Racing officials in Ireland are threatening to go on strike, in a dispute with the Turf Club, but it now looks as though the bookmakers' only chance of salvation at Cheltenham next month might be for Dunguib to come out in sympathy. The aura of invincibility about this horse was fortified by another ballistic exhibition here yesterday, and he is now generally odds-on to get the Irish off to a flying start in the first race of the Festival. He is such a freak that starters, judges and handicappers would presumably all have been glad, just this once, to work for nothing.
Probably the best bumper horse ever, he has yet to come off the bridle since turning his attention to hurdles. Admittedly, some rather clumsy jumps in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle made it possible to wonder whether he might retain an Achilles' heel, but he has yet to hit an obstacle hard enough to lose the slightest momentum. The relative inexperience of his rider is not an issue, either, to judge by the way Brian O'Connell was still restraining him even on the run to the final hurdle. True, such confidence itself discloses his innocence, but it was instructive of the young man's readiness for the huge responsibility in his hands – the hopes of one nation, and the cash of two – when the field lines up for the Spinal Research Supreme Novices' Hurdle on 16 March.
O'Connell dropped Dunguib right out in the early stages, and perhaps that contributed to the horse's inattentive jumping. When he eventually allowed his mount past Fionnegas on the run-in, O'Connell decided that not even the most perfunctory gesture of encouragement was warranted. Sure enough, Dunguib coasted two and a half lengths clear, with Fionnegas himself opening up an impressive gap on the rest.
Only Ladbrokes retained sufficient reservations about his jumping to offer evens for Cheltenham. Certainly, the horse has found a trainer equal to his talent in Philip Fenton, who confirmed that connections would resist any temptation to go for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle itself.
"That was the worst he has jumped," Fenton admitted. "He had me worried for a spell there but he got the job done– he has a huge cruising speed, and had plenty in the tank when he finished. He can't jump like that at Cheltenham, but he does look the one. The last hurdle was probably his best and he jumped nine flights at home during the week, with no mistakes. I wanted him to relax and settle, and perhaps he did that too much."
Dunguib will set the tone for a vintage Festival this year, albeit nobody has any illusions that the juvenile hurdlers are going to measure up. On that basis, Pittoni certainly warrants consideration at 16-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle after his success in the opener.
For while the Spring Juvenile Hurdle was only nominally a Grade One race, and was moreover run at a timid pace, there is nothing counterfeit about Pittoni. Lightly raced on the Flat by John Oxx, he has a fine physique and pedigree – his dam won the Yorkshire Oaks – and the game's big spenders should be rebuking themselves for letting Charles Byrnes get his hands on him for 65,000 guineas at the Horses-in-Training sale at Newmarket last autumn.
Here the colt saw off five inferiors readily, despite a gallop that was never going to take them to the limits of their competence. A more demanding tempo would have greatly extended his superiority. "He quickened up well between the last two but I'd say a faster pace will suit him," Byrnes said. "He stays really well, and he'll go for the Triumph next, though he wouldn't want the ground too quick."
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Quick Live (4.10 Southwell)
Improved when well backed for his handicap debut last time, set plenty to do before finishing powerfully, and certain to relish an extra half-mile.
Nikos Extra (2.40 Southwell)
Pulled clear with the first two in a hot race last time and runs off the same mark today. His previous form has worked out very well.
*ONE TO WATCH
Medicinal (A B Haynes) has left the champion stable, but hinted at residual ability when creeping into fourth on his return from a break at Wincanton on Thursday.
*WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING
Captain Cee Bee is down to 3-1 favourite with Coral for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham next month after his easy success at Naas on Saturday.Reuse content