Canyon lost in fog but wins Morgiana
Roy Walker rarely springs to mind at a race-meeting, but Punchestown yesterday was no ordinary offering.
"Say what you see; if you see it, say it," the Ulsterman would tell 'Catchphrase' guests. Commentator Dessie Scahill, forced into silence for much of a Grade One card ruined by fog, could certainly relate.
It had reached race five when Scahill conceded that things had actually gotten worse.
"Visibility is down to almost a minimum now in the straight," he said, reliant on amateur camera footage down the back to give any indication of what was happening.
Punchestown's Shona Dreaper revealed that a colleague was filming through the sunroof of course manager Richie Galway's moving car. It must have felt akin to skinny dipping in Siberia on a bitterly cold day in Co. Kildare, with Dreaper regaling that the unorthodox filming "involved a balaclava".
Jumps jockeys are hardy men and they voiced no complaints. Mark Enright, who rode the game Dalmatia to make all in the first, said conditions were perfectly safe.
Ruby Walsh, predictably, used similar tactics in an underwhelming feature Morgiana that was all the more anti-climatic given that the horses were only sporadically within view. At one moment, Jer's Girl was pestering the hot favourite for the lead; by the time they reappeared, there must have been a dozen lengths between them.
It was a fine, hardy performance from Nichols Canyon - seemingly - and he repeated last year's shock win, when Faugheen was unable to go by. Neither that horse nor Annie Power made Friday's declarations.
"He came as a sub, but he did it nicely," trainer Willie Mullins said. "At least he was wanted this year!
"Ruby said they went a very good gallop the whole way and his stamina just won out. He is very brave and exuberant at his hurdles."
Mullins intends stepping Nichols Canyon up in trip, a tactic that worked out nicely for A Toi Phil in the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase. Held up by Walsh, he burst away from his rivals between the last two, recording a seven-length win that was surprising in its impudence.
Stablemate Jetstream Jack did the best of the remainder, with Disko underwhelming and Nambour blowing up in the straight. It seemed a case of Walsh getting the pace angle of the contest right, but, as we watched races filmed in a moving vehicle, perhaps we were all being fooled.
Walsh indicated that the pace was not overly strong afterwards, while trainer Gordon Elliott told reporters: "You saw as much as I saw.
"When he got the gap going to the second-last he quickened through it and was gone. Ruby said he travelled and jumped well. The Drinmore is the plan. I'd say he doesn't want bottomless ground."
Many eyes were on Identity Thief - when the fog hadn't claimed him - in the other novice event. It was impossible to know what was going on for most of this Grade Two, but Identity Thief beat stablemate Ordinary World snugly, Henry De Bromhead also supplying the third in Attribution.
Ladbrokes cut him two points to 6/1 for the Racing Post Arkle; BoyleSports did the opposite and went 10/1. Neither move will bother De Bromhead.
He said: "Ordinary World is really quick at his fences and is much better over fences, so I'd say that will do Identity Thief the world of good. Bryan Cooper was very happy. Next stop is Leopardstown at Christmas."
Both De Bromhead and Elliott enjoyed doubles, Monalee scoring for the former in the maiden hurdle before the bumper went the way of Gigginstown's Samcro. In between, we had the victory that probably meant most to the general racegoer.
Not three weeks since the fall that left him paralysed from the waist down, Freddie Tylicki had reason to smile as his sister Madeline trained First To Boogie to land a gamble in the staying handicap hurdle.
"It's my first winner and a very special one. It will put a smile on the family's face again," she said.
"Freddy is a determined, tough, young man - he showed that in his career - and I'm absolutely confident that he will fight through this."
This was a victory worth seeing.