Christmas 2014 Review/New Year’s Day

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.

Boxing Day

Jollyallan continues to go the right way but will need to brush up on his jumping.
Jollyallan continues to go the right way but will need to brush up on his jumping.

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.

Stellar Notion still looks ahead of the handicapper on this evidence.
Stellar Notion still looks ahead of the handicapper on this evidence.

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.

Coneygree jumped by far the best and put all his rivals to the sword.
Coneygree jumped by far the best and put all his rivals to the sword.

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 looking none the worse for his fall with Sam Twiston-Davies.
Saphir Du Rheu looking none the worse for his fall with Sam Twiston-Davies.

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.

Faugheen barely came out of second gear to beat Purple Bay and Blue Heron.
Faugheen barely came out of second gear to beat Purple Bay and Blue Heron.

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.

Silviniaco Conti jumping the last on his way to a second King George triumph.
Silviniaco Conti jumping the last on his way to a second King George triumph.

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.

Al Ferof could be very interesting come March time for the Champion Chase.
Al Ferof could be very interesting come March time for the Champion Chase.

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.

Alvisio Ville looks yet another smart recruit for Willie Mullins.
Alvisio Ville looks yet another smart recruit for Willie Mullins.

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.

Clarcam couldn't have been more impressive at Leopardstown.
Clarcam couldn’t have been more impressive at Leopardstown.

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.

27th December

Both Vibrato Valtat and Three Kingdoms look smart novice chasers.
Both Vibrato Valtat and Three Kingdoms look smart novice chasers.

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.

Bristol De Mai looks another exciting prospect for Simon Munir & Issac Souede.
Bristol De Mai looks another exciting prospect for Simon Munir & Issac Souede.

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.

Emperor's Choice and Benvolio leading the Welsh National field with a circuit to go.
Emperor’s Choice and Benvolio leading the Welsh National field with a circuit to go.

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.

Could Emperor's Choice be a lively Crabbie's Grand National contender in April?
Could Emperor’s Choice be a lively Crabbie’s Grand National contender in April?

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.

28th December

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.

Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson locked together at the final flight.
Lieutenant Colonel and Jetson locked together at the final flight.

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.

Road To Riches fought back strongly to win his second Grade One.
Road To Riches fought back strongly to win his second Grade One.

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.

Sam Winner hasn't done much wrong over fences and deserves a chance at the Gold Cup.
Sam Winner hasn’t done much wrong over fences and deserves a chance at the Gold Cup.

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.

29th December

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.

Parlour Games, Blaklion and Vyta Du Roc battle out the finish to the Challow Hurdle.
Parlour Games, Blaklion and Vyta Du Roc battle out the finish to the Challow Hurdle.

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.

Arpege D'Alene looks a lovely long term prospect for Paul Nicholls.
Arpege D’Alene looks a lovely long term prospect for Paul Nicholls.

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.

Hurricane Fly and Jezki take the last in the Ryanair Hurdle.
Hurricane Fly and Jezki take the last in the Ryanair Hurdle.

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.

There is plenty to like about Carrigmoorna Rock .
There is plenty to like about Carrigmoorna Rock who could be Cheltenham bound.

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.

Don Poli and Apache Stronghold both look smart novice chasers.
Don Poli and Apache Stronghold both look smart novice chasers.

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.

Both Ptit Zig and Champagne West showed plenty towards coming back to the Festival in March.
Both Ptit Zig and Champagne West showed plenty towards coming back to the Festival in March.

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.

Splash Of Ginge flies the last to take his first Cheltenham success.
Splash Of Ginge flies the last to take his second Cheltenham success over fences.

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.

Class prevailed yet again with Rock On Ruby. Would he stay three miles in the World Hurdle?
Class prevailed yet again with Rock On Ruby. Would he stay three miles in the World Hurdle?

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.

Ladbroke Hurdle Weekend Review

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.

L'Ami Serge won as he pleased after the departure of Emerging Talent.
L’Ami Serge won as he pleased after the departure of Emerging Talent.

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.

Ptit Zig was far more fluent than his market rival Josses Hill.
Ptit Zig was far more fluent than his market rival Josses Hill.

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.

Irish Saint jumping the final fence before going on to victory.
Irish Saint jumping the final fence before going on to victory.

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.

You get the point.

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.

Reve De Sivola leads the Long Walk Hurdle field with a circuit to go.
Reve De Sivola leads the Long Walk Hurdle field with a circuit to go.

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.

Zarkandar looks a betting proposition in the World Hurdle at 14's.
Zarkandar looks a betting proposition in the World Hurdle at 14’s.

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 Young Master is certainly going the right way.
The Young Master is certainly going the right way.

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.

Bayan sticks his neck out to defy Pine Creek.
Bayan sticks his neck out to defy Pine Creek.

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.

Activial looks the ideal type for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
Activial looks the ideal type for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

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.

Balgarry was given absolutely no chance by the pace he set.
Balgarry was given absolutely no chance by the pace he set.

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.

Sleepy Haven looks to be going the right way.
Sleepy Haven looks to be going the right way.

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.

Un De Sceaux on his way to his first success over fences.
Un De Sceaux on his way to his first success over fences.

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.

Eyecatchers

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.

Ludlow & Value At Risk Review – 17th December 2014

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.

Chocca Wocca after winning the bumper. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrews.
Chocca Wocca after winning the bumper. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrews.

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.

Eyecatchers

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.

Value At Risk – Need I say more?

International Meeting Weekend Review

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.

Kings Palace making it two from two over fences.
Kings Palace making it two from two over fences.

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.

Starluck and Goohar jump the last together.
Starluck and Goohar jump the last together.

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.

Hargam and Karezak battle it out over the final flight.
Hargam and Karezak battle it out over the final flight.

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.

Peace And Co could not have been more impressive on British debut.
Peace And Co could not have been more impressive on British debut.

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.

Champagne West wasn't the most convincing at his fences on Saturday.
Champagne West wasn’t the most convincing at his fences on Saturday.

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.

Virak is certainly going the right way over fences. 75's for the RSA on Betfair looks generous.
Virak is certainly going the right way over fences. 75’s for the RSA on Betfair looks generous.

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.

Blaklion and Ryan Hatch jump the last on their way to an easy success.
Blaklion and Ryan Hatch jump the last on their way to an easy success.

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 New One with Vaniteux upsides at the last.
The New One with Vaniteux upsides at the last.

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.

King Of The Picts could be a well handicapped horse.
King Of The Picts could be a well handicapped horse.

