Michael O’Leary, not forgetting his brother Eddie, will look a real plonker if Don Poli wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup next week, won’t he? Then, of course, 11st 7Ibs will seem a golden opportunity spurned as Don Poli won’t get that weight in the Grand National, a race everyone seems to think is made for him, for years ahead.
The spat with Phil Smith, the handicapper of the Grand National, was unseemly, unnecessary and achieved little but to allow those toward the bottom of the handicap a better chance of a run. Mr O’Leary, as great and as welcome a benefactor to the sport in Ireland as he is, was rude in his comments and time might explain to him that he was wrong in his argument. Handicapping is not a science and better men than me have failed to grasp the complexities of it. I suspect Michael O’Leary, too, hasn’t yet grasped the baffling complexities. I suggest others have greater cause for feelings of injustice than the O’Learys.
If Don Poli took to the Aintree fences he might have run away with the race. Not that we will ever know now he has been scratched. If he had jumped with the verve of Crisp he might have gained a length at every fence and with his undoubted stamina and the lack of a Red Rum in opposition he might have given Gigginstown their second win in the race on the spin. I just don’t think 2 Ibs one way or the other would have made a halfpenny’s difference.
Will the O’Leary’s apologise to Phil Smith if Don Poli wins the Gold Cup? Because if he does win it would prove the assessment of 11st 7Ibs to be a fair evaluation of his chance. I certainly did not think it would stop him.
At the publication of the weights I like to sit down and come up with six to follow leading up to the race and this year Don Poli headed my six. Three of the other five are Definitly (it’s difficult to spell a misspelling, isn’t it) Red, Vieux Lion Rouge and Blaklion, so I’m pretty smug at the moment. I backed Vieux Lion Rouge last year and from second Valentines to crossing the Melling Road I was thinking I had a 100/1 winner to celebrate. So I’m no Johnny-Come-Lately when it comes to Vieux Lion Rouge, the present Grand National favourite. Just for the record I also like Ucello Conti and Houblon Des Obeaux.
If it comes up soft next week it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Don Poli will prove the strongest up the Cheltenham hill, and if he does win I dare say Michael O’Leary will not care a fig if his belligerence has cost him another Grand National winner. Anyway, he’s too successful in all walks of life to have time for regret and what-might-have-been.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.