Two and a half weeks to go now until Cheltenham is upon us and today was essentially the final Saturday to throw up clues towards the Festival as well as several staking their claims towards the Grand National. Kempton’s Betbright Chase meeting was the main attraction with four Graded contests the centre of attention plus an appearance from Sire De Grugy at Chepstow after his dramatic unseat in the Game Spirit at Newbury.
The Adonis Juvenile Hurdle has thrown up Triumph Hurdle winners in the past with the likes of Soldatino in 2010 and Zarkandar in 2011 who both did the double. This year’s renewal didn’t have the strongest feel to it but the performance of Beltor was one of the best from a juvenile this season. He took a keen hold throughout for Tom O’Brien but the manner in which he travelled and then put the race to bed in a matter of strides was hugely impressive with O’Brien just using hands and heels, especially on ground like that.
Bookmakers reacted by cutting him to as short as 12/1 but sustained money throughout the day now sees him as short as 8/1 (11/1 best price). After his Ludlow win which has worked out extremely well, trainer Robert Stephens was keen to dampen talk of the Festival suggesting that Aintree might well be the preferred option. That view may have changed after today but wherever he goes, he’s worth full respect. My gut feeling would be to miss Cheltenham for Aintree as a flat track on better ground would see plenty of improvement, even from today.
All Yours showed less awkward tendencies than he did at Taunton but has simply found one too good for him. He only holds a Fred Winter entry at the Festival and would surely be an interesting runner for Paul Nicholls who also has Bouveril for the race. Bivouac was surprisingly backed into a short price favourite considering soft ground was always going to be a big negative for him and he ran accordingly. When he gets spring ground, you will see a much better horse. With his trainer’s strangehold on the Triumph, it could be that we see him at Aintree where the two and a half mile novice would look to suit him as he would be recieving a fair amount of weight from his opposition.
Others to note include Cape Caster and Primogentiure. The former travelled strongly before being outclassed and whilst he has form on softer ground, he would be interesting on better ground in the spring. He may not get into the Fred Winter but the juvenile handicap on the final day at Sandown could be the race to aim at. The latter was making his debut over hurdles and didn’t look at ease on the ground having done all his racing on good ground in Ireland. It wouldn’t be a shock if he was allowed to take his chance in the Triumph to gain some valuable experience before retaining his novice status for next season.
The Pendil Novice Chase became a match between Irish Saint and Melodic Rendezvous once God’s Own was withdrawn on account of the ground. It was left to the favourite Irish Saint who made all the running to give Paul Nicholls his eighth win in the race out of the last ten runnings.
He was given a no nonsense ride by Sam Twiston-Davies who simply went out in front and exposed Melodic Rendezvous’s jumping frailties, with that rival making a significant error five out which effectively ended his chances. On the whole, the winner jumped economically and apart from guessing at the third last, it was always going to be one result. The JLT would be the winner’s target if he goes to the Festival but connections may be more inclined to wait for Aintree where he could stay at this trip or go up to three miles.
Melodic Rendezvous tried to go with the winner but his jumping suffered as a result. Although he looks to have the size and scope to be a chaser, it just hasn’t worked out for him. Because of him trying to go with Irish Saint, he paid for it late on when being run out of second by Hollow Penny. It’s hard to find a suitable target as he has reached his ceiling over hurdles and doesn’t look to have it in him to make a top class chaser. The runner up will be a different horse on good ground and could be the type that enjoys something like the Summer Plate at Market Rasen.
The Dovecote Novice Hurdle had a small but select field which went the way of Days Of Heaven who was gaining the biggest success of his career to date beating Vago Collonges. The winner has been a tricky character throughout the season with him learning how to race slowly but surely. His behaviour was much better than has been the case and the application of the hood has helped him to switch off more in his races. He also did well to survive a shuddering mistake at the second last which didn’t check his momentum before going on to win a shade cosily. Due to his general buzziness, he was withdrawn from the Supreme, his acid test coming in April at Aintree where he would have to cope with the largest crowd he has encountered. If he overcomes the preliminaries, he should be hard to beat depending on opposition that turns up.
Vago Collonges is a strong traveller but just like Trials Day, he failed to finish off his race. The suggestion from Sam Twiston-Davies post-race on that occasion was his breathing may not be helping him and the application of the tongue tie seems to suggest this. When he returns after the summer for novice chasing, it would be no surprise to see a much improved horse once a breathing operation has taken place. The Grey Taylor ensured a fair gallop but was pushed aside easily. He should improve for a step up in distance and could be interesting in a handicap at either Aintree or Ayr.
The Betbright Chase didn’t look the strongest renewal beforehand but a different opinion has been formed post-race. In a race that was run at a furious gallop by Renard, you needed a thorough stayer and in the end, it was a fine weight carrying performance by Rocky Creek who finally showcased the potential that he has threatened to show in the past. Having had a breathing operation last summer, his comeback run was promising enough behind Road To Riches before he disappointed in the Hennessy. He jumped and travelled beautifully throughout for Sam Twiston-Davies who gave him a confident ride and kept him wide looking for better ground before seeing out his race decisively.
He was cut to 14/1 best price for the Grand National and with Rhyme N Reason and Rough Quest both winning this race before going onto Aintree glory in the same year, Rocky Creek has every chance to do the same. The obvious question would be whether he’d see out the distance but last year he looked to have a winning chance going to the second last before his breathing stopped him. On that basis and having had a much better preparation, he would have a brilliant chance with Twiston-Davies already looking keen to take the ride at Aintree.
Le Reve has continued to improve throughout the season and considering the ground was probably plenty soft enough for him, he ran a fine race in defeat having raced handily throughout. The ideal aim looks the Bet365 Gold Cup at the end of the season before a campaign aiming at the 2016 Grand National where he shouldn’t have any issues going left handed. Bally Legend ran his best race since winning this contest twelve months ago but is very hard to predict. This was probably his main target so he wouldn’t be one to necessarily take forward whilst Ardkilly Witness finished very tired but ran a lot better than he did at Sandown.
Godsmejudge was another to run an excellent Grand National trial having got outpaced at a crucial stage before staying on through beaten rivals. He shaped with more promise than he did at Doncaster in January and nothing in this run put me off his Aintree chances. Trainer Alan King wants one more run with either the Grimthorpe in two weeks time or the three mile handicap at the Festival the only two logical targets before the National.
Tenor Nivernais didn’t appear to see out the distance which was slightly disappointing considering the way he stayed on at Ascot previously. Rajdhani Express was also a non-stayer but jumped and travelled with real menace before fading away late on. On better ground, the Topham Trophy is a race that looks tailor made for him and with Sam Waley-Cohen’s record around the National fences, he would be one firmly on the shortlist.
Of those that didn’t complete, Easter Day made a shuddering error at the second fence and was sensibly pulled up soon after. Tap Night made an error at the first before unseating Richard Johnson at the third and Fox Appeal was another whose jumping let him down as he got rid of Richie McLernon. The Rainbow Hunter clearly hated the ground on his comeback whilst Chartreux ran absolutely no race whatsoever and Renard paid the penalty for setting the strong gallop early on.
With the previous race looking an ideal Grand National trial, the Bobbyjo Chase also had potential Aintree clues with the return of Spring Heeled for Jim Culloty. He did his Aintree credentials no harm with him jumping exhuberantly throughout before getting tired late on which he was entitled to do on ground he wouldn’t have liked. The race went to small field bully Roi Du Mee who fought off Foildubh in the closing stages. Aintree was mentioned for the winner but as a small field bully who likes to dictate, he may struggle getting to the lead. My Murphy is another entered for Aintree but would only go if the ground came up on the softer side.
The final race to concentrate on is the return to the winners enclosure of Sire De Grugy at Chepstow. Giving a fair amount of weight away to three rivals, he jumped a lot better than he did at Newbury and when asked to come up at the final three fences, he duly obliged on each occasion. This can give the Moores plenty of confidence and the Champion Chase is now firmly back on the radar where he shall return with leading claims to defend his crown.
Primogeniture – Will hopefully retain his novice hurdle status for next season where he will definitely be winning races.
Vago Collonges – One to watch next season when he goes novice chasing.
Godsmejudge – Lovely National trial.
Rajdhani Express – Topham Trophy on decent ground is well within his grasp even off his handicap mark.
To end the blog this week, this is what I started last week before deciding it wasn’t worth much time to continue and I feel the write up of the first from Ascot deserves a mention. Next weekend’s blog may be short and sweet compared to others I’ve written but closer to the Festival, some written previews will go up on this and other sites.
Ascot’s card in a way summed up the National Hunt season a whole; hugely disappointing. Field sizes being the big issue. The largest coming in the bumper with ten runners with the rest of the card having single figures in each race. With decent prize money on offer, why aren’t owners who are normally the first to complain when there is a lack of it actually supporting these meetings?
The opener looked a match on paper between Lanzarote winner Tea For Two and Arpege D’Alene who was fifth in the Challow Hurdle. In the end, it was the latter who obliged for Sam Twiston-Davies and Paul Nicholls but it didn’t look likely going down the side of the course as he was being ridden along to stay in touch. His jumping kept him in the race and he showed a really tough attiude to battle back against the odds on favourite.
Just like his course and distance win back in November, he was putting in his best work in the closing stages which shows no fears to step him up in distance. He misses Cheltenham and if he does run again this campaign, the Sefton at Aintree has been mentioned, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea to put him away for the summer as he will be a top prospect in the big staying novice chases next season and a name we shall hear plenty more of in the coming years. It wouldn’t surprise me either if he had a wind operation over the summer as something may have been affecting him to get outpaced in that way.
Tea For Two was certainly not disgraced, especially as his jumping has improved a ton since his debut round Kempton. He travelled far better than the winner and looked the likely winner on the turn for home before getting outbattled on the run in. He is a big fine strapping type who will also make his mark when he goes novice chasing in the autumn.
Buckhorn Timothy has improved over the last couple of months and has probably exceeded expectations against two smart horses. His trainer Colin Tizzard has some very interesting horses to go novice chasing with next season including the likes of Robinsfirth and Native River and this horse certainly would deserve a creditable mention.
What a three days of racing. The type of weekend where once you’ve gone through it all you need a good lie down. Both sides of the Irish Sea held some top quality action with Super Saturday at Newbury and Leopardstown’s Irish Hennessy card being the main attractions, upheld by some solid meetings elsewhere.
It’s rare that a Friday afternoon would get such a mention but with the quality of racing on show at both Kempton and Bangor, I felt it was worth covering those cards as well as there were notable horses at both venues.
Kempton’s card attracted some fascinating contenders for its two mile and five furlong novice hurdle, none more so than West Wizard who has been beaten twice in the same novice hurdle at the track two years running. On this occasion he was running over further but the odds on favourite again found one too good for him in Minella Rocco, an expensive purchase for JP McManus who looked to win with a fair amount in hand for Tony McCoy and Jonjo O’Neill.
Both horses travelled by far the best throughout the contest but when it mattered most, Minella Rocco had too much class for West Wizard who didn’t find again like has promised to do before. The winner doesn’t hold any fancy entries indicating that he is very much a long term prospect; one for chasing next season. It’s hard to suggest a target for West Wizard as he clearly hasn’t lived up to the hype of what his stable have expected of him. He does have a handicap mark of 136 so connections may consider going down that route with him but he isn’t one to trust.
Scorpiancer has ran respectably back in third and could be one to benefit from a wind operation as he didn’t look to see out the race. Flying Bandit will be interesting once he goes back into handicap company having shown enough here to suggest he can win one. Pyrshan was runner up to a Graded winner in Ordo Ab Chao on hurdling debut and will definitely make his mark in handicaps. Two that caught the eye further back were Rock On Oscar and The Last Euro. The former pulled away his chance and looked a horse that will need a fair bit of time to mature whilst the latter shaped with promise and is another long term project.
The Graduation Chase looked a good opportunity for Josses Hill to gain more experience of chasing after looking sketchy on his first two attempts at Ascot and Doncaster but yet again, his jumping left an awful lot to be desired and had to settle for second behind Third Intention who made most of the running for man of the moment Daryl Jacob.
On his third start over fences, Josses Hill was still guessy at a couple, including the ditch going away from the stands where he gave his supporters heart failure by standing off too far. His technique hasn’t improved much either with him lingering in the air which currently holds him back from being a top chaser. The Arkle was confirmed as the plan post-race but he hasn’t had an appropriate test. The Kingmaker would potentially have been an ideal place to go with the five fences down the back straight providing a true test for a novice. He is one to avoid at the Festival; even for each way purposes.
Take nothing away from Third Intention though who was giving the runner up eleven pounds and bounced back from a fall last time at Haydock. He did something that hasn’t been known of him completely in the past and battled all the way to the line. His slick jumping was his main asset and with his main competitor losing ground in the air, he was gaining, in particular at the final fence. The Topham was nominated as a target by Joe Tizzard, son of trainer Colin and he would be an exciting ride over those fences.
Caesar Milan wasn’t given the best of rides by Sam Twiston-Davies as he decided to kick for home too early although it did look a race winning move for the early part of the home straight. He has clearly turned a corner in cheekpieces and is definitely worth a chance depending on where he turns up next whilst Thomas Crapper had a good blow out with the novice handicap chase at the Festival firmly in mind for him.
The first division of the bumper provided some compensation for Nicky Henderson when Newsworthy made a winning debut for owners Michael Buckley and Rich Ricci. At one stage up the straight, it looked as though Midnight Cowboy would get the upper hand with the winner showing signs of greenness but he eventually put the race to bed. Of the front pair, the runner up looked a more long term prospect whilst the third horse Bilzic did too much in the middle part of the race and was a sitting duck for the minor honours close home.
The second division looked to have more substance in the entries but again, it went to Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty with Ok Corral who fought off the favourite High Bridge despite being slightly green in the closing stages. The winner looked to have more to give compared to the runner up and may have handled the softer ground better. Both Henderson bumper winners weren’t mentioned post-race for the Champion Bumper which seems fair, as both would be too inexperienced. High Bridge should be better on a more sounder surface being out of a 1,000 Guineas winner but he isn’t one to get excited about.
The Unit travelled well but went round the inside where the ground wasn’t as nice compared to going out wide whilst Antartica De Thaix was keen early on but travelled nicely before lacking a turn of foot. Both him and Baraza, a full brother to Nacarat, both look stayers and should be kept on side.
Great Try got off the mark at the third attempt over hurdles at Bangor, doing so in a professional manner under Nick Scholfield in what looks a fair enough race. With this being an EBF novice hurdle, this qualifies him for the Final at Sandown over two and a half miles which should suit him well. The runner up Hedley Lamarr ran a race full of promise on his debut in the familar colours of the Hitchens, famous for horses like Toby Tobias and Golden Freeze. If allowed to, he will certainly make his mark somewhere later in the season. L’Aigle Royal would probably appreciate going back up in trip after being put in his place here by the front two whilst Bringithomeminty was a disappointment, his jumping lacking fluency.
The three mile novice hurdle looked a match between Mendip Express and Beast Of Burden which went the way of the latter who won easily under Paul Townend. He made the majority of the running and relished the step up in distance, even with a slight error at the last. He is certainly worth a place at the Cheltenham Festival but I would be inclined to see him in the Neptune at this stage of his career rather than the Albert Bartlett as three miles on a more galloping track may just find him out at this stage of his career.
Mendip Express certainly wasn’t disgraced back in second, especially with his slickness over hurdles and was able to keep up with the winner for a fair way. He wasn’t beaten that far in the end and that should have put him spot on for the Festival Handicap Chase on the first day where he would have a big chance.
The Hunter Chase that ended the card wouldn’t have looked out of place at any of the major spring meetings and even though eight were pulled out due to various reasons, it still looked a strong contest for the sphere. As readers from last year may remember, Teaforthree was a horse that I had convinced myself that defeat was out of the question in the Grand National so you can imagine my shock when he unseated Nick Scholfield right under my nose at the Chair. Having watched the race back on numerous occasions, he wasn’t travelling with his usual enthusiasm and excuses emerged with an injury suffered during the race.
For today’s run, there was enough evidence to oppose him with. He usually needs a couple of runs before he reaches his peak and the drop back in distance looked to be an inconvenience. However, class prevailed with him travelling and jumping in the manner in which we have become accustomed to over the last few seasons, gaining his first win since his National Hunt Chase win at Cheltenham in 2012. The plan is to go to Cheltenham for the Foxhunters but he needs another win to qualify for the race. The Walrus Hunter Chase at Haydock could be a target; especially with the £10k bonus if you win that and the Cheltenham Foxhunters before a third crack at the Grand National.
Pacha Du Polder chased the winner throughout and whilst he was a useful performer at his best, giving eight pounds to Teaforthree proved too much. He only needs a win or another second to qualify for Cheltenham or Aintree with the latter looking a more preferable option over a trip that would suit him more. The other class horse Calgary Bay travelled up omniously going to three out before getting very tired. The market beforehand suggested he may need this outing and that was proven. He will no doubt be competitive in hunter chases over the coming months.
The main UK action of the weekend came in the form of Super Saturday with Newbury firmly in the limelight with a high quality card with some taking performances and some shocks along the way from both equines and human.
The opening race on the card was the two mile novice hurdle in which Qewy built upon his hurdles debut in Graded company behind Aso at Haydock when winning for John Ferguson and Tony McCoy, the first of two winner for him on the card. He jumped slickly throughout and used his tactical speed from the flat decisively against some fair opposition. He would need to improve again if he were to feature in the Supreme but with the improvement he has showed here, it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if he did.
Doncaster winner Cardinal Walter loomed up dangerously having travelled strongly but was firmly put in his place by Qewy and made to look one paced; he will no doubt find a decent handicap hurdle in the spring. Royal Vacation has ran well on his hurdles debut and has performed to a fair level, suggesting that he will win a couple of novice hurdles before embarking on his chasing career.
Bouveril didn’t particularly look the strongest of finishers and could just need a summer at grass to grow up mentally and physically. Cloonacool could be used as the marker for the race, having beaten the Betfair Hurdle winner Violet Dancer on his last start at Kempton which gives this race a solid look whilst Risk A Fine was far too free for his own good and faded away tamely.
The Denman Chase looked an ideal opportunity for one of the top staying novice chasers Coneygree to cement his Cheltenham Festival position against seasoned chasers and he put in a performance similar to the Feltham where he put his rivals to the sword and one by one, they fell by the wayside, albeit this time down to jumping errors as opposed to falling.
A seven length success over Hennessy runner up Houblon Des Obeaux who looks to have ran to his mark suggests he isn’t far off Gold Cup class this season and his style of racing is just an absolute joy to watch with fast accurate jumping and the ability to get his rivals into trouble, something very few horses possess.
The performance was similar to Gloria Victis, like Coneygree, a novice who had both the RSA and the Gold Cup as potential targets after routing a field in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton. He was also ridden by Richard Johnson who deserves plenty of credit for the ride he gave Coneygree as he allowed the horse to do what he pleased but when asked up the home straight, he responded superbly.
