Saturday 18 November 2017

Much to ponder after crazy weekend

Royal Caviar and Ruby Walsh take a crashing fall when leading at the final fence in yesterday’s Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown yesterday. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Royal Caviar and Ruby Walsh take a crashing fall when leading at the final fence in yesterday’s Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown yesterday. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

In previous days, letters home, now taking on the hue of sepia, from the Ministry of Defence would give a soldier's mother a jolt of dread.

Her son, she'd be told, died a hero in battle, giving all for king and country. As thousands upon thousands fell, the language and lauding perhaps rang hollow - but what else was there to do?

Jumped well, tracked leaders, led 4 out, ridden when strongly challenged 2 out, stayed on very gamely from last, held on, all out, collapsed and died after race.

On Saturday, no bombast was needed - as Many Clouds left us - about the sort of gallant performance that characterised him and what would have been the type of emotional reception jumps fans extend merely to those seasoned warriors of adoration.

He never got that chance. Instead, Thistlecrack had to return to a sombre parade ring, perhaps putting two and two together and supposing his defeat had everyone depressed.

I backed Thistlecrack and the shock of his reverse had yet to register when Twitter informed us that his conqueror was dead. Within minutes, Oliver Sherwood, his trainer, would contextualise it all. We're all bound for the same eventuality, he stressed.

He wanted to recall what Many Clouds had done; how he had afforded us so many moments to devour the awe that is top-class jumps racing. A girl from the yard was visibly inconsolable, crying as if she had lost her best friend.

For some, there cannot be a better way for a horse to die; for others, nothing worse.

Up there in the equine sky, he meets Vautour. Fate can take these animals of such power and intellect in a moment.

Vautour's death probably hit Willie Mullins about as hard as the death of a horse can. Not long previously, he'd seen five dozen Gigginstown horses depart.

On Wednesday, he ruled Annie Power out of Cheltenham. On Friday, he took Min out of the Irish Arkle. On Saturday, he told us Faugheen had endured a setback and couldn't run in the Irish Champion. Then Vroum Vroum Mag nearly got beaten at 1/5.

As Paul Townend got after the mare, he must have been as stunned as the rest of us: they had yet to even reach Doncaster's second-last. In the time that remained until she scrambled home by a head, one was left to ask: what else can racing throw at us today? Is anything sacred?

Bookmakers bombarding the hacks with early Cheltenham quotes can grate, but it serves to start the build-up, if nothing else. Yet here we are, February all but upon us, and so many questions on March remain almost too demanding to debate.

Will Faugheen even run? Who knows. Will Annie Power run again? No idea. Where will Vroum Vroum Mag go? Beats me. And that's just Willie's horses.

He'll assess Faugheen in the next few days. Vroum Vroum Mag, he said, produced a showing that had him mystified. He was speaking at Leopardstown, when the weekend's affront to rationale continued, with one finisher in the novice chase. Min would have won in a canter.

One of those weeks for Willie, a better one for Henry de Bromhead. Despite Identity Thief falling, he won the Arkle with Some Plan and Petit Mouchoir prevailed, without impressing. This in a week that saw him emulate his father Harry in winning the Thyestes.

Faugheen's absence seemed to have an enormous influence on the poor attendance. Petit Mouchoir jumped extremely well, yet bookmakers pushed him out in price for Cheltenham.

Melon was one name on a perplexing weekend to perform. The Supreme lacks an outstanding candidate and he is now joint-favourite, yet he hardly did anything spectacular.

At least we know he's almost certainly bound for the Supreme. Let's Dance, which has developed into a really high-class filly, could go for one of three races.

Defi Du Seuil and Unowhatimeanharry oozed class at Cheltenham, while owner JP McManus also had the pleasure of Sutton Place's Naas success. With Jezki back in the picture, the legendary owner will approach the festival with a scatter of fancies.

Cheltenham was quiet as racegoers departed on Saturday, while Leopardstown was as flat as I can remember on Champion Hurdle day. The weekend had taken its toll on people, many still talking about Many Clouds.

Whatever about that, it was touching that all Leopardstown riders wore a black armband for John O'Connor, killed in a car accident this weekend.

The rider was 21. His death has devastated friends in point-to-point racing, with rider Maxine O'Sullivan calling him "the perfect gentleman". This was the true tragedy of the weekend, a young man taken far too soon. Horses, even as likeable as Many Clouds, will always come and go.

RIDE OF THE WEEK

Ana O'Brien made every inch on Geological, a 20/1 chance virtually everyone said would not get the trip, in Dundalk's feature on Friday.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I missed plenty of days' school to come here. He ran away with me for two miles and six. Five out, a horse getting free on you is not normal."

Local lad David Mullins, after winning Gowran's Thyestes on Champagne West.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

"Irish Jumps Prize Money this week: Wed Fairy 75k, Gowran 211k, Naas 139k, Leop 307k. Why as an owner I choose to have my horses in Ireland."

Graham Leatherbarrow (@graham1873), an Englishman who has horses with Willie Mullins.

GAMBLE OF THE WEEK

The Michael O'Callaghan-trained De La Vega at Dundalk, initial 16s into an SP of 3/1. As they say, like all good each-way bets, she finished fourth.

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