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.

Rock On Ruby underlining his true class.
Rock On Ruby underlining his true class on ground softer than ideal.

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.

Shaneshill and No More Heroes upsides at the last.
Shaneshill and No More Heroes upsides at the last.

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.

Eyecatchers

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.

Tingle Creek/Becher Chase Weekend Review

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.

Bivouac leads Storm Force Ten and Baron Alco up the Sandown hill.
Bivouac leads Storm Force Ten and Baron Alco up the Sandown hill.

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.

Vyta Du Roc and Tara Point take the last flight in the Winter Novice Hurdle.
Vyta Du Roc and Tara Point take the last flight in the Winter Novice Hurdle.

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.

Saphir Du Rheu won easily on his second chase start.
Saphir Du Rheu won easily on his second chase start.

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.

Vibrato Valtat on his way to winning the Henry VIII Novices Chase.
Vibrato Valtat on his way to winning the Henry VIII Novices Chase.

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.

Dodging Bullets puts it altogether to take the Tingle Creek.
Dodging Bullets puts it all together to take the Tingle Creek.

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.

Oscar Time holds off Mendip Express to take a famous win in the Becher Chase.
Oscar Time holds off Mendip Express to take a famous win in the Becher Chase.

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 and Sam Waley-Cohen return to the winners' enclosure after the Becher Chase. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.
Oscar Time and Sam Waley-Cohen return to the winners’ enclosure after the Becher Chase. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.

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.

Mendip Express clearing the last fence under Will Biddick. Photo courtesy of Innerlight Racing.
Mendip Express clearing the last fence under Will Biddick. Photo courtesy of Innerlight Racing.

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.

Kruzhlinin stayed on resolutely up the run in. The Grand National looks the ideal target once again.
Kruzhlinin stayed on resolutely up the run in. The Grand National looks the ideal target once again.

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.

Sam Winner and Nick Scholfield return after the Listed Chase. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.
Sam Winner and Nick Scholfield return after the Listed Chase. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.

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.

Jumping was the name of the day as Wishfull Thinking rolled back the years again to win the Peterborough Chase.
Jumping was the name of the day as Wishfull Thinking rolled back the years again to win the Peterborough Chase.

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.

RIP Balbriggan. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.
RIP Balbriggan. Photo courtesy of Jackie Kingdom.

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.

RIP Oscar Whisky.
RIP Oscar Whisky.

2014 Hennessy Gold Cup Preview

One of the highlights of the National Hunt season takes place on Saturday with the 58th running of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. The race has one of the richest reputations within the sport, horses such as Mandarin, Mill House, Arkle, Burrough Hill Lad, One Man, Suny Bay and Denman all have their name on the winners’ trophy.

Before the analysis, we did our usual video preview in which we covered the Hennessy Gold Cup in depth.

The main talking point surrounding this year’s renewal is the Willie Mullins trained Djakadam and his price which is currently as short as 4/1 is far too short. Whilst I like the horse, throwing a five year old straight into one of the most competitive handicap chases in the sport could potentially ruin him.

Djakadam's price is plenty short enough for a horse with his inexperience.
Djakadam’s price is plenty short enough for a horse with his inexperience.

His chase debut at Leopardstown had some scrappy jumping but his ability saw him home. He returned in January in a Grade Two where he jumped much better when beating Bright New Dawn before being thrown in at the deep end in the JLT at the Festival, where he was travelling well when landing too steeply and unseating Paul Townend at the fourth last. If he is a Gold Cup horse then he should be winning this and whilst it’s understandable why connections have targeted the race, as the likelihood is he will never run off his mark of 142 again, his inexperience is a huge worry. The other big worries, although he has shaped like a stayer, stepping up from two and a half miles to three and a quarter miles looks substantial at this stage in his career and for an inexperienced horse, he could easily pull his chances away due to freshness.

SMAD PLACE comes into this with a huge chance for in form trainer Alan King who saddled a treble today at Newbury. He should be three out of four over fences but a misjudgement at the last on chasing debut at Huntingdon meant Robert Thornton departed unceremoniously. A win next time out at Exeter restored the confidence before going on to win at Newbury in desperate ground where he beat Sam Winner getting three pounds.

Smad Place has an ideal profile for the race and should go close.
Smad Place has an ideal profile for the race and should go close.

His final start as a novice came in the RSA Chase where he jumped superb and travelled ominously well but just found one that was slightly better on the day in O’Faolains Boy. Both of those pulled six lengths clear of Morning Assembly back in third and it was heart-breaking for connections as he did everything right through the race only to just go down by a neck. The form of the race has already looks pretty strong with the fifth Sam Winner defying top weight at the Open meeting and the sixth Carlingford Lough winning the Grade One novice at Punchestown where he beat Ballycasey.

This has been the plan since March. He goes really well fresh having proven this when winning a handicap hurdle off a big weight at Ascot in January 2012 in impressive style, he has a touch of class which is all important in a race like this and jumps really well. The booking of Denis O’Regan looks a big positive as well as his riding style would really suit the horse.

King’s other runner Midnight Prayer improved plenty last season with his season culminating with a win in the National Hunt Chase. His main early season target is the Welsh National but Tom Bellamy takes a useful five pounds off and he could easily run into a place.

Philip Hobbs has been in tremendous form recently and the apple of his eye Fingal Bay is his sole representative. The last time we saw him jumping fences at Exeter in December 2012, he ran out and crashed through the rail dramatically after looking a particularly awkward ride for Richard Johnson.

Fingal Bay is a fascinating contender. Can he continue the excellent run of Philip Hobbs?
Fingal Bay is a fascinating contender. Can he continue the excellent run of Philip Hobbs?

He returned after a fourteen month absence to carry top weight in a Pertemps Qualifier at Exeter where he beat stablemate If In Doubt before defying the handicapper in the Pertemps Final itself where he just denied Southfield Theatre and Grand National winner Pineau De Re in a driving finish. He then stepped up to Grade One company at Punchestown where he finished fifth behind Jetson who had chased him home in the Pertemps.

One thing of note, the handicapper has reassessed Fingal Bay and given him the same mark over fences that he has achieved over hurdles (mark was previously 143).  With limited chasing experience and the memories of Exeter firmly in the mind, he is overlooked however there is no denying the horse is hugely talented.

Many Clouds has been laid out for this race since the Reynoldstown.
Many Clouds has been laid out for this race since the Reynoldstown.

