Europe leads jumping stars in whetting fans' appetite
Fairyhouse was a cold place to be yesterday, but few of the 5,103-strong crowd were complaining as another superb weekend of jumping activity drew to a close.
This time last year, the elements did their damndest to lay waste to the season. Sandown's Tingle Creek meeting was lost before the big race subsequently took on an altogether different life form in the absence of Railway or Pond fences at Cheltenham.
Yesterday's Fairyhouse card was run on a Wednesday, with Punchestown's John Durkan Chase and Cork's Hilly Way Chase temporarily facilitated there on what was the only raceable patch of land in the country.
All anyone wanted for Christmas was a thaw. Gritting your teeth in advance of the debilitating effects of another harsh budget might be a sentiment that is becoming all too familiar, but the climate in the racing world is far more settled this time round.
Following the stirring highs reached by Kauto Star and Carruthers, not to mention deserved Grade One successes for doughty battlers Overturn and Thousand Stars, Saturday and Sunday served up more high-octane fare. In the Tingle Creek at Sandown, Sizing Europe cemented his status as the top two-mile chaser around.
Big Zeb marked his card at Punchestown and he misfired over further earlier this term, but his flawless display under Andrew Lynch on Saturday was proof positive that, at his peak, he is the best two-mile chaser around. Some have criticised his connections' repeated experiments over further, but Paul Nicholls adopts an equally ready -- and often lucrative -- approach to exploring his horses' range of abilities.
At the end of the day, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and only one horse denied Sizing Europe Grade One glory over three miles at Down Royal in both 2010 and 2011.
We also got our first taste of the big Aintree fences on Saturday, while Al Ferof and Sir Des Champs did their bit for what is a vintage crop of novice chasers.
Although First Lieutenant fluffed his lines yesterday, Bog Warrior picked up the baton in style for the increasingly powerful Gigginstown House Stud operation, and Sous Les Cieux's defeat of Dermot Weld's smart Galileo's Choice in the Royal Bond confirmed that Willie Mullins has unearthed yet another gem.
The game Voler La Vedette then added her name to a Hatton's Grace roll of honour that was once the domain of fellow mare Solerina. If Colm Murphy has his way, she'll bid to emulate that starlet's remarkable hat-trick of wins in the Grade One, though the chances of that happening are less than slim.
Presenting, the champion jumps sire that failed to get her in foal in the spring, will surely get the opportunity to right that wrong in the new year.
Tom not so limp now
Longford handler Paul Flynn is well established as one of the game's rising stars, with Moon Dice's brilliant coup in the Galway Hurdle his highest profile winner to date.
However, he first made his name plundering less spectacular British venues, and he continues to fine-tune that strategy. At Wolverhampton on Thursday, he saddled Mr Red Clubs to justify odds-on favouritism under Jimmy Fortune, before then sending Limpopo Tom to the same venue for a long-distance handicap on Saturday evening.
Unplaced in eight starts on the Flat and in bumpers here when beaten an average of 25 lengths, the four-year-old was backed from an early show of 14/1 into an SP of 9/4. Also ridden by Wexford native Fortune, he landed the money by six lengths.
Moore's former House
returns to haunt him
Arthur Moore should have been able to revel in a job well done when Linnel tried gamely to overhaul Stewarts House from the Elbow in the Grand Sefton at Aintree on Saturday.
On just his sixth racecourse start, the six-year-old defied his inexperience to run a brave race under Paul Carberry, but a blunder at the last ultimately cost him the quarter-length that he was denied.
It was a run full of long-term promise from the maiden, but maybe a bittersweet one for Moore, who trained the formerly frustrating Stewarts House until recently.
Tim Vaughan picked the horse up in May for £11,000, and he has now won twice and been second in three starts for his new trainer.
Number of the week
30,950 The value, in pounds, of Stewarts House's Grand Sefton winning purse. Cork-born jockey Aidan Coleman lost out on his 10pc share after striking his mount 11 times, three more than is permitted. He also received a seven-day ban for his efforts.
Ride of the weekend
Andrew McNamara excelled on the quirky Mississippi River for John Kiely at Fairyhouse on Saturday.
He coaxed the reluctant son of Sadler's Wells home without resorting to the whip, a considerable feat given the contrary nature of his partner.
Willie Mullins deserves credit for turning round Mikael D'Haguenet's fortunes.
Little has gone right for the former Cheltenham winner, but he looked something like his old self when scoring for the first time in two and a half years under a confident Paul Townend on Saturday.
Tweet of the week
"It's winners not prize money my horses go over for, that's y I drop them off at Dublin port and let them thumb a lift the rest of the way #cantaffordaferry" -- Gordon Elliott responds to the Twitterati about the feasibility of sending runners to Britain. The race that sparked the debate was the £1,704 Wolverhampton handicap that Paul Flynn won with the gambled on Limpopo Tom, one of five Irish runners in the race.