“THIS doesn’t happen to us.”
The words of a jubilant Maxine O’Sullivan after crossing the line at Cheltenham in March aboard her father Eugene’s It Came To Pass in the Foxhunters Chase.
Aptly named, It Came To Pass was sent off at 66/1 but returned looking like a racing certainty.
In the aftermath of her success, it was apparent that O’Sullivan’s words resonated with so many folk who feel that level of success is beyond their grasp, but this was just another example of what hard work combined with the right equine talent can achieve.
Earlier this week, Horse Racing Ireland made the best of the current perilous situation by hosting a virtual awards ceremony to mark the notable achievements throughout the past year.
Despite unprecedented circumstances, Irish racing enjoyed phenomenal levels of success, not only in Europe but also further afield.
From Tarnawa in Keeneland, Twilight Payment in Melbourne, and Mogul winning in Hong Kong just last Sunday, Irish racing continues to lead the way in the world of horse racing.
It’s not just on the flat either!
The Cheltenham Festival is one week that is targeted by all Irish trainers who have a horse worthy of travelling, and just last Saturday, Kanturk trainer Mick Winters reminded the British that our racing is the most competitive in the world when Chatham Street Lad turned what appeared a competitive renewal of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup into a procession.
A bit like a child reared in a candy shop, it can often be difficult to appreciate the quality of our racing here at home when foreign raiders rarely venture to visit, but the fact remains that when we step outside our jurisdiction, the results speak volumes and that is perhaps why we’re not seeing more visitors to our shores.
So that was the year past, what about the future?
Well, before we look ahead to the Christmas festivals, there are some interesting races to examine over the coming days, starting with the bumper from Navan this afternoon.
The 'Future Champions' Listed bumper has an illustrious roll of honour which includes Don Cossack, Death Duty, Samcro, and more recently Envoi Allen.
Gordon Elliott has won four of the last five renewals of this bumper and this year he could have another monster on his hands.
Cheltenham might seem months away but the Champion bumper ante-post favourite will hope to book his ticket cross channel under Jamie Codd.
Sir Gerhard carried the same colours as Envoi Allen and nearly has as big a reputation at this tender stage of his career.
Purchased by Elliott for £400,000, after winning his point-to-point in Boulta, Sir Gerhard sauntered around in Down Royal to win by an effortless 14 lengths under Codd. That was a maiden bumper and this is hotter water, but can anyone actually give him a fright?
Patrick Mullins will know exactly what is required to win this race and in fact, what ability is needed to be champion bumper material. He teams up with Gavin Cromwell’s Letsbeclearaboutit whom he has won two bumpers from two attempts this season.
Unlike Sir Gerhard, this horse is unlikely to target Cheltenham which could prove vital when you consider one horse is being trained for a target months away.
Letsbeclearaboutit will have to concede 3lbs to the Elliott horse, but it wouldn’t surprise many if he were to keep him honest, especially as conditions look tailor-made for him.
Away from home, tomorrow’s Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot looks somewhat of a match between former staying champion Paisley Park and second season novice Thyme Hill.
The pair met in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month when the young gun beat the older horse by over a length.
Circumstances might be different, but I’d find it difficult to oppose Thyme Hill on that evidence, but I wonder is David Pipe’s Main Fact a lively dark horse waiting in the wings?
Main Fact has won his last nine starts, including a Grade 3 handicap at Haydock, and has gone from a rating of 98 to 154 in the space of 12 months.
That rating puts him within striking distance of the favourites and while his form is in handicaps, he is a rapidly improving horse who could take that crucial next step this weekend.