For some time now, Many Clouds has been considered the ideal candidate for the Hennessy. Always looked upon as a horse that could reach the top by connections, this is the season for him to finally fulfil the potential he has shown in his career so far. His chasing career has been up and down with two wins at Carlisle and Wetherby, the latter performance being notable with the other two contenders Indian Castle and Pinerolo both going on to frank the form. He ran a big race in the Reynoldstown Novice Chase at Ascot when second to subsequent RSA winner O’Faolains Boy before taking his chance in the RSA itself. The form figure says he was brought down by the fall of Don Cossack but he had made a shuddering mistake at the same fence.

He was possibly over the top by Aintree but still ran creditably enough considering previous runs at the meeting. He returned at Carlisle in the Colin Parker Memorial where he beat Eduard and Gold Cup fancy Holywell although the latter was entitled to need the run. His profile for the race is definitely interesting and whilst he shapes like a stayer, evidence suggests the trip could be a worry as his best form has come at two and a half miles. Whilst he will travel through the race strongly, he could be vulnerable to stronger stayers.

Last year’s first and second return again in Triolo D’Alene and Rocky Creek. The former carries joint top weight and is ten pounds higher now in the handicap. On both his starts after in the Gold Cup and the Grand National, he ran as though his breathing was a big issue. He has had a breathing operation over the summer however needs much better ground to be seen at his best.

Triolo D'Alene and Rocky Creek fighting out last year's finish.
Triolo D’Alene and Rocky Creek fighting out last year’s finish.

Rocky Creek can definitely reverse form with Triolo D’Alene after a stop start campaign with various issues from minor colic to ringworm which forced him out of the Gold Cup. He ran a fantastic race in the Grand National where he jumped and travelled brilliantly for Noel Fehily before getting tired between the last two fences. Also noteworthy is that he was the only horse carrying above eleven stone in the first ten which makes his effort all the more creditable, especially with his problems. The run in the JNWine Champion Chase behind Roads To Riches will have blown the cobwebs away and if being able to finish off his races better after a breathing operation, he is a serious contender.

Paul Nicholls other runner Unioniste has the huge positive of Noel Fehily booked to ride. After showing promise on his return last season in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and at Aintree when winning a Listed contest, he failed to progress after running too free in the Lexus Chase when beaten by Bobs Worth and could be considered a disappointment when third in the Great Yorkshire Chase at Doncaster behind The Rainbow Hunter when looking a handicap snip. He also ended his season with a lamentable effort behind Duke Of Lucca at Aintree on Grand National day. Whilst he looks a strong stayer, he probably needs the outing and will come on for the run considerably.

The Druids Nephew has been a revitalised horse since joining Neil Mulholland in the summer after leading Andy Turnell. He won effortlessly at Huntingdon on his return to action before being given a questionable ride at Cheltenham when second to Sam Winner. Beforehand, connections were concerned about whether he’d see out the trip but he saw it out thoroughly and with a more forceful ride, he could have won. The worry here is whether the hard race two weeks ago has taken plenty out of him.

What A Warrior has improved plenty for a switch to Dan Skelton.
What A Warrior has improved plenty for a switch to Dan Skelton.

Another horse to be rekindled by a change in stable is What A Warrior. Having moved from Nigel Twiston Davies to the emerging talent that is Dan Skelton, he has improved twenty pounds with a win at Ludlow followed by an excellent all the way success at Ascot where he fended off Black Thunder. The softer ground here is a concern but he is well worth a go here and is one of the likely front runners.

Merry King is one that stays longer than the mother in law and on the whole, he was hugely consistent in staying handicap chases last season. He was fifth in this race a year ago before finishing sixth in the Welsh National. A third in the Peter Marsh at Haydock behind Wychwoods Brook followed before an effort worth forgiving in the Grand National Trial back at the same track where he was badly hampered and wasn’t able to get back into a crucial rhythm. The season ended with a fourth in the Scottish National.

His return to action this season started nicely enough when third behind What A Warrior in the United House Gold Cup at Ascot. He has the assistance of AP McCoy in the saddle but he can be a tricky customer as he likes to run in snatches and drop himself out before running on again. He would have place claims at best if putting his best foot forward.

Annacotty could struggle if taken on for the lead.
Annacotty could struggle if taken on for the lead.

Annacotty was a Grade One winner of the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day last season when fitted with blinkers for the first time when allowed to dictate matters at his own pace. His run at Cheltenham on Trials Day was a brave effort off top weight in a novice handicap chase behind Indian Castle. He then disappointed in the RSA when taken on for the lead by Corrin Wood and jumped with a lack of fluency. Throughout the contest, he kept leaving his back legs in fences and didn’t look happy from an early stage. His comeback run at Kempton was promising enough behind Fox Appeal and Theatre Guide but he had a tendency to wander about before his fences suggesting the reapplication of the blinkers will help.

The big worry with him is whether he can get his own way out in front but with What A Warrior another confirmed front runner, he could easily get flustered like he did on several occasions last season, most notably at Ascot where he made several mistakes on the way round. Whilst he won a Grade One last season, the Feltham and the Hennessy Gold Cup are two completely different races and with a bigger emphasis on jumping here, it’s likely he will struggle.

Ballynagour has a big question mark about him seeing out the trip.
Ballynagour has a big question mark about him seeing out the trip.

Ballynagour is more renowned for having form at shorter distances and for having his issues in the past. His last three starts though have seen him put together three consistent efforts including when absolutely laughing at a competitive handicap field in the Byrne Group Plate before two solid efforts when third twice in Grade One company behind Boston Bob at Aintree and Sizing Europe at Punchestown. The big question here is whether he will see out the trip and on the current ground, it doesn’t look likely.

Wychwoods Brook was an unfancied winner of the Peter Marsh before returning to Haydock in the Grand National Trial where he was out on his feet when falling three out. He had a nice pipe opener over hurdles at Worcester but he doesn’t strike as the type who would appreciate a race like this.

Monbeg Dude's jumping has improved considerably and has a good each way chance.
Monbeg Dude’s jumping has improved considerably and has a good each way chance.

Monbeg Dude is a consistent staying handicap chaser who showed himself to be in excellent heart when second to Victors Serenade on his return at Chepstow over three miles. That distance is probably sharp enough for him and the softer ground here poses no concerns for this former Welsh National winner. Whilst he can be ridden patiently, it could pay for him to be ridden a bit handier than normal as rarely, winners of the Hennessy come from the back of the field. If he is ridden this way he definitely has a big chance of making the frame as his jumping has improved plenty.

