The (Neon) Wolf of Haydock

It was the jump three hurdles out that clinched it at Haydock. Spirits were damp — frozen even — on Saturday morning as Ascot succumbed to the icy temperatures so the Merseyside racecourse needed something special to warm the spirits.

And in the end, we got two victories to warm even the most sub zero of hearts. But it was that jump, the jump of which dreams take to flight, that sealed it.

I’m talking of course about Harry Fry’s young hurdler, Neon Wolf. Seldom have I seen a horse land a gamble in quite so bloodless a manner but the word was most definitely out for this one and the wolf didn’t fluff his lines.

At this stage of a season, we watch hurdles and wonder what scope they might have for the years ahead. Subsequent to inevitable Festival glory (yes, of course I have backed him) he will surely make into a chaser for 2018 and beyond. We need horses to look forward to in our lives. Fry has a dream on his hands and those of us who dare to dream are in it now for the long haul. And it was all because of that jump.

Mai Be?

Nigel Twiston-Davies is one of the most entertaining trainers on the circuit and his range of duffle coats is second to none. He is, of course, also supremely talented.

On Saturday, his beloved The New One notched up yet another high grade hurdle to trigger yet another debate as to whether he is top class. He may not be, but my goodness he is a joy to behold in races like Saturday’s Champion Hurdle Trial.

Barely half an hour or so later, however, the Twister was daring to believe he had a top class chaser on his hands as Bristol De Mai turned a slow ground Peter Marsh into a near procession.

Sure, all the hype had been around Colin Tizzard’s French import, Alary, who failed to impress, but Bristol De Mai galloped into the Gold Cup reckoning (now a general 16/1) with a decisive victory.

His trainer celebrated like most of us do when we’ve found a winner — he went a bit nuts and started swearing which, forgive me Father, is marvellous to see and hear.

Did Thistlecrack lose any sleep? Probably not, but if the deluge comes in early March and we face up to a soft ground Gold Cup, just maybe we’ll have another Imperial Commander on our hands and duffle coat retailers around the Cotswolds will up their prices.

Mad to grumble for one horse

The rescheduled Clarence House joins an already stellar card at Cheltenham this weekend, albeit without original second favourite, Ar Mad.

Let me be crystal clear about this: Ar Mad’s patent inability to handle Cheltenham is no reason whatsoever to grumble about Cheltenham. Of my many bug bears in racing, the unsuitability of a horse to one specific trac or his inability to go left- or right
-handed is part and parcel of the equine racing defects.

We don’t need to make excuses, we simply file said horses in the quirky folder, back them accordingly and with our eyes wide open, and categorically refuse to shift the programme to suit.

The very best horses, I have always argued, are not just the fastest but also the most versatile — over distance, ground, field size and tactical surprises. It’s why Kauto Star, who won a Tingle Creek going right-handed and two Gold Cups going left-handed, stands the National Hunt test of time, and Sea The Stars on the Flat, from a Spring Guineas win to an Autumn Arc will forever be help up to the skies.

Sorry Ar Mad – you’re super, but you won’t join the pantheon of versatile greats.

Great Scott

I’m in danger of becoming a hypocrite if I muse too much longer on the new ITV Racing format, but the reappearance of Brough Scott on Saturday was a work of genius.

I’ve known Scott a long while but would be lying if I were to claim to remember his original heyday as the front man for ITV Racing back in the 70s. Archive footage shows a man dispiritingly similar to the Scott who graced our screens at the weekend. He hasn’t aged a fortnight, it seems, and his voice is just as instantly recognisable as it ever was.

Better still, his insight in the studio had me (and many others, I have no doubt) glued to the screen. French chasers, King George politics and horsemanship were all deftly articulated by the broadcasting veteran.

He was a joy to listen to and has already proven himself to be an inspirational signing by the network.

Happy with a place

With an abandoned race last week, I am now unbeaten in my tips for almost a fortnight which represents a near personal best.

We can’t look much beyond Cheltenham this weekend and appearances from antepost favourites Thistlecrack and Unowhatimeanharry. Anything other than facile victories for both stars will raise eyebrows en route to mid March but I’m taking an each way chance with SMAD PLACE. He profited from Djakadam coming unstuck last year and this is his track and his time of year.

Stranger things have happened on a racecourse, although nearly a month without me tipping a loser is admittedly unprecedented.

Top image: Haydock racecourse by Iain Patterson via Flickr, CC BY 2.0


You May Also Like