Melancholy days on the Turf, these, above all now that one of its warmest sunbeams fades upon the frozen ground.
For the abandonment of the big meeting at Newbury today deprives the jump-racing community of a perfect venue to share cherished memories of Josh Gifford, the trainer of Aldaniti, who died on Thursday.
Riding for Ryan Price, Gifford won four of the first five editions of the race scheduled to be run for the first time as the Betfair Hurdle. But the fearless jockey, champion over mud and birch four times, will in the memory of many friends endure longest as the epitome of summer – impresario, in his cricket whites, of long afternoons and longer evenings at Findon that even then seemed to bear a nostalgic patina.
Gifford had the ready emotions of one whose toughness was proven beyond question. But any tempted to say that they don't make them like Josh any more, should be reproved by the certainty that he would have been deeply impressed – and moved – by two other gentlemen who were due to be honoured today.
Karl Hinett and Jaco van Gass were at Paul Nicholls' yard on Monday, helping to promote a card that was also set to feature the "Betfair Supports Walking With The Wounded" Hurdle. Hinett suffered 37 per cent burns when his tank was petrol-bombed in Iraq in 2005; he ran 52 marathons in 2011. Van Gass lost his left arm to a grenade in Afghanistan in 2009; last year, he was part of the first group of wounded servicemen to reach the North Pole, unsupported. In a few weeks, the pair will join a Walking With The Wounded expedition to climb Mount Everest.
The loss of this showcase for these humbling young men places in due perspective any selfish frustrations over the current freeze. Happily, their race will be salvaged, along with almost the entire card, at the same track on Friday. Despite forfeiting its weekend profile, Betfair has underwritten the value of the big hurdle race so that it remains the richest in Europe.
In the meantime, moreover, the Irish are set to end the famine with a real banquet, comprising four Grade One races at Leopardstown tomorrow. True, the card's richest race has been depleted by the withdrawal of Synchronised, Quito De La Roque and Jessies Dream. As such, the Hennessy Gold Cup is a congenial opportunity for Quel Esprit to make the breakthrough that beckons after two wins in lesser grade, calculated to restore his confidence after failing to complete in three of four starts as a novice last term, including the RSA Chase at Cheltenham where he was still in front when crashing three out.
Some fairly generous assumptions are implied by the odds, however, and strictly on form he still has something to find with China Rock, who was perhaps committed too soon when fourth here last year. The very fact that a trainer as seasoned as Mouse Morris was then prepared to run him in the Gold Cup commands respect for China Rock and, while he finished lame at Cheltenham, Morris says he has "come on a ton" for a spin over hurdles last month.
Bostons Angel, who went on to win the RSA Chase after Quel Esprit's departure, is tried in cheekpieces in the hope of stemming a tide of disappointment for last season's novices. He had set up his Festival success by winning the Moriarty Novice Chase on this card, and this time round that race appears to find Last Instalment with the world at his feet. He has been immaculate in three chases to date. Bog Warrior, yet another exciting prospect in the Gigginstown Stud colours, has also been declared but is an intended runner at Naas today.
One or two British trainers have finally been lured over the Irish Sea by some decent prize-money. Nicky Henderson saddles Captain Conan in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, where the French import avoids a penalty for his instant success at Sandown last month. He was indebted to the antics of the runner-up, however, and meets another Grade One winner in Cash And Go.
It seems significant, however, that Willie Mullins perseveres with Sous Les Cieux, only third at odds-on behind Cash And Go at the Christmas meeting here. Having failed to settle in front that day, he is easily pardoned that reverse.
Mullins, on an unbelievable roll this winter, saw four out of five hot favourites turned over at Thurles on Thursday but could resume business as usual in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle tomorrow. Ut De Sivola has looked the best four-year-old in Ireland so far, though it is fascinating to see John Ferguson – making a remarkable start as a part-time jumps trainer – venturing over with his smooth Huntingdon winner, Asaid.
Much of the Irish racing community will only just be getting over their hangovers after the midweek wedding of Nina Carberry and Ted Walsh Jnr – an occasion to grieve every bachelor in Ireland, but one that would have brought an approving tear from Josh.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Lightening Rod (3.10 Musselburgh)
Improved to score readily on his return at Hexham in November, and shaped nicely behind a top-class one at Doncaster next time. Unseated early at Catterick latest but remains feasibly treated.
Palace Moon (2.45 Lingfield)
Has been rated a good bit higher in his time, and looked to turn over a new leaf when tried on this surface at Kempton last time, challenging on the bridle.
One To Watch
Perfect Gentleman (Willie Mullins) won a bumper on his debut and was left plenty to do after taking a while to switch off in his first start over hurdles at Thurles on Thursday, doing well to run the winner so close.
Where the money's going
Magnanimity is 13-2 from 15-2 with Paddy Power for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown tomorrow.