Vino Griego and Via Sundown both represent Gary Moore. The former has looked a proper stayer and this big field test should suit him well after an eyecatching reappearance in the United House Gold Cup whilst the latter won a novice hurdle on desperate ground at Exeter recently but may find this a bit too hot to handle so soon in his career.

Houblon Des Obeaux looks a big price for a horse that goes well fresh.
Houblon Des Obeaux looks a big price for a horse that goes well fresh.

Le Reve has a reputation for being a scrappy jumper but put it all together when winning easily on his first start this season at Sandown but this represents another big step up. The joint top weight HOUBLON DES OBEAUXS looks overpriced on the pick of his form. He goes extremely well fresh, having proved this when running away with the United House Gold Cup last year. He was sixth in this a year ago when held up off the pace before winning the Silver Cup back at Ascot. The concern is that he is a better horse right handed however he does have useful form going left handed including when a close second to Rocky Creek at Warwick in a novice chase. He ran well enough in Grade One company last season and whilst carrying top weight here, he did the same in the Silver Cup. At 33/1, he looks overpriced and has a big each way chance.

Conclusion

Whilst Djakadam could be extremely well handicapped off 142, his price has absolutely no value and for his inexperience, you’d be a brave man to be taking 7/2. My idea of the winner is SMAD PLACE who is a second season novice, has a touch of class and jumps really well. The form of Alan King currently is red hot with four winners over the last couple of days and Denis O’Regan will suit the horse perfectly. I believe he is good enough to have a say in the Gold Cup so it would be disappointing if he wasn’t at least in the frame. Of those near the head of the market, Rocky Creek poses the main danger having had a much better preparation whilst Monbeg Dude and HOUBLON DES OBEAUXS at bigger prices could outrun their odds.

  1. Smad Place
  2. Rocky Creek
  3. Houblon Des Obeauxs
  4. Monbeg Dude

Spotlight on the Hennessy Gold Cup – Steve Mullington

The Hennessy Gold Cup takes place this Saturday at Newbury and once again it has attracted a high class field. Last Saturday’s Lancashire Chase winner trainer Paul Nicholls holds a strong hand with Rocky Creek, Black Thunder and Unioniste whilst lady of the moment Venetia Williams saddles Houblon Des Obeaux.

The Hennessy is a Grade 3 Handicap Chase run over a distance of 3m 2½ furlongs. In the past ten years two winners have won this race on route to then winning the Cheltenham Gold cup namely Denman and Bob’s Worth.

Trainer trends (past ten years)

Nicky Henderson (3-3-12) trained the winner in 2005, 2012 & 2013.

Paul Nicholls (2-7-24) trained Denman to win in 2007 and 2009 and has won the race three times in all.

David Pipe (1-3-10) has had the winner once in the past ten years.

Philip Hobbs (0-3-10) has never won it in the past ten years. His last winner in this race was back in 2001.

Age Trends (win-place-runners)

5-y-o: 0-0-2

6-y-o: 3-9-27

7-y-o: 5-8-59

8-y-o: 1-2-24

9-y-o: 1-5-42

10-y-o: 0-3-16

11-y-o+ 0-1-7

As you can see a combination of all the 6 & 7 year old winners over the past ten years has yielded eight race winners in all, more than any other age group.

Diamond Edge in 1981 is the only horse aged over nine to win in the last forty years.

Over 8’s haven’t fared that well either over the past ten years with only Denman bucking that trend when he won the race for a second time.

Price Trends

Eight of the last ten winners were sent off 10/1 or shorter.

The winner has come the first four in the betting seven times out of the last ten renewals.

Other Race Trends

Highest placed RSA finisher to run in this event: 161P22P18 (3-2-9)

UK Jump Jockey & Trainer Partnership Trends (past 14 days)

R.Johnson/PJ Hobbs 10-26 (38.5%), S.Twiston-Davies/P.F Nicholls 10-32 (31.3%), T.Scudamore/D.Pipe 5-25 (20%), A.Coleman/V.Williams 5-26 (19.2%), B.J Geraghty/N.J Henderson 3-14 (21.4%)

Previous Winners

(Graphic Courtesy of www.ratz4racing.co.uk)
(Graphic Courtesy of http://www.ratz4racing.co.uk)

(Graphic courtesy of http://www.ratz4racing.co.uk)

Summary

Given their impeccable record in this race in recent times it is very difficult to get away from backing a Nicholls or Henderson trained horse. Six and seven year olds look to be the order of the day and my own personal selection is the seven year old Smad Place (e/w). Although Alan King’s name is not particularly synonymous with this race his grey gelding ticks plenty of the trends boxes for me.

Spotlight on the Betfair Chase – Steve Mullington

OnTheOtherHoof would like to welcome guest blogger Steve Mullington who gives us an insight into the statistics and trends for Saturday’s Betfair Chase. You can see his usual blog stuff at http://mully1.wordpress.com/.

Saturday the 22nd November will see the tenth running of the Betfair Chase (registered as the Lancashire Chase) at Haydock Park so let’s take a look at some of the big race trends and the trainers and jockeys to follow on the day. The race itself is a Grade 1 Chase run over 3 miles and has been won by Kauto Star four times and also by another Gold Cup winner, Imperial Commander. Silviniaco Conti & Cue Card have won the last two renewals and are both entered again this year.

Trainer Trends

Paul Nicholls (5-1-10) saddled Kauto Star to win it four times and also trained Silviniaco Conti to win it in 2012 and finish third in 2013.

Nigel Twiston-Davies (1-1-6) saddled Imperial Commander to finish first and second in the race.

Colin Tizzard (1-0-2) won the race last year with Cue Card.

David Pipe (0-2-3) has trained the runner-up in 2008 & 2012 and third in 2009.

Nicky Henderson (0-2-2) saddled Long Run to finish second in 2011 & 2012.

Age Trends (win-place-runners)
6-y-o: 2-1-3
7-y-o: 2-4-15
8-y-o: 1-2-19
9-y-o: 2-2-14
10-y-o: 1-1-4
11-y-o+: 1-0-4

Horses aged six have gained two wins and a second from just three attempts and all three were French bred.

Price Trends

Eight of the last nine winners were priced 9/1 or shorter and the favourite has won the race four times in all.

Other Race Trends

Six of the nine winners ran in the previous season’s King George race and four of the nine winners have run in a Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Three of the last nine winners ran in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby last time.

