The abundance of land that goes for sale these days often causes a sentimental sadness. Partly out of farming instinct, more so, however, on seeing a chapter in a locality’s history ending. Traditions and country customs have to count for something and must be maintained. November 1st is always a big day in these parts. Game shooting isn’t for everyone, and that’s alright, but the opening day of the pheasant season is always a big occasion here.
While such long standing country customs may not be to everyone’s taste, the nature of some of the objections presented would cause a pondering. Sometimes you wonder does it escape notice that a high percentage of what many of us eat is reared solely for slaughter for the food chain. It recalls what a friend called to the sanctuary above all too early used to say: ‘There are people in this world who, if they came across a litre of milk, would be convinced they’d happened upon a cow’s nest’. He may have had a point.
Members of the local Game Association work diligently throughout the year in preparedness for the biggest day in their year. Like a dart player at the beginning of a new year or a horse trainer dreaming of Easter Monday. And if a partaker is lucky enough to nab the male bird with the longest tail, the achievement bequeaths considerable local prestige.
It’s another symbol of the turning of the seasons. Along with tillage crops being sown and All Star teams being selected and National Hunt racing gaining traction. Yet strangely, two of the biggest occasions of the Flat campaign make headlines at the same time. And, while seeing Ballydoyle representatives perform with distinction at the Breeder’s Cup is always big news, Irish – not to mention local – involvement in the Melbourne Cup is on a different plain.
Though comprehension of the magnitude of it was beyond me at the time, being allowed go into school late after Dermot Weld’s Vintage Crop had attained the top gong in Flemington was an indication of its importance. Of course, the master of Rosewell emerged victorious again some years later courtesy of Media Puzzle.
Being honest, in the last couple of years, one has become properly attuned to the early morning extravaganza. Last year, the tricolour was very nearly being raised courtesy of the Willie Mullins trained Max Dynamite. The multiply accredited champion trainer must be respected in everything he does. Trains, boats or even planes won’t change that. Thus, his deployment of Wicklow Brave shaped a lot of shortlists.
Sport can sometimes give Hans Christian Anderson a run for his money in the fairytale department. None more so than racing. See steeds such as Danoli or Rebel Fitz or Coneygree as evidence. The mere notion of a horse who’d won a midsummer hurdle contest going within inches of picking up the top prize at the bottom of the world would surely give even the denizen of fantasy writing a run for his money.
Alas, as Al Pacino unforgettably implied in Any Given Sunday an inch can make an awful difference. Hence it was very much a case of pride and heartbreak entangled far away from home as the Tony Martin trained Heartbreak City can’t have been much more than the aforementioned measurement away from landing the race that stops one nation and wakes up several others.
Martin’s alacrity in targeting the biggest handicaps on the level is symptomatic of the lengths handlers are having to go to in order to make a mark such has been Mullins’s dominance across all spheres of his sport. Where the Moynalvey maestro has moulded horses such as Quick Jack and Heartbreak City and Pyromaniac and Ted Veale into multipurpose performers, the bastion of Closutton has done likewise with Wicklow Brave, Max Dynamite, Sempre Medici and Clondaw Warrior.
The former has already signalled his intention to make up the missing inches next year. You can also be sure that garnering atonement for unsuccessful attempts low down in the world is an itch the outgoing champion jumps trainer will be straining to scratch in the very near future.
However, just as Our Lord found to his cost, it can be dicey leaving your fate in the hands of others. Were Mullins to go on and again take the title in the early furlongs of next May, it would surely render him incomparable in this or any era. Even Goliath eventually got slew though. Logic would surely say that Gordon Elliott must be beyond reproach in the pursuit of a maiden poll topping given the influx of exquisite equines recently domiciled in Longwood rather than Bagenalstown. Racing is one arena where, lately anyway, the aforementioned attribute could get decidedly bored!
I recall the old saying – ‘Whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad’. Only a short time ago it was opined that – even shorn of the Gigginstown battalion – Mullins would still take quite a degree of dethroning. The task of doing so may have got another modicum easier with another blow having been dealt to the outgoing top man with the loss of proven outstanding ability of Vautour and the perhaps untapped potential of Avant Tout on the one day.
He’ll still accumulate plenty of winners over the course of the season and will perennially remain an entity worth keeping on side. Hopefully some of the following will prove likewise in the months ahead:
DISKO (NOEL MEADE)
BEL AMI DI SIVOLA (NOEL MEADE)
LE MARTALIN (NOEL MEADE)
BLOW BY BLOW (GORDON ELLIOTT)
MISSY TATA (GORDON ELLIOTT)
SUTTON PLACE (GORDON ELLIOTT)
INVITATION ONLY (WILLIE MULLINS)
BATTLEFORD (WILLIE MULLINS)
BACARDYS (WILLIE MULLINS)
SIZING JOHN (JESSICA HARRINGTON)
SUPASUNDAE (JESSICA HARRINGTON)
ASPEN COLARADO (JOSEPH O’BRIEN)
SUB LIEUTENANT (HENRY DE BROMHEAD)