The million dollar question – Do connections opt for the RSA or the Gold Cup? I’m now convinced that if he goes down the novice route then he will be extremely hard to beat, even with his running style and if they decide to go for the blue riband, he would certainly have a strong chance of winning. Whilst a lack of experience would be the concern, his jumping has been faultless so far and his relentless galloping have made him so endearing to the public.
Houblon Des Obeaux has been a model of consistency this season and deserves a big race win with this being his third second place finish this campaign. This was his Gold Cup and he was comprehensively put in his place by Coneygree which underlines how much talent the winner has. He may go to Cheltenham but his record isn’t the best. He could go to Sandown for the Bet365 Gold Cup again where hopefully he’d get further than the first fence unlike last year. Unioniste was outpaced here before staying on stoutly up the home straight, showcasing his attributes for the Grand National. Paul Nicholls did also mention the Grand Steeple Chase de Paris which is another race that could suit him very well.
Both Taquin Du Seuil and Harry Topper’s jumping were exposed by Coneygree. The former did look a danger going to three out before fading away, suggesting that the distance stretched him. He would probably head towards the Ryanair now with him showing more positive signs compared to Haydock whilst the latter wants softer ground and a similar galloping track. Double Ross showed more here than at both Haydock and Kempton but wants to go back in trip.
The Game Spirit Chase marked the return of last season’s Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy but the centre of attention shifted elsewhere as soon as the race finished with the shock announcement from nineteen times champion jockey Tony McCoy of his retirement at the end of this National Hunt season after gaining his 200th winner of the season on Mr Mole. McCoy’s retirement will get talked about more in due course on the videos and in written form closer to the end of the season.
To the race itself, the performance from Mr Mole was staggering. He gave about fifteen lengths away at the start when whipping round and almost looking reluctant to race. He got himself back into it early with the lack of a true gallop from Uxizandre but to make up that ground early on and to win in that manner was pretty impressive. A notoriously difficult horse in the past, this is yet another complete turnaround from Paul Nicholls who yet again has revelled in the challenge of making the horse a complete package. The Champion Chase now looks a realistic target and this is the exact same route Nicholls plotted out with a certain Master Minded in the 2007/08 season. With most of his main rivals having question marks hanging above them, the case is looking fairly strong for him and he could provide Tony McCoy a farewell present; a Champion Chase victory.
Both Upsilon Bleu and Karinga Dancer were here for prize money and have been rewarded but they were both outclassed. Uxizandre went out to make the running but was left behind quite easily by Mr Mole before his spectacular unseat at the final fence. It’s hard to know where to go next as he didn’t do anything here to enhance his Festival credentials.
Strangely, that’s my way of thinking with Sire De Grugy as well. His fencing was far from fluent and he had threatened to get rid of Jamie Moore on more than one occasion before the final open ditch. With the ease Mr Mole won, I doubt he would have beaten him and whilst he’s entitled to come on plenty for the outing, this performance raises yet more questions about the Champion Chase rather than answer those before this contest.
As usual, the Betfair Hurdle was hugely competitive affair but it gave trainer Gary Moore a welcome tonic after the reversal of Sire De Grugy when he took the race for the third time with Violet Dancer who joined Heathcote and Wingman on the roll of honour for the Moore stable.
He was given a fantastic ride from the front by Gary’s son Josh who used the horse perfectly in first time cheekpieces and was never out of the first two. Left in the lead when Chieftain’s Choice fell at the last flight in the back straight, he built up an advantage that just wasn’t pegged back by the chasing pack. His jumping was much sharper than it has been in the past and these tactics looked to suit him well and he will no doubtedly head to the Festival for either the Coral Cup or the County Hurdle but unlike here, it will be harder to make most of the running and have something in reserve.
Cheltenian improved on his effort in this race a year ago when he was fourth by going two places better. He was another to be ridden handy and would have benefitted from that. It will be interesting to see where he goes next as he has plenty of options including going back chasing as he did jump well on chase debut behind the ponderous Josses Hill at Doncaster. Activial has ran another strong race after getting outpaced on the turn for home. He will be suited by going up in distance but the Coral Cup on normal Festival ground may prove too much for him as he did disappoint at Aintree on good ground.
Calipto was patiently ridden and travelled strongly throughout the race but once off the bridle, he looked fairly one paced. The suspicion is that he isn’t as well handicapped over hurdles as thought by connections and he will probably step up in trip before the season is out. Jolly’s Cracked It looked to be thrown in at the deep end and was given a perfect confidence boosting ride in rear by Nick Scholfield. This looks the race that may make a man of him and whilst a Festival novice hurdle is probably out the question, he will almost certainly win another race or two before the season finishes.
The eyecatcher of the whole race was Arzal as plenty went wrong throughout the race. Normally a front runner, he was inconvienienced by the standing start and was further back than ideal. He then was caught on heels passing the winning post with a circuit to go before getting badly impeded by the fall of Chieftain’s Choice which knocked him back to last place. For a couple of strides, it looked as though he wasn’t travelling at all well but he then picked up the bridle again and was allowed some time to recover. He was nursed onto the back of the main group before somehow finishing sixth. Without those problems endured in running, he would definitely have been in the frame and he has done incredibly well to be only beaten fifteen lengths.
Forced Family Fun would have finished closer having not made a blunder at the second last whilst On Tour was given a strange ride by Paul Moloney. On a horse that gets further than the minimum two miles, instead of sitting more handy, they held him up. Once he realised he was too far back, he made a mid-race move that used up too much energy and left him vulnerable after the last flight. Balgarry just wasn’t good enough on the day and may benefit with a confidence booster in a smaller contest whilst Wicklow Brave was a huge disappointment considering the amount of money that came for him. Ballybolley was beaten at the time when hampered two out but keep an eye on him if he goes to Aintree as the conditional jockeys handicap hurdle would suit him really well.
Of the non-finishers, Fascino Rustico had travelled kindly for Harry Skelton and hadn’t gone for his full effort when making a mistake and falling at the second last, bringing down Ebony Express and hampering Vasco Du Ronceray who was well beaten at the time. Fascino Rustico may well have placed and may well be a type for something like the Swinton at Haydock. It was a relief to see Ebony Express get up ok after a horrific looking tumble but he didn’t look to be going anywhere at the time. Chieftain’s Choice had jumped well up until departing whilst Goodwood Mirage barely took off at the first and gave Tony McCoy a pretty nasty fall. He then galloped off and decided to take on the open ditch in the back straight and from that evidence, I doubt he’ll ever make a natural chaser!
The three mile novice chase was a match between long odds on favourite Kings Palace and Vivaldi Collonges with David Pipe’s charge looking to regain his position at the top of the RSA Chase market after Coneygree’s sucess earlier on the card. Whilst he maintained his unbeaten record, he did give his backers a scare or two on the way round, esepecially at the three open ditches jumped. With showing that accuracy we have become used to, we did see his first real error at the third last when standing off too far and almost landing on top of the fence, doing extremely well to stay on his feet. Although he won a shade cosily, it did give Vivaldi Collonges a chance at victory as he did look vulnerable for a couple of strides.
Bookmakers were unimpressed and he actually drifted with a couple of firms. Even then, he doesn’t tempt me for the Festival at all. If Coneygree turns up in the RSA then he has competition for the lead and he would be vulnerable not just to that rival but to the whole field behind him that would stalk and pounce. Even without Coneygree, I would hold the same concerns that just like in the Albert Bartlett, he would set the race up for a stronger stayer. Vivaldi Collonges jumped better than he did on debut behind Kings Palace but it could be worth keeping his novice status for next season where he could gain plenty more experience.
The Listed Bumper that ended the card looked strong on paper and again went to an all the way winner in Barters Hill who remains unbeaten after three starts for Ben Pauling and defied all comers in tenacious style. There was a moment of concern passing the stands where his mind wandered towards the paddock exit and up the straight when taken on first by Final Nudge and secondly by the four year old Buveur D’air but he wasn’t for passing. The Champion Bumper could easily be tempting for connections and he could fare well there but would need to make the race a true stamina test from the front.
Others to note from the race for the future include Final Nudge who shaped well for a long way, Duke Des Champs who probably needed the run and Present Man who disappointed although he wouldn’t be the first horse to disappoint in this race and bounce back; Thomas Brown being a prime example twelve months ago.
Warwick’s feature contest was the Kingmaker Novice Chase, which looked a match on paper between Vibrato Valtat and Top Gamble but it was turned into a procession with Paul Nicholls’ grey showing his class to dispose of an unbeaten novice whose jumping has impressed many. He was ridden with a huge amount of confidence by Sam Twiston-Davies but his jumping wasn’t as good as it has been in the past. He took a liberty at a couple along the side of the course but brushed those fiddly errors aside to beat Top Gamble comfortably giving him three pounds. He is now as short as 6/1 for the Arkle and whilst he looks Britain’s best chance of an Arkle winner, he comes up against a potential superstar in Un De Sceaux and I would expect him to be fighting out second with Clarcam, although he would need to iron out the errors made here.
Top Gamble jumped beautifully up until four out where he misjudged his takeoff and landed in a bit of a heap. He also made a slight error at the third last but was quickly back on the bridle however he was brushed aside by a smart novice. Although he has lost his unbeaten record over fences, he still emerges with plenty of credit but could be difficult to place.Turn Over Sivola has ran respectably back in third and will probably be one for the Red Rum at Aintree where he ran well last year behind Parsnip Pete whilst Kings Lad probably found the pace too hot down the side of the course. A step back up in distance would help his cause.
Leopardstown’s final main meeting before Cheltenham always throws up various clues and today was no exception. The Spring Juvenile Hurdle has thrown up the last two winners of the Triumph Hurdle and threw up a potential contender in Petite Parisienne who was impressive enough for her second hurdles start beating her stablemate Kalkir. She was in receipt of six pounds from the whole field (Bryan Cooper putting one overweight) and showed plenty of guts to battle all the way up the straight. Whilst her jumping was novicey in parts, she will surely improve for even better ground but she will need to considering the British juveniles.
Kalkir looked much happier than he did at Christmas on desperate ground but was beaten fair and square here. It’s hard seeing him reverse positions with the winner in the Triumph. Prussian Eagle appears to have shown improvement for slightly better ground after chasing home Fiscal Focus over Christmas and another Mullins juvenile hurdler in Dicosimo at Gowran. These three put twenty lengths between themselves and the fourth but it doesn’t look likely we saw the Triumph winner here. Vercingetorix made a bad mistake at the first and was a major disappointment, the first considerable one for owners Simon Munir & Issac Souede. That didn’t look his true running but that may sway the decision to keep him at home.
The Deloitte Novice Hurdle had yet another from the Willie Mullins stable sent off a short price favourite in the enormous grey Alvisio Ville who had attracted significant support not just for this race but for the Neptune at the Festival. But the bubble surrounding him burst when he was beaten into third by yet again, another Mullins stablemate in Nichols Canyon who shrugged off his unseat at Christmas in taking fashion, using the exact same tactics used to full effect on Vautour and Champagne Fever.
He was able from the home turn to use his flat speed to full effect and win by a comfortable three and a half lengths. Whilst the form of his Royal Bond win looked questionable, he was a class above them and the same comments apply for this performance here with much stronger opposition. With that potent flat speed, it may suit best going down the Supreme route and using the same tactics like the previous two winners listed above. Windsor Park improved on his effort two weeks ago when not given the best of rides. He was always going to come off second best to the winner and shaped like the Neptune would suit him but his jumping again would need to improve.
The hype surrounding Alvisio Ville has been pretty scary and he was well backed considering he had only won a maiden hurdle on Boxing Day. He jumped a lot better than on debut but was keen enough early on. That and the lack of experience probably told in the closing stages but he was beaten by a better horse on the day. With plenty of time on his side, he doesn’t need to go to the Festival this year when he has been brought for the purpose of going chasing. Silver Concorde shaped with more promise than on hurdling debut but the enthusiasm on my Supreme antepost bet has dwindled whilst Sempre Medici remains interesting if given a feasible handicap mark.
The Flogas Novice Chase looked an ideal target for Valseur Lido to remain unbeaten and book his ticket to the Festival in either the JLT or the RSA but the form of his Drinmore win was reversed by Apache Stronghold who was given an incredible ride by Paul Carberry considering he didn’t jump as well as he has done in the past. He paid a huge compliment to Don Poli who beat him over Christmas in the Topaz and was certainly suited by this intermediate trip under a patient ride. Trainer Noel Meade confirmed the JLT was his Festival target and he goes there with a definite chance as the end to end gallop should really play to his strengths.
Valseur Lido lost nothing in defeat but was just beaten by a slightly better horse on the day. He jumped and travelled like he did in the Drinmore and handled going the other way round. If he goes over to the Festival, you’d hope he would turn up in the JLT as he doesn’t shape yet like three miles would be right up his street. If he didn’t go, the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse could potentially be easy pickings. Adriana Des Mottes showed no ill-effects of her bad mistake at Limerick and has ran to a similar form level shown on that occasion as she would have finished a clear second behind Gilgamboa. She could easily drop back into her own company and win some decent prizes.
The Tullow Tank put in a much better effort than of recent times having travelled omniously well before getting outpaced after the second last. He is worth another go over three miles and this effort may have convinced his connections to ponder going to the Festival for the RSA. Jarry D’Honneur’s jumping was sketchy out in front and he unseated of his own accord at the last. A confidence booster in a lower grade will help.
The sad part of the race was the demise of Le Vent D’Antan who had jumped beautifully before overjumping at the last and injuring a shoulder. It’s a part of the sport no one wants to happen but for a small stable like Liz Doyle to lose their stable star, it’s heartbreaking. A one time favourite for the Champion Bumper in 2013, he had shown plenty of promise so far over fences to suggest he was above average. RIP.
The Irish Hennessy provided the fairytale with Tony McCoy, fresh from announcing his retirement at Newbury, gaining his first (and only) success in the race under a never say die effort on Carlingford Lough to repel the improver in the pack Foxrock with last season’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere running an eyecatching race back in third. The scenes that greeted the winner post-race were reminiscent of what Hurricane Fly received last month when winning his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle.
Carlingford Lough built upon his effort in the Lexus Chase where he travelled well before looking in need of the run. He did well here to recover from a mistake at the second last to run down Foxrock after the last to win going away. After this performance, he merits consideration for the Gold Cup but the concerns are based on the way he jumped around Cheltenham in last season’s RSA. It will be interesting to see whether McCoy chooses him or Shutthefrontdoor.
Foxrock continues to prove me wrong and this was by far a career best effort. He came off the bridle after the third last and found plenty for pressure, leading over the last fence before being caught on the run in by the winner. Connections may be tempted to supplement him for the Gold Cup but it could just pay to wait for the Punchestown Gold Cup this season with him.
Lord Windermere ran a much better race than he did in the Lexus. He was ridden more forward and unusually for him, he was probably in front plenty soon enough which has never been the case before. Considering he was only beaten eight and three quarter lengths, compared to last year when he was beaten twenty six lengths by Last Instalment, this was a Gold Cup preparation to be pleased with. Better ground here was a big positive compared to the testing ground he encountered over Christmas and he will now tick over until going back to defend his crown with as good a chance as any.
Boston Bob was never put in the race whatsoever having just hacked around at the back of the field. Bookmakers pushed his price out after this effort and whilst I wouldn’t be a backer of the horse, it seemed an unwise decision to let him drift. The concern for the Gold Cup would be if he gets himself out of position, whether that be by design or him getting outpaced. The other way to potentially look at this effort is that connections may have half an eye on the Grand National with the weights due to be published a week tomorrow.
Talking of Aintree, Home Farm ran a fair trial towards Aintree and would definitely be competitive there off a workable mark whilst First Lieutenant didn’t show very much for his National ambitions. Texas Jack put up a more competitive effort compared to recently but has never looked a true three miler. If kept in similar form, the Melling Chase could be his type of race having disappointed previously at the Festival whilst On His Own kept jumping out to his right and showed his inconsistency.
The Raymond Smith Memorial Hunter Chase featured some old faces including 2012 and 2013 Cheltenham Foxhunters winner Salsify making his return to action and Mossey Joe but it was left to Willie Mullins and son Patrick with one time Grand National favourite Prince De Beauchene who didn’t jump as well as he did at Thurles but battled thoroughly to deny On The Fringe who was given a very patient ride by Nina Carberry.
The review of Prince De Beauchene could be described as pointless due to the fact he won’t be eligible for either the Cheltenham or Aintree Foxhunters, although he may return for the Grand National where he would give Patrick a thrill of a lifetime before failing to see out the trip. On The Fringe would be interesting in the Aintree Foxhunters as he has failed to get up the hill twice at Cheltenham although his main aim is likely to be Punchestown. Salsify was far too fresh on his return but showed that he was still in good enough form to suggest a return to Cheltenham is possible.
Exeter staged a good quality card on Sunday and three races are worth a mention. It was great to see Native River back in the winners enclosure after his fall on Festival Trials Day when taking the Listed novice hurdle and taking a notable scalp in Emerging Talent who still frustrates his backers as he travels so strongly through his races before finding little for pressure.
Both the front two will have smart careers when they tackle fences in the future, especially the runner up who just needs to grow up physically and mentally. He is with the perfect trainer in Paul Nicholls who will bring the horse along steadily to peak at the right time. He will no doubt leave his hurdles form behind once he goes jumping fences in the autumn.
For a moment on Trials Day, it looked bad for Native River so to see him taking this prize was pleasing. That gives the impression he would have gone quite close on that occasion and this is a nice boost to the Challow Hurdle form. He is more than worth his place at the Festival but sadly only has the Albert Bartlett entry. He would be more than worth his place in a Neptune but unlike the big Grade Ones, I’m unsure whether you can supplement for novice events.
Kalane was firmly put in his place by two smart horses but there’s no reason to believe he isn’t fairly useful himself and should make a good chaser in the autumn. The disappointment of the contest was War Sound who pulled far too hard for his own good and was comprehensively beaten. He is far better than what he showed yet but he has plenty of learning to do.
The Pertemps Qualifier looked one of the strongest so far and finally Regal Encore put it all together over hurdles with a comfortable success. The step up in distance looked to suit him really well and if progressing from this, he would almost certainly be able to make his mark in a Festival handicap but he is still one I wouldn’t completely trust. Alavian made it a JP McManus one-two and he was another to benefit from going up in distance although he was looked after significantly in the closing stages. If he is to make the Pertemps cut, he needs his mark to go up several pounds and it will likely be touch and go whether he scrapes in. Similar comments apply to the The Tourard Man who is currently in the form of his life and is worth his go in the Final.
Big Easy deserves to win a big handicap hurdle and whilst he would run his usual honest race, I don’t think he would have more improvement in him to win a Pertemps however the next home Knight Of Noir could potentially have more to come and is on my shortlist of three I have currently for the race. The other two being Brother Brian who chased home Rock On Ruby back in December and Edeymi who caught everyone’s attention last week at Musselburgh behind Dawalan.
