Buck's v Hurricane -- a match made in heaven
Yesterday's Punchestown tangle between Big Zeb and Sizing Europe was always going to struggle to fully live up to its billing as the latest in an ongoing series of clashes between the country's two most recent champion chasers.
So close to what promises to be the definitive showdown at Cheltenham in five weeks' time, neither party will have been too anxious to show its full hand in such testing conditions. A bit of glorified shadow boxing was always on the cards, though both deserve credit for allowing the contest to take place at all.
Sure enough, the toe-to-toe battle ultimately failed to materialise, but attempts beforehand to sell the gig as a duel to savour were understandable. There is a huge appetite across all sports for the sort of epic rivalries that breed testy familiarity and polarise opinion.
In racing in recent years, the Kauto Star-Denman slugfests really captured the public imagination, while ancient battles such as Arkle v Mill House, Sea Biscuit v War Admiral and Dawn Run v Buck House all still enjoy mythical status both within and without the sport.
Right now, though, there is one skirmish above all others that everyone wants to see, but at this point exists only in the realm of the hypothetical.
Hurricane Fly and Big Buck's are the undisputed kings of their respective divisions. Thus far, both have scared off what constituted any meaningful opposition into jumping fences, with few expecting either to meet their demise at Cheltenham.
We spend enough time evaluating champions from different eras that can never give substance to what are essentially pointless comparisons, but here is a glorious opportunity for two of the giants of the modern hurdling sphere to go head to head. Hurricane Fly is top dog over the minimum trip, Big Buck's likewise over three miles.
Both have winning form over two and a half miles, so that's the distance that would present the fairest test for both parties. If they show themselves to be as far ahead of their respective opposition as is predicted at Cheltenham, then surely the prospect of a royal dust-up over the intermediate trip would appeal to connections.
Paul Nicholls' willingness to embrace a challenge with his best horses has defined the prime of his training career, while Willie Mullins would surely be tempted to allow Hurricane Fly prove just how good he really is.
If the handlers are up for it, you'd fancy that the respective owners would follow suit.
Of course, as the regular rider of both horses, Ruby Walsh would be the one with the real dilemma, but that would only add to the intrigue of the occasion.
The Aintree Hurdle, just over a month after Cheltenham this year, seems the obvious stage for such a thriller to happen. Or could Punchestown somehow facilitate an actual match, just as they did with Dawn Run and Buck House all those years ago?
It's a proposition that is at least worth exploring. All that's required is the right carrot.
Elliott on the mark
just in time
A snow-covered Wolverhampton eventually fell to the elements on Saturday, but not before Gordon Elliott secured his first Flat win of 2012 with Face Value. Disqualified from an October maiden hurdle triumph at Punchestown after testing positive for a banned substance, the four-year-old justified support in the 14-furlong handicap to win cosily under Jimmy Fortune. He is declared to line out there under Liam Keniry again today, while Elliott also has four on duty over at Ayr.
Ride of the weekend
Robbie Power galvanised an excellent run out of King Vuvuzela to split the spoils with the long odds-on Allure Of Illusion in yesterday's opener. Having made steady progress from mid-division, Power still looked booked for the minor money when he went second approaching the last.
But, a hitherto composed Ruby Walsh sent out the distress signals on Allure Of Illusion halfway up the run-in when it became apparent that King Vuvuzela wouldn't be easily denied. It was only Power's persistence that caused Walsh to panic.
of the weekend
Kildare handler Sean Byrne has done a fine job with Lead Kindly Light, saddling the Beneficial mare to her second success of the year at Fairyhouse on Saturday. Prior to her easy defeat of Yeoman at Naas two weeks ago, the eight-year-old's only previous win in 14 starts had come in a handicap hurdle at Wexford off a mark of 93 in October 2010. The 13lb penalty that she acquired after Naas brought her rating to 100, yet she again hammered Yeoman on Saturday off 11lb worse terms.
1,000,000 --Tote Ireland's profit last year, which was almost double its 2010 figure. Having lost nearly €1m in 2009, it is an impressive turnaround, boosted considerably by co-mingling with foreign pools, as well as what its marketing manager Dryden Geary described as "a very, very tricky cost-reduction campaign."
'Had a nice road trip!! Bristol to London, then stayed in Warwick with Paul Moloney, home out of Manches- ter today and never even saw a horse! The only consolation was I got to go to the Emirates with Simon Munir yesterday. Lots of goals!'
-- Barry Geraghty, who we understand to be a Liverpool fan, salvages something after the Ffos Las abandonment. Munir, a football agent, owns Geraghty's Champion Hurdle hope Grandouet.