Thursday’s best bets, by Chris Cook
I’m aware that the instant forgiveness which rained down on Paul Townend will not have pleased all onlookers. Some, including those who fancied Al Boum Photo, will still be feeling sore about what happened on Tuesday and are perhaps a little queasy about the way that “the racing gang”, as Townend called them, clasped the erring jockey to their bosom on day two at Punchestown. Some will undoubtedly feel that a jockey who made such a mistake should have to suffer for a bit more than 24 hours.
But this is how it has always been in horse racing. Jockeys may be rivals on the track but they share mortal risks and an unusual way of life. Trainers and stable staff tend to feel they have much more in common with those in other yards than they do with the outside world, with non-horsey people. When one of their number is having a hard time, and particularly when they are taking a kicking from outsiders, they rally round and can be fierce in their rejection of criticism.
As Townend returned on the first of Wednesday’s three winners and was met with roars of approval from the crowd around the winner’s enclosure, my gaze was caught by Harold Kirk, who buys a lot of horses for Willie Mullins. “That’s why Ireland’s Ireland,” Kirk said, gesturing with approval at those doing the cheering. “In England, they go: ‘Boooo!’”
It was not intended as a joke. Kirk looked pretty angry as he delivered his message to a huddle of visiting journalists. In fairness, he usually does look pretty angry.
A lighter touch was employed by Tom Mullins, brother to Willie and a successful trainer himself. After Townend’s third winner, Tom put an arm round the jockey and delivered his own take on the affair. Both men ended up smiling.
What did you say, I asked the trainer. “I gave him the Liam Neeson treatment,” Mullins said. “I told him: ‘You’re after getting away with what you did yesterday. But if you do it again, I know where you live, I will find you and I’ll kick your tail.’”
And so to today’s action, which centres on the Stayers Hurdle. I was winding myself up for a play on Bacardys to turn around the Cheltenham form with Penhill, on the basis that the slow pace of that race suited the winner but not his beaten stablemate.
But the two horses are now practically the same odds and that strikes me as daft. Penhill (5.30) at 5-2 is a better bet than the relatively ponderous Bacardys at 3-1.
There are risks here, of course. Bacardys won at this festival last year, when Penhill was surprisingly beaten in a different race, having also won at Cheltenham that year. If course form, or April form is necessary, Penhill doesn’t have it.
But you had to be impressed by his defeat of Supasundae last month and this is only his second race in the space of a year. I think he’ll have more to offer and the market’s doubts will prove unfounded.
The nap is Wind Storm (5.25) in Beverley’s last race. From the Ralph Beckett yard that is starting the Flat season strongly, this filly did best of the newcomers when second at Lingfield last month, form that gives her an obvious chance in this. She’s 13-8 from an opening 9-4.
I like another couple that have had some support at Warwick. Herminator (2.45) makes his debut for the on-fire Tom Lacey, having had a wind op since he last ran for Willie Mullins 15 months ago. Phangio (4.25) gets a new jockey for this return to fences and has dropped to a beatable rating. Both are available at 6-1.