Morito Du Berlais wouldn’t get in the Final based on this effort but hasn’t finishing winning over hurdles this season. He should win a decent handicap on good ground before the season is out. Unowhatimeanharry ran respectably from out of the handicap and has definitely shown enough to suggest he can bang a staying handicap hurdle. Pineau De Re shaped with plenty more promise compared to his previous effort at Carlisle and just managed to qualify. With improvement likely, he will run well at the Festival before attempting to regain his Grand National crown back where he should give another good account of himself.
Aubusson just failed to qualify but that could be a blessing in disguise as he could now be put away for the remainder of this season and be brought back for a chasing campaign in the autumn. Southfield Royale didn’t show his true running at all and can be forgiven whilst Ambion Wood likely needed this outing after a fair amount of time off the track.
Southfield Theatre got back to winning ways in the novice chase under replacement jockey Noel Fehily after chasing Carraig Mor home at Newbury on unfavoured soft ground. Back on better ground and allowed to make his own running, it was the best he has jumped over fences so far but it would have been touch and go had chasing debutant Val De Law stood up at the final fence as he was mounting a serious challenge. He looks a smart recruit for Jamie Snowden and was outrunning his odds when taking a heavy tumble. Happily, he got to his feet and galloped away unharmed. Whilst he holds no obvious entries, a race that could suit him towards the end of the season is the Future Champions Novices Chase at Ayr over two and a half miles.
The pace throughout was a stop start affair and they have sprinted up the straight and for a horse who has got form over further in Southfield Theatre, this shows he has tactical pace as well. Although it was the best he has jumped over fences, at this stage in his career, missing Cheltenham wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world as the RSA can be a particularly brutal test for a horse. With the pace he showed here, the three mile Grade One at Aintree could suit him really well under a bold front running ride, as he could potentially get his opposition into trouble down the back straight.
Melodic Rendezvous was sticky at a couple of fences but this was a much better effort than on his chasing debut at Bangor when scraping home against Boondooma. He did look the likely winner until a mistake three out put him on the back foot. Considering the ground was probably as lively as he would have wanted it, this was a good effort and there is no doubt he will bag a few novice chases with more cut in the ground. The Pendil at Kempton has been mentioned as a target but he will bump into England’s leading JLT hope Ptit Zig.
Thank you for reading this bumper edition which I hope makes up for not doing a blog last week. Next week features the Ascot Chase and the Grand National Trial at Haydock which will be an attritional test and I’m sure the Cheltenham video previews will begin soon.
Caesar Milan – Was better than the result suggested.
Great Try/Hedley Lamaar – The winner has the capability to go well in the EBF Final whilst the runner up is worth keeping an eye on.
Arzal – No luck at all in running and should be backed next time out.
Lord Windermere/Boston Bob – That will have put the former spot on to defend his Gold Cup crown whilst the latter wasn’t given a chance to show anything.
Knight Of Noir – Looks interesting for the Pertemps Final.
Val De Law – Looks a smart horse for Jamie Snowden and if his confidence isn’t affected, he should win novice chases.
The Festival is getting closer and closer with Cheltenham’s Trials Day meeting being the centrepiece of the weekend, the last chance we can get some Festival clues from the home of National Hunt racing. We also had some informative action from Doncaster relating to the Festival and other spring targets plus a fantastic card yesterday from Leopardstown.
The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial revolved around the hugely impressive Doncaster winner Peace And Co who was sent off a very warm favourite however he gave his backers cause of concern early on as he was exceptionally keen due to the complete lack of pace with nobody wanting to make the running. The new tactics worked well enough as he travelled by far the best before putting the race to bed in comfortable style, albeit showing some signs of greenness. The winner will now be next seen in the Triumph Hurdle itself and whilst he deserves to be favourite, the price is pretty ridiculous with it as short as 6/4 in spots. I think he is the most likely winner of the Triumph but I couldn’t put him up as a selection with his price so skinny.
Karezak continues to improve in juvenile hurdles and this is by far his best effort over timber. He took up the running after the second last but was just a sitting duck for Peace And Co. He could potentially be the each way value of the Triumph having only been beaten three lengths here and is still a relatively big price compared to the favourite. Whilst the whole field were affected by the lack of pace, Zarib was one that was especially keen disputing the lead with Ibis Du Rheu and has definitely improved upon his Newbury win back in December. He has the option for both the Triumph and the Fred Winter depending what the handicapper assesses him with better ground likely to suit as well.
Storm Force Ten was outpaced once the tempo quickened up sharply after the second last before he stayed on well up the hill to almost grab third from Zarib. He shaped with plenty of promise when behind Bivouac at Sandown and although he was getting seven pounds from that rival here, this was certainly his career best over hurdles. He would definitely have a leading chance in the Fred Winter and his mark should go up sufficiently to get into that race. Bivouac looks a long term chasing prospect and was badly inconvenienced by the lack of a gallop. He clattered through the last flight but was beaten at the time. He probably won’t return for the Festival which would be a wise decision for his future.
Ibis Du Rheu was a disappointment however, there were positives to take from the performance. He will certainly improve once he gets a lead in a race as he looked very green running into hurdles, almost as if he was going to run out at them. On the whole he jumped well enough but his keenness ended any chance he had. On appearance, he looks to have plenty of growing to do and it wouldn’t surprise to see him next season as a decent handicap hurdler like his half brother Saphir Du Rheu. He shouldn’t be returning to the Festival in March but for the future, he is one firmly to keep on side.
The Timeform Novices Handicap Chase was missing Ned Stark who was a non-runner but it still looked particularly strong contest on paper and it didn’t disappoint with Generous Ransom, an eye-catcher last time out when staying on at Kempton behind Stellar Notion, improving on that effort to take his second victory over fences. The stiffer track definitely suited here and he travelled powerfully before idling in front.
There was definitely plenty left in the tank and a step up to three miles in time will no doubt bring about improvement. He remains on the eyecatchers list as he deserves to be kept on side and would go very well in a Festival handicap chase, apart from the novice handicap as I think the Old Course would be too sharp for him over that distance. If his mark isn’t high enough, then the three mile handicap chase on Grand National day would suit him well.
Astigos improved on his Newbury third behind Gevrey Chambertin and nearly capitalised on the winner slowing up on the run in. His handicap mark is too low for the big spring Festivals but he still has time on his side to get his mark up, although his mark could be preserved for next winter. Irish Cavalier caught the eye for the Rewards4Racing Novices Handicap Chase having travelled well on the heels of the leaders. He was slightly outpaced before staying on strongly up the hill behind two better handicapped horses on this occasion. Although he will need to jump slightly better, he has the capability to improve again and his mark should get him into the race.
Carole’s Destrier put in a much improved effort over a distance probably on the sharp side for him and a return to three miles will definitely help. Perfect Candidate stayed on up the hill after getting outpaced at the top of the hill and is another that will benefit from going back up in distance. Mosspark was a shade disappointing in the first time headgear and it could just be that over this distance they were going a yard too quick for him. He holds an entry in the National Hunt Chase and whilst he wouldn’t be my idea of a fancy for the race, he could be very interesting as they would go a stride slower which would help his jumping. Stellar Notion made a couple of jumping errors but considering he looked a sitting duck, he wasn’t beaten that far overall. A return to a flatter track would be of benefit.
Many Clouds gave yet another boost to his Hennessy Gold Cup success when remaining unbeaten this season with a gutsy victory in the Betbright Cup, finally getting the Cheltenham monkey off Oliver Sherwood’s back with this being his first win at the track since the year 2000. Throughout his career, he has threatened to be a very good horse and this is the season where he has kicked on to repay the faith his connections have had in him.
The race was fairly muddling with a stop-start pace set by the winner and Black Thunder, which definitely wasn’t a help to some in behind but take nothing away from the performance of Many Clouds as his claims as a genuine Gold Cup contender were cemented. The only concern I would have come March is whether he needs genuine soft ground to be at his most effective.
One horse affected by the pace of the race was the runner up Smad Place who was another to give the Hennessy Gold Cup form a positive outlook. He was pulling for his head early on due to the lack of early pace and was also inconvenienced by Dynaste on the home turn who was entitled to keep him in behind Many Clouds. To give him credit, for him to finish as close as he did with how much he pulled was a testament to the horse. Whilst he was receiving eight pounds from the winner, he is entitled to come on plenty for this effort having needed the run in the Hennessy.
If there was a horse to take for the Gold Cup then Smad Place would be the one for me at an each way price. Sure, he may not be a Gold Cup winner but you cannot fault his record at the Festival with him placing three times out of four, his only below par effort coming in the Triumph Hurdle when shaping as though he needed further. The 25/1 with William Hill and Boylesports looks big enough considering he probably has more going for him than most of the key contenders lining up.
Dynaste was back in third and whilst he wasn’t stopping up the hill, he has been beaten by two stronger stayers than him on the day. Due to the pace, his jumping wasn’t as fluent as it has been in the past. You suspect connections will drop back to the Ryanair, the race where he would have his most realistic chance of Festival success. The Giant Bolster was another that didn’t enjoy how the race panned out and looked to be struggling with over a circuit to go. He got himself back into the race before losing his position again. He will definitely be seen in a better light when presented with an end to end gallop in March and wouldn’t be one to dismiss. Black Thunder looks to want a stiffer test of stamina on this evidence whilst Theatre Guide shaped better than the distance he was beaten. It will be interesting to see where he heads in the spring.
The Neptune Trial centered around the exciting talent that is Value At Risk who had come over from Ireland to be trained by Dan Skelton and had made such a huge impression when bolting up on hurdling debut at Newbury. He was sent off a very well backed favourite but had to settle for second best behind Ordo Ab Chao for Alan King, returning from a below par effort at Sandown behind Vyta Du Roc in the Winter Novice Hurdle back in early December. He travelled well behind the leaders and took it up after the last; showing a likeable attitude to fend off the favourite. He will get entries for both the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett and would have definite claims in both races.
If he did turn up in the latter, he would be re-opposing Value At Risk who shaped like a strong stayer. On second viewing, he wasn’t as outpaced as originally thought between the last two hurdles and he fought back tenaciously up the hill. If there was one to take for the Albert Bartlett from the weekend, this was the horse as it was confirmed by Dan Skelton that this was the plan. His jumping had improved from Newbury and the 14/1 best price looks generous considering he was only beaten less than a length. The only small concern I have is about him settling but with a stronger pace guaranteed, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
The horse that travelled the strongest throughout was Vago Collonges but when push came to shove, he didn’t look the most genuine when putting in his effort. I will give the benefit of the doubt having read comments that his wind may not have been completely right, although it was pleasing to see him boost his form from earlier in the season with Maximiser at Haydock, who is sadly out for the season with a setback. Robinsfirth is a horse that will come into himself next season as he still looks relatively weak but he does have plenty of ability. It may be wise to miss the Festival with him and give him an easy time of things for the remainder of the season.
Some Buckle made a significant move after the second last and looked to have place claims before weakening back in fifth. This was a solid effort in his toughest task over hurdles to date and whilst he may not be good enough for a novice hurdle at the Festival, his future lies over fences next season. Present View wasn’t good enough to hold his own against some smart novice hurdlers but has ran respectably with his next target being the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton. Both Thistlecrack and Stiletto were way too keen for their own good and were both comprehensively outclassed in the end whilst Native River was yet to be asked a question when taking a nasty looking fall two out. He would have been another pointer towards the Challow and it would be silly to assume where he would have finished but he was shaping well at the time of his departure.
Having suggested in the Christmas review that Saphir Du Rheu could return hurdling, the Cleeve Hurdle looked a retrieval mission for him after his novice chase career went astray with an unseated rider on chase debut at Newbury and a fall at Kempton in the Feltham on Boxing Day. The apple of Paul Nicholls’ eye managed to get his season back on track and whilst he made it look like hard work, it was pleasing to see him stick his head down and battle up the hill to fend off the six time Grade One winner in Reve De Sivola with another up and comer in Un Temps Pour Tout back in third.
The winner travelled strongly behind the leaders but did look slightly in trouble on the run down to the final flight but showed guts to match his class on ground probably not ideal either. Better ground will help him a fair amount, and the World Hurdle now looks the aim. His current price of 7/1 seems fair considering the majority of his main market rivals all have questions to answer and he is now confirmed a definite runner. On Friday’s video, I mentioned having a theory about the horse however it was blown out of the water by the cool ride given by Sam Twiston-Davies who sat quieter in the saddle on the way round compared to Kempton.
It was interesting to hear Paul Nicholls comparison of Saphir Du Rheu to Big Bucks after the race over the tannoy. Nicholls described Big Bucks as ‘gutless’ over fences compared to Saphir Du Rheu who is more ‘brave’. I have no doubt in time that Saphir Du Rheu will learn to respect his obstacles more as he gets older and he will no doubt be a leading player come the Festival for the World Hurdle.
Reve De Sivola ran a far better race than expected after his heroic effort in the Long Walk last month at Ascot. He made this a fair test for the young pretenders and to his credit, battled all the way to the line on a track where he has never really shown his best form. He will probably line up in the World Hurdle however, he would need very testing ground to be at his most effective. For his comeback run, Un Temps Pour Tout ran a really nice race having jumped and travelled very sweetly before his effort petered out in the last one hundred yards, which it was entitled to having not seen the track since May. He definitely saw out the three miles which was a question mark beforehand and he’ll re-oppose the front pairing in March. Whether he can reverse the form remains to be seen and would he be as effective on better ground.
Cole Harden jumped out to his left violently at the second last and faded away on ground probably soft enough for him. With the yard form questionable at present, he is definitely worth forgiving plus I’m not convinced Cheltenham’s his track. Unconfirmed suggestions post-race were that he had a breathing problem. If so, let’s hope it’s rectified and hopefully we see him at Aintree on Grand National day for the Liverpool Hurdle.
The Druids Nephew ran a race full of promise heading towards the Festival, with the most suitable race being the Baylis & Harding Handicap Chase on the first day. His handicap form over fences this season looks strong with his second to Sam Winner at the Paddy Power meeting and his seventh to Many Clouds in the Hennessy and he would go there with a big chance. Olofi clearly didn’t stay three miles and may also benefit from dropping into handicap company at the Festival.
The final handicap hurdle went to the ultra consistent Lightentertainment who gave Chris Gordon his first ever Cheltenham winner and was a welcome tonic after the sad loss of King Edmund last week. He did exceedingly well to win considering the lack of hurdles to jump plus he looked one of the first beaten. The horse to take out of the race was Dell’ Arca for the County Hurdle as he should have won this contest. He should be reassessed for this and even then he will still be competitive come March.
Doncaster hosted some quality action and the first of three races to focus on is the Lightning Novices Chase which went to Three Kingdoms who did well to recover from a bad mistake at the third last to see off the tough Solar Impulse to gain his second victory over fences. The winner will be even better on good ground and could be one to skip the Arkle with and go to Aintree with. Solar Impulse chased home Josses Hill last time out and almost beat Three Kingdoms here. This was definitely a career best and he would deserve a go in the Arkle where he could easily run into a place if the race cuts up, especially as it has the potential to.
The Albert Bartlett Trial looked easy pickings for Blaklion on his return to three miles but was another short price favourite to be beaten by Caracci Apache who was given an unbelievable ride by Nico De Boinville as he was struggling a fair way out and not really travelling but perseverance was the order of the day. He clearly doesn’t look straight forward as he collided with the rail right on the line and Cheltenham could come too early for him this season. If connections go to the Festival, it would no doubt be the Albert Bartlett but he would need to travel much better than he did here.
Blaklion was ridden similarly here to his Cheltenham run but took a long time to go past the tough Zeroeshadesofgrey who put him to the sword a long way out. Although he has run well in defeat, I’m not entirely sure what to think of the run but he does go to the Festival with his chance for the Albert Bartlett. It could just be that needs to be freshened up having had plenty of runs.
Zeroeshadesofgrey was meant to run in a Pertemps Qualifier on Friday at Huntingdon and has ran a solid race back in third, proving the trip at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day was on the sharp side for him. He wouldn’t be out of place either in the Albert Bartlett and already has Festival experience from the bumper and is proving himself to be a very good horse for Neil King whilst Binge Drinker travelled really well but when the tempo quickened, he was left flat footed. A real stamina test is what he wants and he will definitely make into a National Hunt Chase contender next season when he goes chasing.
The Skybet Chase had the potential to go to an improving young chaser and If In Doubt proved to be one with a comfortable success on handicap debut. His jumping early on left a lot to be desired but it did improve once the race warmed up and he has won like a horse that is ahead of the handicapper. He will probably go for the Baylis & Harding on the first day of the Festival but he would need to jump better.
Baileys Concerto has been a wonderful servant for Dianne Sayer. His improvement from a mark of 96 last March to 134 here has been a joy to watch and the step up in distance here held no barriers for the horse. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he could improve again on this run and saw him in another three mile handicap chase. Night In Milan has ran an excellent trial for the Grand National, a race which he missed by one last year but there is no concerns about him getting in this year. He could return for the Grimthorpe as his final race before Aintree where he would be competitive off a racing weight.
Another horse muted for Aintree is Renard and he stayed on again back in fourth after getting outpaced. He doesn’t strike me as a Grand National winner but the type to run a decent race. Lost Legend didn’t convince on his first try at three miles over fences and although he won at Kempton on Lanzarote day, his handicap mark looks tough enough. Fairy Rath ran well for a long way before finding the three mile distance stretched his stamina. Back down in trip, he definitely has more races in him, something like the Newbury Gold Cup in early March before a go in the Topham Trophy which has been the long term plan.
Medermit can be forgiven for this effort as he returned lame whilst his stablemate Godsmejudge looked to need this outing badly and was pulled up. He showed enough promise towards the Grand National and will hopefully have another run before Aintree whilst Royal Player looked to find this too much this early in his career.
Yesterday’s action at Leopardstown had some outstanding performances for various reasons, with the three Graded contests all holding their clues towards March. The Irish Arkle looked one of the most exciting novice chases of the season with three genuine Graded chasers taking their chance to boost their claims for the Arkle.
The race most certainly didn’t disappoint with one of the best performances I’ve seen in a novice chase from Un De Sceaux who jumped beautifully and nimbly in front and then quickened off a fairly strong gallop to make two very good horses in Clarcam and Gilgamboa look pedestrian. To give ten pounds to a Grade One novice winner in Clarcam and win without Ruby Walsh having to get serious by fifteen lengths just underlines the horse’s scary natural talent.
Although he wanted to get on with things out in front, Walsh was able to settle him more and he didn’t look as buzzed up as he was on chasing debut at Thurles or at Fairyhouse. At this moment in time, he looks the likely winner of the Arkle even with his running style as I don’t think anything could go with him once he kicks off the bend going to the second last. The last horse to make all the running in the Arkle was Anaglog’s Daughter back in 1980 and I fully expect Un De Sceaux to do exactly the same. At a time when the National Hunt game needs a big name for the public to get attached to, this horse could potentially be the blockbuster.
Clarcam who was so impressive over course and distance at Christmas was made to look ordinary here, which he most certainly isn’t. He jumped well but just wasn’t able to live with Un De Sceaux from the second last and off level weights in the Arkle, he would only be fighting it out for a place. Gilgamboa looked outpaced before Un De Sceaux kicked for home and would be much happier going up in distance for the JLT at the Festival where he would hold strong claims in what will likely be the strongest novice chase at the Festival.
