THE calendar has seen the spring festivals condensed into six weeks, so affording forgiveness for the participants at Punchestown who have either danced all the dances or contested the races which have returned a big speed figure seems fair.
This applies to none more so than Cheltenham hero Galopin Des Champs who also strove to overcome a chronic lack of pace in last Wednesday’s Punchestown Gold Cup; a scenario he hasn’t faced since being held up in his races.
Harry Cobden set the early gallop aboard Bravemansgame which proved just a fraction of the gallop in last month’s Gold Cup and, as a result, the time figure was only marginally quicker than Hereditary Rule when adjusted for distance.
In terms of the benefit to himself and the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding, Cobden could have exacted the ultimate reward had his partner not missed the last, with the loss of momentum more costly than the ground lost.
There is our first forgiveness as the son of Brave Mansonnien is normally exemplary at his fences, especially when under pressure. The eight-year-old will still set the standard for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup heads my ratings for staying chases at the highest level, so Willie Mullins’ juggernaut is still the champ in his division despite losing his unbeaten record for the campaign.
Paul Townend, aware of the slow pace, drew closer to the front runners on the approach to the fifth last fence and looked set to conclude his season where it began with a Punchestown victory.
However, whether it was running wide off the bend or slightly missing the second last, the brilliance which has seen the seven-year-old carry all before him previously was absent on the day, leaving even the harshest critics to surely forgive what is up to this point in his career a rare below-par performance.
Still at a tender age for a chaser, the Gold Cup will no doubt be at the forefront of his campaign next season and remains a firm possibility. All roads lead to Cheltenham in March.
Connections of winner Fastorslow should rightly be excited about the future for their seven-year-old, who must be considered a Gold Cup contender despite the slow time.
Stopping the race at the third last fence, victory looked highly unlikely as the Sean Mulryan-owned gelding trailed the principles by a few lengths. However, in completing his race 47.7secs (1.3secs quicker than Hereditary Rule in the two-mile-five-furlong handicap chase on the same card) the unexposed chaser was well on top at the line.
There is also the small matter of him narrowly failing to give Corach Rambler weight in the Ultima at Cheltenham, when he rated higher on the clock.
In the event of the handicapper reading this form literally, handicaps will be out of the equation, in which case a Grade 1 campaign will be the only option to Martin Brassil.
Heading out to summer grass, the defending champion has three very high calibre rivals to his Gold Cup crown and we can only hope they all make the Blue Riband of chasing at the peak of their powers.
for Feronily success
THE Grade 1 for novices on the opening day of the Festival went the way of Feronily, although the time figure was not of sufficient substance for Emmett Mullins’ gelding to feature among the leading horses of his sphere.
The early exchanges of the extended three-mile contest were pedestrian and the race lost even more impetuous when Journey With Me, who lacked conviction at his fences on the day, parted company with Rachael Blackmore.
Seizing the moment, Donagh Meyler injected pace to the race at the perfect time for his partner to see the race out strongly, covering the ground from the third last obstacle in 51.2secs, which was just 0.9secs slower than Champion Chase winner Energumene.
On this performance it is clear the Paul Byrne-owned six-year-old possesses speed and stamina in equal measure and connections will be hoping for a workable rating to exploit in a handicap or two before contesting graded races again.
If there is a staying novice chaser who can bridge the gap to Grade 1 open company it is Gerri Colombe. In concluding his season at Aintree, Gordon Elliott’s gelding was just short of his Cheltenham run on the clock. However, as good as both runs were they still need to be improved upon to bridge the gap. Overall, The Real Whacker being the only other exception, the staying novice chase ranks lack strength in depth.