A gentleman from the racing world was laid to rest in the grounds of Manister Church yesterday afternoon. Andrew McNamara was a man I was blessed to have ridden winners for, but the trainer was only part of who he was.
My professional association with him ended when his sons, Andrew and Robert, were old enough to do the job. Still, I only ever ridden what his nephew John Thomas couldn’t ride before them anyway. Blood is thicker than water, and Andrew senior was proud of the three men he helped so much.
He was undoubtedly a significant influence on their careers and they were all very successful, but he was also a husband, father, uncle, grandfather and veterinarian. A lot of people knew him better than me, but he made you feel like you knew him well.
He was always very nice and was never someone I avoided when I saw him in the distance. His conversation was always topical and his manners impeccable. A soft hello to start the chat would move on to whatever went right or wrong for you. It was never about him and always ended with “tell Gillian and your mother I was asking for them”.
Rest in peace, Andrew. We will miss your presence at any meeting worth attending and tell JT I was asking.
On the track, last weekend was a belt for National Hunt fans. We were served a cracking renewal of Ladbrokes’ Champion Chase at Down Royal, where Frodo held off Galvin in a cracking finish. We also saw two opposing but equally effective polar rides from Bryony Frost and Jamie Codd. The two executed fractions of pace differently but delivered their mounts at full speed as they approached the final fence. The tactical nature of Irish show jumping racing will long live on as it is intriguing to watch.
Bryony slowed and increased speed at various stages to drag her rivals into a fight while Jamie nursed the contending Galvin, ignoring Frodo until he had to try to win the race. Watching an improvised sport where people think on the spot is always a joy.
Dispatch Allen showed us that he is alive and well, but the man who found it the hardest to watch, Gordon Elliot, roared through the weekend with eight winners. Shan Blue may have fallen at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall, but he also showed us all the talent he could possibly have.
In contrast, Vinindication and Cyrname blew their lines, but good things don’t last forever, and it feels like how today and tomorrow compare to last weekend. It might just be me, but browsing through the weekend action at Aintree, Wincanton, Naas and Navan I found a sprinkling of races I’d love to watch but none that I don’t want to miss.
The Fishery Lane Hurdle is the classic example with Triumph Hurdle winner Quilixios taking on Fred Winter winner Jeff Kidder. Jeff, of course, won that battle at Punchestown, but outside of Honeysuckle, the stars of Henry De Bromhead didn’t really shine at that festival, so today has to be seen as a fresh start for Quilixios.
Add in how tough a year can be for four-year-olds as they take on the older championship horses, and today’s race becomes a brief preview as you dissect these two horses’ chances of compete when the options of racing against their own generation disappear.
That’s today’s theme: it’s a day of learning. Will any of those in the Poplar Square Chase improve enough to compete with the Grade 1 horses? They have what we call racing grades in no man’s land – too high for handicaps and too low for the highest level. Caught. This is where the art of training comes into its own and finding opportunities for these horses is a skill.
I think Peter Fahey did it with Belfast Banter today at Wincanton in the Elite Hurdle. According to the ratings, he can’t beat Royal Seal or Goshen. Still, Goshen goes hard from the start and could be vulnerable in terms of fitness, and Royal Seal likes a slow tactical run so the stars can align for Belfast Banter, who is fit for racing and likes to come riding. at a strong gallop. Earning a 2nd year with him in public company would be a job well done.
In terms of educating us for the future, Goshen is the one to watch, but if he blows this race, just remember he did it here last February and drop
him under ‘talented but
Bravemansgame is the other horse to watch in Wincanton in the Rising Stars Novice Chase. He should and most likely will win before heading on to more difficult missions, but he’s the potential star running around the map.
Far to the north in Aintree, Time To Get Up looks at the Greater Sefton National course, but you have to think April’s showpiece will be its target and after winning the Midlands National at Uttoxeter in March, endurance is its strong point. Watch how he jumps and travels, but don’t worry if he doesn’t win. A spot on that trip will do, and the expected minor penalty would be enough to get him into the main event. Put a reminder in your calendar for April 9th.
At Navan on Sunday, Chemical Energy takes on My Mate Mozzie in the For Auction Novice Hurdle, Notebook takes on Samcro in the Fortria and Flooring Porter reunites with Danny Mullins in the Lismullen. It’s a decent card, but if I had to pick just one meeting to watch all weekend, it would be Tonight and On The Dish.
Del Mar is where the surf meets the turf, and Colin Keane and Dermot Weld can take center stage with Tarnawa just before midnight in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Del Mar is a tight circuit with a short straight, and there will be plenty of fast, bad luck stories tonight. I hope Tarnawa won’t be part of it, but it was great to see the number of Irish trainers and jockeys involved over the two days. Good luck to them and see you next weekend.