Going for a spin around dusk and seeing the cattle’s breaths preceding them is a sure sign the back end of the year is afoot. Which in turn renders it necessary to commence preparations for housing livestock. Although when they are housed, and being in and around that whole setting, holds its own unique appeal, the dark part of the year can take quite a bit of getting through.
Away from the farming side of things, the number one antidote to such travails is unquestionably National Hunt racing. Like nothing else, the return of jumps action to Fairyhouse readily signifies the more palatable part of winter is upon us. And even though there was the unexpected bonus of taking in an enjoyable and informative meeting at Navan last month, the Fairyhouse October meeting is – for me at least – when the racing gets serious again.
Not least because that particular Saturday coincided with when Ruby Walsh tended to return to Paul Nicholls for winter Saturday duty. Ruby stays local these days, but, it was hardly coincidence that this year it was the day Barry Geraghty chose to seriously resume duties across the water. Well worth his while to do so it was, too, as he clocked up two winners.
What characterises the Fairyhouse October meeting? Usually a fairly ample supply of winners for Noel Meade! So it was this time around, the only difference from the norm being that the unseasonal autumnal warmth added to the comforting familiarity of it all. A day which began with the usual, much appreciated, welcome from course Manager Peter Roe ended with a yearning for the next instalment having seen some very promising talent on show.
While Meade and Willie Mullins unleashing a plethora of winners around now – and from now on – is standard practice, it’s worth stating again that, perhaps, an even greater part of the lure of NH fare is seeing establishments of lesser profile than their peers enjoy golden moments.
Most recently, it was the turn of Slane handler Pat Downey. Racing is constantly an arena of ups and downs and Downey recently lost one of his flagship horses, Larkin, at Navan. Smaller operators need that one special steed to put themselves out there. Larkin was certainly that for his trainer and, while Three Bells has also been a valuable performer for the yard, The King Of Brega could be the one, I suspect, to see the Downey team adorn an even bigger stage.
Twice a winner over hurdles, where he earned a rating of 114, the Court Cave gelding took seamlessly to the bigger obstacles and outstayed Gordon Elliott’s Formal Bid by half a length. On the aforementioned recent outing at Navan, the sight of Tipperary based trainer – and former county hurler – Jimmy Finn saddling and leading up a winner in his own silks (Coldstonesober) and at Fairyhouse Cavan’s Anthony Mulholland had a similar experience as Forjoethepainter scored. Such are the reasons why fare over the jumps tends to appeal to a wider audience.
One of the big drawing attractions in terms of talent on show – for yours truly anyway – was Noel’s bumper horse, Snow Falcon. The 4-year-old was an eye catching second to Very Much So in the Land Rover Bumper and, while Nina Carberry had to get serious enough with the son of Presenting, he’ll surely come on for the run.
October is something of a transitional time in racing. Flat affairs begin to wind down, but in the jumps sphere, things are being cranked up but still a bit off being going at full tilt. Yet, several valuable races remain down for decision at the same time. Fitting, then, that both the Irish and English Cesarewitch handicaps take place over the same weekend.
And, while there was local disappointment at Tony Martin’s Quick Jack coming up short in Newmarket, the Irish version delivered a result of particular significance as it transpired to be the biggest win in the career to date of Donnacha O’Brien. The teenager displayed calmness and skill which belied his tender years when producing El Salvador late to get the better of his brother and his uncle (Pat Smullen, Hidden Universe) to nab the €60,000 first prize aboard the admirably consistent Galileo colt.
There are sure to be many more noteworthy happenings in the career of the youngest of the Ballydoyle brood. As there are, also, in the coming weeks and months of the jumps season. Leading owner Rich Ricci once opined that “All your geese are swans at this time of year”.
Aficionados will understand. As old favourites like Missunited and Captain Cee Bee take their leave of the stage, opportunity arises for a new generation of equine stars to leave their mark on the sport and the consciences of those whom it consumes so. Watch this space!