Haydock Jockey Trends (last five seasons)

Jason Maguire 26-105, 25%, -£14.40, A.P McCoy 10-23, 19%, -£23.80, T. O’Brien 9-46, 20%, +£5.58,
W.Hutchinson 7-36, 19%, -£9.88, B.Hughes 6-68, 9%, -£9.27

Haydock Trainer Trends (last five seasons)

Donald McCain 33-143, 23%, -£2.08, Venetia Williams 10-76, 13%, -£14.18, David Pipe 10-58, 17%, +£10.71, Nicky Henderson 10-55, 18%, -£6.98, Paul Nicholls 10-53, 19%, -£5.43

Previous Winners

(Graphic courtesy of www.ratz4racing.co.uk)
(Graphic courtesy of http://www.ratz4racing.co.uk)

Summary

This race demands a high level of pre-race form to be a contender and in all probability the winner is likely to come from the first three in the betting. Cue Card, Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti currently head the market and will all have their supporters for obvious reasons. Menorah the recent Charlie Hall Chase winner from the all-conquering Hobbs/Johnson/Whateley team is an interesting prospect should he line up and could be an interesting outsider.

2014 Cheltenham Open Meeting Review

After one of the best weekends I have had for a very long time, National Hunt is officially back and proper with the Open Meeting throwing up some fantastic racing full of real quality plus racing over the Irish Sea testing the emotions of even the hardiest of fans.

Before I get into the analysis of Cheltenham, it would be wrong to not start with a mention of the immensely sad news that broke yesterday morning that Dessie Hughes had died aged 71. Whilst it was known that he had been ill for some time, the news was still a huge shock to everyone involved in racing.

The minute’s silence observed at Cheltenham was first class and the piece shown on the big screen with Alastair Down bringing a lump to the throat. Seeing those old Cheltenham winners he had including as a jockey with Davy Lad and Monksfield plus as a trainer with dual Champion Hurdle winner Hardy Eustace. His story giving the reminder that we cannot take everything in this sport for granted with Keiran Kelly, the first jockey to ride him to success at the Festival in the Royal & Sunalliance Hurdle, tragically killed in a fall at Kilbeggan in August 2003.

Earlier on in the day when Racemaking, an Irish gentleman called Eamonn was chatting with a couple of us when we broke the news to him that Dessie had passed on. His face just dropped. The emotion was plain to see. He left us with words that summed up the man. “One of the true gentlemen of the sport.” That sentiment was echoed around social media with a huge outpouring of those paying their respects to a fine trainer. His last winner was The Tullow Tank, a horse destined to be something very special and it would be hugely fitting if he were to win the Drinmore at Fairyhouse in a couple of weeks’ time.

With the amount of racing on over the last couple of days, I have only selected particular races to talk about, one of those placed at the end of the blog turning into a rant about something that has irritated me for quite some time.

Champagne West won stylishly on chasing debut. Bigger targets now await.
Champagne West won stylishly on chasing debut. Bigger targets now await.

Although the two and a half mile novice chase turned somewhat into a farce with the low sun causing six fences to be omitted, it was a pleasing enough display from Champagne West who jumped economically to see off the enigma that is Colour Squadron who travelled into the race strongly but again he hung going up the hill. Considering three miles would seem to be the winner’s ideal distance, he showed enough pace here and for the time being, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stay at two and a half miles. On this evidence, he will definitely have a say in one of the big novice chases at the Festival. Urban Hymn looked to lack a gear change at a crucial time and wouldn’t have been helped by the omitted fences. He will ideally be suited over further whilst Splash Of Ginge and Dell’ Arca would look to want better ground over fences.

Blaklion leads Port Melon and Parlour Games over the last.
Blaklion leads Port Melon and Parlour Games over the last.

Parlour Games caused a surprise in the Grade Two Hyde Novices Hurdle for Barry Geraghty and John Ferguson when claiming the scalp of Blaklion. This ex-flat performer for Godolphin was a former winner of the Melrose at York and saw out the distance nicely whilst handling the softer conditions well. Blaklion attempted to make all the running at his own pace and inevitably was done for a turn of foot by the winner but his likeable attitude continues to impress and will be winning a good deal more over the winter months.

Port Melon ran a promising race just like last year where he travelled well for most of the race. He will hopefully go chasing sooner rather than later and should excel over the larger obstacles. Champagne Present looks a horse for the long term and in better company travelled well before a mistake two out knocked his equilibrium. The ground was probably on the softer side for him as well and is one firmly to keep on the right side of.

Balthazar King showing his courage and determination by winning for the eighth time at Prestbury Park.
Balthazar King showing his courage and determination by winning for the eighth time at Prestbury Park.

The cross country has been Balthazar King’s race at Cheltenham and yet again he proved himself to be too good for the opposition, despite hating the ground and taking a couple of chances on the way round. His exuberance is an absolute joy to watch but it can leave you with your heart in mouth at times. Straight after the race, Philip Hobbs was quick to note that the defence of Festival crown was unlikely and he would prefer to head to the Grand National a fresh horse. Two reasons would put me off backing him for the race.

Although he does go well fresh, this would be a big worry. Especially when you look at one key trend that had stood up in recent years. Winners of the Grand National have had a run somewhere within 50 days of the race and whilst some horses have ran well having not run in that timeframe including Mely Moss in 2000 and Alvarado in this year’s renewal, it underlines that you need a horse that has ideally had a run somewhere. Secondly, it would take a herculean effort for him to win off his handicap mark of 159 as he would be near the head of the weights.

Uncle Junior ran an excellent race again at the veteran age of 13 to chase home Balthazar King but on recent past evidence, he seems happier in the conditions events as opposed to the handicaps where he carries plenty of weight. Sire Collonges ran a much better race than on his return at the Showcase meeting with the first time headgear rekindling the old enthusiasm. He could either go for the Becher Chase or return for the handicap he won a year ago whilst Any Currency will return after another good effort in fourth.

Morito Du Berlais is going in the right direction and will improve further as the season progresses.
Morito Du Berlais is going in the right direction and will improve further as the season progresses.

The concluding intermediate handicap hurdle on Friday ran in memory of Michael Scudamore has been won by some nice types in the past including the likes of Punchestowns and Grand Crus. Morito Du Berlais has been a revelation since his wind operation over the summer and continued his progression beating Knight Of Noir and Cup Final. The winner holds an entry on Saturday at Haydock and it will be interesting to see his new mark which comes out tomorrow. The runner up Knight Of Noir travelled really well for Tom Scudamore and just couldn’t quite get past the winner on the run in. He looks exciting for big handicap hurdles and a step up to three miles will suit whilst Cup Final ran a nice race on his return considering he probably wanted better ground plus made a bad mistake going down the far side.

