IT’S just over two weeks until the tapes go up at Prestbury Park for the Olympics of our sport. Cheltenham Preview nights are just getting started and a few contenders have started to fall by the wayside.
In recent weeks, Willie Mullins announced that Saldier, Douvan and Klassical Dream, amongst others, wouldn’t make it to the festival and Wednesday’s news regarding Native River was a real bitter pill for his connections.
We’re all guilty of getting carried away at Cheltenham. Sometimes you’d think the world was going to end on the Friday of the festival. It’s important to keep perspective. The outlook for those side-lined Mullins contenders, is brighter than the headlines suggest. They will race again and meet other targets.
However, poor Native River has suffered a suspensory tendon injury, much more than a “setback”. Considering he has only raced five times since winning the 2018 Gold Cup, Native River is clearly a horse that has endured a number of issues, and while he wasn’t near top of the market for next month’s showpiece, he was in many notebooks for the Aintree Grand National.
Every year on the run up to these major festivals, horses will inevitably suffer injuries but some more serious than others. Obviously, it’s always disappointing to miss a major target but if these horses can regroup and go again, not all is lost. There is Aintree, Fairyhouse, Punchestown, Galway etc to look forward to — Cheltenham is major but it’s not oxygen.
This is an extremely hectic time of year for trainers — particularly those who cater for big numbers. These men and women must be commended for their transparency regarding punters and how accommodating they are with racing’s media.
Just this past week, Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins welcomed the press to their yards for Cheltenham previews and there were some notable nuggets to take from each visit. Elliott went through his entire team, starting with confirmation that Mark Walsh has been booked to ride Delta Work in the Gold Cup.
Racing’s favourite, Tiger Roll, has bounced out of his seasonal reappearance at Navan last Sunday and while we didn’t learn much regarding other equine celebrities, such as Envoi Allen and Abacadabras, Elliott did reveal that Apple’s Jade, “worked the other day before Navan and she was a bit lifeless. I’d imagine she will be covered this year. She’s won 11 Grade 1s and she doesn’t owe anyone anything – she’s a horse of a lifetime.”
This star mare remains on target for the Stayer’s Hurdle, but credit where it is due to her trainer, she’s not the mare of yesteryear and her next run could well prover her swansong.
Another mare who has served Elliott and Gigginstown House well over the years is Shattered Love. Following a much-improved performance in the Red Mills Chase last Saturday, her trainer revealed “she’s had four wind operations. She’s massive, so soft ground suits her.” The Ryanair Chase could beckon for this former dual Grade 1 winner.
Another anecdote worth noting is the fact that Samcro is very much flying under the radar.
Elliott hasn’t lost faith in the former Ballymore winner saying: “Samcro has had a wind op since Limerick and he was beaten by a good horse there (Faugheen). We had awful problems with him last year and we could never get him to scope right.
"He didn’t actually scope right at all after Limerick either. He’s a very hard horse to keep right but his work has been great and he looks great, so we’ll give it a go in the Marsh Chase. We know he’s a good horse and hopefully we can get him back to what we know he can be.” Interesting. Underestimate him at your peril.
As for Willie Mullins, the man remains Ireland’s scrum half. A dominant force who commands respect whether it’s Cheltenham in March or Royal Ascot in June. Next month’s festival represents his first foray to Cheltenham without his ally Ruby Walsh in the saddle for over twenty years.
The pressure will be on Paul Townend to deliver on the main stage but rest assured, Ruby won’t be far away. The man is a master tactician. An asset Mullins is too wise to leave sail off into the sunset.
That’s what sets them apart you know - those who consistently perform at the highest echelon of their respective discipline. They surround themselves with the best people to produce the best results. Sounds easy doesn’t it?