“At the moment I’m going to go to Down Royal and he’ll be ready for his life, he won’t be just going for a day out because that is a proper race for him.”
Paul Nicholls on Frodon when speaking in his Betfair stable tour. Is there a better target trainer around than the Ditcheat handler? And more often than not, he's more than willing to tell you exactly what said plans are. In many ways he is what Willie Mullins isn't - with routes for his horses through the season seemingly planned well in advance.
Frodon gave Nicholls a fifth win in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase. Kauto Star provided two of those wins but so did Taranis and Kauto Stone, hardly world beaters at their best but were delivered to Down Royal fit and ready to go, and connections rewarded accordingly.
The standard of Irish racing wasn’t as strong back then but it has never been better now, and Nicholls has still managed to plunder the last two three-mile Grade 1 chases here. Yet it was hardly a brave decision to travel a horse like Frodon over to Down Royal, as some have suggested. It was an entirely logical one really, evidenced by the 3/1 starting price. The right-handed, quick turning, flat nature of Down Royal’s course was always going to suit the King George winner who just like at Kempton, turned up to take advantage of other rivals - Minella Indo and Delta Work - underperforming on the day.
Frodon, still only nine, has 16 wins over fences from 33 starts. Ten of those have come for Bryony Frost, who ought to give herself a lot more credit for her role in the saddle, something mooted by various former jockey pundits speaking on RTÉ and Racing TV on the day.
Frodon goes back to Kempton to defend his King George title and deserves respect he may not fully get again. Then he could be back on these shores for the Irish Gold Cup in February and that would be a brilliant addition to that weekend.
Gordon Elliott had a brilliant two days at Down Royal, and also at Cork, where he sent out the Cork Grand National winner.
This isn’t unusual. It’s well established now that Elliott sends some of his best to Down Royal's big two-day meeting and that he generally goes well at this time of the season. At the last five renewals of this meeting at Down Royal, he has sent out eight, seven, three, six and six winners. In turn, Elliott’s overall strike rate for the season usually hovers between 14% and 17% but if you filter it down to October and November, the rate goes up to 23.5% for the former and 19% for the latter.
That weekend flurry of winners has Elliott already back into third in the trainers’ championship and you wouldn’t bet against him leapfrogging Henry de Bromhead (trails by just over €200,000) into second by the time the triple Grade 1 meeting at Fairyhouse comes along next month.
Many have mused about how Elliott’s six-month suspension would affect his operation but given he is on trend to his most recent seasons, the future looks bright. It was perhaps significant five of his seven wins at Down Royal came from two of his biggest supporters - Bective Stud (Noel and Valerie Moran) and Caldwell Construction Ltd (Andrew and Gemma Brown).
We knew it already, but Emmet Mullins is a trainer going places fast and a first career treble at Cork on Sunday is a significant bookmaker in his progression.
Cape Gentleman, Crowns Major and Agritime are all young and up and coming in their current disciplines - with the first two mentioned set to be given Grade 1 targets at Fairyhouse next. Mullins, who trains at the same yard as his uncle Willie, which surely has its advantages, had a brilliant time last season when sending out a first Cheltenham Festival winner with The Shunter.
Yet he’s already three winners past his total amount of winners in Ireland this term and up to ninth in the trainers' championship.
The Shunter also gave him a significant win in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and intriguingly he has a horse with a very similar profile in Winter Fog entered for the same race in two weeks time. Bought from the yard of Daniel Murphy and now running in the colours of Paul Byrne, the seven-year-old will be of interest to many if taking his chance in the valuable handicap hurdle.
Indefatigable leads over the last in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby as Paisley Park stays on in the background \ focusonracing.com
Connections and fans of Paisley Park may well have been disappointed with his effort to finish third on seasonal debut in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday but there seems to have been a little bit of an overreaction to the defeat.
Emma Lavelle’s stable star never looked at ease on his final circuit and much of that owed to the slow pace set by Master Tommytucker, whose rider Harry Cobden had his own way out in front. With that in mind it wasn’t a huge surprise that when the pace lifted in the straight, Paisley Park took longer than usual to get going and proven speedier types like Indefatigable and Proschema fared best. The time of the race backs up that visual impression and surely Paisley Park is better judged when racing off a stronger pace, which will place more emphasis on his greatest asset, stamina in the finish.
The nine-year-old hasn’t been over-raced during his career and looked as good as ever when beating Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and then finishing third to Flooring Porter in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. He has the ability to score at the top level again.
The Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase is a contest that often goes under the radar as it takes place at Carlisle on a Sunday but it’s usually a contest well worth monitoring with trainers often keen to use it as a stepping stone for races like the upcoming Paddy Power Chase (at Cheltenham) and Ladbrokes Trophy.
The conundrum trainers face however is the potential trade off of a potentially good handicap mark for race fitness and that may well be the case for Fiddlerontheroof, who was too strong for runner-up Pay The Piper, giving weight away to that race-fit and solid 140 operator. His rating won’t be published until next Tuesday but you’d imagine he’s up for at least a 6lb raise, and perhaps even more depending on how the handicapper reads the run of the third home - the 160-rated Espoir De Romay.
Still, this was a big win for the Tizzards who by all means had a torrid time last season, sending out just 39 winners from a meagre strike rate of 9%. They also sent out the Haldon Gold Cup winner today with Eldorado Allen.
Fiddlerontheroof, despite providing just one of those 39 wins, was one of their best performers, notably finishing second to Monkfish in the RSA Chase. He could go for the Ladbrokes Trophy off a mark likely in the mid 150s or Joe Tizzard was also considering the Betfair Chase, which in turn would suggest that a mark in the 150s is certainly still workable in handicap company.
Espoir De Romay, so unlucky to have fallen at the second last in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree last April, and consequently allotted a mark of 160 in return, raced like he needed the run. The novice Ahoy Senor jumped brilliantly until unseating his rider at the second last and bar him, if there is a horse to take out from this two-and-a-half-mile contest, it’s Silver Hallmark, who was just a nose behind Espoir De Romay in fourth.
The Evan Williams-trained gelding had a tough task in this race considering he had to carry a penalty for his Grade 2 win at Haydock last season, yet he travelled and jumped well and was still in the argument coming down to the second last, after which he couldn’t match the speed of the front two.
He is rated 145 and it will be interesting to see how the handicapper revises him considering his proximity to a 160 horse. His only entry is in the Ladbrokes Trophy which is also intriguing considering he’s never raced further than two and a half miles.