Tom Thurgood kept a close eye on the racing action at Fairyhouse at the weekend and reveals eight things to note and his thoughts on some of the key performances.
What a weekend.
Unbeaten stars Envoi Allen and Honeysuckle were the headline acts from this year’s Fairyhouse Winter Festival, but there was plenty more besides and some really exciting performances which heighten intrigue and interest for the months ahead.
Here are eight things to note from two days of excellent racing at the Irish venue.
Is Honeysuckle blossoming into a sharper type?
Watch how Honeysuckle extended her unbeaten record
The official margin was only half a length, but in truth, it was a tad cosier than that and this was a good return from the unbeaten mare.
They didn’t go much of a gallop and this was a speed test for the trip, a scenario which wouldn’t ideally suit, and she was pretty keen to boot.
Yet this was one of her best jumping performances - and in the manner of a genuine two-miler for the first time in her career. Honeysuckle looked one to take on at short prices at the minimum distance last year given her jumping, but such concerns may well be allayed on this evidence.
While this form doesn’t take the breath away by top-level standards, the admirable Ronald Pump adds ballast in second while the third Beacon Edge has enjoyed a good campaign, and is still progressing.
This mare is a special five-time Grade One winner from just nine starts under rules and she could take a pretty big step forward from this. Hopefully connections opt for a Unibet Champion Hurdle tilt this time.
Gordon Elliott tightens his grip on the juvenile division
Expert analysis: Ruby Walsh analyses the key races at Fairyhouse
Zanahiyr was excellent in Grade Three company and spectacularly underlined the strength of the all-conquering Elliott team in the juvenile ranks this term.
This race was an honest test despite the small field yet Zanahiyr was cruising all the way with accurate and easy jumping. Willie Mullins’ favourite Saint Sam promised a decent tussle turning in, but Zanahiyr noticeably scooted away after the second-last and went further clear after the final flight for a resounding success.
The stable’s Duffle Coat has cleaned up on British shores so far, but the vibes suggest Zanahiyr and Quilixios are Elliott’s brightest juvenile hopes. The trainer plans to separate both horses for the big upcoming races in this sphere, the Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle over Christmas and the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Landmark weekend for Noel and Valerie Moran
The high-profile owners are relatively new on the scene, but they’re amassing a team of real quality and Zanahiyr was a first Graded winner for the couple at the weekend.
The pair accrued up to €266m last year with the sale of their Prepaid Financial Services and they sponsor Elliott’s Cullentra yard with current vehicle eCOMM Merchant Solutions.
Thirteen horses have run in their silks in Ireland this season, while they also have several in training with Elliott’s former assistant Olly Murphy. The exciting Hollow Games, a point winner and bumper scorer, could prove a real flagbearer for the couple in future seasons.
This was a landmark success for big investors, and you get the distinct impression they are far from finished yet. With the likes of Brian Acheson’s Robcour, they are real emerging forces in the ownership ranks in Ireland as the Gigginstown behemoth gradually winds down operations.
Envoi Allen enhances his reputation
Gordon Elliott relfects on Envoi Allen's superb victory
While we didn’t learn a great deal, Envoi Allen did pretty well to generate the excitement and anticipation he did after extending his marvellous unbeaten record with a first Grade One triumph over fences in the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase.
With all respect intended the race looked a little underwhelming at the declaration stage, with rival connections essentially steering clear of this colossus and leaving just three inferior rivals to beat. Three fences were also omitted on the day, too.
But good horses have their own aura and presence and the way he quickened from the second-last to the line exhibited his rare quality.
He has an allure like no other horse in National Hunt racing and has already achieved remarkable things, yet he was bought to be a Gold Cup horse and surely the best is yet to come from this lightly-raced chaser.
“When he gets in a real race you’ll see the real horse,” said Elliott afterwards.
The future looks very bright for Keskonrisk
Perhaps this isn’t too revelatory for a horse that cost £370,000 last January, but his winning hurdles debut on his first start for Joseph O’Brien on Saturday looked a performance of real quality with the promise of much more to come.
O’Brien is clearly a top-class trainer yet his horses do noticeably improve with racing and slick jumping performances on debut are not necessarily a given with the yard’s promising youngsters.
Yet Keskonrisk showed real aptitude, enthusiasm and physical scope for his job and jumped beautifully throughout. He was tightened up and squeezed after the second-last flight, with impressive bumper winner Indigo Breeze stealing a march down towards the last hurdle.
But Keskonrisk prevailed despite the circumstances and looks a Graded performer in the making - and potentially a very decent one before a chasing career.
The sky looks the limit for Monkfish over fences
We’ve been spoilt so far this term with some fantastic chase debuts, yet while Envoi Allen and Shishkin have mostly taken the headlines, Monkfish put down a huge statement of intent with a fine performance on Saturday.
Albert Bartlett winner or not, he had some very decent rivals to contend with here who had the benefit of race-fitness and chasing experience. The market confidence was total beforehand and Monkfish justified it in style – and over a trip short of his best.
For an imposing type, he was noticeably quick in the air when finding the right stride on take-off for his obstacles and how he sauntered clear after the last left a deep impression.
This was the perfect start to his season all round and he might go up in trip next for the Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Festival thoughts already for Concertista?
She looked very good in this belated first success on Irish soil with her Festival romp from March still fresh in the memory.
She takes lengths out of her rivals when jumping long but she was a little clumsy in close despite her experience. She probably wants a faster pace than the prevailing gallop here.
While the Cheltenham Festival is still a long way away, you see why the 13-2 quotes from Sunday have now vanished with 11-2 currently the best on offer for Concertista for the Mares’ Hurdle.
She has established Festival pedigree, Willie Mullins dominates the race, and this contest often lacks depth. With the Champion Hurdle a likelier target for Honeysuckle this time and Benie Des Dieux potentially set to go chasing, Concertista could feasibly line up as the stable first-string in the Mares’ Hurdle next spring.
N’golo continues his progress
Ballyadam delivered in the Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle to land Grade One honours on just his second start over flights.
He was a little novicey, but he jumped well on debut at Down Royal to suggest there is no underlying issue here, while the decisive move of the race was his lovely jump at the second-last to take command in the straight. Jack Kennedy never got serious with him after the last.
The yard’s youngsters are very well-schooled and most jump to a very satisfactory level within their first few hurdles starts, while Elliott ironed out the slow-learning Abacadabras who only just got touched off by a potentially exceptional talent in last season’s Supreme Novices’.
One to bear in mind too though is N’golo, who again finished with an eye-catching effort in a race not really run to suit and after early exuberance. He seems a slow-learning type and needs to be anchored behind horses to switch off, but he’s subsequently not best placed in races run over his likely optimum.
He looks the type to take a good step forward in well-run races or when the ground gets deeper this winter over the minimum trip. He has decent experience in the bag now while still looking far from the finished article and has more to come in more favourable conditions.
In the current Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ market, Ballyadam is 7-1 and N’golo is 33-1. That discrepancy looks too big between the two.
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