Friday 15 December 2017

Whelan walks away bloodied but unbowed

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Last Thursday, Paul Fox, a jockeys' valet who witnesses the blood-and-thunder emotions of the weighing room at first hand, posted a simple tweet that offered a glimpse into life on the inside of that hallowed sanctum.

"Seen two sides of racing today, the euphoria around Ken Whelan's retiring and the sheer torture in @decbates after he broke his collarbone."

Thurles had just marked the retirement of Whelan (41) after more than 20 years spent riding jumping's dregs. One of the game's great characters, Whelan broke his tailbone, cheekbones, arms, collarbones, ribs, legs and ankles during his career, as well as puncturing a lung.

He eventually opted out after fracturing vertebrae in his back for a third time. The celebration might have been for outstanding achievement – survival.

Declan Bates – a 5lb claimer with two winners to his name this term – felt compelled to respond to Fox. Catapulted into the air from Barolee before breaking his collarbone on hitting the ground, his reply was laced with a jump jockey's innate humility. "Sorry," he tweeted, "fourth collarbone this year, the emotion's been building and it got the better of me today."

A day earlier, Davy Russell tweeted two pictures of Tempo Du Camp's first attempt at crossing a hurdle in public at Limerick. The first captured him already in mid-air at the wing of the hurdle, the second showed him about to land on the obstacle. "Look what this fellow tried to do," the message went, "Redbull gives you wings."

Kerrin McEvoy, Godolphin's Australian Flat rider, was agog. "No way, first run over sticks?" "Ya," came the reply, "and last." Tempo Du Camp tried to clear the next from even further away and met with fatal consequences. "Had potential but dangerous," Russell explained.

On Friday, Timmy Murphy, still one of racing's exquisite connoisseurs at 36 years of age, was hurled to the Newbury turf before being wheeled away in ambulance. "Two broken vertebrae for me troubles but hey still walking," the Kildare native tweeted.

On Saturday, he sat between Jim McGrath and John Francome for Channel 4, sounding uncomfortable. But, hey, he was walking.

The same day at Fairyhouse, Davy Condon took the reins on Mount Benbulben for a third stab at fences, a job that should carry a health warning even though Gordon Elliott's charge is a serious talent. At Punchestown last time, he gave the jockey a terrible fall.

Condon excelled in getting the job done on Saturday, but Mount Benbulben could fall at any point. He goes to Leopardstown now, when his Cork-born jockey would be within his rights to demand danger money.

Later still on Saturday, Matt O'Connor – whose fledgling riding career was brought to a halt after a fall at Thurles three years ago left him in a medically induced coma for 10 days – sold a horse called Going Concern at the sales in Newbury for £36k. 'Strawberry', as he is known, has begun training a few at his Wexford home place in Carrick-on-Bannow, and Going Concern was his first winner in a Ballinboola point last month. You hope it's the start of a lucrative career for him. And you hope Ken Whelan's foray into the pub business at the Watermill in Thurles is too.

Geraghty's Hennessy glory

well Worth waiting for

On the topic of jockeys' dealings in horses, Barry Geraghty's fantastic Hennessy Gold Cup victory on Bobs Worth is hard to top. Geraghty paid €16,000 for the Bob Back gelding as a foal, and, while he might have not have turned much of a profit when selling him on for £20k as a four-year-old, Bobs Worth has compensated in style since joining Nicky Henderson.

His success in the RSA Chase last March was his second at the Festival under the Meath native, while Saturday's impressive defeat of the Ruby Walsh-ridden Tidal Bay off a mark of 160 thrust him right to the top of the market for the Gold Cup, usurping Sir Des Champs at a top-priced 5/1.

First Lieutenant fared best of the three Irish runners, making much of the running and throwing in spectacular leaps under Bryan Cooper.

The Gigginstown Stud colours were carried with less distinction by Trifolium in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

Same as on his seasonal debut, Charles Byrnes' charge went out like a light when asked a question, as Triumph Hurdle winner Countrywide Flame, trained by Tipperary-born John Quinn in Malton and ridden by Youghal's Denis O'Regan, easily out-pointed the odds-on Supreme Novices' hero Cinders And Ashes.

Russell's decision to stay

local pays off in style

Davy Russell forfeited the opportunity to ride First Lieutenant in favour of going to Fairyhouse on Saturday, a decision that yielded a 41/1 treble for his Gigginstown employers.

In the opening two races, Russell conquered odds-on shots, as the Dessie Hughes-trained Bright New Dawn disposed of Ned Buntline in the maiden hurdle. Midnight Game then made an emphatic return in the conditions race, as runner-up Staying Article failed to replicate his Cork win under Paddy Brennan. The highlight, though, was Bog Warrior's return to handicap hurdling, as Tony Martin's Grade One-winning chaser made light of top weight to justify evens favouritism by eight lengths.

Numbers game

18 Big Buck's unbeaten run after his latest rout at Newbury on Saturday. The Paul Nicholls star now has the 18th century record of 21 consecutive wins, achieved by a horse called Meteor, in its sights, and it looks an achievable target given the lack of opposition in the staying division. We live in hope that he and Quevega might one day meet.


@PeterCasey22 – Off to bed, Junie has a new book on a up and coming horse called Karma Sutra, least I think that's what she said.

Flemenstar's veteran handler Peter Casey, a YouTube sensation courtesy of his frisky interview on RTE TV after his star won at Leopardstown last January, begins life on Twitter with a bang.

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