Kings Palace impressed with his jumping as the race progressed.
Kings Palace impressed with his jumping as the race progressed.

Saturday’s staying novice chase on paper looked a mouth-watering contest where you could make a case for all five runners. In the end, it was the debutant Kings Palace who got off the mark at the first time of asking seeing off Sausalito Sunrise. Receiving five pounds from the whole field and tongue tied for the first time, he reached for some of his fences early on but on the whole he jumped extremely well and more importantly, he settled far better than he did over hurdles.

Soon after the race, the quotes from bookmakers came rolling out for the RSA Chase with some firms having him as short as 8/1, which at this moment in time, looks plenty short enough. David Pipe said afterwards that they were working backwards from the race but there’s still plenty to pass under the bridge before we even reach the Festival.

Sausalito Sunrise emerged with plenty of credit and looks a thorough stayer with a bit of quality about him. The mistake he made two out didn’t help but he stayed on resolutely up the hill and remains an exciting prospect for the Hobbs team. Drop Out Joe was outpaced at the top of the hill before staying on into a distant third. He is a really good jumper of a fence and ideally, the National Hunt Chase is where we would be likely to see him come March whilst Knock House would probably appreciate better ground after attempting to go with the front two before fading.

It was hard work for Sam Twiston-Davies but he never gave up on Sam Winner.
It was hard work for Sam Twiston-Davies but he never gave up on Sam Winner.

The Murphy Group Handicap Chase looked a competitive race on paper however perseverance was the main attribute needed and Sam Twiston-Davies had that by the bucket load on the top weight Sam Winner. As early as the fifth fence, Twiston-Davies was niggling at him to keep interested as he wasn’t travelling that well and wasn’t taking a cut at his fences but he never gave up and amazingly came on the bridle running down to the third last before showing bags of stamina to see off The Druids Nephew. Whilst his jumping early on was sticky, he is normally a very sound jumper which he showed late on in the race apart from the final fence and the obvious long term target is the Crabbie’s Grand National at Aintree but he may not be suited by a big field and with his idleness, that could be a concern for him.

The Druids Nephew ran a solid race in defeat and travelled really well on the ground which was a concern beforehand and saw out the trip really well for a doubtful stayer off a career high mark. There looks to be improvement yet to come and back on a sounder surface, a staying handicap chase is well within his region. Saint Are ran a fantastic race for new connections and looked the force of old as he travelled with plenty of zest. He is one that ideally wants good ground to be seen at his best and long term; a race like the Scottish National looks tailor made for him.

Cape Tribulation is still well handicapped on his best form.
Cape Tribulation is still well handicapped on his best form.

Of the rest, recent Market Rasen winner Master Neo ran well from the front and from five pounds out of the handicap. A drop back to three miles wouldn’t do any harm whilst Cape Tribulation was given a strange ride as he travelled well at the rear of the field but never seemed to be put in the race by Brian Hughes. He still looks very well treated on his old form and a race like the Welsh National on similar ground would be an interesting target for this former Argento winner.

The Paddy Power Gold Cup was the centrepiece of the meeting and Paul Nicholls won it for the second time with Caid Du Berlais who was nearly taken out on account of the ground getting up to deny the brave John’s Spirit on the line under a power packed Sam Twiston-Davies, showing why Nicholls made his decision to make him stable jockey. On only his fourth chase start, he jumped nicely and there looks be further improvement to come as a handicap chaser with the race in December probably the next ideal target. From there, we shall find out whether he’s up to Grade One standard or a very good handicap chaser.

Caid Du Berlais gets up on the line to deny John's Spirit a famous double in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Caid Du Berlais gets up on the line to deny John’s Spirit a famous double in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Both John’s Spirit and Oscar Whisky deserve a mention together as they both ran cracking races off joint top weight. Given yet another brilliant ride by Richie McLernon, the waiting tactics on John’s Spirit worked just as well as a year ago and the softer conditions didn’t affect him. This performance suggests he is capable of winning Graded races at this distance with the Ryanair looking the likely target. Oscar Whisky was well backed just before the race and was hampered three out before staying on up the hill. Although he ran extremely well here, he could be difficult to place with the firepower in Henderson’s yard.

Present View jumped superbly and travelled like the winner for the majority of the contest before fading back into third on ground that was described as being on the soft side for him. His trainer Jamie Snowden suggested in his blog that the Topham Trophy in the spring could be the ideal race for him and with the way he went on Saturday, he could be a lethal force over those fences.

If Buywise could put in a clear round without jumping blemishes then there is no doubt that he will win a big prize. He didn’t make an error to the degree of the one made two out at the Festival behind Present View but some sticky jumps cost him again. He could easily turn out in the Hennessy and the longer distance should suit him well.

Champion Court shaped well for a long way before not getting up the hill again. After suggesting that he was out of love with the game last time, a spell hunting and cheekpieces brought back the old enthusiasm. He would appreciate better ground, as would Edgardo Sol who will probably go down in the weights and could be dangerous in the spring.

Golden Doyen showed a really good attitude to beat Hargam.
Golden Doyen showed a really good attitude to beat Hargam.

Golden Doyen showed a really likeable attitude to get back up to beat the former Aga Khan representative Hargam. The winner was yet another one for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson and comments about the Triumph Hurdle afterwards seem realistic with him although it is a dangerous time to consider backing a horse for the race with the big stables having contenders that may not even be seen until after Christmas. Hargam ran a really nice race for a horse that would appreciate much better ground and jumped nicely as well.

The mares’ bumper was won impressively by Bitofapuzzle under a lovely front running ride by Noel Fehily for Harry Fry. She now goes novice hurdling and will be an exciting addition to Fry’s novices. The other horse of note from this bumper was the Gordon Elliott trained Dancing Meadows who was jumping over the undulations going down the far side and came down the hill awkwardly before making ground up late on. Back on a more conventional track, she is worth another chance in a bumper.

Garde Le Victoire fends off Vantieux to give Philip Hobbs his fourth Greatwood Hurdle success.
Garde Le Victoire fends off Vantieux to give Philip Hobbs his fourth Greatwood Hurdle success.

Sunday’s Greatwood Hurdle went the way of Garde Le Victoire who was given a brilliant front running ride by Richard Johnson who took the initiative on ground feared too soft for him to beat the well backed Vaniteux who put up a great effort under top weight. Both ran in the Supreme back in March and gave that race yet another boost. The winner did very well considering the huge worry about the ground and has plenty of options including novice chasing however after yesterday’s success, staying over hurdles is probably going to be the plan.