Words cannot describe Hurricane Fly. Now a twenty two time Grade One winner after taking his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle. Yesterday summed up what he is. Having looked to be in trouble down the back straight and looking one of the first beaten, his class got him back into the race and showed yet again the heart of a lion to battle against Jezki. He had that battle won before Jezki made a shuddering error at the final flight.
This performance also underlines his longevity and the fact that he isn’t regressing in the slightest, a testament to Willie Mullins and his staff. Whilst the heart would love to see him win a third Champion Hurdle at Prestbury Park on the 10th of March, the head says he needs very testing ground for it to be a reality as on this slightly better ground over two miles, he looked vulnerable for a moment. It was a shame not to see him get an entry in the World Hurdle as on better ground and going a stride slower than they would in a Champion Hurdle, it would be fascinating to see how he would fare against the top staying hurdlers.
Arctic Fire has confirmed himself here to be a worthy Graded hurdler following his more illustrious stable mate home, proving here that he is worth a place as the Mullins third string in the Champion Hurdle. On spring ground as well and a thorough end to end gallop, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world were he to finish in the frame.
The team tactics for the JP McManus horses failed to work with Plinth unable to set a gallop and go far enough into the race to suit Jezki, who sat on his tail for the early part of the race before disputing the lead around the halfway mark. This move was always going to leave him vulnerable to Hurricane Fly and once they turned for home, it was inevitable the same result was going to happen again. He was beaten before the last flight mistake which he did well to stand up at and he was run out of second place by Arctic Fire. The saving grace for Jezki’s supporters is the improvement we are likely to get from him come March time.
Tiger Roll looked last time to want a step up in trip and the same comment applies after this run. Fiscal Focus ran a really encouraging race for his second try over hurdles, travelling really well until the leaders kicked for home and he was left due to a lack of experience. He would be worth his chance in the Triumph Hurdle against his old age group or if they believe he wouldn’t get up the hill, a trip to Fairyhouse or Punchestown in the spring would be the ideal targets as I wouldn’t expect him to come over for Aintree, even though the flat track would suit him well.
The Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle had a strong favourite in No More Heroes who was unbeaten this season going into this race. However, he was a tad disappointing when fifth behind Gigginstown’s second string Outlander who got back to winning ways over hurdles, reversing the form with Martello Tower from Limerick over the Festive period. He travelled really well and was ridden with plenty of confidence by Paul Townend. Once he was asked to quicken away, he did so impressively but against horses that will likely be better at three miles. The Neptune was nominated as his Festival target by trainer Willie Mullins who was completing a Graded treble and in his stable of superstars, he’d probably take a high enough rank. His price for the race is skinny enough.
Martello Tower probably wasn’t suited by the drop back down in trip compared to the winner but has ran a solid race in defeat. If he doesn’t go to Cheltenham, the likely big target for him would be the Punchestown Festival over three miles. Killultagh Vic was given a different ride altogether compared to Ascot when second to L’ami Serge and the step up in distance here certainly suited better. He would certainly go to the Festival as a second or third string but wouldn’t disgrace himself. Windsor Park was given a strange ride by Davy Russell as he gave the leaders a head start before jumping into the back of Hurry Henry at the second last. If he had been ridden closer to the pace, I feel he would have at least finished second although it could just be a below par effort.
No More Heroes didn’t jump with much fluency compared to his other two starts this campaign with Bryan Cooper never looking completely happy. If he were to miss Cheltenham, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise. Especially as at the end of last season, Gordon Elliott was mindful to look after the horse with his future lying next season over fences. Another factor for the disappointing run could be down to fitness as Elliott had said after his last start that he would go straight to the Albert Bartlett, similar to Road To Riches at Gowran earlier this season where he was brought in earlier than planned. He is definitely a much better horse than this showing.
Next weekend may provide further clues towards the spring with Sandown holding a decent enough card on Saturday plus the potential to see King’s Palace in action at Wetherby, albeit against weak opposition in the Towton Novices Chase. We also have Musselburgh’s excellent Trials Day and based on the entries so far with two races being reopened, it looks to have some quality about it.
Eyecatchers From The Weekend
Storm Force Ten – Has the potential to be one of the leading UK contenders for the Fred Winter.
Ibis Du Rheu – Not this season but he deserves a mention towards next season and beyond.
Generous Ransom – Keep him on side.
Irish Cavalier – Could be one for the Rewards4Racing Novice Handicap Chase.
Smad Place – He is definitely the E/W value in the Gold Cup market.
Value At Risk – 14’s for the Albert Bartlett could potentially be a decent price right now compared to the day.
Saphir Du Rheu – Obvious eye-catcher but he holds leading claims for the World Hurdle.
The Druids Nephew – The Baylis & Harding Handicap Chase on the first day would suit well.
Dell’ Arca – The County Hurdle would suit perfectly.
Binge Drinker – Staying novice chaser next year.
Fairy Rath – A drop back in distance will see a return to the winner’s enclosure.
With only fifty days until the Cheltenham Festival, the past weekend has given us plenty of thoughts leading towards March with the return of the horse dubbed as the Black Aeroplane in Sprinter Sacre at Ascot whilst The New One bid to cement his position as England’s leading Champion Hurdle hope in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock. Over in Ireland yesterday, Vautour was on the comeback trail after his blip at Leopardstown over Christmas behind Clarcam.
Ascot’s card began with a juvenile hurdle which went the way of the Newbury winner Top Notch for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty but was made to work pretty hard for it by Golden Doyen who put behind him his run at Chepstow where you can forgive any horse a bad run on desperate ground with Maxie T back in third.
The winner already shapes like a stayer and whilst they are the types that tend to win a Triumph Hurdle, he strikes me as one that would get outpaced before staying on into the frame as opposed to winning the race. We will see the best of him up in distance but it won’t be this season unless they go into handicap company as he isn’t a novice due to winning a hurdle race last March. Golden Doyen is definitely worth his place in the Triumph Hurdle and remains a likeable type but whether he’s good enough is another matter. Maxie T looks a longer term prospect whilst Ahio showed enough to suggest he will win a race or two in the future.
The OLBG Mares Hurdle looked a competitive race on paper and the result has a strong feel to it with the novice Bitofapuzzle showing marked improvement for the step up in distance to three miles after a good effort at Haydock last time for Harry Fry and Noel Fehily beating recent Kempton winners Carole’s Spirit and Land Of Vic. The winner came from the Point to Point field and this was a career best effort. Connections felt post-race that this would be the race that really made her as a horse with this being the first truly run race she has experienced over obstacles under rules. She did finish her race very tired and now goes for a break before returning in the spring. With three miles looking to be the main help to her, the mares race at the Festival wouldn’t be on the horizon unless the ground was extremely testing.
Carole’s Spirit was flattered on her last win at Kempton but has ran her usual game race here, putting it up to Bitofapuzzle from a fair way out. She also finished out on her feet and has booked her ticket for March. The drop back down in distance shouldn’t inconvenience her much. Land Of Vic made several mistakes before staying on too late in the day whilst Fairytale Theatre gave a boost to Carrigmoorna Rock’s win in Ireland with a solid effort back in fourth.
The Holloways Hurdle provided an across the card double for Venetia Williams with Baradari adding to Aso’s win at Haydock when getting up in the final strides to deny Lyvius in a thrilling finish with Le Mercurey finishing strongly back in third. On the run-in, jockey Aidan Coleman looked mindful about his use of the whip but found enough and appreciated the step up in distance. He could return for the limited handicap over course and distance next month and a rise in the weights shouldn’t inconvenience him.
Lyvius made a mistake at the third last which didn’t cost him too much and looked the likely winner going to the second last. Once he hit the front, he didn’t do very much which allowed Baradari another bite of the cherry which he duly took. He looks difficult to place despite his consistency. Le Mercurey ran a far better race here than on his UK debut at Newbury in a race which has worked out unbelievably well. Although it was a step up, it was still a strange effort as he travelled strongly before looking to stop very quickly in the straight. He then finished with a wet sail to grab third on the run to the line, albeit under hands and heels from Noel Fehily. He is clearly a long term prospect, the type of horse that his trainer will excel with over the next few seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him miss the big Festivals in the spring with a novice chase campaign in mind for the autumn.
I’m still convinced we will see more improvement from Garde Le Victoire once he gets decent ground and he ran a perfectly respectable race giving weight all round. The Coral Cup looks the ideal place to go at the Festival where an end to end gallop should also help his jumping out as well. Rayvin Black ran a good race despite not seeing out the extra distance whilst Abracadabra Sivola jumped terribly and may be more suited by finding suitable targets in France.
The Clarence House was the main focus point for horse racing fans on Saturday with the eagerly anticipated return of Sprinter Sacre, the best two mile chaser I have seen in my lifetime and likely to ever see. His problems over the last year or so have been documented and the racing fan in me wanted the Sprinter Sacre of old to return and completely dominate his rivals.
He was settled in fourth position by Barry Geraghty and travelled well enough throughout the race and did show some signs of his former self, most notably at the fourth last when Geraghty asked him to jump which was brilliant to see. However, when push came to shove in the straight, Geraghty wasn’t hard on the horse and once Dodging Bullets kicked on past him, he was looked after with an eye towards the future.
The race has split opinions on what we can expect from Sprinter Sacre in the future. Personally, I don’t expect to see any improvement from here even though connections are adamant there is more to come. Yes, Barry Geraghty was quick to look after him. Yes, he wasn’t given such a hard race after the final fence, but the horse would not have gone to Ascot unless he was fighting fit and ready to go. The other worry I would have regarding March is what response Barry Geraghty gets once put under pressure. Even though they wouldn’t have wanted to give him a tough race, a small tap with the whip could have helped to see for future purposes if he would find anything at all if asked.
I don’t believe at all that the horse come here needing a run as Nicky Henderson would have wanted a fair idea to see where he stood with him before making a decision based on the future. The next port of call will be Cheltenham and whilst I would love for him to regain his Champion Chase crown, it looks a tall order, even with the weak opposition in the current two mile division.
Although the race centred around Sprinter Sacre, this was definitely a career best effort from Dodging Bullets who put to bed the comments about his resolution and has so far this season upheld his form strongly. The Tingle Creek he won may not have been the strongest of renewals but he now adds some substance to it with his victory here. If he continues in this fashion then he must go close at the Festival and winning jockey Noel Fehily seemed confident on his chances, especially as he now looks the horse he once threatened to be earlier in his career.
Twinlight has ran well enough here but still doesn’t convince completely. He looked at one stage as though he was going to finish tailed off before staying on again past Somersby into third. It would be a surprise if he were good enough to win the Champion Chase. Somersby was given a forceful ride and ensured it was a true test for those in behind. For a horse of his experience, his jumping was shoddy and it was no surprise to see him fade as he did.
The two mile five furlong handicap chase provided Paul Nicholls with another winner in the shape of Rebel Rebellion who gave conditional Jack Sherwood another big Saturday winner after Silsol on Hennessy day. Given a wonderful positive ride, the winner travelled far kinder than he has done on more recent efforts and was always finding plenty to fend off top weight Fox Appeal who benefited from a fantastic patient ride from Richie McLernon. Tom Jonasson, assistant trainer to Paul Nicholls was quick to rule out the Grand National as he wouldn’t stay that far and said a return to the Topham would be the plan, but a rise in the weights after this will probably prove too much there.
Fox Appeal has the ability to win a big prize over fences and one day he will put it all together in a big race. A race like the Racing Plus Chase round Kempton could suit him if getting three miles. Failing that, he could be the type for the Galway Plate as he performs better going this way round and the distance would suit. Eastlake ran his best race for sometime here before fading in the closing stages. This improved effort can be built upon and he is another likely to return to Aintree for the Topham where he jumped the fences really well whilst Tenor Nivernais looks to be crying out for a go at three miles after getting outpaced.
Haydock’s Peter Marsh card wasn’t the strongest and I am only going to concentrate on two races as I actually found the feature contest impossible to weigh up with the field strung out across Merseyside. I will say though that the winner Samstown was given a ride that should be considered a candidate for ride of the season by Brian Harding who could easily have given up after a bad mistake early on but his patience paid off and whilst he almost threw the race away after the last, there looked to be extra in the tank. He may return to Haydock next month for the Grand National Trial which will probably be just as much hard work as Saturday was.
The Rossington Main Novices Hurdle (I’m using its official name as it most definitely wasn’t a Supreme Trial) went to Aso, a horse certainly going in the right direction for Venetia Williams who was following up in this race after Zamdy Man’s win twelve months ago. This was certainly a career best so far and he handled the heavy ground here without any issues. He holds an entry in the Betfair Hurdle and he wouldn’t be out of place there, especially if the ground came up really testing. It’s worth noting the recent record of the race with how novices have performed.
Kiama Bay backed up his effort over course and distance in November when he clearly would have won having kicked clear between the last two flights. He clearly appreciates a speed track like Haydock and connections may be tempted to give him a break and wait for the Swinton in May, especially as he goes on any ground whilst Qewy put up a respectable effort on his hurdles debut and can definitely win next time out for a drop in class.
The Stan James Champion Hurdle Trial looked to be a racecourse gallop for The New One with an added bonus of prize money. Even giving eight pounds to the whole field; the end result was quite unbelievable. Although he won, it was a lacklustre display compared to his usual high standards as he just scrambled home to deny the bold bid of Bertimont and Harry Skelton.
His jumping on his last two starts at both Haydock in November and Cheltenham has been faultless but here, it had clearly regressed. On first viewing, I thought he looked beat as early as the third last when Harry Skelton sent Bertimont on in a wonderful piece of race-riding which put The New One to the sword. It was only in the final two hundred yards that he was able to get past and stamp some authority on the race.
The really testing ground could be put forward as an excuse for this but let’s not forget he was only just beaten on similar ground less than two years ago by a mudlark in At Fisher’s Cross on Trials Day. Sam Twiston-Davies also commented that The New One was following early pacesetter Got The Nac to the right at each hurdle which I find strange considering how far clear he was. But if this was the case, you could argue that Twiston-Davies should have dropped him in behind other rivals who would have given him a better toe into the race and could potentially have helped with his jumping. His jumping to the right could have also been caused by a slight niggle as it’s a tendency that we haven’t seen before. This will hopefully be sorted out before March, as out of the big three in the Champion Hurdle market, he looks the most vulnerable on the back of this performance.
In the end, his class has shown through but this performance doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence going towards the Festival. It would be extremely naive to believe this was The New One at his absolute best but even at something around seventy five percent, he should be beating these rivals with his head in his chest.
Bertimont ran a fine race in defeat and almost benefited from a stroke of genius from Harry Skelton who took advantage of the odds on favourite’s shoddy jumping at the third last. He looked the likely winner for about ninety percent of the home straight before getting run out of it. As he seems more suited to a flat track, it could be worth stepping him up in trip for the Aintree Hurdle as his fast, accurate jumping would hold him in good stead there.
The final performance of the weekend to look at was Vautour’s win in the Killiney Novice Chase at Leopardstown. It was effectively a confidence booster with him allowed to do his own thing in front. He was novicey at a couple but on the whole his jumping was fine and always going to hold Real Steel when that rival fell at the last. The question I have is whether he deserved cutting in the ante-post markets for Cheltenham. For me, he shouldn’t have. He didn’t really prove much but this is a step back in the right direction. Depending on what Un Des Sceaux does next Sunday, it is more likely we’ll see him in the JLT where he will face a stiff enough task in bidding for back to back Festival wins.
This week’s piece ends on a sombre note with a tribute to the veteran King Edmund who sadly died in a heavy fall at Ascot doing what he loved best. The popular twelve year old was a model of consistency for both Chris Gordon and his main rider Tom Cannon winning nine of his fifty six starts, including two novice hurdles last month at Lingfield and Plumpton in the space of forty eights hours, showing that his enthusiasm still shone brightly. He took a relatively small stable to the majority of the big Festivals including Cheltenham and Aintree, even having a short spin over the Grand National fences in last year’s Topham Trophy. RIP.
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.
Before I begin this mammoth task of reviewing the Festive action, I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and a great New Year with plenty of winners unlike myself. Although there is a lot to look at, I tried to be as selective as possible but like normal, I’ve probably gone overboard. I would like to thank you for the continued support for the blogs over the year and I hope to continue the blog throughout 2015, including the Flat season which I haven’t done in the past.
Kempton is the first place to start the Boxing Day analysis and the card began with a novice hurdle where Jollyallan maintained his unbeaten record over hurdles with a workmanlike success over two very useful rivals in Sempre Medici and Arzal. The winner will need to improve on his jumping but that should be the case on spring ground in the Supreme. Harry Fry was keen to stress post-race that Jollyallan needs more race experience before he wishes to commit him to the Festival, however, his future lies when going chasing next autumn.
The runner up Sempre Medici was probably on the losing end of the argument when blundering away any chance. With the amount of talent the Willie Mullins yard possesses in the novice hurdle division, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see this horse be a similar type to Arctic Fire and end up in a race like the County Hurdle where a really strong pace would suit him really well. Considering the pace he went early on, Arzal did extremely well to finish as close as he did. He claimed the notable scalp of West Wizard over course and distance in November and does look a useful yardstick.
The novice handicap chase looked to have some well handicapped horses on paper and Stellar Notion showed here that he still looks capable of plenty more with a lovely round of jumping for Paddy Brennan and Tom George. Making use of his long stride, he made every inch of the running and whilst he made a mistake at the last, there was plenty left in the locker to fend off Knock House. The future looks bright and if his mark is minded, the obvious race in the spring would be the first day of Cheltenham in the novice handicap but in time, he will prove to be better than handicap company.
Knock House ran really well in second having given King’s Palace and Sausalito Sunrise a fair race at Cheltenham before fading to finish last that day. He will definitely win his fair share of big races over fences around this distance. Generous Ransom was doing his best work late on after making an error mid-race and looks as though he will appreciate a step up to three miles sooner rather than later. Keep him on side as the season goes on.
One other I am convinced has a big prize in him over fences or hurdles at this distance is Katgary. Whatever big target he ends up in this spring, he will be worth chancing as although he has been comprehensibly beaten on his three starts, there looks to be a long term plan. River Maigue was a huge disappointment and looks to have gone off the rails.
The Kauto Star Novices Chase looked to have plenty of strength and depth beforehand however the race fell apart big time and went to the horse who jumped by far the best in Coneygree who maintained a good gallop for three miles whilst his main rivals fell by the wayside, most notably Saphir Du Rheu who went at the seventh. This was a famous success for the Bradstock family and for jockey Nico De Boinville with this being their first Grade One success.
The winner didn’t get it his own way early on with Carraig Mor taking him on for the lead before he got too close to the eighth and unseated Noel Fehily and once his main rival Sausalito Sunrise departed six out, the race was left for him as Virak wasn’t travelling and Warden Hill was tailed off.
