Friday 27 April 2018

Johnny Ward: Flat makes way for jumps right on Cue

Moscow Flyer tributes prove National Hunt is top of the tree

David Wachman will be hoping to bow out on a high note in France tomorrow
David Wachman will be hoping to bow out on a high note in France tomorrow

Inside Track: Johnny Ward

Gun to the head, I prefer the Flat to jumps - but when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of the Irish racegoer, there is simply no comparison and this was conveniently illustrated over the past week and a half.

On October 21, Moscow Flyer died. He had retired over a decade by the time colic claimed him, yet when Jessica Harrington broke the news on Twitter, paying tribute, she got 1,400 'likes' and almost half that amount in retweets.

Barry Geraghty, among the elite in the granite-tough profession that is that of a jumps jockey, was not ashamed to admit afterwards that he cried on hearing the news.

When the 'Racing Post' announced on Monday that Harzand would be retired to stud, it got 28 retweets.

The death of 'Moscow' brought about as close as one can get to an online funeral in racing; Harzand being retired only months after he won the second of the two Derbies barely registered.

The comparison is topically convenient and a little bit too helpful for the narrative. Even so, such is what jumps racing means to Irish people and the cold commercial reality of the Flat.

Visiting Belfast for Down Royal's launch ahead of next weekend's big two-day meeting, the enthusiasm was infectious. Silviniaco Conti will go there this day week, skipping today's bet365 Charlie Hall Chase, which he won in 2012. However, two past winners of the race partake.

Cue Card triumphed last year, Menorah in 2014, and there seems no solid reason to oppose the odds-on favourite. We will never know what may have happened had he not tipped up three out in Don Cossack's Gold Cup in March and his subsequent dismissal of Don Poli at Aintree did nothing to dissuade those who believe he'd have won at Cheltenham.

Things, of course, went awry at Punchestown but even that was not a bad run and it was his only underwhelming effort all season.

Cue Card raced a little fresh in this race last year, albeit en route to an easy win. None of today's other runners looks to have anything other than outside Gold Cup claims at best, though it was difficult not to like Blacklion last season. Like Cue Card, his campaign ended on a tame note, but he should rally to the cause and has a good chance of making the step up to senior and chasing home Cue Card, in receipt of 5lb.

Dynaste is not without a chance but pretty much all known form says he is inferior to Cue Card. He has gone 11 runs without a win, albeit many at Grade One level.

Wetherby's first race is the Chase and it is a tight little contest. The Martin Keighley-trained Solstice Star is, excusing the pun, as solid as the day is long and might be able to give the weight away under Richard Johnson, who nears 100 winners for the season and may get there this weekend.

The Mares' Hurdle looks fascinating and Miss Crick may be able to confirm her level of progression, with Card Game perhaps the main danger.

The Bet365 Hurdle, like the Charlie Hall, is frustratingly made up of seven runners. The ultra-hardy Ballyoptic looks certain to give it a good go but narrow preference at the prices is for If In Doubt. Ballyoptic gets a form boost if Crimson Ark scores in Ascot's opener.

The Emma Lavelle-trained chase debutant could be the one to go with in a compelling start to the day in Berkshire.

The strong-travelling Yorkist is hot favourite for the Byrne Group Handicap Chase but preference is for Ulck Du Lin, which has been competitive off a higher mark; his absence is no concern.

James Nash pursues more cross-channel glory in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle with My Manekineko. Modus is a fascinating runner here and, while he has been a bit of a flop since joining JP McManus, he is surely very well-handicapped if Paul Nicholls can find the key.

Lizzie Kelly performed sensationally well not to be unseated by One Of Us at Stratford on Thursday. She renews her axis with old friend Tea For Two in the Sodexo Gold Cup, in which the class of Saphir De Rheu might just win the day under Nick Schofield.

Watching Brief...

And so ends a hugely successful training career.

David Wachman has his last runner – barring a U-turn down the line – when Rekindling contests the Group One Criterium De Saint-Cloud tomorrow.

Wachman’s last Irish winner, White Satin Dancer at Leopardstown last weekend, is also bound for France: trainer Nicolas Clement will take charge of a potential Classic winner.

Given his youthful appearance, it is difficult to comprehend that Wachman has been training for 20 years. The news was a shock to many but two decades of dealing with owners, setbacks and pressure is a long time in anyone’s book.

It is fitting that the brilliant Legattisimo came along so late in his career. Rekindling has a long way to go to be mentioned in the same breath but he ran a fine race at Galway behind Capri and he did the job well since at Gowran.

It is Capri, ante-post favourite for the Racing Post Trophy before being scratched, which may be the one to beat here. He is one of four Aidan O’Brien-trained runners in a field of 13 but, if Rekindling wins, expect Aidan to be the first to go over to congratulate the triumphant trainer.

Irish Independent

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