The runner up Vaniteux also had a slight concern about the ground having disappointed at Kempton in December but handled it perfectly fine. The cause for concern was the fact that Barry Geraghty, normally the first jockey to go round the outside in search for the best ground decided to go round the inside which looked a strange decision, especially as he raced alone going to the final flight. On better ground, he still remains a very exciting horse and if he comes out of this well, the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle could be the race to go for however that could potentially come too quick for him.

In behind, Clondaw Warrior has ran well but getting plenty of weight from the front two and although he looks to not need much improvement to win a big handicap, I feel there are other handicappers in his yard that could be better treated for the bigger races later in the campaign. Both Blue Heron and Pine Creek have ran solid races, the latter returning from a lengthy absence and off his mark has a big handicap prize in him.

Further back in the pack, Katgary again deserves a mention on this blog as he was niggled going down the hill before coming back on the bridle however when the leaders kicked he couldn’t go with them. The ground wouldn’t have been in his favour and he is crying out for a step up in trip. When that happens he will be a very interesting proposition.

Uxizandre was faultless in the jumping department for Barry Geraghty.
Uxizandre was faultless in the jumping department for Barry Geraghty.

On the rest of the card, Uxizandre jumped really well with the cheekpieces back on in the Schloer Chase and looks set to head to Ireland over Christmas whilst the runner up Simply Ned will prefer better ground but proved he is worthy of Graded chase prizes.

Vyta Du Roc was given a lovely patient ride by Barry Geraghty who allowed for time to fill the horse up before challenging Emerging Talent who has ran really well considering his jumping was scratchy at times. Long term, Emerging Talent would be the one to keep on the right side of, especially when he goes chasing. In the same race, Commissioned hated the ground and will be a much better horse on good ground in the spring.

The final race on the card went to Definitly Red who defied a penalty to win nicely for Steve Gollings and man of the meeting Richard Johnson who steered him to his seventh success over the three day period. He is yet another addition to Gollings’ list of novice hurdlers. Before I cover the last part in the blog, I shall put the eyecatchers part here as it fits in before the rant underneath.

Eyecatchers

Port Melon – Already in the horses to follow piece, he should hopefully now go novice chasing where he could be a key player in the top ranks.

Morito Du Berlais – Has gone the right way since his wind operation and will still be dangerous after being reassessed.

Drop Out Joe – One who will appreciate a stamina test in time, NH Chase a suitable aim.

Saint Are – On good ground, he is well capable of another big handicap win.

Cape Tribulation – Given a quiet ride and still leniently handicapped on best form.

Present View – Two words. Topham Trophy.

Dancing Meadows – Can definitely win a bumper on a more conventional track.

Katgary – Step up in distance will help.

The last race that will be covered is the two mile novice chase which was won tenaciously by Dunraven Storm, again for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson. However, the main talking point about the race was the ride given to Vibrato Valtat by Sam Twiston-Davies, which caused split opinions on social media. Before the race, a tweet from someone very familiar to the site got some of the reaction spot on.

Normally when reviewing racing, I would tend to shy away from issues like this however this is one rare exception to that as it deserves addressing. Those who know Vibrato Valtat know very well that he is one of the trickiest horses in training to ride in a race. Especially as he does nothing once he hits the front and needs to be ridden with the most exaggerated confidence to get him in front right on the line, having thrown away races including the Swinton at Haydock plus the conditional jockeys handicap hurdle at the Showcase meeting. Those that do know realise he will always be a risky betting proposition.

You can argue that he gave the leaders too much leeway, however with the horse as difficult as he is, he couldn’t just give him a kick in the belly and go with Dunraven Storm, the only option is to sit still for as long as you can. When he went for his effort, the horse picked up as he had something to chase but on past evidence, had he been closer and passed Dunraven Storm, the likely fact is he would have stopped allowing that rival to power back past.

Immediately post-race, the amount of ‘Tipster’ accounts & pocket talkers were all in uproar about how a terrible ride it was and how on earth is Twiston-Davies stable jockey for Paul Nicholls. To answer the latter point, go watch his rides on Sam Winner and Caid Du Berlais from Saturday. The slight skeptic in myself wondering if it was the wrong decision to have Sam as stable jockey, believing it to be a couple of years too early, was proven to be way off the mark.

On the former point, I found it disturbing at the fact some of these ‘Tipster’ pages suggest a lack of knowledge about the sport they are meant to be ‘experts’ on with giving out ‘tips’. People trying to get into our sport may see these ‘Tipster’ pages as a way of gaining interest, with some of them amassing a huge following, and would trust their judgement as they appear to be ‘experts’ on the subject matter. Unfortunately with some of their outlooks upon the sport, new potential fans would gain a negative appearance from the outset.

The sad part about all of this is Twiston-Davies gets this on a regular basis. Mainly from pocket talkers who wish to vent their anger for the sake of doing so. Don’t get me wrong either, there have been times in the past where I have questioned or voiced an opinion about a poor ride but there’s criticism and there’s unacceptable abuse. Sadly, the latter seems to pop up more prominently and as seen below, the modern era with social media can be a very disheartening place, especially for sporting stars. It shouldn’t have to be like this for someone as promising as Twiston-Davies and his fellow riders to have to continually prove themselves to ‘critics’.

To end the blog on two happier notes, I spent Saturday and Sunday at Cheltenham in the company of the RaceMakers, organised by the enthusiastic John Hanley who has worked his socks off to make sure the initiative set up last year was a huge success with both racecourses and the public. This year, it has picked up substantially with the time and effort gone into it second to none. In two weeks’ time, Newbury’s Hennessy meeting plays host to the RaceMakers for all three days and I shall be there on Hennessy day, sharing my love and passion for the sport.

It was fantastic to meet a variety of racegoers, young and old who all shared the same passion. Being situated by the Best Mate statue which had no plaque due to the renovation work and answering the most common question asked “Which horse is this?”, seeing people’s faces light up at the mention of the horse makes you realise how much the sport means to people.

The other happy note links with how much the sport means to people. After the two mile novice chase, the reaction from the crowd when Duke Of Navan rose to his feet was heart-warming to say the least and to see his lass in tears on the Channel Four coverage speaks volumes to how much people genuinely care about the welfare and safety of those taking part in the sport we love. At around the same moment, Hurricane Fly was roared home by the stands to win his twentieth Grade One, a mammoth achievement by a true jumping great. Moments like that are just priceless.

