Melissa Jones says: Darlan reminds us of sad side of our sport
9:00am Saturday 9th February 2013 in Sport
LIKE flipping a coin, racing has two different sides to it.
It was very much a case of triumph in the midst of a tragedy this week.
Nicky Henderson was all smiles after taking the first two races at Doncaster and anticipated a sparkling treble with his Champion Hurdle horse Darlan.
His jumping was the best I have seen it on a racecourse until the final flight where he looked certain to take the scalp of 2012 champion hurdler Rock On Ruby.
Just stepping at it, he took an unfortunate tumble and news that he would not recover cast a shadow over what was a rare high class race on a Monday.
I’ve read what people made of the fall online and some have been quick to blame the jockey AP McCoy.
He was on board Synchronised the day that one didn’t make it back from Aintree and the only parallel I can draw between the two is they were at times awkward over their obstacles.
While he is a hard taskmaster, you can tell ‘AP’ wants the best from his mounts.
His grin aboard Darlan as they approached the last in cruise control shows his love for the game in my book.
The fact he stood himself down for the rest of the day added to the emotion of the circumstances and it is cruel to blame him for the fall.
As I have said before, accidents do happen in racing and it cuts those involved deep, from the owner to the groom who cares for the horse every day.
I feel sad that Darlan, who had really filled into his frame this term, will no longer be able to capitalise on his potential.
Let’s not forget all the joy he brought us especially at Kempton and Cheltenham- hopefully Henderson can gain a little tonic in the Festival race he was meant to be going for in the shape of 5-1 shot Grandouet.
I’ve long been a fan of Zarkandar, the horse who beat him at Cheltenham last time, but I think his reopposing rival holds the aces.
With a stronger pace on better ground, Grandouet can travel into the race on the bridle and use his potent turn of foot even up the stiff punishing hill.
I’ve already snapped up a little of the 7-1 on offer It’s hard to believe that race, the Champion Hurdle is a little over four weeks away now, but there is a mini version in terms of distance at Newbury today.
The Betfair Hurdle, won by the aforementioned Zar-kandar for this column in 2012, brings us a Champion contender in Cotton Mill, my idea of the winner here.
Off 10 stone 10lb, the 9-1 shot is going to have to go pretty close if he is to run in that race.
The six-year-old is stepping back in trip, but should have enough speed judged on him matching strides with cracking two miler Simonsig in the Neptune, before he crashed out at the second last.
Newbury’s ground shouldn’t be too bad compared to what we’ve endured lately, but stamina will still be needed.
Cotton Mill has plenty in his reserves and it looks like he has been kept fresh for this big money prize.
I’m told the Welsh hope Court Minstrel only takes his chance if the ground dries sufficiently.
Trainer Evan Williams wants a bit of good to soft going.
“It was drying fast on Wednesday and I thought I would regret it if I didn’t enter him. He’s a very good horse,” he said.
“He needs a race where they go exceptionally fast early on and a maximum field. If he gets the ground I’d be very hopeful.”
His Grand National entry Cappa Bleu’s Sunday return at Exeter is also dependent on the weather staying dry, he added.