After a bumper blog that covered the action from Boxing Day to New Year’s Day, I felt a week away from writing the blog would be of benefit so I could return fresh for one a week later from a weekend that normally throws up some useful pointers towards the future spring festivals. Warwick staged its biggest card of the year with the eleventh running of the Classic Chase taking centre stage and I decided at the last minute to go down for the day as I’d never been before. I will very briefly cover Kempton’s Lanzarote card and the dominant effort from Supreme favourite Douvan at Punchestown.
The first race to be covered from Warwick is the Listed novice chase which went the way of Sego Success for Alan King and Tom Cannon who put up a career best effort to beat Grand Vision with the favourite Deputy Dan back in third on ground that was fairly testing. The winner showed plenty of improvement in the jumping department than he did at both Chepstow and Wetherby and was given a lovely ride by Tom Cannon who didn’t panic when Grand Vision kicked on for home and when he hit a flat spot.
He still showed some signs of greenness but he is definitely going the right way over the larger obstacles. The target nominated by King for Cheltenham was the National Hunt Chase which looks ideal, especially as he hit a flat spot which wouldn’t help him out in a RSA. He would be worth an each way flutter at this stage, especially with some doubts about Don Poli turning up here. Further down the line, he will definitely make up into a horse that would enjoy stamina tests, including the likes of Chepstow, Ayr and potentially Aintree in time.
Grand Vision jumped like an old hand and thoroughly enjoyed himself out in front and plugged on resolutely once passed by the winner. He would be of big interest in a handicap chase on a galloping left handed track whilst Deputy Dan needs to clean up his jumping. This was a better effort than we saw at both Exeter and Chepstow but he clearly hasn’t replicated his hurdles form over fences so far. Mickie jumped poorly in rear and never looked happy whilst Mosspark ran better than his finishing position suggests as he walked through the third last fence. He looks to want a confidence booster down in grade as would It’s A Steal who was struggling a fair way out, however it was found post-race he had lost a shoe.
The Pertemps Qualifier was another signifier that Jonjo O’Neill’s string are returning to form with the well treated Join The Clan giving Patrick Cowley his first success in the United Kingdom beating the progressive Closing Ceremony. The ride on the winner could have been very questionable had the runner up been galvanised into another effort as Cowley did kick early enough but his mount had enough to last home. He had showed enough promise at Cheltenham previously to suggest he was coming back down to a favourable mark and he duly obliged here. The Final would probably be the plan however he needs another win and rise in the weights to guarantee a place.
Closing Ceremony hasn’t done much wrong on his recent outings and this was another good effort. If he were to line up for the Final, he would go with a definite chance but he may want the ground on the softer side. Vandross improved a fair bit for the step up in trip here and would be of definite interest next time out at three miles. Top Wood travelled strongly throughout the contest and looked likely to play a hand in the finish but likely needed this run. He has several options open to him including a return chasing whilst Big Hands Harry was a major disappointment on his return hurdling and is one to leave at the moment.
The Leamington Novices Hurdle looked a penalty kick for Shantou Bob as on the figures he looked to be a fair distance clear of his rivals but he ran a lacklustre race to be third behind Three Musketeers and Ballagh however excuses emerged afterwards from trainer Warren Greatrex stating a wind problem and also potentially a burst blood vessel post-race. Although he hit a flat spot here just like he did at Sandown, this time he never gave the impression he was going to have a big hand in the finish and his class has probably got him third place. If he is to go to the Festival, you would hope the problems here will have been rectified.
In talking about the defeat of the favourite, take absolutely nothing away from the winner who gained trainer Dan Skelton and brother Harry his biggest career success to date and at his local track as well. He did show signs of greenness at the second last but he is more than entitled to with this being his third ever race but he quickened when it mattered to win a shade cosily. The Skeltons continue to impress me hugely as a combination, especially with their way of thinking and decision making. As soon as Three Musketeers had pulled up, the first thought wasn’t the Festival, it was to do what they feel is best for a long term prospect who looks very exciting. If we see him at a major Festival this season, Aintree would be the place to see him and a step up to three miles there would bring about further improvement.
