Day of reckoning for Casey's Flemenstar

Fri, Dec 28, 2012, 00:00

RACING: LEOPARDSTOWN FESTIVALWith Flemenstar in today’s Lexus Chase, it comes down to a battle between the heart and the head. There will be widespread sentiment willing Peter Casey’s star to confirm himself the Gold Cup candidate he promises to be. But the head argues against taking short odds about it happening. And then there’s the maggot in Tidal Bay’s head that might make the dilemma academic anyway.

The part of “party-pooper” wouldn’t be the first role Tidal Bay has played ahead of the €150,000 Day Three festival highlight.

As a young horse he was steeplechasing’s great white hope after a spectacular Arkle success at Cheltenham, only for more than a trace of temperament to rear its head and appear to all but put the kybosh on a career that had promised so much.

Certainly when Graham Wylie’s enigmatic performer moved to Paul Nicholls’s yard, and had his first start for Britain’s champion trainer on New Years Day of 2012, his days of figuring in any big race reckoning appeared well over.

Minor miracles

But Nicholls has performed minor miracles with Tidal Bay who won easily over hurdles this season before finding only Bob’s Worth too good when carrying topweight into second in last month’s Hennessy at Newbury.

For a supposed “has-been” on the verge of his 12th birthday it was an astonishing performance. On purely figures terms, it’s hard to picture any of today’s opposition managing the same right now, and significantly, immediately afterwards Ruby Walsh nominated the Lexus as an ideal next port-of-call for a character that tests the champion jockey’s horsemanship like few others.

British-based horses have won six of the last seven renewals of this race, with only Pandorama interrupting the streak two years ago, and Midnight Chase is the other British hope today.

But whatever about the aftermath, the run-in to the big race will be all about Flemenstar and his first attempt at three miles. Sir Des Champs is Ireland’s other prime Gold Cup aspirant at this stage but he was put firmly in his place by Flemenstar in the Durkan earlier this month so the central query approaching 3pm today will be about stamina.

Peter Casey is convinced three miles is not an issue and behind the headline-friendly ribaldry, there has been a sureness about the veteran Dublin trainer’s handling of Flemenstar in the last couple of seasons that makes that conviction credible.

On breeding, there doesn’t appear to be an issue, and soft ground is what the horse thrives in. But tactically jockey Andrew Lynch faces a quandary about whether to let Flemenstar stride on as per usual, or try to restrain him in a bid to conserve his energy.

The concern must be that a horse that shows the quality and pace Flemenstar does at shorter distances really will need to be exceptional to carry that class over longer distances.

Short-odds favourite

There will be widespread desire at Leopardstown and beyond for the horse to be just that. But he is forecast to be a short-odds favourite and in strictly betting terms, the available 5 to 1 about a rejuvenated Tidal Bay looks a better hard-headed option.

Casey himself caught the popular mood yesterday.

“This is his big test and at quarter past three tomorrow we’ll know a lot more about where we’re going,” he said. “At the moment I’m not worrying about any of the other horses in the race. We’ll either come home disappointed or delighted.”

The Caseys won’t be alone in wishing the heart wins out this time and Flemenstar’s head is in front at the line.

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