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Johnny Ward: Sport of kings and rogues Hoarding the headlines

And our racing columnist earmarks one Cheltenham fancy.

A general view of the stands at Tramore.
A general view of the stands at Tramore.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

IF, INDEED, NO such thing exists as bad publicity, Irish racing will be beyond chuffed with itself over the past week.

Thanks to Viking Hoard, or rather the rotten human being who loaded him with sedatives, racing has hoarded the headlines. The sickening revelations, such as they are, have kept the sport of Kings (and rogues) in the headlines in unexpected places.

Paul Kimmage and Eamonn Sweeney did their bit in the Sunday Independent three days ago, when David Walsh again went after integrity issues in the sport in the Sunday Times, before Malachy Clerkin had his say in Monday’s Irish Times.

Kimmage’s track record in the pursuit of drug cheats illustrates that he has a leather-tough skin; an indifference to antagonising people of importance that few of his peers could even harbour thoughts about. He has had three racing-related spreads of late, even going as far as to quote a correspondence on Sunday going back half a decade.

He relayed a typed letter from an anonymous person who reckoned cycling was in cheating’s proverbial ha-penny place compared to racing. More ominous than the anonymity of the author was that the letter was written in capital letters. From my experience, you can judge a lot about somebody if he writes solely in capital letters.

Kimmage and Walsh are involved in something of a racing exposure arms race. The pair of course were once good friends but, according to Kimmage in an Off The Ball interview in 2016, their relationship was “dead”. And, according to Walsh on Sunday, it was not the only thing that was dead, as per the conclusion of his piece.

“There is also a belief in Irish racing, held by many in a position to know, that within the past five years a favourite for one of the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival was stopped.”

For punters, given how vague that sentence was, it was a rather unusual conclusion to an excellent piece, but Walsh was probably looking at a general sporting audience, an audience perhaps gaping in shock after reading about the Foxrock case and, of course, poor Viking Hoard. Might they believe a favourite could be stopped at Cheltenham?

***

Road to Cheltenham 

I reckon I’ve found a potential favourite for a handicap at the Festival come March: the JP McManus-owned Entoucas. Sky Pirate is the jolly for the Johnny Henderson Close Brothers Handicap Chase, otherwise known as the Grand Annual, despite losing his first 10 races over fences.

He has been seemingly reformed by dropping back in trip and has to be feared but he is only 5/1 and Encoutas is 16/1. It is worth noting McManus loves winning this race.

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jp-mcmanus-after-winning-with-aramax JP McManus. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Remarkably, in a race as competitive as this, McManus is bidding for his fourth win in 10 editions. Bellvano’s success in 2012 is rarely mentioned in a sentence that does not involve Paul Carberry, while Alderwood and Le Prezien won it since in the green and gold.

McManus even bought Rock The World after he snared the Grand Annual in 2017, presumably with the idea that he might win the race again. Entoucas has lots going for him.

Entoucas has run in two Premier Handicaps already, second at odds of 100/30 and then fourth at 3/1 in the Dan Moore. His jumping let him down a bit at Fairyhouse but Justin O’Hanlon was not wrong when he noted in the Racing Post that the horse made late gains “without being asked for maximum effort”.

He is trained by the brilliant Joseph O’Brien, is extremely consistent, has the upside of having progress in him after just four chase runs, and will go there on a nice mark after that Dan Moore run.

THIS COULD LOOK A GREAT BET ON THE DAY.

Recommendation (stake 1-5)
Entoucas to win any race at the Cheltenham Festival
1pt 14/1

About the author:

Johnny Ward

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