I really enjoyed the flat season but it’s the time of year when it is forced to slowly limp off the main stage of racing, similar to a talented local band warming up for Bruce Springsteen. The crowd enjoy it, but know the real entertainment is yet to come…
Let’s be honest the upcoming jumps season is already promising to be a very intriguing story….
Last year the jumps had it all – those two emotionally charged Grand National wins for Mouse Morris, the brilliant Sprinter Sacre rolling back the clock and the epic battle between Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls for the UK trainers championship.
These talking points were only three amongst a plethora of riveting sub plots. That jumps season was as glorious a script as one could ever hope to come across.
We are only beginning chapter one of this year’s edition and it is already looking like it’s another bestseller.
This season could be better again and that is some statement in itself.
Owners jumping ship…
A few weeks ago, the racing world was surprised when Alan Potts decided to cut ties with long term trainer Henry De Bromhead. Henry had served them very well in my eyes and the decision seemed short sighted and ill judged.
This surprise was replaced by shock when the news surfaced yesterday of the split between the highly successful team of Gigginstown and Willie Mullins.
Michael O’Leary has made the decision to take his 60 or so horses out of the care of Willie Mullins, citing increased rates as the reason for his sudden departure from the yard. If nothing else, Michael is at least consistent, a cold hearted business man to the last.
This has nicely blown the Irish racing scene wide open.
As pointed out on Kevin Blake’s ATR blog – if you took the money won by Willie’s Gigginstown battalion last season and gave it to Gordon Elliott, he would have won the trainers title last year. This is the margins at play now.
Whilst you can only feel sorry for the stable staff who would have minded and bonded with these animals, this breathes massive life into Irish racing where it was perhaps gasping for fresh air.
Every year it had become a given that Willie Mullins would be crowned champion trainer at the Punchestown festival alongside Ruby Walsh collecting the jockey’s championship. This news changes things in a big way.
The likes of Don Poli, Apple’s Jade and Blow for Blow joining Gordon Elliott, along with 17 others will shrink the difference between the two for sure.
Willie Mullins has gone from looking as if he could potentially take both the Irish and English championships, to somewhat looking over his shoulder anxiously about the former.
There is a lot more to think about also than just Willie and Gordon. Joseph O’Brien has a massive battalion to go to war with this year. At the tender age of 23, he has amassed an impressive amount of horses from JP McManus and now inherits horses from Gigginstown as well.
This adds another layer to the trainers championship. Naturally it’s hard to see him being a contender this year, but in years to come he will be coming into the reckoning.
Joseph O’Brien and Gordon Elliott are not the only ones to benefits from the split – with the resurgent Noel Meade, Mouse Morris (also inheriting horses from the aforementioned Alan Potts) and Henry De Bromhead also receiving a few each. In fairness De Bromhead will have to be pinching himself at the quick turnaround.
He has been the subject of a very swift change of fortune. He went from losing Alan & Ann Potts horses and then, only a few weeks later, the stables will be abound with Gigginstown horses. One can’t help feel he came out the better from that series of events.
The spread of horses makes the year more interesting. Different faces in the winning enclosures more often in Ireland will be no bad thing at all whether a punter, owner or observer.
Colm Murphy is a stark reminder of how tough it is to stay afloat in this game and the spread of horses throughout Irish Racing will keep things going for all involved.
You’d have to say racing in Ireland wins overall.
Would Don Poli be taking on Vautour in a Lexus Chase clash if both were under the care of Willie Mullins? Would Apple’s Jade be campaigned towards a Champion Hurdle tilt? You’d have to answer no on both parts as jigsaws with less pieces are easier to finish. That’s what we have now for each yard mapping out their seasons. it’s exciting times.
Saying all this, I still can’t envisage any scenario where Willie Mullins isn’t crowned Champion Trainer in April 2017.
The compilers who made Gordon Elliott odds-on for a maiden Irish trainer’s championship looked a ridiculous over-reaction. I see Willie Mullins is odds on again today and this is how it should be for now.
Gordon will get closer, but Mullins still holds all the cards.
The main three horses Gordon has inherited are Blow by Blow, Don Poli and Apple’s Jade. Superb additions but not enough to close the gap for this season, not just yet.
Apple’s Jade was brilliant last year and looked special, but she’s a five-year-old and won’t be the first or last horse to struggle at this age. Blow by Blow looks a big chasing type who may struggle over hurdles and Don Poli is too slow!
Don Poli’s season again may rest on winning a heavy ground Lexus and/or the Aintree Grand National – which doesn’t, of course, count towards the Irish Championship.
Willie still has so much at his disposal. Big owners like Wylie, Ricci, Bloom and many others will ensure that he won’t be fretting for too long. Horses like Invitation Only, Bacardys and Very Much So are only three of a brigade of up and coming talent in the yard and we wait to see what else is warming up the limbs in Closutton.
The exciting aspect though is that this year’s Irish trainer’s championship is not a complete forgone conclusion. That in itself is the most welcome development in Irish National Hunt racing.
The scene is set for the start of epic battles between Elliott and Mullins for years to come, throw in Joseph O’Brien soon enough – but the Mullins juggernaut won’t be derailed for this year at least.
Let’s get started!
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.