One of the perhaps lesser known drawbacks of dealing with depression, or indeed any mental health difficulty is the ferocity and rapidity with which it can decimate a body’s confidence. Conversely, it can then take millennia to rebuild.
Thus, having got myself physically and mentally strong enough to go to the Fairyhouse Winter Festival, there was no way the possibility of a bit of bad weather was going to hold me back. That said, having seen the long range forecast around this time last week, the decision was made that my trip to one of my favourite places on earth would take place on the Saturday. If there was ability and opportunity to take Sunday’s action in also, well and good, but Saturday was the priority.
Why? Facile Vega. For as long as yours truly has been properly attuned to matters equine, the bumper scene and bumper horses have captivwted me more than any other sector. For two reasons, (i) if, or please God when, the opportunity arises for the occupant of this seat to buy into a racehorse it will be either an unbroken 3-year-old or a 4yo bumper horse. And (ii) by definition, the youngsters are the stars of tomorrow.
Hence, those who filled the placings in the previous season’s Cheltenham Bumper would be the foundation on which the list of horses to follow for this website would be based around.
Ironically, having said all of the above, for a variety of reasons, it now seems highly unlikely yours truly will get to put such an amalgam together this term as it’s gone too far into the season at this stage. Were it being constructed, though, there’s absolutely no doubt what steed would sit atop the collection.
Now, even since I became properly attuned to racing, there have been several winners of the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival who have resembled machines in doing so but never really lived up to that billing thereafter. Cousin Vinny, Dunguib, Briar Hill, Ballyandy and Relegate certainly fall into that category.
Mind you, on the other side of that coin, you had Florida Pearl, Alexander Banquet, Cue Card and Envoi Allen who did go on to achieve stardom and the sadly ill-fated Fayonagh almost certainly would have done likewise had she not met an untimely demise.
Facile Vega appears as close to a racing certainty to also be as it is possible for a horse to be. With respect to all concerned, he’s sure to come up against a better calibre of opponent than was encountered hence – though I do believe that the Gordon Elliott-trained An Mhi could also be a step above what was in the field, with the exception of the winner.
From a personal perspective, trusting one’s judgement with regard to Saturday’s climatic conditions being more conducive to my attendance proved well placed as the weather the following afternoon manifested as the first real wintry day of the year. That, however, didn’t dull disappointment felt at missing what was a truly spectacular Sunday’s racing.
The Royal Bond Novice Hurdle threw up another bout of regret over not doing a list of horses when Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale arrived between the last two hurdles swinging on the bit in behind under the burgeoning Michael O’Sullivan to win with what seemed like a nice bit in hand.
After that came what, on paper at least, looked a very open running of the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase. And indeed it was to a point, with Willie Mullins’ Gallard Du Mesnil and Banbridge out of Joseph O’Brien’s both running career bests. In the end though, they both had to give way to Elliott’s Mighty Potter who, after taking a short while to warm to his task, looked a mighty hopper!
Over the course of the two days, the Longwood based trainer notched exactly half of the races run. In one way, none would have meant more to him than annexing the bumper named in honour of his late uncle Willie on the Saturday evening.
But, as good as Mighty Potter was, the only story in town on Sunday was the Hattons Grace Hurdle. It was supposed to be all about Honeysuckle. In a way it was, just not in the fashion anyone expected or, lets be honest, hoped for.
If it looks to good to be true, it generally is. A record fourth Hattons Grace Hurdle on her final visit to Fairyhouse. That was the romantic script. Romance and reality seldom get along though.
I don’t know what the general view was, but to me, Rachael didn’t look happy with her old pal from the back of the fourth last. And still, entering the home straight the dynamic duo appeared to still be in cruise control.
But, for the first time ever, when the terrific Tipperary lady gave the ‘NOW’ signal to the Waterford-based wonder horse, the kick wasn’t there. She did rally to within few tail lengths of pulling off a seemingly pointless rescue attempt, only for Elliott’s Teahupoo to have the wind at his back as he mowed down both Honey and Klassical Dream from the Mullins yard for a merited if most unlikely success.
Conversely, almost immediately after Jack Kennedy and his gutsy partner had crossed the line, the post mortem as to what happened with Irish racing’s leading ladies. Well, actually with the equine one.
Is she ‘gone’? Was it the ground? Maybe she wasn’t completely wound up? Though unlikely, were connections leaving a bit to build on? For what it’s worth, I certainly don’t believe she’s ‘gone’, the ground may have been a bit dead for her but the way she rallied again suggests there’s at least a little more left in the tank.
Yet this scenario reminds me of an incident at a Meath GAA convention a couple of decades ago, where the favoured candidate of the establishment for a particular position was behind when the voting had concluded and the Big Chief of the day was ordered recounts and all manner of nonsense until it was pointed out to them that another individual had been deemed elected and it was time to move on.
The relevant matter here is slightly different in that I wouldn’t be too quick to rush to judgement on Honeysuckle. However, the big story out of the race should be the career best run by Teahupoo in usurping the hitherto queen of the two mile hurdling division.
Gordon’s representative has won six out of his eight career starts and, while many of those victories coming on ground that had soft or worse in its description, it would be unwise to dismiss the 5-year-old as a mudlark. Regardless of what you might think of De Bromhead’s heroine on the day and going forward, it must be acknowledged that at the very least the Robcour runner deserves to take his chance in the big one at the foot of Clieve Hill in March.
Whatever happens from here, there should be some better days ahead for a horse that, for a Grade 1 winner, is still relatively unexposed.
Speaking of Better Days Ahead, with the last winner of the meeting being of that name and being owned by Meath football’s new sponsor Bective Stud (Tearooms And Gardens) we can but hope it represents a good omen.
Now all that remains is to get the emotional rollercoaster that will be the next three weeks out of the way first.