Wednesday 21 March 2018

Slaying beast of burden

Lexus defeat can spur Cawley on to Hennessy glory with Joncol

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

We can easily manage if we only take, each day, the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday's burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.

When the 18th century slave trader-turned-Anglican clergyman John Newton mused on how best to tackle the daily grind, National Hunt racing was unlikely to have been foremost in his thoughts. That Newton found God and abandoned a seaborne career trafficking slaves out of West Africa just a couple of years after the first steeplechase took place in Cork in 1752 is, we assume, merely coincidental.

Nonetheless, his observation is as universal a truth now as then, not least in sporting spheres. When Alain Cawley gets the leg-up on Joncol in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Leopardstown tomorrow, it's a maxim from which he might well be working.

The last time he teamed up with Paul Nolan's giant chaser at the Dublin track, defeat was cruelly snatched from the jaws of victory. Cawley had bucked out alongside Notre Pere from the start in the Lexus Chase at Christmas, Joncol's big lolloping stride and effortless fencing a sight to behold.

As they traversed the back straight the last time, Cawley sensed that his closest rival was beginning to feel the pinch. Buoyed by a run of form that had seen him land his first Grade One successes on Joncol and Shinrock Paddy in the previous weeks, the young rider began turning the screw, seemingly at will.

Then Joncol met the last ditch wrong, clouted it, and surrendered the lead on landing. Confident that he still had Notre Pere's measure, Cawley urged his mount back in front at once. From there the partnership set sail, glory within reach as they coasted round the last bend. The dock is a long way up that Leopardstown straight though.

All the while, Sam Thomas had been weaving his way through on Alex Ferguson's What A Friend, and now Joncol was in his sights. The Irish horse led over the last, but the game was up. Joncol had no more to give. He went down by a length and three quarters, deprived of the runner-up medal by the staying-on Money Trix.

Ultimately, it was a painfully protracted end to what might have been the confirmation of a bona fide Irish challenge to the twin towers of Kauto Star and Denman. In the aftermath, Paul Nolan shifted the blame from the 22-year-old greenhorn's shoulders, taking full responsibility for sending his jockey out with a brief to be positive.

Cawley was that, to the point that he got drawn into an ill-advised battle in the third quarter of the race, something he is keen to avoid repeating tomorrow. Mistakes are made to be learnt from, not dwelt on.

"It was our plan to try and stretch them but it didn't work," the Craughwell native states. "We got our tactics wrong and, hopefully, we won't do the same on Sunday. I'll see how the race is working out, but I don't think we'd be taking it up as early as the last time. We'll have to be slightly more patient; there won't be any drastic changes, but we won't be in as much of a rush."

While the PC thing to do might be to applaud the first two for being better on the day, Cawley is frank about exactly how costly the judgment error proved. Considering Nicky Richards' assertion this week that Money Trix ought to be heading the Hennessy market, the fighting talk adds a bit of spice to the rematch.

"I wouldn't swap my fella for anything," Cawley says. "Money Trix finished in front of us the last day, but if I had the chance again I don't think he would. I'd be hopeful we can turn the tables with him on Sunday."


Pressed on whether or not Joncol actually had the winning of the Lexus, Cawley is equally forthright: "No one will ever know, but I think I left it behind. If we win the Hennessy, we'll have a better idea, I suppose, but the Lexus is in the past anyway, so we'll look forward to Sunday now."

Time to move on, then, and not be weighed down by yesterday's burden. Tomorrow's Grade One is the highlight of the Irish chasing calendar. With Cooldine and Notre Pere also in attendance, the three best chasers in this land will attempt to defy Money Trix and keep the prize at home for the first time in three years.

A cold analysis of the race, however, emphasises just how crucial the three-miler is in Joncol's development. Despite being backed into favouritism for tomorrow, Cooldine has hardly raised a gallop in his last two outings, his status as a Gold Cup contender seriously diminished.

Notre Pere, likeable and all as he is, won't ever win the Cheltenham feature. At 10, Money Trix is hardly the future, and he certainly isn't the future of Irish chasing.

Nolan has already opted to give the 2010 March highlight a swerve, but this is Joncol's opportunity to make a declaration of intent. John Newton would advise Cawley -- who was last season's champion conditional rider and is one of the brightest talents around -- not to get bogged down in what the future might hold, but Nolan has given him a thundering vote of confidence by remaining loyal with so much at stake.

The gesture hasn't gone unnoticed by Cawley, a non-drinking son of a publican, who reasons that he'd "be no one" if it wasn't for his boss. Nolan, for his part, has great faith in his protege.

"Squeaky is a good chap," the trainer says of the rider whose childhood nickname has stuck hard, despite a droll Galway monotone having replaced the alleged 'squeak'.

"He's learning every day just like the rest of us, but the horse jumps brilliantly for him and we just got it wrong the last day. We thought it might take Joncol a while to get into his stride and rode him accordingly, so we need to be less aggressive on Sunday. This game is all about progressing and learning from your mistakes, and Squeaky is going the right way about things."

And so youth gets its chance. One day at a time.

Irish Independent

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