Trend lovers will make the note that no horse has ever won both this race and the RSA but Coneygree is a thorough stayer and I had my doubts whether Kempton would be a track that would play to his strengths. Cheltenham will definitely suit but the worry there would be if him and King’s Palace take each other on from an early stage. The Reynoldstown at Ascot has been nominated as a potential target before the Festival, a race the Bradstocks won with Coneygree’s half brother Carruthers.
Warden Hill needed riding away from the start and looked outclassed before the carnage took place but won his match race with Virak for second place after the final fence. It’s difficult to know where to go with him with the same comment applying to Virak who was struggling heading into the back straight. It could just be that this race was one too many in this part of the season but the RSA Chase bet looks more hopeful than realistic now.
To the non-finishers, Sausalito Sunrise had jumped well and was keeping tabs with Coneygree when falling in the back straight. Hopefully the injury he picked up isn’t too serious as he still looks an above average staying novice chaser. Carraig Mor had jumped well and set a decent pace with the winner before getting the second in the straight wrong and sending Noel Fehily into the Kempton turf whilst Creepy made a desperate mistake at the fourth and never recovered.
Saphir Du Rheu is becoming incredibly frustrating. He is undoubtedly a huge talent as he proved over hurdles last season and when he won at Exeter; jumping supremely well. He fiddled his way over the first fence but had got into a fine enough rhythm before getting the seventh wrong. Post-race, Paul Nicholls said he would have plenty of schooling which means they haven’t given up with fences just yet but if another incident similar to this were to happen, we could easily see him back over hurdles and potentially lining up in a weakened World Hurdle with big question marks lingering over the main protagonists.
The Christmas Hurdle was seen as a one horse affair beforehand with the exciting talent that is the unbeaten Faugheen dropping back to two miles for the first time since his Punchestown rout back in the spring. Here he never came out of second gear to beat Purple Bay by eight lengths. The only moment of doubt he gave his backers was a slight error at the last but the manner in which he disposes of his rivals just takes your breath away. At this current time with a lack of potential superstars in the National Hunt game, Faugheen is the shining light which the sport needs. He was cut to be as short as even money favourite for the Champion Hurdle and with more improvement still to come, the limitless potential is scary, even though he will face his toughest test to date on the second Tuesday in March against The New One and Jezki.
Purple Bay would be well worth a go in the Champion Hurdle as he has really turned a corner recently with him backing up his Elite win at Wincanton. Whilst he was never going to match Faugheen, he beat the rest convincingly. Blue Heron went out and set the pace but was a sitting duck when Faugheen loomed up alongside going to the second last but he has ran his race. He could easily go to Haydock for their Champion Hurdle Trial next month and whilst he isn’t good enough to win a Champion Hurdle, a lack of runners next month could be an incentive to pick up some good prize money.
Sign Of A Victory travelled strongly but looked to be found out by the softer conditions. He looks difficult to place as he would be carrying near enough top weight in all the competitive two mile handicap hurdles but looks a shade below top class. Sgt Reckless was another to struggle on the ground and looks to need top of the ground so expect to see him out plenty in the spring whilst Irving can be forgiven due to lameness.
With the reversals of Saphir Du Rheu and Irving, Paul Nicholls didn’t need to wait long for his Christmas tonic when Silviniaco Conti took back to back King George’s under a sublime ride from Noel Fehily with a display of front running both Desert Orchid and Kauto Star would have been proud of. Apart from the fourth last where horse and rider looked to have a disagreement, his jumping was superb and he has looked a different horse since the fitting of cheekpieces on his last start at Haydock in the Betfair Chase.
He cemented his position as favourite for the Gold Cup and as Britain’s leading staying chaser. 2015 looks his ideal opportunity to finally get his turn on the Gold Cup roll of honour. No horse has ever done it on their third attempt in the race, however The Fellow won it on his fourth attempt in 1994, having twice gone down agonisingly in photo finishes. Whilst Silviniaco Conti is winning races like the Betfair and King George through his staying ability, three miles on flat tracks compared to three and a quarter on an undulating track could be his undoing come March time. In saying that, he is clearly the one to beat.
Dynaste improved on his Betfair Chase effort back in second, another to benefit from the addition of cheekpieces. He travelled kindly but Silviniaco Conti had the whole field in his grasp turning for home and once he kicked, he wasn’t for catching. Interesting quotes that came out from David Pipe indicate that a route will be plotted back to the Ryanair to defend his crown which would be far better than aiming him at the Gold Cup where he would be a non-stayer.
Nicholls had a 1-3 with Al Ferof filling the same position as he did twelve months ago, running a similar race. This now looks enough proof to suggest a drop back in trip will be of benefit, with Nicholls wanting to convince owner John Hales to have a go at the Champion Chase,a race which he won with One Man, another grey who had stamina limitations when it came to the Gold Cup. With that division looking extremely open, he could easily drop back to two miles and be a key player in the division. The same comments also apply for Champagne Fever who ran far better than he has done at this time of the year in the past. He was keen enough behind Silviniaco Conti but was still travelling really well going to the third last before failing to see out the distance in a one paced fourth. When allowed to go a gallop in March, he could be very dangerous as his display in the Arkle was breathtaking.
Cue Card ran his best race this season but he looks to have become regressive since his injury. The Ryanair would be his ideal target at the Festival, as it would John’s Spirit who ran a brilliant race considering Jonjo O’Neill’s yard aren’t firing at present. A mistake three out did finish his chance but he travelled like he normally does in the big field handicaps we have come accustomed to in which he stalks and pounces late. Menorah hadn’t travelled as well as he did in both the Charlie Hall and the Betfair when making a shuddering mistake at the fourth last. He was probably beaten before he made that error.
Wetherby had the Rowland Meyrick as its feature event on Boxing Day and it looks a potential pointer towards the 2015 Grand National with Dolatulo who stayed on stoutly to see off former winner Cape Tribulation. Back over regulation fences after a spin over the Grand National fences at Aintree in the Grand Sefton, the step up in distance looked to bring about some improvement and a tilt at Aintree in the spring looks the plan.
It’s a shame the owner of Cape Tribulation doesn’t want him to go to Aintree as he would be an ideal National type who jumps well and has a touch of class. He was given his usual patient ride and still looks well handicapped for a big staying handicap chase, probably the Scottish National.
Corrin Wood jumped beautifully out in front and is one that will have Aintree as a main aim considering his trainer but I would have my doubts about him staying although he will be a sight to behold for the first three miles. Cedre Bleu is another going to Aintree in the spring; whether that be the National or the Topham remains to be seen. If the Waley-Cohens have a runner in either Long Run or Oscar Time then expect to see him in the Topham as Charlie Mann has expressed his intent on wanting Sam Waley-Cohen to ride him.
Over in Ireland at Leopardstown, Willie Mullins began his day with another impressive French import success with odds on favourite Alvisio Ville taking the opening contest. You could crab his jumping as it wasn’t particularly tidy but his best leap came at the last and he instantly went clear of his field, winning as he pleased on the bridle. A step up in class will be the next port of call but with the amount of talent within the Mullins yard, it’s difficult to predict where we will see him next. He could turn up in the Deloitte in February, a race won by Vautour on his way to Cheltenham Festival success.
The Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle looked a formality for Kalkir to increase his reputation for the Triumph Hurdle however the odds on favourite had to settle for second with 33/1 outsider Fiscal Focus landing the spoils on his hurdles debut. A decent enough performer on the flat, he finished second to the globe-trotting Adelaide in a maiden last October at Leopardstown and he handled the ground much better than Kalkir.
Some may look at this as a one off but the winner has got form on better ground as well and is more than entitled to improve upon this effort. Kalkir will still be a key player for the Triumph given a sounder surface Back in fifth, Thunder Zone caught the eye as he wasn’t knocked around much when beaten and looks a similar type to Clarcam who went on to contest the Fred Winter.
Talking of Clarcam, he is now a Grade One winner over fences after a comprehensive performance in a race that took away some of the invincibility that Vautour has possessed. Whilst Vautour underperformed, it would be unfair to ignore the winner who looks a very smart acquisition to chasing and was always travelling far sweeter than the favourite. With Clarcam’s ability to also be as effective on a sounder surface, he would have definite claims in the Arkle, although five year olds have struggled since the weight allowance was taken away.
Vautour never looked happy on the soft ground and did extremely well to recover from a shocking mistake at the fifth last. It was a similar run to that of Champagne Fever in this race twelve months ago and he should return to top form in time for the Festival.
The second day of Kempton’s Christmas Festival featured some humble pie from the past when Vibrato Valtat proved his Sandown win was no fluke when taking the Wayward Lad Novice Chase with the use of tactical speed to beat Three Kingdoms. The Kingmaker at Warwick looks an ideal place to go and although he is a novice, part of me wishes he gets a Champion Chase entry with the division looking so questionable.
Three Kingdoms has surprised a few over fences this season and he looks a smart acquisition. Better ground would have helped his cause and the Grade One at Aintree in the spring will feature high in his plans. Deep Trouble wants better ground as well and was in the process of running a solid race when falling heavily at the last. He looks an ideal type for the novice handicap at the Festival, remembering how he improved for the step up in trip at Punchestown.
God’s Own has now disappointed twice although here he had to make his own running which wouldn’t have suited. He still has plenty of options open for him whilst Grandouet looks finished; a sad sight for the former top class hurdler.
The Desert Orchid Chase looked an ideal place for Balder Succes to get his season back on track but Special Tiara under an inspired Barry Geraghty jumped and galloped his rivals into the ground, with only Balder Succes able to get close to him. It’s a race not really worth analysing in full detail as most of the field were beaten a long way out.
Chepstow hosted its biggest meeting of the year with the two features being the Finale Juvenile Hurdle and the showpiece; the Coral Welsh National. Simon Munir and Issac Souede already have the ante-post favourite for the Triumph Hurdle in Peace And Co but they unleashed another smart prospect in Bristol De Mai who ran out a very easy winner of the Finale under Daryl Jacob for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
The way he disposed of above average juvenile hurdlers with contempt was hugely impressive and the manner in which he galloped to the line suggests there is plenty more to come. Karezak has fairly strong juvenile hurdle form having chased home Hargam on his most recent start at Cheltenham but was made to look pretty ordinary here by Bristol De Mai. The only question mark you can have going forward about the winner would be his ability to handle better ground, having looked extremely comfortable on this soft ground. Of the rest, Golden Doyen didn’t look happy on the ground and although he has won on soft ground at Cheltenham, he never looked like winning. He is worth forgiving and given another chance on better ground.
The Coral Welsh National featured a false start (What is it with Grand Nationals and false starts?!) and a thrilling finish in which Emperor’s Choice just outstayed Benvolio after three miles and five furlongs of Chepstow’s marathon. Although I didn’t write a blog after the Betfair Chase meeting, Emperor’s Choice went into my notebook as he looked to carry plenty of condition that day and duly backed last time out at Sandown. Did I back him here? Of course not.
He was always in the front line and looked as though place claims were at best going to the final fence. But he found his second wind and fought back tenaciously to defy another prominently ridden horse in Benvolio. With his love for soft ground and a stamina test, a return to Haydock for the Grand National Trial would probably be the right place to go and whilst he will probably get an entry for Aintree, he would need testing conditions to feature.
Benvolio did absolutely nothing wrong in defeat having travelled and jumped really well in the first time blinkers. When Glenquest took it up going to the last, he looked the likely winner but he battled back against that rival, only to get past and be overtaken himself by Emperor’s Choice. He is another like the winner who would be a candidate for Haydock’s Grand National Trial but Aintree may come a year too soon. Off his highest mark at the age of 11, Glenquest has ran a great race and whilst his mark’s too low for Aintree, the Irish National looks an ideal place to go.
Monbeg Dude yet again ran his usual consistent race but I’ve questioned for a while whether he actually needs to be ridden with these exaggerated hold up tactics. He’s now a more straightforward horse and also jumps much better than he did two seasons ago. I’m also unsure where to go with him now as the Grand National trip looked to stretch him and he isn’t Gold Cup class. The pre-race fears for Shotgun Paddy were soon realised when making a shocking mistake at the second fence and he was subsequently pulled up at the top of the home straight with a circuit to go.
Although Leopardstown had action on day two, to cut the blog down I have decided to ignore it as the Dial-A-Bet Chase left me scratching my head with Twinlight’s win and no obvious contender emerged for the Champion Chase.
The Christmas Hurdle (Staying version, not Faugheen’s rout again) featured At Fishers Cross on a retrieval mission after a below par effort on his return behind Cole Harden. Again, his jumping wasn’t tidy and it was left to Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson to fight out the finish with the former coming out on top to give Sandra Hughes a second Grade One success after the death of her father Dessie. The step up to three miles definitely brought out some extra improvement and it was a good piece of race riding from Bryan Cooper to keep Davy Russell and Jetson on the rail. The obvious aim is the World Hurdle and he goes there with a more than realistic chance. One thing is for sure, it would raise the roof if he were to succeed.
Although Jetson would be labelled as a handicapper, he has shown his capability to mix it now thrice at the top level and is another in a very open year worth a go in the World Hurdle plus Davy Russell seems to get on really well with him. Front running tactics seemed to be of benefit to him and he can be ridden handier in his races. It was good to see Monksland run a race with plenty of promise on his return to the track for the first time since winning this race two years ago however, you will need to tread carefully with ante-post betting, especially with his issues.
At Fishers Cross. Yet again, the jury’s out. If you fancy some humorous reading about this race, have a look at Lydia Hislop’s excellent Road to Cheltenham blog which also features some intriguing opinions about the Festive period, some I agree with and vice versa. He does clearly have his issues and again, the suggestion from me would be to chasing with him and if that doesn’t work then retire him as he struggles making a shape over hurdles.
Glens Melody was again, a non stayer and all roads should lead back to the Mares Hurdle at the Festival where she will probably take on her more illustrious stablemate Annie Power. One of the main questions going into the race was the well-being of Briar Hill who we haven’t seen since his crunching fall in the Albert Bartlett. The main thing was that he travelled nicely through the race but I’m unsure whether he stopped due to a lack of stamina or his fitness as he is notoriously a lazy horse at home who saves a bit for himself.
The Lexus Chase was the other main Gold Cup trial on show over the Festive period and it threw up probably Ireland’s best chance to win the race in Road To Riches who proved here that he isn’t a one-dimensional horse as he was taken on for the lead and wasn’t flustered at all. He also proved that he is a strong stayer by beating the likes of On His Own and Sam Winner, two horses who revel over the Gold Cup distance and would over further as well. A doubt beforehand the winner was softer ground but he handled it well enough and with his record on better ground, he goes to Cheltenham with a big chance.
If On His Own could jump straight at his fences then he would probably be a Grade One winner as he kept jumping out to his right, suggesting he is better going the other way round. Take nothing away from this effort though as he proved that on his day, he’s a genuine Graded chaser with those two seasons aiming him at the Grand National proving to be pretty wasted. Mind you, I find it hard to believe he got beat on this very card three years ago in the Paddy Power Chase off a mark of 125 when brought down after looking beat. The Bobbyjo at Fairyhouse, a race he won before going on to Cheltenham would be his ideal warm-up.
In my Becher Chase review, I suggested that Sam Winner could have a go at the Gold Cup and potentially be top weight for the Grand National. It is now certain that he would get top weight for Aintree after a career best effort here and I’m beginning to warm a lot more to the horse. Although I wasn’t old enough for the era, he reminds me of a top class chaser from the early 1990’s, the type that would be considered to run in both the Gold Cup and the Grand National.
The first time cheekpieces helped sharpen him up as he wasn’t running in snatches here but the fact he was able to race prominently was more down to the lack of early pace from Road To Riches and On His Own. He did well to recover from an alarming error in front of the stands with a circuit to go and was in front going to the last before being headed on the run-in. Some may criticise the form of this race with Sam Winner being so close up, but over the last two seasons what has he done wrong over fences ignoring his Scottish National flop? Yes, he looked very one-paced at both Cheltenham and Aintree but given a strongly run Gold Cup, he would be a certain stayer plus the cheekpieces would certainly help, as would better ground.
Boston Bob is difficult to write up as he was a never nearer fourth but for the future, I doubt whether the Gold Cup trip would bring about improvement from him, his best form coming arguably over two and a half miles. Carlingford Lough ran a really nice race on his return and looked a serious contender going to the final fence before lack of fitness told. The one thing stopping me from backing him for the Gold Cup was the appalling round of jumping he put up in last season’s RSA.
After the John Durkan, I was very tempted to back Lord Windermere for the Gold Cup but I was left feeling slightly disappointed here. Yes, the ground wasn’t completely in his favour but the impression yet again is all about one day in March which goes against what Jim Culloty said after his return to action. Bob’s Worth sadly looks the force of old and whilst connections were pleased and insisted he would come on for the run, it’s not a similar case to his Haydock run last season where he was caught out by the speed test.
As mentioned above, Simon Munir and Issac Souede have the juvenile hurdle division covered and yet another plausible Triumph Hurdle candidate in Top Notch was unleashed at Newbury. Even though he made it look harder work than the other pair, he was carrying a double penalty and did it well to see off Mick Jazz who travelled ominously well but the winner ground it out, looking more of a stayer than a speedier type. It could be that he needs softer ground to feature in the Triumph but he does give his owners a nice headache to have.
Mick Jazz looks a similar type to his stablemate Activial and it would be no surprise to see him miss Cheltenham this season. Maxie T and Ryeolliean both look horses to keep on the right side of, the former when given a handicap mark and the latter next time out.
The Challow Hurdle on paper looked a small and select field but the whole field all acquitted themselves with a fair bit of promise. It went to the Cheltenham winner Parlour Games who was given a supremely confident ride by Noel Fehily to beat two high class novices in Vyta Du Roc and Blaklion with plenty of patience.
Whilst there is a misconception that horses by his sire Monsun love plenty of juice in the ground, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest he is more effective on faster ground. The Neptune was nominated as his Festival target and on better ground he goes there with a live chance. John Ferguson has really turned a corner this season with some really notable smart performers who are proving to be consistent as well and this was his second Grade One success after Ruacana was fortunate in the Finale Juvenile back in January 2013.
Vyta Du Roc has clearly improved for the step up in trip and upheld the form of his Sandown win, which received ‘a’ boost (as far as I’m gonna go with that word) with Tara Point winning a nothing contest in an easy manner at Taunton. He looks a proper stayer and the Albert Bartlett would probably suit him better than the Neptune as he would get plenty of time to get into a rhythm.
In saying that, he would likely meet Blaklion and over three miles, I’d take Blaklion to reverse this form with both rivals that have finished ahead of him. It wasn’t Ryan Hatch’s fault as he has had to use his horse’s known stamina to try and expose the others but whatever he would have tried, the likely result would have been the same as Parlour Games used his speed from the Flat like he did at Cheltenham. Back over a course and distance where Blaklion excelled a couple of weeks ago, he goes to the Albert Bartlett with a leading chance.
