Mick Fitz: Willie v Gordon, Katie and Nina, and a Punchestown review

Mick's thoughts on Punchestown, the Trainers Championship and Katie and Nina...

Mick Fitzgerald


Firstly, congratulations to Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott for adding some extra spice to the Punchestown festival.

The Racing community is very lucky to have two such men fighting it out for the Trainers Championship title – both are gentlemen to deal with and it is only a matter of time before Gordon wins a title of his own.

I think Willie showed that not only is he a good trainer of horses but he is also blessed with great human-handling skills. His handling of the Paul Townend moment of brain freeze when riding Al Boum Photo was nothing short of genius. Paul Townend was probably never as low as he was leaving Punchestown last Tuesday evening but Willie and his team had him in early on the Wednesday and gave him dogs abuse in a light-hearted manner.

Because they approached it in the shape of banter it was easier to get it out in the open – that sort of stuff costs a fortune if you go to see a sports psychologist!

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Ruby Walsh has always said it is such a joy riding for Willie because he understands the game so well, we saw that tenfold last week. If he had not trained a winner before the start of Punchestown and we just counted his prize money earned the week of the festival he would have been runner up in the Irish trainers title!

Moreover, if you added together what Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson earned in prize money it would not add up to what Willie won in Ireland and the UK – or Gordon Elliot for that matter. Truly amazing stuff.

There were some superb performances all week but the shock on Gordon Elliot’s face when Samcro fell was there for all to see. The great thing was the horse was ok but they do have some decisions to make with him. Will he go chasing now?

Or will they possibly go for the Champion Hurdle? Had Samcro won on Friday the temptation would have been there to have ago at the Champion, but now the obvious route may be chasing. Michael and Eddie O’Leary buy horses to compete at the top level and this lad will take high rank among next season’s novices.

The Gold Cup next season is building up to be a hell of a race to look forward to with Presenting Percy surely among the leading fancies for many. Might Bite will be hoping for drier ground this time round to have a crack at Native River. It will be interesting to see if Willie is tempted into sending Al Boum Photo to Newbury for the Ladbroke Trophy, a race that he won with Total Recall.

Altior is the one horse on which I would love to be able to make a comeback. He has it all. This horse could win over any trip. He was below par at Sandown after his hard race at Cheltenham but still showed with his powerful finishing kick that he is so hard to beat when it comes down to it. I have always thought he is the one horse who could take the step up in trip in his stride – if it’s 2 1/2 miles or 3 miles in the King George I have no doubt he could be very bit as potent.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think they may not want to go for that one. They have the best 2-mile chaser in the land and unless he gets beaten by Footpad – which is a big if by the way – they may not be tempted.

It would be fascinating to see Footpad come over for the Tingle Creek at Sandown. This is a track that favours fast and accurate jumpers, a category in which Footpad is exceptional. It is a clash to drool about if it happens.

Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry are a real loss to the weighing rooms everywhere. I don’t think either of them are aware how good they are. They have been the standard setter for all girls. They have been at the forefront of stopping people saying ‘she is a good rider for a girl’ – in their case it was always ‘she is a very good rider’.

Nina Carberry is like poetry in motion over the banks at Punchestown and she was equally as good at Cheltenham. She rode all of Noel Meade’s bumper horses too. Just watch her on Josies Orders on Tuesday and you will see why she was so respected by her peers. She got beat but she had no right to even get that close.

Katie Walsh rode a Prix La Barka winner for Willie Mullins and was equally at home over fences, hurdles or in bumpers, as she showed when steering Relegate to victory at Cheltenham in March.

Both ladies were exceptional riders and have paved the way for lots of girls to think that they can make it in a world dominated at the top end by men.

It’s tough for a young girl to turn to her parents and say I want to be a professional jockey. The parents will point at Nina and Katie and say unless you are as good as those two you have no chance. Both Katie and Nina were only amateur by title, there was nothing amateur about either of them. They have set the bar very high indeed.

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