Mud-loving Bog Warrior lays waste to classy field
With its intimations of resilience, both against present travails and past caricature, he bears the perfect name for an Irish "banker" at Cheltenham. More pertinently, however, Bog Warrior's christening contains a literal significance that may ultimately disqualify him from that role. For after a sensational performance at Fairyhouse yesterday, his trainer indicated that conditions would have to be a good deal muddier than usual if he is to end up at the Festival in March. Regardless, this is unmistakably a new star in the jumping firmament, with the clear potential to prove the best horse ever to have entered the canny supervision of Tony Martin.
It is customary for the three Grade One races staged in Co Meath yesterday to introduce names that recur in Cheltenham conversation through the rest of the winter. With all due respect to Voler La Vedette, who reiterated some splendid but familiar virtues when beating three rivals for the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, it seemed pretty obvious which two winners served that tradition best.
After an arresting performance in the Royal Bond Hurdle, Sous Les Cieux already seems guaranteed to shoulder the Irish standard in whichever novice hurdle Willie Mullins ultimately chooses for him at Cheltenham. But a still more dramatic impression was made by Bog Warrior in the Drinmore Novice Chase.
Three of the six runners represented the burgeoning force of Gigginstown, all ridden by Davy Russell on their previous start. Russell had rejected Bog Warrior in favour of First Lieutenant, having won on him over hurdles at the last Festival, and made an astonishing recovery when catapulted over his ears at the eighth. Russell gave First Lieutenant time to regroup, and his mount did close up again only to drop right away in the straight and pull up. It later emerged he had broken a blood vessel.
In the meantime, however, Bog Warrior had carted Ruby Walsh no fewer than 31 lengths clear of Shinrock Paddy. Unbeaten in three previous completed starts – respectively in a bumper, maiden hurdle and beginners' chase – he jumped superbly and came bounding clear as though eager for another lap.
Even the plain-talking Martin seemed transported by what he had seen, evoking the horse who landed a famous gamble at the 2003 Festival. "A performance like that is what you work for and what you live for," he said.
"I said before he even won his bumper that he could be as good as Xenophon down the road. He's just one of those that could win over two miles, or three and a half. I thought he was the one they all had to beat, deep down, but I was worried about his inexperience.
"He still has a lot of learning to do, but it was only his fifth run ever. We won't rush him – Ruby said to mind him. I don't know about Cheltenham. He does like a dig in the ground and would only go if the ground was on the soft side of yielding."
Martin hopes to give Bog Warrior the next chapter in his education at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting – and that is also a possible destination for Sous Les Cieux, who had given Walsh another very comfortable ride in winning a prize that had previously announced the likes of Istabraq, Moscow Flyer and Hurricane Fly. Having suffered an injury on his first start for Mullins last season, the French import made a big impression over this same course last month, and coped serenely with the drop down to two miles yesterday. Having broken clear on the bridle, he was always holding the rally of Galileo's Choice to maintain an advantage of just over a length at the post, the pair 15 lengths clear of the field.
"Coming back in trip, we were a bit worried that he wouldn't have the gears," Walsh admitted. "But he ground it out well and has won going away. I'd say he wants to go a bit further."
Mullins, however, indicated that he is happy to persevere over two miles for now. "He exceeded what I thought he'd do and had to do it the hard way, as he took it up a good bit out," the champion trainer said. "He enjoyed his jumping and I'm happy he'll improve from that. The ground was pretty tacky today, but I think he'll go on good ground as well."
Voler La Vedette's success completed a fine weekend for Andrew Lynch, who had the previous day enjoyed such a thrilling ride over the stiff Sandown fences on Sizing Europe. Though always entitled to outclass his rivals, Sizing Europe disclosed a robust constitution in shaking off that hard race over three miles on heavy ground at Down Royal last month. As last year, Henry De Bromhead will now give him a break before warming up for his defence of the Queen Mother Champion Chase with a run at Punchestown in February.
Chris McGrath's Nap Bridlingtonbygones (2.20 Musselburgh)
Chester Lad looks well treated but must bounce back from a hard race last week and there might be value in this one, well backed when exposed to an excessive pace last time.
Next Best Free Speech (2.10 Plumpton)
Well ahead of the game if able to repeat the form he showed on his debut for this stable last week, unlucky to run into a well treated rival but drawing clear of the rest.
One to Watch Carrickmines (Richard Newland) has built up a fairly chequered profile but is very leniently handicapped over hurdles and had led going well when falling two out at Wincanton.
Where The Money's Going Should prove instructive regarding Sous Les Cieux, impressive at Fairyhouse yesterday but as big as 14-1 with Boylesports for both the Supreme and Neptune Novice Hurdles at Cheltenham in March.
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