Article Date: 23-April-2012
Blake’s Blog: A Theory on Hurricane Fly
For many, the highlight of this week’s Punchestown Festival will be the return of Hurricane Fly following his bitterly disappointing defeat in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
While some are still scratching their heads over that reversal and are hopeful rather than confident of the brilliant son of Montjeu returning to winning ways on Friday, this corner has no such doubts about the champ.
While it was all worryingly unclear at the time, we now know that the reason Willie Mullins was so muted about the continued delay in Hurricane Fly’s reappearance this season was that his star performer seemed unusually quiet in himself at home.
Any such deviation from what has become the norm for a horse will always worry a trainer and it was no wonder that Mullins was reluctant to run him until he returned to his usual self.
As it turned out, there was no sign of that, so he was all but obliged to run him in the last option for him prior to Cheltenham, the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, in the hope that the racecourse would spark him up.
As it transpired, Hurricane Fly remained uncharacteristically quiet in the preliminaries, which Mullins later admitted was a serious cause of concern for him. However, he need not have worried, as Hurricane Fly settled much better than he often has in the early stages of the race and blew away his opposition with a highly-impressive performance.
It was after this performance that Mullins theorised that, rather than being uncharacteristically quiet due to being out of form, it may be a case of the horse having belatedly mentally matured and settled down.
Given that Hurricane Fly had tended to be his worst enemy with regard to pre-race exertions and free-running tendencies, the prospect of a more settled and thus potentially even more devastating Champion Hurdler was very exciting indeed.
So, what went wrong at Cheltenham? Well, it seemed to be a case of utilising riding tactics that were appropriate for the “old” Hurricane Fly on the new, more relaxed version of the horse. The result was that he was left too far out of his ground and was always struggling to close down the two that eventually beat him.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that the “old” Hurricane Fly had Grade 1 form over two and a half miles on testing ground in the book and thus plenty of stamina, so now that he has settled down, it seemed to be too much of an ask of him to make up so much ground over the Champion Hurdle course and distance.
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh are the best in the sport at their respective jobs and one can be certain that they will be making the necessary adjustments to the planned tactics on Friday.
Expect Hurricane Fly to be ridden much more positively and expect him to return to his imperious best.
Time To Yield On Ground Descriptions?
While some will say that change comes slowly in Irish racing, it is remarkable how little fuss is created when changes are eventually made. The most recent example was last year when HRI announced that the starting stall numbers would be brought into line with the rest of the racing world, with the stall numbering on right-handed tracks being reversed so that lowest numbers would be the closest to the inside running rail.
This announcement was made with just a few weeks of notice and while it took longer for some to adjust than others, it didn’t cause any notable inconvenience and was quickly accepted as the new norm.
With this in mind, perhaps the time has come for the Turf Club to take a look at the one remaining word that keeps Irish racing out of line with the rest of Europe, yielding.
Officially, yielding ground is the Irish equivalent of what would be called good-to-soft ground in Britain, France, Italy and Germany, but its use can be an unnecessary source of confusion for those that are not familiar with Irish racing. And why wouldn’t it?
“Good-to-soft” is the logical, self-explanatory gap filler between “good” and “soft”, with “yielding” being a somewhat ambiguous description that has no obvious place in amongst the more common ground description terms to an outsider.
Regular emails to Attheraces and multiple enquiries on racing forums on the subject show that it is an issue and one can only imagine that many more do not understand the term, but keep quiet for fear of asking a “stupid question”.
As mentioned in last week’s blog, encouraging foreign-based punters to bet on Irish racing through co-mingled Tote pools seems to be a growing priority for the Irish racing authorities. Indeed, the aforementioned changes to the starting stall numbering as well as the recent trial of 48-hour declarations were both undertaken with these foreign betting markets in mind. Thus, it is surely a no-brainer to correct the needless aberration in the context of European racing that is “yielding”?
Given that Irish racing supporters are already very familiar with the much more sensible “good, good-to-soft, soft” scale of ground descriptions, ridding the word “yielding” from Irish racing would probably not even be noticed by most people involved in the sport, but it would remove a potential stumbling block for newcomers to the Irish racing scene. Best of all, it won’t cost a single euro to make the change.
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Looking Back To Move Forward
There is little escaping the fact that no matter what sector of the sport you dwell in, horse racing is primarily concerned with looking back to move forward. Whether you are a trainer, jockey, breeder, punter or simply a fan, analysing what has come before is crucial if one is to anticipate what is likely to happen in the future.
Last week, this blog analysed the rides on the two main protagonists in the most talked about race of the week, but this time around, it will take a more direct approach to analysing to anticipate, highlighting a pair of horses that ran in the last week that are likely to be very difficult to beat on their next outings.
Tommy Stack has made his now trademark fast start to the season and his Atacx looks sure to add to his growing tally in the weeks ahead.
The three-year-old son of Elusive City didn’t make his debut until the opening day of the current turf season in a six-furlong maiden at the Curragh and whilst he has been well backed on both his starts to date, he didn’t get the rub of the green on either occasion.
At the Curragh, he was undone by a combination of greenness and a lack of pace in the part of the track he raced, being left with too much to do and making late headway to finish fourth.
His only other run came in a six-furlong maiden at Naas last Saturday and significantly, he had been entered in the early closing Group 3 Greenlands Stakes at the Curragh the previous Wednesday.
A poor draw looked to be the main doubt surrounding his chance and that problem was made worse by the fact that he dwelt from the stalls and was quite crowded in the first half of the race.
Left with plenty to do, he made eye-catching headway and was building momentum to launch a serious challenge only to be checked just inside the final furlong. It was to his credit that he rallied to take third place after that, but his winning chance had gone.
He is sure to have learned an awful lot from that experience and while he will stay 7f in due course, he appeals as having sufficient speed to remain at 6f for time being. It will take a smart sort to lower his colours when he next appears.
Coincidentally, the other horse that very much caught the eye in the last week was another three-year-old trained at Thomastown Castle, a son of Strategic Prince called Equity Swap.
Out of a daughter of Galileo, he was granted a handicap mark of 51 following three quick runs over inadequate trips at Dundalk in October. With a winter of physical development under his belt, he was stepped up to a mile for his handicap debut back at the Co Louth track last week and the market spoke loudly in his favour, with him being backed into 100/30 favouritism in what was an above-average race for the grade.
However, horses with three uncompetitive runs in maidens can often get caught out by a lack of real racing experience when taking on much more hardened opposition in what is generally a more strongly-run race on their handicap debut.
In the case of Equity Swap, pretty much everything went wrong for him from the outset. He dwelt from the stalls and having been immediately driven to make up the lost ground, he found himself needing to check off heels soon after.
Never travelling with much fluency, he went into the turn with just a couple behind him and having followed the eventual runner-up into the straight, he made up plenty of ground, albeit steadily, to finish a never-dangerous third to two in-form rivals.
While the handicapper has leaped at the opportunity to reassess Equity Swap, raising him 3 lb, he can still can be expected to take a notable step forward on his next start. His racing style suggests that he will be even better suited to a galloping turf track (his action suggests he will appreciate an ease in the ground) and a step up to 10 furlongs shouldn’t pose any problems to him.
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