Despite his inexperience and signs of greenness, One Track Mind showed plenty to suggest he has a bright future and to only be beaten six and a half lengths in a fairly strong Grade One at this stage in his career bodes extremely well for the future. He will be in his element once he goes chasing, as will Arpege D’Alene who was outpaced here but looks a real long term prospect and one that Paul Nicholls will do very well with in the coming years. Native River was also well worth a go at this level and didn’t disgrace himself at all. Overall, this looks an above average Challow Hurdle.
The final day of Leopardstown saw Hurricane Fly defend his unbeaten record at Leopardstown in the Ryanair Hurdle, an incredible twenty first Grade One success which showed his trademark battling qualities to see off Jezki again with his stablemate Arctic Fire close up in third. After the race, Willie Mullins declared he was the best horse anyone has ever trained, a high accolade for a horse of his calibre.
The argument now is whether he will return to Prestbury Park to attempt to regain the crown back from Jezki but for whatever reason, he has never shown the sparkle at the Festival which he usually does in Ireland plus with stable-mate Faugheen staking his claims, it could be that he stays at home for Punchestown in the spring. In between that, a record twenty second Grade One awaits back here in January in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Jezki was the closest he has ever been to Hurricane Fly in defeat and actually out-jumped him at the final flight before The Hurricane dug deep and repelled his younger rival. He will steadily be brought back up to the boil for the defence of his crown but he will face a difficult task to overcome Faugheen and The New One.
Arctic Fire has ran the race of his life back in third and whilst some may question the form with his close proximity, the faster pace compared to the Fighting Fifth would have helped him plenty, especially as an end to end gallop suits him much more. He deserves his chance in a Champion Hurdle but he would be there to potentially steal a place if one of the leading contenders under performs.
What I said about King Of The Picts last time out in the International review stands; a big field handicap off his mark would be extremely realistic. Tiger Roll travelled well until an error two out knocked him back. A step up in trip would be the right way to go with him now.
A deserving mention goes to Carrigmoorna Rock who was an easy winner of the Grade Three Mares Hurdle after the departure of Analifet at the second last having yet to be asked a question. However, I find it hard to believe she would have beaten Carrigmoorna Rock as she would have needed to relish the step up in distance which was the main question going into the race. Carrigmoorna Rock looked to appreciate the step up in distance and the Cheltenham dream for her owners is definitely alive and for a small syndicate of friends who I got the privilege to meet when RaceMaking at Newbury, it would be brilliant for them to own a Festival winner.
The Topaz Novice Chase looked a race full of quality beforehand and didn’t fail to deliver with a strong display of stamina on show from Don Poli who maintained his unbeaten record over fences on ground probably softer than ideal. The Festival target remains up in the air but he would hold a strong chance in either the RSA or the National Hunt Chase, preference for me would be the RSA if they believe him to be a Gold Cup contender for the future. Plus, he would get a strong pace set by King’s Palace and Coneygree to aim at which should see him in his element.
Apache Stronghold is another to have options open for him having jumped and travelled well under different tactics. He was just outstayed by the winner and a drop back in trip wouldn’t go amiss. A race like the PJ Moriarty in February wouldn’t be a bad place to go before making a decision on the JLT or the RSA.
Lots Of Memories tried to make all the running but was firmly put in his place by two smart novices, as was Mala Beach who had conditions to suit here and he looked very one paced back in fourth. Shanahan’s Turn would ideally want better ground but this was still a under-par effort whilst it’s sad to see The Tullow Tank not going on with the promise he showed on chase debut. It could even be that a return hurdling could be on the cards.
New Year’s Day
Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture was highly competitive and featured some potential clues for later on in the season, not just the Festival.
The first race of the 2015 year went to Harry Fry with the likeable Thomas Brown who looked beat on the turn for home but stuck to his task admirably to see off Robinsfirth. Fry said post-race that the horse is still ‘learning about the game’ but you cannot question his attitude as he fought tenaciously and galloped all the way to the line. The Albert Bartlett was mentioned as his preferred option over the Neptune and it’s easy to see why as he looks all about stamina and grinding it out. The runner up improved for the step up in distance and should make a nice chaser next season.
The drop in distance may have proved the undoing of Zeroshadesofgrey having won easily on his last two starts over three miles and he remains a fair prospect for Neil King. He looks to still have a bit of growing to do as well. The Henderson pair of Different Gravey and Birch Hill both looked as though they were going to be tailed off at one stage before both passing beaten horses on the run-in. The latter had a fair reputation but hasn’t exactly gone on since his Point to Point win and the former didn’t improve on his Newbury win. Brother Tedd and As De Mee could be nicely handicapped horses and weren’t completely disgraced.
Mon Parrain appreciated the first time blinkers when taking the staying handicap chase, reminding us of the promise he showed three years ago in the Topham Trophy with the way he travelled and jumped. Although he only beat Our Father by a length, he did it comfortably enough under a lovely ride from Sean Bowen and if the blinkers aren’t just a one trick implement then he will go on from this. The Grand National was mentioned post-race but I feel he wouldn’t have the stamina although if he jumps like he did today, he would give his rider a wonderful spin round for a fair distance, with Paul Nicholls giving a hint that Bowen could potentially keep the ride come Aintree.
Our Father surprisingly has put two runs together for the first time in ages and whilst he has a nice race in him off his mark, caution must be advised. Saint Are got outpaced again and stayed on into third, similar to the Becher Chase. When given good ground in the spring; he will strike. Just A Par was also revitalised by first time blinkers but he does look hard to place but will appreciate better ground.
Nicholls didn’t need to wait long for his next winner as Ptit Zig followed up his impressive Ascot win with another clinical display, beating a very smart opponent in Champagne West. Before his chase debut, comments about him taking his time to come to hand schooling were imprinted in my mind but he now looks a man with the way he attacks his fences. There is always room for improvement but he looks a very exciting proposition and a return to the Festival for the JLT looks the plan.
Having been more in the Saphir Du Rheu camp for the race, this performance has swayed me towards Ptit Zig who unlike his stable-mate hasn’t put a foot wrong over fences. The most exciting part is that he looks as though he could go to the very top over fences and be a major name to take the National Hunt scene by storm.
Champagne West is another leading novice chase contender and he jumped far better than when winning here in December and has improved again. The RSA looks his ideal target with the step up to three miles expected to bring out more and as he can be ridden more patiently, he has every chance to reap the rewards come March. Top Totti jumped fine and will probably mix it over hurdles and fences; a return for the Mares Hurdle is more than likely to be on the cards.
Ned Stark was beaten here but take nothing away from his performance here as he looks a real stayer in the making. His jumping apart from a peck at the fourth last was decent and whilst he probably won’t trouble the principals in the RSA, he looks one to have on side next season, potentially in next season’s Hennessy Gold Cup.
Clondaw Kaempfer looks to find jumping fences easier than hurdling and will have a good race in him come the spring, potentially in handicap company. Little Jon had taken a liberty or two before departing at the final ditch. A confidence booster wouldn’t go amiss for him whilst Urban Hymn never jumped with any fluency and was a major disappointment.
In the International review, Splash Of Ginge got a favourable mention when he unfortunately fell at the fourth last. He made no mistake this time in the feature handicap chase under a new rider in Jamie Bargary who rode him with the confidence of a true professional and made his seven pound claim look hugely valuable. For a small horse, his nimbleness over his fences is a big advantage for him and his leap at the last resembled dear old Fondmort in the Tripleprint back in 2002. His profile is similar to Double Ross who went on to finish third in the JLT and whilst he will go up in the weights, the Byrne Group Plate with a claimer on could be the race with the JLT in particular looking a strong race this year.
Hunt Ball showed he still retains his enthusiasm and went really well from the front. This suggests he still has a big prize in him off his handicap mark; that race potentially being the Topham as he jumped the National fences so well on both his previous visits. Caid Du Berlais ran far better than his previous attempt over course and distance in the December Gold Cup where he was pulled up. The only issue for me is whilst he shaped like further would suit, his Galway Plate effort where he didn’t stay lingers on the mind. The Byrne Group Plate would be the plausible Festival target with the race now returning to its original distance in 2015, having been run over a furlong shorter in 2014.
Rolling Aces has changed somewhat this season. He now shapes like a horse that looks to want a trip these days and he stayed on stoutly up the hill after getting outpaced at a crucial stage. He is one that will go to Aintree in the spring and it wouldn’t surprise entirely were he to get a Grand National entry. He looks unexposed over staying trips and would be a very interesting runner if he took up his chance there.
The one to take from the race is Tenor Nivernais who made a mistake at the fourth last and would have finished much closer but for that. His trainer Venetia Williams has a good record in the Byrne Group Plate having saddled Idole First in 2007 and Something Wells in 2009 to victory and his handicap mark has some leniency.
The most popular result on New Year’s Day for the Cheltenham crowd was Rock On Ruby’s second win at the track this season, giving the runner up Vaniteux eight pounds and beating a fair field as well. This looked a stiffer task and on ground again that was soft enough, his class prevailed. Over this longer trip, he can get himself into a lovely rhythm and he looks so relaxed through his races which is wonderful to see. If he goes to the Festival, the World Hurdle is the only race he will get an entry and I just have my doubts about him seeing out three miles.
Vaniteux is now in a very tricky position as he has been put in his place now by two top class horses when getting weight. A drop back in trip will help him but options seem very limited. Cole Harden ran a race full of promise and stayed on stoutly up the hill, nearly nabbing second from Vaniteux. The 25/1 for the World Hurdle tempts me slightly but it could be that a flatter track suits him more.
The race was a starting point for Beat That; not seen since his win at Punchestown back in the spring. He was keen enough early on but travelled really well before blowing up on the home turn. My enthusiasm has been dampened with his no show at both Newbury and Ascot earlier in the season and I would like to see him have another run before the World Hurdle before wanting to recommit to him.
The last race to be covered is an Exeter beginners chase which featured the return of the highly touted Whisper who was making his belated return after a highly successful spell last season over hurdles but was turned over by Caesar Milan, a horse that had disappointed massively on chase debut behind Ned Stark. The winner improved a great deal for first time cheekpieces and jumped much better here for Nick Scholfield, the second of his three winners on the card. Apart from leaving his back legs in the first open ditch, Whisper jumped nicely enough but looked outpaced by the winner and was never able to cut back the deficit. He will come on plenty for the run and like Beat That, he needs watching next time out.
Eyecatchers from the Festive Period
Generous Ransom – A step up to three miles will help him plenty.
John’s Spirit – Shaped really well with the yard out of form. The Ryanair looks a race he could do very well in.
Thunder Zone – A horse that could be a Fred Winter type.
Sam Winner – Hasn’t done much wrong over fences and deserves a go in the Gold Cup.
Maxie T – Watch out for when he gets a handicap mark.
Ryeolliean – One for next time out.
Arpege D’Alene – A real long term prospect and will be featuring prominently on 2015-16 Horses to Follow.
Ptit Zig – Britain’s best chance in the JLT and continues to improve.
Ned Stark – Keep him onside when he goes up to three miles and beyond.
Tenor Nivernais – Looks an ideal type for the Byrne Group Plate.
Wishfull Dreaming – I haven’t covered the race but he did awfully well to win his bumper having clipped heels.
Drucilla – Ran in Exeter’s bumper on New Year’s Day and showed plenty of greenness but his granddaughter of former Gold Cup runner up and Grand National placed Dubacilla should be winning her share of races.
After last weekend surprising a few, myself included, with some of the quality that we got to witness, this weekend was more disappointing for several reasons. Most notably the two feature events over hurdles at Ascot on Saturday, with both races leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. Before I go into this weekend’s action, I shall be writing a Christmas blog review which will cover plenty of racing from both sides of the Irish Sea and should be posted around New Year.
Friday at Ascot featured two Graded novice events with Nicky Henderson saddling two short priced favourites. The first of those was L’ami Serge in the Supreme Trial and his task was made much easier by the fall of Emerging Talent who was travelling just as well at the second last. Once that had taken place, all he had to do was scoot clear of Killultagh Vic who looks to want much further than two miles. We didn’t really learn that much about the winner whose experience from France stood him in good stead here. The prices on offer for the Supreme at the Festival do not tempt me one bit. Emerging Talent won’t be going to the Festival which is the right thing to do, especially with his gawkiness and with future lying over fences next season.
Henderson was looking for a quick fire double thirty five minutes later with Josses Hill making his debut over the larger obstacles against more experienced rivals in Ptit Zig and Dunraven Storm. Throughout the race, his round of jumping was inconsistent compared to the slickness of his main market rival Ptit Zig who went on to maintain his unbeaten record with a fair bit of ease.
The winner had reportedly not schooled very well when originally jumping fences at home but his two wins at Exeter and Warwick had clearly helped with his confidence with this being by far his most professional round. The step up in distance also looked to hold no issue and his next target looks to be the Dipper on New Year’s Day.
Josses Hill does deserve credit for his performance. For the number of jumping errors he made and for his reappearance; to be there going to the second last is a testament to the horse’s ability. He will clearly come on for the run but he will need to brush up markedly on his jumping.
Dunraven Storm looked to be feeling the effects of a hard campaign so far and will probably go off for a break now whilst Gary Moore’s runner Traffic Fluide shaped with plenty of promise having jumped well before dropping away. It will be interesting to see what connections do with him next as he looks a horse with some potential.
Saturday’s Graduation Chase on paper looked a tough race to analyse with question marks about every contender but Irish Saint won with plenty in hand. Beforehand, I had concerns about whether this run would be coming too quick after his effort in the Henry VIII but it wasn’t the case. Clearly suited by the step up in trip, he was mostly foot perfect and was on top of Puffin Billy before that rival made his exit at the final fence. He is certainly capable of Graded success over fences this season and as suggested after his third to stablemate Vibrato Valtat two weeks ago, races like the Scilly Isles at Sandown or the Pendil at Kempton look perfect targets before ideally going to the Festival for the JLT as this distance currently looks his ideal.
Thomas Crapper ran well enough without troubling the front pair and looks one that we will be seeing in the novice handicap at the Festival, especially with his excellent record at Cheltenham. Grand Vision kept jumping out to his left but did run better than he did at Uttoxeter. He definitely has a decent race in him going left handed on ground similar to this. Drop Out Joe looks a thorough stayer and justified this by doing his best work late on. Like I said after his last start, the National Hunt Chase at the Festival looks the long term plan and gaining valuable experience here won’t go amiss.
Just like last time out, Puffin Billy didn’t jump the best and made several mistakes before taking a horrific fall at the last and for a moment it looked as though the worst had happened. Thankfully, he rose to his feet but will be monitored over the next few days. A spin over hurdles could be the confidence boost that he needs to get over such a nasty experience.
Yet again, a big race on a weekend split opinion massively, some for the worst. The JLT Long Walk Hurdle became the latest episode in which social media exploded about the same jockey who seems to be the only person to get abuse regardless of what he does. Luckily for readers, I won’t make you endure another rant about the subject but it is tiresome to read these narrow-minded opinions.
To the race itself, Reve De Sivola became the third horse to win the Long Walk for the third time, joining Big Buck’s and Baracouda to hold that honour after being headed before battling back to defy Zarkandar who travelled like a dream and looked all over the winner going to the last. However, Zarkandar idled after the last allowing Reve De Sivola one more bite of the cherry, which he duly took.
There is no denying that Reve De Sivola is a horse with a bundle of talent, he just has his very own unique way of showing it. He recovered from a bad mistake at the third which got a mention in the post-race interview with Lydia Hislop on Racing UK, with jockey Daryl Jacob saying they met it on a perfect stride but for whatever reason, the horse disagreed and nearly catapulted him out of the saddle.
He recovered quickly at the head of the pack and led for the majority of the way before looking a sitting duck when Zarkandar strolled past. But he fought back tenaciously to regain his crown under a power packed ride from Jacob. Although he won this for the third time, it’s hard to imagine him winning another race this campaign as the Long Walk is his race in the season with Jacob alluding to the fact that Cheltenham is a track that has never really played to his strengths, even though he has won there in the past.
Although he was beaten, I do think Zarkandar has run his best race in defeat. The statement may sound quite brash but the way he travelled with such ease and his slickness over his hurdles (apart from the last) was very impressive on the eye. Going to the second last, the result looked a foregone conclusion with Sam Twiston-Davies pulling double over Reve De Sivola. Just after the last, he began to idle which suggested he needed company and once Reve De Sivola passed him again, he rallied again.
As mentioned above, Sam Twiston-Davies got his abuse but without trying to sound like I defend every ride he has, what exactly did he do wrong? It’s not like he went too soon or too late, especially as Zarkandar has never proven in the past to be a flashy bridle horse. The ground here was probably soft enough for him even though he has form in it and back on better ground in the World Hurdle, we could potentially see a career best effort over three miles or one that matches his Auteuil success. With question marks about leading contenders and their ‘wellbeing’, the 14/1 on offer is definitely worth a play at this current time.
Aubusson was back in third beaten twenty three lengths and probably ran to his limit over hurdles. Softer conditions would have helped but even then, it wouldn’t have been enough to help him finish closer. A race like the Rendlesham at Haydock would be a good place to go with his love of soft ground and around a track where he gained his biggest success. Medinas was disappointing with the race at Newbury looking to have left a mark whilst Dell’ Arca looked a non-stayer.
The Mappin & Webb Silver Cup brought welcome justice for The Young Master and his connections after his disqualification due to being ineligible for the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton. His last start had shown that there was no limit to his potential and again, this was evident here. The slight concern during the race was that he kept jumping out to his left but he had more than enough in hand to win comfortably. I doubt the handicapper will put him up as much as he did after Wincanton but he is entering the realms of being good enough for Graded prizes and he also has the option open to go back into novice company if Neil Mulholland wishes to go down that route. A race like the Argento in January could be the place to see where to go with him for the remainder of the season.
Houblon Des Obeaux has run yet another solid race carrying top weight, this time against a well handicapped horse. The problem with this is the handicapper will have to raise him again and winning handicaps will be tough, although his best efforts have come in them. He could easily head back to Cheltenham for the Gold Cup or carry top weight in the Grand National, where the handicapper may show some leniency towards him.
Le Reve improved on a disappointing run in the Hennessy to suggest he can land a decent prize this season, potentially the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton or the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown with how well he goes right handed. Hey Big Spender showed himself again to be in good heart with all roads probably leading back to next year’s Rehearsal Chase. Sound Investment shaped like a horse that would benefit from dropping back down in trip in a race like the Newbury Gold Cup in March. Via Sundown shaped better than he did in the Hennessy but needs more help from the handicapper whilst Ardkilly Witness was a big disappointment as he was fading when making a bad mistake three out.
The Ladbroke looked a competitive field beforehand with plenty going in with a chance. The end result was another that questions the integrity of the rules of British Racing. Both the winner Bayan ridden by Davy Condon and the runner up Pine Creek ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies used the whip more times than the allotted amount of eight. Condon used his at least fifteen times and incurred a fifteen day ban and forfeited his prize money whilst Twiston-Davies got a four day ban.
The rules are there for a reason and punishments should be harsher if the offender breaks the rule considerably. In this instant, Condon nearly went over double the limit permitted. To implement the rules better, surely the punishment shouldn’t just affect the jockey, as fifteen days on the sidelines for winning a big race by breaking the rules just isn’t enough.
