The 2nd day of the Festival opened with another 7-runner novice race, the Ballymore Hurdle. This was a disappointing turnout as the "Ballymore" is a great shop-window of talent for the punter to savour, and apart from the 1st-2 home - Bob Olinger and Gaillard Du Mesnil - there's nothing else in the race that came out well. Certainly, Bravemansgame and Bear Ghylls had their limits cruelly exposed as hurdlers at this level, and novice chasing beckons for them next season. So, how good is Bob Olinger? He's a good winner, but the lack of competition in the race stops me from making him a great winner, and I rate his performance at 152 (Racing Post Ratings (RPR) have him at 163). That puts him below the last couple of good winners Envoi Allen (159) and Samcro (158): however, RPR think Bob Olinger is better than Envoi Allen, and I find that hard to accept. It will be interesting to see him up against older hurdlers, but he's probably going novice chasing next season.
I'm more impressed with Gaillard Du Mesnil who is only a 5yo, and who stayed on very well looking like a step-up to 3-mile would be right up his street. He would be my long-range pick for the 3-mile "Brown Advisory" Novice Chase next year for which he's currently 33/1.
The performance of Monkfish when winning the 6-runner Brown Advisory was, in my opinion, indifferent - he certainly looked a better horse when winning the "Flogas" LTO at Leopardstown over 2m5f. I was particularly disappointed with his jumping, there is a lot of improvement required. However, he totally outclassed his rivals in this race, although Sporting John made a serious error which virtually put him out of the race, and Eklat De Rire unseated his rider at the 12th before the race became interesting. Losing Eklat De Rire removed a lot of competition as he'd beat Escaria Ten at Naas over 3m1f, and that horse ran well in the NH Chase to be 3rd; I'm not suggesting he'd have beaten Monkfish, but he would have given him a race. Before I wager on Monkfish to win the next Gold Cup, I will wait to see how he runs against more experienced chasers.
The Coral Cup handicap hurdle was a disaster for me, as having highlighted the chance of last-time-out winner Heaven Help Us, and that she'd also run 7th in the previous years Supreme Nov Hurdle, I then didn't put her up as a selection - and she duly won at 33/1 having made all. If you were a reader of my Festival bulletins a few years back (too much work to continue) you will know that about 8 years ago I advised making note of any mares running in the hurdle races as they do very well, and there were only 2 mares in this race, and last years winner was a mare. I'm not sure what it is, maybe its the time of year, but mares are good value. The 6yo gelding Blue Sari - 2nd in the Champion Bumper at the 2019 Festival behind Envoi Allen, was flying on the run-up to the final flight and had he not fallen there, who knows - he may have caught the leader. He has an entry at Fairyhouse on the 3rd April. Another that caught my eye was Monte Cristo: this Henderson-trained 5yo was badly impeded by the fallen horse at the last, and looks like being a lot better than his OR145 handicap rating.
I've watched the QMCC a number of times, and there were a few hard-luck stories in it: but Chancun Pour Soi wasn't one of them - he was beaten fair'n'square. There was always a nagging doubt that he might have been flattered having won 6 of his previous 7 races in Ireland repeatedly beating the same rivals, and while I have him 10lb below the "fantasy" rating of 173 the official handicapper has him on, I still thought he'd be good enough to beat a fairly ordinary set of rivals. He wasn't, and I doubt we will see him in the UK again. Winner Put The Kettle On merely had to run to her rating of OR156 to win this as she had the benefit of the 7lb mares allowance - which effectively put her on 163. She is a game mare though, no denying that. Runner-up Nube Negra confirmed his promise (and also showed that a fit Altior would have gone close even at 11yo), and the 7yo is the one who could give Shishkin a lot to think about next year. He was 3rd in the Juvenile Hurdle at the Festival in 2018, and but for a poor run at Warwick in Feb20 he's progressed well as a chaser and this ex-Spanish flat racer has turned out to be an excellent purchase by Dan Skelton. A couple of others worth noting: Greaneteen hit just about every one of the 1st-9 fences losing a length each time, then jumped great for the final 4 fences - his best form appears to be on right-handed tracks and he can be followed at Sandown and Ascot. For Sceau Royal this may have been his last throw of the dice at this level, as when he's good he's very good, but when he's not he's awful. Considering he was beaten just under 4-lengths having been almost floored 3-out suggests with a clear run he'd have bettered his 2019 effort when 3rd (behind Altior and Politologue). The Celebration Chase at Sandown at the end of April could be a cracker!
I'm not bothered about the Cross-Country Chase, but I have rated it via 3rd-placed Some Neck who I reckon ran fairly much to the rating he held when winning the Cross-Country Chase (handicap) on 11Dec20 over the same C&D, which is 135. That suggests Easysland ran about 25lb below what he ran to when winning the race last year, and that matches his performance when we saw him run over C&D last November. So what has happened to Easysland? Has he really gone backwards by 25lb? Whatever, my assessment suggests Tiger Roll ran to about 155, and that means he will have to improve another 10lb or so to win the Irish Grand National on 5th April.
The Grand Annual handicap chase over 2-mile was a new race for me to assess, and it had been moved from the Old Course to the New Course. Sky Pirate won by getting his head in front on the line, beating by inches Entoucas - this was galling for my brother as he had Entoucas in a double with 33/1 winner Heaven Help Us (as he'd read my blog and took advantage!). The handicapper has raised Sky Pirate 8lb for that short-head winning margin, whereas I thought he merely ran to his official rating of OR152. The runner-up Entoucas has only been raised 2lb (eh?), and I would be keen to follow him in handicaps over his next few runs. In 3rd was Ibleo and this 8yo has improved with every run this season. Why he went up 3lb to OR157 is beyond me, and he may struggle to win another handicap from that rating. What is interesting is that his sire is the 14yo Dick Turpin who was a Group 1 winning miler in 2010-11 and stand with the National Stud for just £3,000. He could be worth visiting by breeders in the UK looking for a NH Sire. The 1st-3 pulled a few lengths clear of the field on the run-in and there's none behind who I thought suffered ill-luck.
With a couple of 6yo's dominating the Champion Bumper, and both being trained by Willie Mullins, there isn't much to say about the race as I doubt either Sir Gerhard or Kilcruit will prove top horses next season.
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