Sir Erec and Mark Walsh look like a winning Triumph Hurdle combination
JP McManus’s star juvenile has overcome a stone bruise and could dominate the field
Mark Walsh riding Sir Erec clears the last jump to win the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on February 3rd. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
A lot of Irish emotion is going to be invested in Presenting Percy’s Gold Cup challenge, but much of Ireland’s final day financial investment will probably be in Sir Erec.
JP McManus’s star juvenile has overcome a late stone-bruise scare and appears to dominate the JCB Triumph Hurdle field.
A McManus-owned Irish “banker” has always been a prospect to make frightened bookies quake and – to further paraphrase the old Cottage Rake song – it’s notable it is Mark Walsh rather than Barry Geraghty who’s up.
Fresh from his landmark Champion Hurdle success on McManus’s outsider Espoir D’Allen on Tuesday, and with City Island’s Ballymore under his belt too, Walsh’s confidence is likely to be sky-high for this hotpot prospect.
Walsh has long been a mainstay of McManus’s operation in Ireland, even before Geraghty took over from Tony McCoy as the legendary owner’s official number one jockey in 2015.
This season it has been noticeable how Walsh’s role has appeared to expand at home. Now he is riding Sir Erec in a major Cheltenham prize, with Geraghty on board the apparent second-string, Gardens of Babylon.
It might be tempting to read longer-term significance into that, although McManus’s racing manager Frank Berry played the Triumph riding arrangements down on Thursday.
“There’s nothing to be read into it, not a thing in the world,” he insisted. “Barry was in England when he [Sir Erec] won [at Leopardstown] twice. It’s as simple as that.”
Maintaining a winning partnership can make sense and the combination of Walsh and Sir Erec has looked particularly impressive in two starts to date.
Green and gold
Later, Geraghty is on McManus’s apparent No 1 Albert Bartlett contender Birchdale and will also don the famous green and gold colours on board Anibale Fly in the Gold Cup.
Considering there have already been predictions about how many Champion Hurdles Sir Erec might ultimately pick up, last week’s stone bruise might represent the only niggling doubt many will have about him winning on Friday.
He was much the best of these on the flat, has taken to jumping with elan, and an argument can be made for the biggest danger being his stable companion Gardens of Babylon.
The Albert Bartlett looks a notably open Grade One in which Commander of Fleet looks Gordon Elliott’s principal hope, while Ruby Walsh has picked Allaho from Willie Mullins’s trio.
Birchdale and Lisnagar Oscar set the cross-channel standard, but there might be value in betting on the 7lb sex allowance counting for a lot over three miles and soft ground.
Salsaretta is one of two mares in the race. Overlooked by Walsh, she nevertheless can boast a good piece of winning form at Limerick over Christmas when disposing of Felix Desjy who ran a decent race in Tuesday’s Supreme.
Last year’s 33-1 winner Mohaayed is back to defend his Randox County Hurdle crown under Bridget Andrews.
Whiskey Sour is one of three Willie Mullins hopes as the champion trainer bids to add to four previous wins in the famously competitive handicap.
Local trainer Richard Newland is always a figure to reckon with in these top handicaps, and his Leoncavallo could be one to reckon with. He belied 20-1 odds in last summer’s Galway Hurdle when third to Sharjah, a contest that could hardly have worked better in terms of form.
His sole outing since was an uninspiring run over fences last September. This will be just Leoncavallo’s fourth start for Newland, but the trainer won with him on the first of them after a lengthy break.
Last year’s Grand Annual saw three horses sustain fatal injuries and, as a result of a British Horseracing Authority review, the race has been moved from its traditional slot as the festival finale.
The logic behind it, apparently, is that professional riders may have been overly desperate in the past to secure a valuable festival victory before the end of the meeting. Instead the finale now is the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle.
Whether the rationale of replacing seasoned professionals with eager claimers stands up in terms of restraint feels dubious. Questionable too is opting for a hot favourite in a famously competitive contest. But Dallas Des Pictons really could be a Graded performer blot in a handicap.