a live chance of doing just that. The horse referred to earlier, you see, was Never Enough Time, trained by said man. Such was the eye catching nature of his demolition of a field on Thyestes day in Gowran that it actually caused in depth analysis thereof to be postponed awhile.
Simply because in such cases temptation tends to be to suspect that it’ll either end up being exposed as a flash in the pan or that the animal will eventually end up hamstrung by the handicapper. Both theories were resoundingly dismissed when the gelding again followed up under the very impressive claimer Ger Fox at Leopardstown.
That JP McManus owns the horse shouldn’t dilute in any way the achievements of his trainer with him to date or, indeed, the monumental achievement it would be were they to illuminate Prestbury Park. In fact – as was often opined here previously – the fact that the great Limerick man supports people regardless of where they rank in what is – after all – an industry should be seen as a massive endorsement for any individual.
Naturally, Foley wasn’t in the limelight for a while after that standout horse that everybody needs left the limelight. Still, useful sorts such as Whatdreamsaremadeof, Dariak, Playing and in particular Royal Paradise have over the years franked his capabilities when he has had the material to work with.
Hardly surprisingly, much of the Cheltenham talk – especially its potential profitability or otherwise from the perspective of punters – will revolve around Willie Mullins. Such is the battalion of representatives he’s likely to unleash, mind you, it’s hard to make too many bold predictions with running plans for so many still unknown. Particularly the likes of Un De Sceaux and Annie Power.
What can be stated, though, is that the Closutton maestro will be responsible for the one yours truly identified as a banker for the big week (can there be such a thing?) in the form of Black Hercules in the Champion Bumper. Granted, more than Ruby Walsh were impressed with Killultagh Vic at Naas, but Patrick Mullins’ steadfast refusal to desert the former has to be telling. Then again, remember what happened with Briar Hill last year!
Outside of Mullins, even shorn by his own choice of The Tullow Tank, owner Barry Connell could still be a man worth following. Mount Benbulben being added to the World Hurdle mix certainly increases the intrigue while Foxrock would look readymade for the four mile chase. For his part, Golantilla could be the real dark horse and it’ll be fascinating to see how he fares.
Elsewhere, Enda Bolger’s On The Fringe should take all the beating in the Foxhunters, and if Dunguib turns up in one of the handicaps it could be one of the great Festival stories. Yes, his trainer may be under something of a cloud but any man is entitled to be considered innocent until proven otherwise. I remain convinced, also, that the horse’s natural talent is such that he too should get the benefit of the doubt.
Finally, Arthur Moore may not send many over, but, as was proven with What A Charm some years back, he’s a man that merits utmost respect when doing so. Thus, punters could do far worse than take a chance on his Sea Beat (14/1 in places) in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle.
Anyone looking to have a few bets for the week could (hopefully) do worse than side wth the following:
Lucky 15 with: Irving, Benficient, Black Hercules, Foxrock. Lucky 15 with: Faugheen, On The Fringe, Calipto, Ted Veale. Each way options: Sea Beat, Never Enough Time, Dunguib, Los Amigos.