The race was run at a suicidal pace made by Balgarry who gave way quickly at the top of the straight. Bayan deserved his big handicap success after two placed efforts in the Coral Cup and the Galway Hurdle but will probably be handicapped out of good races now. Pine Creek travelled really well and was one who was able to make significant ground up from the back of the field. Both he and Activial look ideal candidates for the Betfair Hurdle, the latter showing that he looks a good deal better than his handicap mark. He came to win the race but over jumped the second last which didn’t help his chances. He would even prefer the ground to be softer so for a first time out effort, it was a solid run.
Shelford was up with the pace and although he was close up, he did very well to remain there considering he looks to want further than two miles. A race like the Lanzarote at Kempton looks tailor made for him as he is definitely still better than his handicap mark. Garde La Victoire will be suited by a sounder surface and a step up in trip. He could very easily make up into a Coral Cup contender, even with a lofty handicap mark whilst his stablemate Hello George is another that will improve going up in distance. Clondaw Warrior was outpaced and looked very one paced, Cool Macavity would appreciate better ground, Jebril shaped with promise for a horse with a lack of experienced and Pyromaniac was never involved and is best watched next time out.
The ride on Balgarry was one of the more senseless ones I’ve seen recently. For a horse that has been off the track over two years, to set a pace like that and not even be allowed a chance for a breather is just ridiculous. Backers (myself not included) would have the right to feel aggrieved as he was basically given no chance whatsoever. It wouldn’t be surprising if there was another day in mind this season, something like the Imperial Cup, a race which the Pipes have an excellent record.
Up at Haydock, it was great to see a favourite of mine in Sleepy Haven win in convincing style. He needed his first run at Sandown and he looks to have improved on his form from last season. He looks a horse that connections could have a bit of fun with over the coming few months.
Boondooma jumped economically when boosting the form of his second to Melodic Rendezvous in the novice chase, although I would argue if that rival had turned up here, he would have been beaten comprehensively by Dr Richard Newland’s charge. He will be just as effective over two and a half miles and has turned a corner since his chase debut which was haphazard behind Puffin Billy.
The Pirates Queen was given a superb ride by Denis O’Regan who stalked and pounced on the game Bitofapuzzle in the Mares Listed novice hurdle, doing her for a turn of foot on the run in. The winner also gave another boost to her third behind Blaklion in the Persian War whilst the runner up shaped as though a step back up in trip would suit more.
Broadway Buffalo finally got it right at the fifth attempt over fences under an ice-cool Conor O’Farrell who let the leaders take each other on and he just crept into the race before scooting clear to beat Toby Lerone. A return to Haydock for the Peter Marsh would be the likeliest option but more long term; the Kim Muir could be a race to suit. The runner up has looked revitalised by blinkers and just bumped into a horse that looks ahead of the handicapper. He can definitely take a big pot by the end of the season whilst Fill The Power did well to recover from a bad mistake at the first and will be better over further.
The handicap hurdle looked a competitive race but was turned into a rout by Kilcooley who was given a fantastic ride by Charlie Deutsch who just wound it up leaving the back straight and gained an unassailable advantage. His form had taken a boost on Friday when L’ami Serge won and the step up in trip looked to help as well. It will be interesting to see where he goes next but a race like the National Spirit at Fontwell could figure in plans. The final race went to Closing Ceremony who looks a good staying chaser for the future as he followed up his course and distance win from last month with similar tactics.
Over in Ireland, Un De Sceaux made up for his chase debut departure by sauntering clear of his rivals from the start and never looking back. He beat Smashing, the only horse who even tried to go with him by twelve lengths with him thirty lengths clear of Legal Exit back in third. It was easy enough for Un De Sceaux. He pitched slightly at the first which probably helped his cause but he did everything on the bridle again. He will be out just after the New Year where he will likely mop up another novice chase but the key question is whether we will see him over for the Festival or not? Personally, I hope we do. His exhilarating front running would be a joy to watch plus we would get to finally see how good he is.
Traffic Fluide – One definitely to take for the future.
Zarkandar – Take the 14’s for the World Hurdle.
Shelford – Still looks well handicapped and will reap the rewards back up in distance.
For a normal Wednesday leading up to Christmas, we were treated with two quality meetings from Newbury and Ludlow with some really nice pointers for the future, especially in the novice events. I was in attendance at the latter with fellow OnTheOtherHoof contributer Michael Andrews (yes he’s alive still!) where we enjoyed some highly competitive handicaps, a fascinating maiden hurdle and a bumper in which the winner looks a smart acquisition to the racing game. This was also accompanied by a mares’ novice hurdle which featured some potential on show, especially the first two home.
The two mile maiden hurdle began the card with Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson gaining the first leg of their double on the card with Days Of Heaven, who won easily in the first time hood, but not after some of his pre-race antics which cost him at both Aintree and Newbury. He walked around the paddock as quiet as a mouse, however, once led out onto the course he became lit up and for a moment, it looked as though he would bolt to the start. Luckily, Barry Geraghty kicked his feet out the irons and managed to get him to the start in one piece.
He then misbehaved as the race started but unlike Newbury, he didn’t forfeit much ground to his rivals and travelled by far the best horse throughout the contest before kicking clear under a hands and heels ride. Once he’d jumped off, he was relatively keen but he did settle down, the hood being a massive help. Whilst he clearly has his quirks about him, he is definitely a very talented individual and it will be very interesting to see what mark the handicapper gives him. He could very easily be the type of horse for a Betfair Hurdle, in which he could get covered up in a big field and produced late with his turn of foot.
The runner up Alto Des Mottes had bumped into one at Taunton in Zulu Oscar and did the exact same here. On paddock appearance, he looked a shell of a horse who can only keep on improving and he can definitely win a similar event in the none too distant future. Sir Ivan performed well on his hurdles debut apart from a mistake three out and plugged on at the one pace. A step up in trip will see him in a much better light.
The Philip Hobbs pair of Ink Master and Neck Or Nothing were both interesting for different reasons. The former shaped well for a long way and is better than the bare result shows as he did set a fair enough tempo. He is another now eligible for handicaps where he could take potential advantage of a nice mark. The latter had physically matured over the summer and looked a different horse than what contested the Champion Bumper, however, he did work himself up before the race as he sweated up badly and got rid of Richard Johnson down at the start. He did travel kindly but didn’t have an answer when the leaders kicked going to the second last. He will need to handle preliminaries better if to fulfil the promise shown in bumpers last year.
Further down the pack, two others caught the eye. Routine Procedure who finished tenth beaten sixty six lengths looked a lovely chasing type who would improve once he went markedly up in trip and Amoruccio who should get a mark after today and similar comments apply.
The feature staying handicap chase went the way of Royal Player for Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs. Having made a mistake at the first, he was given a lovely patient ride, especially as he was keen during the early part of the race. He got into a nice rhythm at the rear of the field and picked off each contender one by one, finishing with Gorsky Island who was going for the hat trick of wins at Ludlow.
It was a fine performance from the winner who was only having his second start over fences under rules but he has some interesting Point to Point form, having finished fifth behind No More Heroes and third behind Racing Pulse. Where they go next will depend on what the handicapper makes of it, however, he cannot go up too steeply in grade with him needing at least one more run over fences.
Gorsky Island did absolutely nothing wrong here. He jumped really well and travelled like the winner for the majority of the contest and was beaten simply by a better handicapped horse on the day. Although he is out of Turtle Island who was a renowned soft ground lover, he has shaped well on good to soft ground and if having a big spring target, the Topham Trophy could suit him with his fluent jumping. The drop in distance there wouldn’t be a concern at all as he looks as though he would be able to lay up with the pace.
Grove Pride ran his best race for almost two years as he jumped for fun in the lead at his trainer’s local track. If finding a similar race over course and distance, he should be able to get another win out of him whilst Five Star Wilsham travelled well enough and if he drops down the weights again, he definitely has the capability to win a race.
Opening Batsman was a shade disappointing as he seemed to get outpaced on the final circuit before plugging on. He isn’t one to give up on just yet, especially if he is re-equipped with the blinkers that he had in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown. He could return to Kempton for the Racing Plus Chase which he won two years ago whilst other market rival My Wigwam Or Yours drifted out in the market just before the off and failed to build on his debut effort over fences behind Ned Stark.
The mares’ novice hurdle saw the return of Tara Mist who was sent off a shade of odds on. She gave her backers two notable moments of concern; the first one being at the fourth last where she completely guessed at the hurdle and again at the last. However, she had plenty in reserve to see off the tough Ballyhollow who attempted to make every yard of the running.
Tara Mist had shown a fair level of form in mares bumpers last season including when third behind Avispa in the Aintree Mares Bumper, a track which would have been too sharp for her over two miles. This distance at the moment is ideal for her and she will definitely get three miles in time. Another mares’ novice hurdle just to get her jumping better would be an ideal plan for the current moment before Graded company later in the season.
Ballyhollow also had useful bumper form with Tara Mist having finished behind her twice last season. She went very well from the front and would be suited by a stiffer test of stamina. She will make a nice chaser when she goes over the larger obstacles.
The concluding bumper had a fascinating contender in Chocca Wocca, a daughter of Chomba Womba who was also trained by Nicky Henderson and she duly obliged to give Geraghty/Henderson a double on the day in very taking style, beating what looks a pretty useful field with two other newcomers Wabanaki and Sandygate filling out the places.
Although she was receiving the seven pound fillies’ allowance, it was a highly impressive debut. Compared to The Outlaw who finished fourth here, Chocca Wocca was tiny but was lovely to look at. The main attribute to her winning performance was the way she stuck her neck out in a really likeable manner. The obvious long term aim would be the Aintree Mares Bumper where a flat track on goodish ground would really play to her strengths. Her turn of foot out of that ground today was noteworthy.
Wabanaki was plenty relaxed enough in the parade ring but once he got on the track, he decided to play up a little bit, which he is entitled to do as it was his racecourse debut. In defeat though, he has ran a more than respectable enough effort giving Chocca Wocca seven pounds. Sandygate also ran a nice race on his debut and will shape better over a much longer distance in time. The Outlaw misbehaved on his way out onto the course when dislodging Sam Twiston-Davies and seemed to resent the use of the whip in the closing stages by hanging violently. He may just need more time to mature but it could also reflect his character.
To end the blog, one standout performance at Newbury deserves a fair mention having got the excitement levels sky high. The hurdling debut of Value At Risk. A very useful bumper horse, he first went into my notebook on debut at Fairyhouse where he made his own running and won very nicely before winning again at Leopardstown over Christmas. Those two performances were enough to convince me to back him for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham where he disappointed slightly but then bounced right back when third to Shaneshill at Punchestown.
He was going to be included in my horses to follow pieces, however, due to an error in which I believed he’d moved stables; it felt ethically wrong to have him in the list when with his former trainer. Skip forward to November and he is moved to Dan Skelton, an exciting addition to the yard of one of the up and coming stars of the training ranks.
Just like his first bumper win at Fairyhouse, he went out and made every single yard of the running and won as he pleased. He beat a rival in Foryourinformation who ran last time out at Newbury and was beaten seven and a quarter lengths by Out Sam. Value At Risk beat him twenty two lengths on the bridle. In the post-race winning interview, he paid homage to his former boss Paul Nicholls which spoke volumes and gets me really excited for this horse’s future. Why? It means that Value At Risk has gone to the right trainer who knows to look after him this year and build him up in a manner similar to what Nicholls would with his star chasers. All I can say is, he will definitely be featuring on my horses to follow list next year when going chasing.
Ink Master – Shaped better than the distance beaten suggests and will be interesting in handicap hurdles.
Routine Procedure – A long term prospect.
Gorsky Island – Something like the Topham Trophy could suit really well.
Opening Batsmen – When he gets blinkers back on.
Chocca Wocca – The Aintree Mares Bumper should be the main target and a speed track like Aintree would suit.
Whilst this weekend on paper didn’t look that exciting, we were treated to some brilliant performances from established stars and plenty of exciting up and coming talent showcasing their credentials for the future with the International Meeting at Cheltenham taking centre stage.
Friday began with the rematch between Kings Palace and Sausalito Sunrise from the Open Meeting. On this occasion, Kings Palace was giving away three pounds compared to the five he received last month. However, the manner in which he beat his main rival here was more comprehensive. His fast and accurate jumping an absolute joy to watch plus his turn of foot after the last was decisive.
Whilst he has won twice over three miles around Cheltenham, he doesn’t lack toe and come Cheltenham in March, he could be extremely vulnerable in the RSA as he would probably do what he did in the Albert Bartlett this year; set a strong gallop and leave himself open to stronger stayers. The JLT could be potentially at this stage in his career the better option, even with the possibility of taking on Vautour. One other thought that comes to mind is after this meeting twelve months ago when taking the Bristol Novice Hurdle; we didn’t see the horse until the Festival so it will be interesting to see if he has another run in between.
Sausalito Sunrise was firmly put in his place here but has still put in a respectable effort. On the evidence seen so far in his career, he looks a thorough stayer and may just lack the tactical pace needed for a race like the RSA, however, the National Hunt Chase would look an ideal target for this likeable type.
His stablemate Return Spring ran a really encouraging race having jumped well for the majority of the race before ploughing through the final fence. He stayed on eye-catchingly up the hill and almost nabbed second place. He looks the type of horse that will excel in staying handicap chases, with races like the Midlands National and the Scottish National in the spring looking suitable aims. Vivaldi Collonges will benefit massively for his chasing debut and could even go back over hurdles to protect his novice status until next season.
Elsewhere on Friday’s card, it was great to see one time Champion Hurdle contender Starluck back in the winners’ enclosure after the two mile one furlong handicap hurdle. Ulzana’s Raid continued his progression for Alan King and the returning Wayne Hutchinson when just denying the ultra-consistent Big Easy whilst Martin Keighley left Prestbury Park with a double courtesy of the old stagers Benbane Head and Any Currency in the cross country, the latter deserving his day in the sun after his agonising defeat at the Festival this year. Sadly, we lost 2013 Festival winner Big Shu after he suffered a heart attack which left a few questions needing to be answered regarding welfare issues.
The final race on the card has in the past proven to be a hugely informative novice hurdle towards the future with the likes of Noland, Tidal Bay, Darlan and Ballyalton all recent winners. Seedling looks a smart enough type who retained his novice status for this season. His best piece of form last season was a length second behind Wilde Blue Yonder at Newbury and is now three from three this season. The 33/1 quote for the Supreme wouldn’t be something of interest to me but he could go into competitive handicaps depending on what the handicapper makes of this performance.
Some Plan still looks a long way from the finished article as he ran far too freely for Paddy Brennan but looks fairly useful based on this effort and his previous form leading into this. A step up in trip in the future will definitely suit him with similar comments applying to the beaten favourite Padge. He was keen early on before allowing speedier types a massive head start which he was never going to make inroads into. Having looked more of a stayer when second to Shantou Bob at Ffos Las, he could be one for the EBF Final at Sandown in March where that stiffest test of stamina will suit much more than the minimum trip.
Saturday’s action at Cheltenham began with the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial in which the odds on favourite Hargam went one better on his second start over hurdles for Tony McCoy and Nicky Henderson to see off Karezak. The winner was plenty keen enough at the start but settled nicely and most importantly, he jumped economically without being flashy before knuckling down in a battle with the runner up.
Karezak has some of the most useful form in English juvenile hurdles having just beaten Golden Doyen on debut before coming up short against Old Guard at Newbury. The first time visor has brought about some improvement and he went down fighting. Stars Over The Sea’s jumping has been brought into question on both his hurdle starts and again he wasn’t particularly fluent before being beaten comprehensively by the front two. One that deserves to be taken out of the race is Boss Des Mottes. He had disappointed when sent off favourite at Doncaster on his hurdling debut in the UK but here he travelled better than the distance beaten suggests. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him line up in the Fred Winter come March time.
Whilst talking about juvenile form, Doncaster hosted a Grade Two which couldn’t have been won more impressively by new Triumph Hurdle favourite Peace And Co who took up the running at the fourth flight and did everything on the bridle under Daryl Jacob, his slick hurdling being his main attribute which he had shown also on debut in France. Bookmaker reaction was as expected and he is as short as 5/1 in places for the Triumph which wasn’t surprising considering the manner of his success.
Only three set out for the novice chase in which Champagne West justified his position as market leader to beat Un Ace but not without some scrappy leaps on the way round. The complexion of the race changed at the fourth last when the leader Little Jon crashed through the wing of the fence. Fortunately, both he and his rider Sam Twiston-Davies got up fine. This left Champagne West in front, however his jumping wasn’t as fluent as it was on debut which allowed Un Ace to challenge on the run in, but the winner used his speed to assert his authority. The winner could return here for the Dipper on New Year’s Day to get some more match practice in before the RSA in March.
The feature novice chase at Doncaster went the way of the improving Virak for Nick Scholfield and Paul Nicholls although the race lost some of its sparkle when the fences up the home straight were omitted due to the low sun. Although Nicholls has the likes of Saphir Du Rheu and Southfield Theatre at Ditcheat, Virak remains unbeaten in three outings this season and is definitely going the right way.
The interesting thing to note is that he has taken the same route as Black Thunder did last season so if lightning is to strike twice, we will see him next at Warwick on Classic Chase day. For an ante-post wager’s sake, the greedy side of me wishes he goes to the Festival and runs in the RSA where he would definitely go into the race as an underrated horse but his price of 200’s on Betfair was too big considering the manner of his Haydock win. At the time of writing, he is 75/1 and that is still on the large side when you look at horses priced up lower than him.
Wakanda outran his odds and will be interesting once stepping into handicap company whilst Killala Quay may benefit from going back over hurdles as he was beaten fairly quickly here. Kaysersberg might have proved the main threat to Virak had he not fallen heavily at the last but happily, both the horse and Gavin Sheehan got up fine.
The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup didn’t look the strongest renewal on paper and was a strange race with Niceonefrankie, a horse that had looked handicapped out of this after his Ascot win going in again. He took it up at the third fence and never saw another rival and could be called the winner four out when Splash Of Ginge departed when travelling okay. Being honest, it’s not a race that looks likely to work out majorly, the one eyecatcher being Splash Of Ginge who had jumped really well until being caught out by the landing at the fourth last.
A contrast in fortunes for Nigel Twiston-Davies changed for the better when Blaklion, partnered by Ryan Hatch who replaced Jamie Moore after his fall from No Buts in the previous race, went and dominated his rivals in the Bristol Novices Hurdle under a penalty. He travelled supremely well throughout with the step up to three miles bringing about plenty of improvement as he put the race to bed in a matter of strides, ridden with a ton of confidence by Hatch.
Blaklion has a fantastic attitude towards racing, highlighted last season when tenaciously battling to victory in a Haydock bumper and he hasn’t done much wrong over hurdles yet. The Albert Bartlett will be his main aim and he will go there with a leading chance. Anteros has obviously appreciated the step up in distance as this is by far a career best effort. As long as the handicapper isn’t too harsh, there should be a decent handicap or two in him over the trip.
