Donn McClean highlights three horses of potential interest for the Cheltenham Festival following the racing at Navan over the weekend, including Prestbury Park legend Tiger Roll.
It was Gordon Elliott day at Navan on Sunday. It is often Gordon Elliott day at Navan. It wasn’t quite on a par with Troytown Chase day 2016, when he had six of the seven winners, but four out of eight on Sunday, including the Grade 3 race and one of the Grade 2s, and beaten a neck in the other Grade 2, is a good day by anyone’s standards.
It was Tiger Roll, of course, who dominated the preamble to the day. The form book says that the dual Grand National hero finished last of the six runners in the Boyne Hurdle, 64 lengths behind the winner Beacon Edge, but he ran better than that. He travelled well through his race for Keith Donoghue, he was still on the bridle as they straightened up for home, and he was only about three lengths behind the leaders jumping the third last flight. He just couldn’t go with them on the heavy ground when they quickened on the run to the second last, but that was forgivable.
The ground would have been all against the Gigginstown House horse, as would the sedate early pace, and obviously the two-mile-five-furlong trip. When he won the Boyne Hurdle in 2019, the ground was yielding.
Of course, Tiger Roll was nine then, he is 11 now, but he ran well enough for long enough here to suggest that the fire is still there. This was his first race since last November, and the Boyne Hurdle was always going to be a stepping stone on the path. With this run under his belt, he should be a completely different proposition back at the Cheltenham Festival, at which he has won four times, back over the cross-country course, and probably and hopefully on much better ground.
Beacon Edge and Fury Road fought out the finish, the former under Sean Flanagan in the white Gigginstown cap, the latter under Jack Kennedy in the maroon one with the white star, with Beacon Edge getting home by a neck and the pair of them coming 12 lengths clear of third-placed Darasso.
It was a fine performance by Noel Meade’s horse, a real bounce back to form after a disappointing defeat at Naas last month. Beacon Edge is a talented horse, he was a good bumper horse and he won a Grade 3 hurdle at Galway last October before getting to within three parts of a length of Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November.
He does hold an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, but Noel Meade said afterwards that he may wait for the Aintree Hurdle, and that might make sense. He has never gone beyond this two-mile-five-furlong trip but, out of a half-sister to Jessies Dream, who won the Drinmore Chase over two and a half miles, but came up just short in the RSA Chase over three, it may be that this intermediate trip is his ideal.
Also, the Meade/Gigginstown combination have Diol Ker as a Stayers’ Hurdle alternative, and Diol Ker ran a big race to go down by just a half a length to fellow Stayers’ Hurdle aspirant Sams Profile in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last month. Diol Ker stays well, he should be better on better ground than the ground the he encountered at Gowran Park, and he could be a lively Stayers’ Hurdle outsider.
The sedate early pace on Sunday would have been against Fury Road, whose stamina for further is proven. To put the pedestrianism of the early pace into context, according to this basic hand-held stopwatch, they got from the first flight to the third last flight in the Boyne Hurdle in a time that was over 13 seconds slower than the time that it took Atlantic Fairy to cover the same ground in the new Listed Apple’s Jade Novice Hurdle run over the same course and distance a half an hour earlier. Yet they got from the third last flight to the winning line in the Boyne Hurdle in a time that was over five seconds faster.
Fury Road is not a certain runner now in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but he is still a possible runner, and he could play a big part in the race if allowed take his chance. He was beaten here, but he was only just beaten by a talented horse who was probably competing over his optimum trip, and he was beaten for pace, on his first run since Christmas. He could come forward significantly for this run.
Winner of a Grade 2 contest at Limerick as a novice over two miles and seven furlongs on heavy ground, Gordon Elliott’s horse should also progress for the step up to three miles in the Stayers’ Hurdle, and we know that he goes well at Cheltenham. He ran a massive race in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle last year on his only run to date there, when he went down by a neck and a nose to Monkfish and Latest Exhibition, with Thyme Hill over a length back in fourth place.
There was a lot to like about the performance that Atlantic Fairy put up in winning the new listed mares’ novices’ hurdle. Rachael Blackmore bounced her out of the gate, set fast fractions and, despite making a couple of mistakes on the way around, she stayed on gamely to get home by almost two lengths from Global Equity, who had finished second in the Paddy Mullins Mares’ Handicap Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival on her previous run.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained mare set an unrelenting pace. As mentioned, she was much faster from the first flight to the third last flight than Beacon Edge and Fury Road were, and she was faster to just about every flight of hurdles than Fierami was in the 80-102 handicap hurdle run over the same course and distance later on the day.
Mark Phelan’s mare is a seriously progressive mare too. Second to the now 143-rated Master McShee in a maiden hurdle at Cork in early December on her first run in over 400 days, she was impressive in winning her maiden hurdle at Limerick over Christmas next time, beating subsequent handicap hurdle winner Nelly’s Money by 20 lengths, and Sunday’s win was another step forward from that.
She holds entries in the Ballymore Hurdle and in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Of those two, you have to think that the Albert Bartlett is the more likely option, given how well she stays, but Henry de Bromhead did say that she might wait instead for the Grade 1 EBF mares’ novices’ hurdle at Fairyhouse at Easter instead, a race that he won in 2019 with Honeysuckle.
Coko Beach and Espanito Bello fought out the finish of a fascinating curtain-raiser, the Ten Up Chase. Coko Beach jumped superbly throughout, and travelled well in the slipstream of early leader Forza Milan. He moved on at the top of the home straight, and was immediately joined there by Espanito Bello. The pair of them went toe-to-toe from there they all the way to the final fence, where the darker of the two greys nodded on landing, losing all momentum and with it his race-winning chance.
It is impossible to know how the race would have panned out had Barry Connell’s horse jumped the final fence well, but both horses enhanced their respective reputations. Both horses have good profiles for the Irish Grand National, young novices who stay well and who still have the potential to progress beyond their respective handicap ratings.
Coko Beach also holds entries in the Marsh Chase, the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (the old RSA Chase) and the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Of those, the National Hunt Chase would surely be the most attractive option if he does make the trip. The Thyestes Chase winner would be one of the highest-rated horses in that race. He jumps well and he stays well, and he has performed really well at the Cheltenham Festival on both his runs there, in the Fred Winter Hurdle in 2019 and in the Coral Cup last year.
You can’t leave Navan on Sunday without reference to Hugh Morgan’s extraordinary performance in winning the three-mile handicap chase on Young Dev.
The young rider’s right leather broke on landing over the first fence. Unperturbed, he kicked his left iron out and proceeded to ride for the remaining two miles and seven furlongs, over the remaining 16 fences, without irons, producing Denis Hogan's horse to challenge between Dubai Devils and Se Mo Laoch to hit the front on the run to the final fence, before riding him out up the run-in to get home by three parts of a length.
It was a fantastic piece of horsemanship that got its just reward. We are not yet at the end of February, but it is highly unlikely that there will be another ride this year that will challenge this one for Ride of the Year.