Brendan Duke: Some upbeat Cheltenham clues amid the equine flu blues

It been a steep learning curve for El Duke this week from the DRF to the sales ring and the dismal spectre of equine flu ...



The spectre of equine influenza looms over this piece. Dismal scenes. No racing in the UK until Wednesday, February 13th at the earliest.

The Dublin Racing Festival gave us plenty of talking points. Sunday was frustrating. The bing, bong, bing sound to announce yet another non runner, was akin to nails scraping on a blackboard by the end. Luckily though, two of the Grade 1’s produced classic contests.

Ruby Walsh was on the right side of both photo finishes. The most significant piece of form with Cheltenham in mind, was surely Sir Erec’s romp in the four-year-old hurdle. His jumping was a revelation. The Triumph Hurdle stamina test looks made for him.

Recent developments suggest he won’t be facing stablemate Fakir Doudairies (bought by owner J P McManus ) in that race. The bookies haven’t missed Sir Erec though. He’s currently 6/4. He’ll probably be that on the morning of the race. It’s not a stretch to see an odds on sp though.

Looks Irish banker material.

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Apple’s Jade gave a bravura performance on Saturday. Supasundae is a talented, reliable horse. He shipped a 16-length hiding. It was a relief to hear Gigginstown have decided to go down the Champion Hurdle route. A repeat of last week’s performance at Cheltenham, and it’s goodnight for the opposition.

Buveur Dair, conceding 7lbs, simply cannot match her. Whether she can repeat it is another matter. Her performance figures at the festival tend to dip. Hard to believe it’s the track though. If you could design a track for a quick jumping, small, nimble horse it would be the tight turning Old Course at Cheltenham. Perhaps it’s the timing of the meeting, though she gave a great performance, as a four-year-old, in the Spring at Aintree.

Anyway, she seems an improved model this season. Her reproductive issues appear behind her. I think she will justifiably go off favourite in March so 15/8 non runner no bet is perfectly fair.

For anyone still interested, Carefully Selected has an entry in Punchestown on Sunday. He’s probably as likely to appear in the witness protection program, as a race anytime soon. We live in hope.


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My quest for a holistic equine education took me to Goffs sales this week. The car park suggested a good crowd was in attendance. How many were potential buyers? Well, I certainly wasn’t one. Always a potential punter though.

There were horses walking around the ring. I know a bit about conformation, pedigrees, stallion fees etc. Turns out the proverb is true.

A little knowledge, is a dangerous thing.

An under/over game, for modest stakes, was on. I came up with the sales price. At the back of my mind was the thought that I might become the latest bloodstock agent sensation. This has always been the way. Have never taken up a sport without first rehearsing my World Championship acceptance speech. Turns out I’m far from a bloodstock guru. A small financial loss. A valuable lesson.

The real win was seeing the auctioneers at work. Master salesmen. Here are a few of the techniques I spotted. The carrot and stick are on display. Addressing a customer bidding in €500 increments, ‘these tactics aren’t working sir’.

To the same bidder when he dropped out, ‘thanks for the help sir’. To the new bidder who replaced him, ‘I’ll take 500 more if you like’.

To the bidder just trumped by the new guy, ‘you’re not going to let go for the sake of 500 quid are you?’. Another monkey bid. Back to the original guy, ‘take another 500’. That bidder, probably piqued by the fickleness of the auctioneer, remained stone faced.

Undeterred, the auctioneer, like any actor worth his salt, read his audience. Time for a spot of passive aggressive levity.


‘Don’t want to hurry you sir, but she’s due to foal next month’. Another 500 bid. This all happened after the bidding on a mare reached €15,500. The auctioneer double clutched on the hammer drop. The mare walked out having made €17,000.

I can see why people get bidding fever. The auctioneer alternates between an incoherent, tongue rolling, mellifluous patter, and perfect elocution when extolling the reasons you must have this horse.

As he works his rostrum magic, it must be hard to avoid falling under his spell.

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What do you think?