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Yes, it's a flat start but plenty of delights lie ahead.


FOLLOW that, Flat season - or rather don't even bother to try. An epic, breathtaking and bruising Cheltenham is impossible to match, so maybe it's right and proper, and not just a failure of the system, that everything falls flat for a while after the festival. Boring? It can't be boring enough. I want my heart-rate back to normal.

Trying to inject a sense of occasion into the launch of the Flat season has long been deemed necessary, but maybe the modest opening on turf in Britain at Doncaster this weekend is pitched about right. Trying to put oomph where it doesn't belong is a dangerous trick to pull off and, however feeble the start of the campaign might be, all we have to do is recall last summer's glory days of Sea The Stars and the promise that there is another big beast coming along in St Nicholas Abbey to know that there are delights aplenty ahead if we are patient enough to let them ferment.

And thanks, too, to Aidan O'Brien for his timing in giving the Ballydoyle First XI a warm-up at the Curragh on Sunday. Those of us who lock all thoughts of the sophisticats of the Classic scene away over the winter along with the shorts and swimwear can now start searching for the key. Is it too soon to begin reading between the lines of who made the trip from Tipperary, who worked together and who rode what? Of course it is, but latching on now to, say, Cape Blanco at 20-1 for the Guineas and 25-1 for the Derby has a certain attraction.

I'm afraid that's got the pulse going again, although admittedly it has only gradually returned to a normal rhythm since Pigeon Island and Paddy Brennan closed the festival with that swoop to deny French Opera in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual.

What's wrong with that Brennan? Didn't anybody tell him French Opera was supposed to hold on so that Nicky Henderson could win the race that honours his father? Just as with the Gold Cup, Brennan forgot to read the script.

That's the problem with Cheltenham - the marketing men spell out what the story is supposed to be, Paddy Power puts up a big Hollywood-style sign on Cleeve Hill to remind everyone to stick to their lines, and then they all just go off and improvise a compelling and sometimes heartbreakingly brutal narrative of their own.

On Friday, among the many stories to recall there was Restless Harry, the horse on whom Robin Dickin had pinned the revival of his Warwickshire stable, giving his all in the Albert Bartlett until the last flight of hurdles where, squeezed up and unsighted, he crashed out so horribly that it looked for a while as though he had literally given his all. At last, the green screens were taken away, Restless Harry staggered to his feet and the talk now is of running him again at Prestbury Park's next meeting - emotional victory instead going to Berties Dream, named after the late father of the head of the winning syndicate and trained in the fields of Athenry, County Galway, by a festival newcomer in Paul John Gilligan.

No Disneyesque endings, though, for Izita Star, who was representing another Warwickshire stable, that of Anabel King, with great distinction and belying odds of 100-1 when coming down at the second-last in the County Hurdle. Fourth at the time and full of running, according to her jockey Tom O'Brien, Izita Star paid for her prominence in the 28-runner field as she was hit hard from behind by an unknowing rival as she fell. Although the vets tried for 40 minutes to save her, injuries to her neck and chest were so severe that the seven-year-old mare had to be put down.

WINNING, or even being placed in a festival race would have made an awful lot of difference to a trainer who has had just two winners this season. Having no horse to take home, to try with another day, is a devastating blow to a little stable.

And it was a horrible way to end what should have been a meeting to savour forever for owner Diana Whateley, who has the majority of her horses with Philip Hobbs, a few with King, and who began the week with a first festival success when Menorah just held on in the Supreme Novices' to sink JP McManus's Get Me Out Of Here and the banker Dunguib.

Was that really a week ago when people were betting on how far Dunguib would win by? Putting him in easy-money trebles with Master Minded and Kauto Star? Speculating on what the Go Native team would do with their pounds 1 million WBX bonus and how WBX would cope with the payout? Ah, the unpredictability of it all. What odds that one of those threeyear-olds put through their paces at the Curragh on Sunday will be in the Triumph Hurdle this time next year, or even that a debutant flying down the Doncaster straight in the Brocklesby this weekend will belie its breeding and one day grace the great Cotswolds arena? No sure things, just glorious uncertainty.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 23, 2010
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