So many questions for Cheltenham after a confusing festive period of horse-racing
Heavily backed favourites flopped, reputations were floored - the bookies and outsiders were the real winners.
"If you knew a lot about horse-racing, there was no way you could have won money at the Leopardstown Christmas festival," said a frustrated observer leaving the Foxrock track on Thursday evening.
He wasn't far wide of the mark, because for much of the things we thought we knew going into the week's racing, not just in Leopardstown, but also across the water in Kempton - it turned out we shouldn't have been so sure about them at all.
That's horseracing, though. There's no such thing as a dead-cert in the game. With fences to jump, ground to overcome, setbacks to avoid, other horses to topple - the greatest plans are never bullet-proof in horseracing.
And maybe that's why we're so fascinated by it. The uncertainty, the thrill, but too much of that, just like the last week, and Jesus you could be forgiven for getting a bit sick of the sport of kings.
It just goes to show you...https://t.co/XJGKbuqfNS
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) January 1, 2018
But we'll re-group and we'll go again. With a return to Leopardstown beckoning for the February festival, with Cheltenham only a month after that, we've plenty to look forward to.
We've plenty of time to put our thinking caps on, we've plenty of time to analyse what just happened, and God knows, we'll need it.
Because so many horses raised more questions than they gave us answers over the last week.
The Jessica Harrington trained Sizing John was a banker for many going into Thursday's Christmas Chase. Last year's Cheltenham, Punchestown and Irish Gold Cup winner was backed into odds on for the festival's showpiece. And why wouldn't he be? He's tough as nails, honest as the day is long and showed well when winning the John Durcan chase three week's beforehand.
Sizing John wins the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup pic.twitter.com/OFo6uGLcXS
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) December 31, 2017
Robbie Power never looked comfortable this time around. The horse jumped uncharacteristically poorly. It was no surprise when he was judged "clinically abnormal", whatever that means, by the vets when he came in after a 7th place finish.
He may run in the Irish Gold Cup in Leopardstown, he may go straight to Cheltenham, but will he return to his best?
Willie Mullins endured a tough festive period, but up there with his biggest disappointments was the seriously below par showing of Yorkhill in the same race. The Graham Wylie owned 8-year-old is referred to by many as the most talented horse in training, yet the three mile trip just doesn't seem to suit him. He never settled into the race and pulled and dragged his way through the early exchanges.
I really, really hope Yorkhill's connections just bite the bullet and drop him back in trip. He is riddled with talent, but both his strengths and weaknesses make him unsuited to staying trips, never mind an extreme test like the Gold Cup. He can be top-class over shorter trips.
— Kevin Blake (@kevinblake2011) December 28, 2017
All the fears that a slow-pace isn't to his liking were confirmed, and surely a drop down in trip for last year's JLT chase winner at the Cheltenham festival looks the way to go. The Queen Mother Champion Chase is calling him.
Let's talk Yorkhill...
Right move to step him up to 3m?🤔 pic.twitter.com/yDfJNl6eol
— JumpsRacing.co.uk (@jumpsracingcouk) December 28, 2017
Faugheen the machine was brought to a walk by rider Paul Townend while the Christmas Hurdle was reaching its business stages. The horse was examined by vets, and no injury or form of distress was found. That raises the biggest question of all, given that the horse was sidelined for almost two years after winning the 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle - Does he still have what it takes to return to former glories?
At this point, the only thing we need to hope is that Faugheen is ok pic.twitter.com/YYJUiWyGUB
— FergalO’Brien Racing (@FOBRacing) December 29, 2017
Might Bite justified favouritism to take the King George in Kempton, but it wasn't the type of victory that would inspire confidence going into a Gold Cup. His main rivals, Bristol De Mai, Fox Norton and Whisper all ran well below par, seemingly putting this race on a plate for Nicky Henderson's star.
He idled up the hill, and those who had him backed were worried when the 151-rated Double Shuffle rallied from behind. Nico De Boinville's mount held on for victory, but the slow time of the race, and the form of this victory will raise questions.
Might Bite, is the winner of the 2017 King George VI Chase at @kemptonraces 👏🙌 pic.twitter.com/lHleoLX0w4
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) December 26, 2017
We did get some answers, however. Some horses did enhance their reputations.
Apple's Jade came from behind to edge a thrilling battle with Jessica Harrington's Supasundae in three-mile hurdle in Leopardstown on Thursday, and Gordon Elliot's teak tough mare looks primed for the Mare's hurdle in March.
She really is the real deal.
— Sporting Life Pick 7 (@Pick7) December 28, 2017
Jessica Harrington's horse showed she will have plenty to say come March, too.
Bring on the next few months. Bring on the racing.