The jury’s out slightly on Port Melon who again travelled well in first time cheekpieces but unlike the Open Meeting, he was left behind pretty quickly by Blaklion. It is probably too late to consider going chasing this season so a drop in grade to get some confidence could be the ideal plan. Parish Business plugged on after being headed going to the second last whilst Binge Drinker looks as though he would need four miles to be at his best.
The feature race of the weekend was the International Hurdle and The New One again cemented his position near the head of the market in the Champion Hurdle with a decisive performance, giving eight pounds to Vaniteux. Even though I didn’t write a blog for Betfair Chase day, The New One impressed me that day with his jumping and again here he was foot perfect before using his speed to outsprint Vaniteux with the pace set by Zamdy Man not especially quick. Whilst I’m firmly on the side of Faugheen for the Champion Hurdle, The New One has earned my full and utmost respect again, the memories of clattering the last on his return at Kempton now a distant thought.
Vaniteux travelled extremely well and looked much happier on this better surface than he encountered in the Greatwood. A slight mistake two out wouldn’t have helped his cause but he was still on the bridle going to the last before The New One left him trailing in a matter of strides. In receipt of eight pounds, if there was going to be a day where he might have beaten The New One, this was probably it, however, he was firmly put in his place and being realistic, won’t trouble the main players in the Champion Hurdle which makes him difficult to place for the rest of the campaign.
Olofi may be flattered slightly by the lack of pace with how close he has finished to both The New One and Vaniteux but it is brilliant to see him back in good order. King Of The Picts caught the eye for a couple of reasons. The slow pace would not have suited him at all but he jumped well and travelled nicely before inevitably getting outpaced on the run down to the second last. He then flew up the hill to nab Zamdy Man for fourth place.
He looks interesting with an aim towards the Festival with his handicap mark of 140 which gives him the options of the County Hurdle, the Coral Cup and the Martin Pipe. He would be a fascinating contender in either of those races. Zamdy Man clearly didn’t show his best here and probably wants the ground softer whilst Bertimont travelled through the race but just couldn’t go through with his finishing effort.
Former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby stamped his class in the Relkeel Hurdle on ground that was probably softer than ideal to beat Volnay De Thaix comfortably. His hurdling was really sharp and he looked much more comfortable with the step back up in trip. He was entitled to idle late on but never looked in danger.
Connections now have an interesting dilemma. Do they come back for the Festival and have a go at the World Hurdle or do they go straight to Aintree for another go at the Aintree Hurdle? One would imagine he would have a break now with the likely softer conditions over the winter before returning for a spring campaign. If he does go for the World Hurdle, he will be a fascinating contender with the obvious question being would he see out the trip. Personally, I’m not convinced he would however, his class could see him through and in the words of Noel Fehily “He’d go through the pain barrier for you.”
Volnay De Thaix didn’t jump as fluently as he has done in the past but ran respectably without looking a major threat whilst Brother Brian has ran a career best in third. If the handicapper doesn’t completely hammer him for this effort then he could easily come here for the Pertemps where three miles on good ground could really suit. Lac Fontana ran a lifeless race and this wasn’t his true running so he is worth forgiving.
Away from Cheltenham and Doncaster, my personal highlight of Saturday was seeing one of my old favourites West End Rocker take the Veterans Chase at Lingfield under a superb ride from Tom Bellamy, his first win since the 2011 Becher Chase at Aintree. Whilst he handles better ground, some of his best performances in his career have come on really testing ground and he travelled by far the best of these veterans before going away to win handsomely.
Sunday’s feature was the Navan Novice Hurdle in which Shaneshill was sent off a warm order however he was denied by No More Heroes, one of the horses to follow from the jumps preview video. Two and a half miles is probably the minimum distance he would want to go and whilst it was a tactical affair, he showed that he can quicken, made all the more impressive by the fact Shaneshill was ridden for a turn of foot who has ran with plenty of credit himself.
If No More Heroes does come over for Cheltenham, the Albert Bartlett would be his target but he is all about the future. Shaneshill would probably be a Neptune type but with the firepower from the Mullins yard, he could possibly be the second or third string in the race.
Return Spring – A big staying handicap chase later in the season would be well within his compass.
Padge – Once he goes back up in trip, watch out for him in a handicap. The EBF Final could be the race for him.
Boss Des Mottes – Shaped better than the distance he was beaten.
Virak – The 75’s on offer for the RSA is lenient compared to others in the same market.
Splash Of Ginge – Better ground in the spring could see him win a big pot over fences.
King Of The Picts – Could potentially be well handicapped come March.
After a couple of weekends away from the reviews due to other commitments, Sandown’s Tingle Creek Meeting and Aintree’s Becher Chase Day were the main events over the weekend in the UK to concentrate on. With Sandown having two days, I will concentrate on the weekend in chronological order starting with a couple of races from Sandown’s Friday card and one from Exeter which had small fields however they featured some excellent finishes.
The Juvenile Hurdle threw up a lovely prospect for the future with Bivouac who despite kicking the last flight out of the way, won a shade cosily for Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson. Even though he’s only a three year old, he already looks a proper chasing type who deserves plenty of time to grow up. Storm Force Ten had some useful form on the flat and ran a nice race on his hurdling debut for the Waley-Cohens and trainer Andrew Balding. He can definitely progress from this whilst Baron Alco ran a brilliant race conceding ten pounds to the whole field. All three are worthy enough to make their mark further on in the season in big pots.
The race of Friday was undoubtedly the Grade Two Winter Novices Hurdle which featured the closest finish of the weekend with Vyta Du Roc just holding on under a penalty from Shantou Bob with long-time leader Tara Point close up in third. All three deserve credit in different ways and all look top class individuals for the future.
The winner Vyta Du Roc showed plenty of guts after looking beat going towards the second last when Tara Point went clear but he saw out this trip really well and showed plenty of guts up the Sandown hill. Whilst he holds an entry in the Ladbroke towards the end of the month, two and a half miles looked to suit really well and the race Red Sherlock won on Trials Day this year would look an ideal next target.
Shantou Bob was the first off the bridle and it was a testament to his ability that got him so close. In this company, he will definitely want further and he looks an Albert Bartlett type based on this effort. The Challow at the end of the month on really soft ground could be a race to consider.
Tara Point is a horse that I have a huge soft spot for. She got into a lovely rhythm out in front and her jumping was a huge asset for the majority of the race before a mistake at the second last cost her some momentum. She did battle on after the last but couldn’t quite muster another challenge. One thing she will need to do is learn to settle in her races as that could have cost her victory but she remains one exciting talent and it is refreshing to see Paul Nicholls want to pitch her in against the geldings.
Nicholls didn’t have to wait long for compensation when Black Thunder put in an immaculate round of jumping in the Intermediate Chase to win by a cosy eleven lengths. He missed last weeks’ Hennessy Gold Cup with a preference to come here and he put this race to bed in convincing style. He looks a proper stayer but has a touch of class about him. His next nominated target was the Argento in January and he could even make up into an outsider for the Gold Cup. Failing that, he could easily be a Grand National contender on a sounder surface.
The other horse to talk about from this race is Corrin Wood who, like Black Thunder, gave us a sight to behold with them both jumping from fence to fence before Black Thunder’s fitness advantage became evident. To be fair, Corrin Wood stuck to his task resolutely and was done for second on the line. It will be interesting to see where he heads next as he holds a few big entries over Christmas.
Away from Sandown, Exeter staged a competitive renewal of the Harry Dutfield Memorial Novices Chase which went the way of the redemption seeking Saphir Du Rheu who made amends for his Newbury unseat in electric style. He jumped as though he was on springs and readily scooted away from some fair rivals, the notable disappointment being Deputy Dan who couldn’t go the pace over this trip. The winner had a rating of 165 over hurdles and on this showing, could be even more exciting over the larger obstacles. For the time being, two and a half miles would be his ideal distance, with the Dipper Novice Chase on New Year’s Day a good place to get some practice around Cheltenham before the Festival.
Saturday at Sandown was almost threatened by the cold weather but went ahead. I am only going to review the Grade One chases as there wasn’t much on the undercard apart from the JP McManus double with two horses in Cup Final and Snake Eyes who both have a lot more to give in competitive handicaps.
On paper, the Henry VIII Novice Chase looked to be a match between Irish Saint and Dunraven Storm as Court Minstrel wasn’t going to appreciate the underfoot conditions and Vibrato Valtat having a reputation for stopping once hitting the front. Safe to say, I wasn’t expecting Vibrato Valtat to storm up the Sandown hill to win going away from Dunraven Storm having looked a horse in the past who only wins on the bridle, albeit with a bundle of talent. If this is the new Vibrato Valtat, then he looks potentially very exciting going forward and with that potent turn of foot, he could be very dangerous in the Arkle come March time depending on his opposition. However, a note of caution is advised as I would like to see him back this effort up before making comments about genuineness.
It is a shame Dunraven Storm’s career has been blighted by injury, as on his day he is a hugely talented horse. He backed up his two wins at Exeter and Cheltenham here nicely and whilst looking unlucky on the run in, he was beaten by the better horse on the day. If connections are keen to keep going currently, the Wayward Lad at Kempton on the 27th December would be a good place to go as he appreciates going right handed.
Irish Saint shaped as though he would want at least two and a half at Grade One level but still ran a respectable race back in third. He could be one to return back to Sandown for the Scilly Isles in February whilst Court Minstrel hated the ground and will likely be put away for a spring campaign, be that handicap chases like the Grand Annual and the Red Rum or top class novice chases.
Beforehand, the Tingle Creek looked a race where we hopefully see a new kid on the block emerge in what looks a pretty weak two mile division. Sadly for more than one reason, the end result was sour. Dodging Bullets made it a Grade One double for Paul Nicholls in convincing style from the veteran Somersby back in second with Nicholls again filling out third place with Hinterland.
The form going forward doesn’t look to inspire towards bigger targets in the spring but take nothing away from Dodging Bullets who put in a career best effort having travelled and jumped the best. In previous years, his form has tailed off once we reach March and April so he wouldn’t be a trustworthy bet in the Champion Chase. Somersby showed his consistency yet again with another placed effort in this race but with him as close as he was, this must surely bring a huge question mark over the race.
Hinterland made a mistake early on but has run well in the first time hood. He could be one for the Champion Chase if he was fresh as he was travelling well when hampered at the fourth last and if his issues in the past can be kept away. Balder Succes looked to not enjoy the ground and made two crucial errors which cost him any chance of victory. He could go to Kempton for the Desert Orchid if the ground isn’t similar. Although he has won on soft and heavy ground, the ground was described as very tacky and his soft ground wins would have come on a surface which is easier to move through. Both God’s Own and Vukovar will need to brush up on their jumping if they are to feature prominently at this level in the future.
Aintree’s feature contest on Saturday was the Becher Chase which looked a hugely competitive renewal on paper with twenty five lining up. In the end, the old man of the party Oscar Time rolled back the years under a fine ride from Sam Waley-Cohen, fending off the late charge of Mendip Express under Will Biddick with Saint Are and Alfie Spinner filling out the places.
Oscar Time had previously run into the frame twice in the Grand National so these fences held no fears for him. Waley-Cohen kept his cool when Our Father went for home crossing the Melling Road and had enough in reserve to deny Mendip Express after the Elbow. The race yet again proved that age is no barrier and it would be no surprise even at the age of fourteen to see him return for the Grand National in the spring, although Sam Waley-Cohen was keen to say only if the horse was showing the right signs.
In defeat, Mendip Express was given a beautiful patient ride by Will Biddick. Allowed to find his feet early on, first impressions during the race going past the stands were that he wasn’t enjoying the challenge of Aintree but the next time he was spotted was just after Valentines where he was travelling ominously well. He crept into contention but just found the winner too good on the day and ran a fantastic race, proving that you can still come from behind around the National course on a horse good enough.
Connections said post-race that he was sticky early on and just needed time to warm to the challenge but the encouraging fact was he didn’t make any jumping errors. Once he’d warmed up, his jumping was foot perfect. He was introduced to the Grand National betting however, his trainer Harry Fry was keen to stress this was as far as he would want to go. If the handicapper isn’t too harsh, he would have a few options open to him but he does need to go left handed.
Saint Are still looks a well handicapped horse based on this effort. A mistake at the third fence lost him some ground but on the whole he jumped nicely and ran all the way to the line after getting outpaced on the run to two out. He will have a big day somewhere in the spring when getting better ground. Alfie Spinner really took to these fences well and ran his usual consistent race. It’s a shame that his handicap mark isn’t high enough for him to get a run in the Grand National itself as he looked to really enjoy this test but there is time to get his mark high enough.
Chance Du Roy ran his usual consistent race over these fences whilst Renard was one who got outpaced at a crucial stage before staying on through beaten rivals. The eyecatcher of the whole race was Kruzhlinin. He wasn’t given a particularly hard time but flew home late in the day to grab seventh, running on in similar fashion like he did in the Grand National. If I had to pick one out of the Becher for April, it would be him, especially if given a more positive ride.
Highland Lodge jumped these fences well but looks to have regressed a fair bit whilst Our Father looked the likely winner going to the second last before stopping quickly after the last. The problem is that he goes very well fresh before disappointing for the rest of the season so it was effectively his only chance to win all year.
It was fantastic to see Shakalakaboomboom show his old enthusiasm which we didn’t see in the Grand National this year with him showing up for most of the way before getting tired. He is another that could pick up a nice prize on better ground during the season. Mon Parrain didn’t jump these fences like he did in the 2011 Topham whilst Green Flag was a big disappointment. That wasn’t his true running so it will be interesting to see what comes to light. Across The Bay showed up well for a fair way before fading away quickly.
Of those that didn’t complete, Al Co looked to hate the experience as he made several bad errors on the way round before being pulled up; Burton Port was pulled up after a mistake at Becher’s lost him his position whilst Just A Par was another well fancied contender to disappoint. This track would have looked to have been his ideal but for whatever reason, he just didn’t perform.
Benbens had jumped pretty well up until he unseated Ryan Hatch but it was too far out to suggest where he might have finished whilst Knock A Hand blundered at the ditch going down to Becher’s giving Micheal Nolan no chance. The fact finding mission for Goonyella didn’t go to plan as he unseated Jonathan Burke at the very first fence.
The Listed Chase was ruined to an extent by the sun playing a major role, with it ensuring all the fences up the home straight were missed out, made all the more amusing by the fact it disappeared behind the clouds as the race began. Sam Winner was given a brilliant ride by Nick Scholfield who had to persevere by pushing and shoving along from some way out on a track that wouldn’t play to his strengths at all. His stamina reserves were enough to see off Medermit and Ma Filleule, who was inconvenienced by the missed out fences having jumped well on the whole.
With the Gold Cup picture looking extremely wide open, Paul Nicholls could be tempted to give Sam Winner a go, even though the Grand National has been nominated as his main target where he will definitely be near the top of the weights, possibly even top weight once reassessed.
Medermit will be difficult to place but he remains in good heart with himself and deserves a win somewhere this season whilst Ma Filleule was disadvantage by the lack of fences jumped but travelled all over the winner before not finding much off the bridle. She has the option of the new Mares Listed Chase at Doncaster over Christmas. Jumping errors crept back in for Holywell who had looked much better on his previous start at Carlisle and he had made a scrappy error before unseating Richie McLernon at the open ditch. The jury’s now out again on his Gold Cup claims.
The Grand Sefton ended Aintree’s card and it was the unfancied Poole Master who made most of the running under Tom Scudamore and fended off the enigmatic Cedre Bleu with Benny’s Mist and top weight Rolling Aces filling out the places. The winner showed far more than he had on previous visits to Aintree and had looked in the grip of the handicapper after his two wins in early 2014 which sent his mark rocketing up. He will now be even harder to place after this.
In defeat, Sam Waley-Cohen has given Cedre Bleu a superb waiting ride, knowing as soon as he comes off the bridle he will find absolutely nothing. His jumping was foot perfect and jumping the last, he was sat on Poole Master’s tail looking ready to pounce but not even Waley-Cohen, a genius over these fences, could coax a winning effort out of the horse. He will probably return here for the Topham in April and repeat exactly what he did here.
Benny’s Mist ran a much better race on his return here without headgear showing his liking again for these unique fences whilst Rolling Aces really jumped these well and looked outpaced before staying on towards the finish. An end to end gallop in the Topham could be his ideal optimum back here in April with similar comments applying to Hunt Ball who would appreciate better ground as well.
Rebel Rebellion made a bad mistake three out which ended his chances and he looks in the grip of the handicapper whilst Persian Snow lost his chance when hampered by the fall of Up To Something at Valentines. He stayed on stoutly and he could even benefit by going up to three miles. Dolatulo made a bad mistake on the run down to Becher’s but hasn’t disgraced himself here whilst Champion Court was laboured here having shown a sign of returning to himself in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.The only faller was Up To Something who had jumped well until departing but it was too far out to suggest where he would have finished.
Sunday’s Peterborough Chase was yet another advert for our old veterans with Wishfull Thinking putting in a stunning display of front running and jumping, a staple of his novice chase performances from 2011. With no front runner in the race, connections decided to revert to those old tactics which worked a treat. Although Eduard looked the likely winner going to the last, he made a mistake which allowed the evergreen veteran another bite of the cherry. If his wind problems have been resolved, he fully deserves a go at the Ryanair at the Festival, especially on his beloved good ground.
Eduard was having to be niggled throughout the race suggesting that two and a half could be on the sharp side for him but was travelling better going to the last before making his untimely error. He is one that will definitely appreciate better ground in the spring and something like the Betfair Bowl at Aintree could really play to his strengths. Wonderful Charm ran his race back in third but you can’t help but feel he will always be a nearly horse. He is worth another go back at three miles though.
Eyecatchers From The Weekend
Saint Are/Alfie Spinner – Former still looks well handicapped and the latter if he could get his mark up for April.
Kruzhlinin – Stayed on eyecatchingly and the Grand National looks the ideal target.
Rolling Aces/Hunt Ball – Both jumped the National fences really well and on better ground could both play major roles in the Topham Trophy.
Mala Beach – One I didn’t get a proper chance to write about but was very taken with his beginners chase win at Punchestown. The Topaz at Leopardstown would be a good target over Christmas.
This week, the blog ends with a sad postscript as we lost two of our beloved warriors in Balbriggan and Oscar Whisky. Balbriggan had improved plenty for a move to Gordon Elliott and was in the form of his life having won the Troytown at Navan just two weeks ago. He sadly broke down on the flat and couldn’t be saved.
Oscar Whisky’s record spoke for itself. Sixteen wins in twenty eight starts including three at Grade One level, two of those coming in the Aintree Hurdle. Described by regular pilot Barry Geraghty as a ‘warrior’, it’s hard to disagree. His constitution was incredible. Few would have believed he would win his second Aintree Hurdle in 2012 after the hard race he endured in his only encounter with Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle. Even his effort against Uxizandre at Aintree this April after a horrific first fence fall at the Festival showed his hardy nature and he will be sorely missed on the racecourse.