Momentum can be the key for horses, jockeys, trainers and, at Cheltenham on Wednesday, for a nation too.
For race after raucously cheered home race, the tricolor waved and tiered stands roared as Irish trained winners were led back again and again. As young Paul Townend saluted the crowd on the appropriately named Arthur Moore filly What A Charm at ten to five Ted Walsh shook his head and said “Jees, we have won all six.”
But out on the track events had a deeper, more interesting truth. For at heart racing is colour blind. However much we might like to headline it up, the big deal is not the Greens trying to beat the Whites as it was at Dublin’s new Arriva Stadium yesterday. It is whether the one behind is going to catch the one in front. And that is when it is the eye that takes over to tell you where the momentum lies.
However much you have read and listened to, however deep your punting liabilities, however helpful the commentator it is the eye that can’t help itself scan deep into spinning capsule of the race. In the first race it was almost too easy as the favourite Chicago Grey was the colour his name suggested and Derek O’Connor rode him with the sort of deadly confidence which made watching him an experience of mounting relish for those who had backed him. It would not be ever thus.
It was certainly not for Time For Rupert. From quite early on in the RSA Chase it was as if he was weighed down by all the “banker of the meeting” superlatives that had been rained upon his head not to mention the normally happy imposition of an enthusiastic Francome on his back. For a circuit you could try and make excuses that Will Kennedy was taking his time but as Time For Rupert came past us you could sense the lack of zip in his jump and notice the movement of the jockeys hand on the rein. We know now that he was bleeding inside and only wonders of bravery got him home fifth. Back then we just knew he was not a winner.
A jockey’s arms are what the eye should seek. He and his horse may seem poised and powerful but then there is that little nudge of the wrist that betrays the anxiety within. It is particularly relevant when you have a great horse trying to revive old memories. It was exactly so for Ruby Walsh on Master Minded last Wednesday.
Dan Skelton, Paul Nicholls assistant, was watching by the last fence rail. As Master Minded soared so high over the second that you could see the daylight beneath, Dan sucked his breath at the sheer pleasure of it. As the big horse powered past us on the heels of the leaders it was easy to believe that he was back to something like the spring-heeled wonder that left us all speechless three years ago. The mind kept wanting to believe but the eye began to doubt it.
They were only little things but you could see the arms move. Ruby Walsh is the stillest of all the jockeys and he loves to smuggle his horse into the race. But at the last one down the back a vintage Master Minded would have closed the gap but didn’t. The arms moved a little. There was a big jump at the next but there was a trace of movement again. Master Minded was close enough but something did not quite convince.
At the third last he was coming to the leaders and a great jump would clinch it. The stride was not there and while there was speed and skill in the way he fiddled his way over, Ruby’s arms were working and as he swung out to chase the leaders over the last two fences it was clear this was desperation time.
The slap into the fence blunder that followed was an ultimate example of the mind making appointments the body cannot reach. Master Minded may still win big races over further, but we do not need either connections or form books to tell us that his days as the ultimate two miler are over. The eye told us, just as it did with what was going on up ahead of him.
Somehow our minds had got it wrong about Sizing Europe. How could we have forgotten how brilliant he had already shown himself round Cheltenham? How he was going to hack up in the 2008 Champion Hurdle before ricking his back on the final turn. How he soared home in last year’s Arkle. It took 3 minutes 54 second to run this Champion Chase. For almost every second Sizing Europe rammed home the memories.
Andrew Lynch has a method which is more effective than stylish but he oozed confidence in the power at the end of the rein. On song, Sizing Europe is that most deadly of performers, a two mile chaser who can set off like a rocket and run all the way to the line. If he turns up like this next year, it won’t just be Ruby Walsh whose arms betray the worry beneath.
By now the Irish winners’ welcomes were hoping for a fifth curtain call and some way out in the Coral Cup it was clear we were going to get it. It was only in the last stride that Davy Russell and those maroon Gigginstown Stud/Michael O’Leary silks had got up to land the Neptune Novices Hurdle, but in the Coral Cup there was a lovely deadliness about him. For Non Stop might have been trying to live up to his name in front of him, but even before the Nick Williams runner capsized at the last Carlito Brigante had him as handy as a truffle between the forefingers.
Cheltenham winners are delicious things to swallow. Carlito Brigante’s trainer Gordon Elliot had just swallowed his first two within one afternoon. He had lost two stone before the meeting. By the end of it he was at least half way to recouping it. That what momentum can do for you.