Surprise as Limini and Tombstone both bypass Champion Hurdle bid
The folly of ante-post betting is perhaps exaggerated but events yesterday justify punters' increasing reticence about punting long-term.
Though neither Limini nor Tombstone was originally on the Stan James Champion Hurdle radar, recent events and interviews suggested that both - especially Limini - would be supplemented yesterday. Neither was, with a field of 13 left.
Gigginstown's Eddie O'Leary told this newspaper at around 9am that the Gordon Elliott-trained Tombstone would opt for the handicap, the Coral Cup, in which he may be well-treated. Punters had to wait around three hours for news to come through that Limini would be going elsewhere too.
The Willie Mullins-trained mare had impressed greatly in winning at Punchestown last time and the betting suggested she would switch from the OLBG Mares' Hurdle to the big race on the same day, the Tuesday.
However, owner Rich Ricci sounded a cautious note at a preview evening last week and, in the end, it was decided that it was not worth the £20,000 it would cost to add her to the field.
Tombstone is now a strong Coral Cup favourite. O'Leary again used the opportunity to press for publication of Irish handicap ratings by the British handicapper, smoke still rising from the fire that was his brother Michael pulling out their main Grand National fancies due to a row with Phil Smith, the main handicapper in Britain.
Eddie O'Leary explained to the Irish Independent: "He's really a staying chaser in the making and we have to think of that. The ground wasn't really in our thoughts, more the trip. He is a nice, fresh horse going there.
"The mark is what it is. The handicapper is entitled to put him on what mark he has put him on. But we enter these horses in the dark. So the weights need to be published."
Limini is now a general even-money shot for the mares' event, won last year by stablemate Vroum Vroum Mag, which was not taken out of the Champion Hurdle and may conceivably be rerouted yet.
Ricci said in his RTé blog: "I've said all along that there was no point supplementing for the sake of it unless we thought she'd have a big chance of winning. I never had an interest in running just to get my money back.
"Last year, when we supplemented Annie Power, we knew she'd go very close to winning, but it was difficult to say that about Limini given the fact she's had only one run this season and was taking on a field of very experienced horses. It was going to be a big ask.
"I want people to understand: I was clear all along that the decision would be made this morning and that it was far from a certainty all along.
"What (this) means for Vroum Vroum Mag is unclear. I remember last year when we were supplementing Annie I said I wasn't sure we were supplementing the right one considering how well Vroum Vroum was working.
"I don't know what to do. She's in the Champion Hurdle, Mares' Hurdle and Stayers' Hurdle. Although it wouldn't be my usual stance, I wouldn't be against Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag taking each other on."
Meanwhile, Mark Walsh and Noel Fehily continue to benefit from the absence of JP McManus' main rider, Barry Geraghty. Walsh is booked for the Paul Nicholls-trained Movewiththetimes in the Sky Bet Supreme Novice Hurdle on Tuesday and Fehily will be aboard The Druids Nephew in the Ultima Handicap Chase, which the horse won two years ago.
George Baker has returned to Britain to continue his recovery from injuries sustained at St Moritz in Switzerland nearly two weeks ago.
The jockey was riding Boomerang Bob when the horse was brought down and fatally injured. Baker was airlifted to a trauma hospital and an MRI scan confirmed bleeding in his brain.
The Injured Jockeys Fund said Baker is in intensive care in a London hospital as he continues what is expected to be a long recovery process.