Easy, Lazy and Regurgitated Journalism: A Reply to Oliver Millman

1 – HORSE RACING KILLS

2 – THEY FORCE THE HORSES TO RUN

3 – HORSES GET MISTREATED IN HORSE RACING

I must profess I didn’t regard the Guardian as a tabloid newspaper, but their choice of article following this year’s Melbourne Cup certainly puts them in the same league as papers like the Daily Mail, who willingly publish their twelve-page Grand National pull-out on the Saturday to popularly declare horse racing as the spawn of Satan on the Sunday.

Is it this that makes the racing community so ashamed of their sport? You may argue that, as a loyal, racing enthusiast you don’t feel you’re ashamed. Then why do you feel the need to rationalise popular tabloid news when approached by non-racing fans? Explain that racing isn’t ‘crooked’, a large percentage of horses are not running on drugs and that we don’t cheer when horses die. We don’t have our own journalists to thank unfortunately, as the following image attests. I think I’m still yet to see a news broadcast from the following company that lasts more than five seconds painting horse racing in a positive light. “PineauDeReWinsNationalNoDeaths…Yet”.

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 22.17.30
BBC Horse Racing Homepage, 11/08/2014

The problem at hand, highlighted by Mr Millman (no relation James, I’m sure) is when journalists from outside our sphere decide to step their toe in what they really don’t fully understand. Now perhaps I’m undermining a well-respected journalist who does know all the facts, but the respect surely wains when he fails to produce them.

Let’s take into account the first and surely most popular headline: HORSE RACING KILLS. This is one point no enlightened person can disagree on; it ultimately does. However, so does cheerleading, gymnastics, skiing, lacrosse, hockey, obesity, lightning, hippos, aeroplanes, falling out of bed, jellyfish, dogs and roller coasters. There is a risk to everything and anything you do in your entire life. Typing now, a bizarre electric current could perhaps shock me through my keypad or a plane could crash land through my window. I run that risk, every day and so do you. Minimising that risk is instead what we do and those enlightened members of the horse racing discipline know full well that those risk assessments have been, perhaps overexamined due to external public pressure. Whip rules, changing of the Grand National fences, jockey training, drug tests and rehabilitation centres have been introduced even through my lifetime to ensure all participants help prevent accidents and get the best care they deserve. Why doesn’t the public know that? Surely it’s extremely important to educate the non-racing public about these safety regulations we’ve put in place? It’s very easy and lazy for journalists such as Mr Millman to tug and the heartstrings of the wider public but they’re just not getting the clear picture.

I could go further, many people ask me, “but why do they have to put the horses to sleep, he only broke a leg”. Once again, the lack of education means the general public thinks vets are enjoying an excuse to kill a horse, rather than doing what it ultimately right for the horse. In the wild, an injured horse would just have been left, abandoned by its herd. Trying to heal broken bones leads to further complications with horses, as many racing fans could remember in the case of St Nicholas Abbey last year. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, the money, effort and love ploughed into that horse remained an unwritten about topic in the general press.

HORSES ARE FORCED TO RACE. Of course, because running fast is against a horses nature. The phrase is farcical to the bitter end. Try stopping a shark from swimming, a frog from croaking or a koala from doing just whatever a koala actually does. It is as natural as a horse to competitively race as it is for you or I to want to take a drink of water. I still seethe when I hear people, who have never sat on a horse in their lifetime, enlighten the ears with what an equine actually desires. Of course, dear fellow, like yourself, horses want to sit in a penned field until they grow old getting more and more bored by their monotonous days. Unfortunately, as man so helpfully decided wild horses should no longer be exactly that, wild, they are destined to do just that. I’ve ridden since I was six, and every single time I ride to the end of a cold, grey, hard track and enter a field, my equine companion lights up. If I’m not alone, suddenly, there’s a race on, without the rider’s encouragement, coercion or violence. It’s horses human nature. They want to race. Lough Derg. Borderlescott. The Tatling. The latter two have even refused to retire. They want to run. Let them.

HORSE RACING MISTREATS HORSES. In my life I’ve never seen anything cared for as closely and lovingly as a racehorse. Care homes and hospitals should really take note. In the heavenly field most rights activists desire for racehorses there’s no such care and the reports of horse mistreatment are those left abandoned in this divine quadrilateral, not in the racing ‘whip-chamber’. You could, if you want, ‘strip away the pomp’ as Millman so kindly puts it; the silks, the owners, the yard. All you will find is the stable hand, who comes back day after day, certainly not for the money, but for the love of the horse. The indolent writer doesn’t fail to deliver a full house for those with Anti-Racing-Article-Bingo cards when relating the sport to the rich and those with little real-world morality. “The crowds will be back next year, with their perchers and their daft hair”, go and collect card holders, go and collect. Once again, one-dimensional.

But in the racing community we really see what goes on in our world. Admire Rakti’s death alongside Araldo’s will be mourned by us all, instead of moving on as quickly and as perverse as Millman paints the picture, we will remember. Instead, it’s the outside world that forgets, the non-racing world. They scream out roar before getting on with their daily lives. In fact the stereotype of race-goers unceremoniously ploughing around intoxicated with a negligent view on the days events is not typically racing fans at all, but those from outside the sport; racing fans can have a purely enjoyable day out without touching the vastly overpriced and often vulgar stench of liquor. Did the newspapers catch sight of the racking emotion of Admire Rakti’s adoring owner?

He wasn’t at the bar looking for his next drink. And do they report the far more common event of a horse surviving a fall? It happens every day, perhaps every race for jump racing. If you really want a reflection of our respect, love and adoration for horses then look no further than Twitter after Irving’s fall on Saturday at Wincanton. When he got back up, the feeling of affection racked through the racing community. As racing fans, we can come together so often, an emotional linkage between fans rarely seen in team sports. There’s just no feeling quite like it. The flood of relief, elation and adoration in one sweep. But newspapers don’t show that. Not that.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 13.35.08

Instead, it’s those that want to ‘protect’ horses that publish images like this. Because those that ‘really love horses’ just want to see images of them dying, because that’s how we’ve always defined love and respect in human nature. Propaganda may tug at the heartstrings, but it doesn’t actually do anything. If you really want to do something, work with us. Make a change. We are.

horseracingkills

Why is this necessary? Because despite Mr Millman’s many failing qualities to put across a balanced informed argument some readers may devour his words as gospel. It’s our duty to educate non-racing fans to the truth. Call it out. Be proud. Because this is what we truly are. No monetary involvement needed.