The runner up Ballagh improved on his first outing over hurdles when he was second to Different Gravey at Newbury and although that rival ran below-par at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, Ben Case’s charge has upheld that form here as have the third Days Of Heaven and the fourth Seven Nation Army. The step up in distance clearly suited as well and he will definitely win a novice hurdle dropped down in grade. He could be another to benefit from missing the Festival this season. Anteros is one for handicaps now between this trip and three miles. He definitely has the capability to win one. Flintham found this too much at this stage in his career but he is all about jumping fences next season, as is Aliser D’Irlande but he looks to want a bit of time and we should see more next season.
The Classic Chase wasn’t for the faint-hearted and yet again showed the genius of Paul Nicholls who put first time blinkers on Hawkes Point who duly obliged under Sam Twiston-Davies who gave him a fine ride to see off Theatrical Star with Shotgun Paddy putting up an excellent performance carrying top weight back in third. The standing start was yet another farce on a Saturday afternoon and Twiston-Davies had to be wise to get a position early on after his poor effort in the Welsh National. His jumping has always been solid and here was no exception and used his stamina to grind it out here. I would like to see the blinkers work again and the Grand National would only be a realistic target if the ground came up soft or worse.
Theatrical Star put up a career best effort here and saw out the distance really well. Better ground would suit and trainer Colin Tizzard mentioned the Grand National as a potential target and he would need to improve again to feature there. Shotgun Paddy put the Welsh National behind him with a solid effort back in third having jumped much better from the front, apart from a shuddering error at the third last. This was his Plan B for the season so it remains to be seen if he gets an entry at Aintree but if he turns out fresh, he could potentially go to Haydock for the Grand National Trial where conditions would suit him well.
The final race on the card threw up two nice horses for the future in Copper Kay and Big Chief Benny. Whilst they were both very immature, that comment especially the case for the latter in the preliminaries, both showed enough to suggest that they will have bright futures on the racecourse, especially as they both put almost twenty lengths between themselves and the third horse. The runner up in particular comes out positively as his pedigree suggests he will improve for a trip over hurdles being related to performers such as Macgeorge and Chief Dan George.
Away from Warwick, I’m going to keep Kempton short and sweet as we didn’t learn too much. The main things we did learn was that Tea For Two was ridiculously well handicapped in the Lanzarote when routing a good field of handicappers by sixteen lengths, Balder Succes is a two and a half miler who would have every chance in the Ryanair if he went to Cheltenham and Sleepy Haven is still a highly progressive horse who backed up his Haydock win from Tommy Whittle day. The only horse worth of note for the future was Dell’ Arca who will probably head back to the Coral Cup with every chance like he did last year.
The final performance to cover was Douvan’s effortless success in the Moscow Flyer Novices Hurdle at Punchestown. There’s not really much to add than he jumped well and won hard on the bridle. Willie Mullins has said that he will go straight to the Festival without another run and he looks a strong favourite for the Supreme. The only concern I have at this stage is whether he will find improvement on better ground and I’m not fully convinced he will. A bet I have had in the Supreme over the last few days will improve for a sounder surface and 25/1 about Silver Concorde was far too tempting to resist. His hurdling debut wasn’t entirely the best but on ground he would have hated, he is well worth forgiving and on good ground in the spring, we will see a completely different horse.
Over the next few reviews, I will begin to underline my antepost bets for the Festival with plenty of reasoning and potentially the Grand National if I do decide to place one. Thank you for reading this week and I shall be back next week hopefully with racing from Ascot and Haydock to dissect.
Sego Success – You can back him at 12’s (I took 10’s due to using certain bookmakers) for the National Hunt Chase each-way, there are worse bets out there for the Festival at this moment.
Vandross – Will be winning handicap hurdles around this distance.
Three Musketeers – Would be of serious interest later this season were he to line up in the Sefton at Aintree.
Big Chief Benny – Was extremely immature in more ways than one and he looks to have a nice future ahead of him.
Cheltenham 2015 Antepost Bets (So Far)
Balder Succes 14/1 Champion Chase (Paddy Power) – Placed in November (Looks hugely unlikely)
Zarkandar 8/1 E/W World Hurdle (Bet365 NRNB)
Sire De Grugy 4/1 Champion Chase (Bet365 NRNB) – This is definitely worth the risk, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Sprinter Sacre at the moment.
Silver Concorde 25/1 E/W Supreme (Paddy Power)
Sego Success 10/1 E/W NH Chase (Paddy Power)