Two and a half weeks to go now until Cheltenham is upon us and today was essentially the final Saturday to throw up clues towards the Festival as well as several staking their claims towards the Grand National. Kempton’s Betbright Chase meeting was the main attraction with four Graded contests the centre of attention plus an appearance from Sire De Grugy at Chepstow after his dramatic unseat in the Game Spirit at Newbury.
The Adonis Juvenile Hurdle has thrown up Triumph Hurdle winners in the past with the likes of Soldatino in 2010 and Zarkandar in 2011 who both did the double. This year’s renewal didn’t have the strongest feel to it but the performance of Beltor was one of the best from a juvenile this season. He took a keen hold throughout for Tom O’Brien but the manner in which he travelled and then put the race to bed in a matter of strides was hugely impressive with O’Brien just using hands and heels, especially on ground like that.
Bookmakers reacted by cutting him to as short as 12/1 but sustained money throughout the day now sees him as short as 8/1 (11/1 best price). After his Ludlow win which has worked out extremely well, trainer Robert Stephens was keen to dampen talk of the Festival suggesting that Aintree might well be the preferred option. That view may have changed after today but wherever he goes, he’s worth full respect. My gut feeling would be to miss Cheltenham for Aintree as a flat track on better ground would see plenty of improvement, even from today.
All Yours showed less awkward tendencies than he did at Taunton but has simply found one too good for him. He only holds a Fred Winter entry at the Festival and would surely be an interesting runner for Paul Nicholls who also has Bouveril for the race. Bivouac was surprisingly backed into a short price favourite considering soft ground was always going to be a big negative for him and he ran accordingly. When he gets spring ground, you will see a much better horse. With his trainer’s strangehold on the Triumph, it could be that we see him at Aintree where the two and a half mile novice would look to suit him as he would be recieving a fair amount of weight from his opposition.
Others to note include Cape Caster and Primogentiure. The former travelled strongly before being outclassed and whilst he has form on softer ground, he would be interesting on better ground in the spring. He may not get into the Fred Winter but the juvenile handicap on the final day at Sandown could be the race to aim at. The latter was making his debut over hurdles and didn’t look at ease on the ground having done all his racing on good ground in Ireland. It wouldn’t be a shock if he was allowed to take his chance in the Triumph to gain some valuable experience before retaining his novice status for next season.
The Pendil Novice Chase became a match between Irish Saint and Melodic Rendezvous once God’s Own was withdrawn on account of the ground. It was left to the favourite Irish Saint who made all the running to give Paul Nicholls his eighth win in the race out of the last ten runnings.
He was given a no nonsense ride by Sam Twiston-Davies who simply went out in front and exposed Melodic Rendezvous’s jumping frailties, with that rival making a significant error five out which effectively ended his chances. On the whole, the winner jumped economically and apart from guessing at the third last, it was always going to be one result. The JLT would be the winner’s target if he goes to the Festival but connections may be more inclined to wait for Aintree where he could stay at this trip or go up to three miles.
Melodic Rendezvous tried to go with the winner but his jumping suffered as a result. Although he looks to have the size and scope to be a chaser, it just hasn’t worked out for him. Because of him trying to go with Irish Saint, he paid for it late on when being run out of second by Hollow Penny. It’s hard to find a suitable target as he has reached his ceiling over hurdles and doesn’t look to have it in him to make a top class chaser. The runner up will be a different horse on good ground and could be the type that enjoys something like the Summer Plate at Market Rasen.
The Dovecote Novice Hurdle had a small but select field which went the way of Days Of Heaven who was gaining the biggest success of his career to date beating Vago Collonges. The winner has been a tricky character throughout the season with him learning how to race slowly but surely. His behaviour was much better than has been the case and the application of the hood has helped him to switch off more in his races. He also did well to survive a shuddering mistake at the second last which didn’t check his momentum before going on to win a shade cosily. Due to his general buzziness, he was withdrawn from the Supreme, his acid test coming in April at Aintree where he would have to cope with the largest crowd he has encountered. If he overcomes the preliminaries, he should be hard to beat depending on opposition that turns up.
Vago Collonges is a strong traveller but just like Trials Day, he failed to finish off his race. The suggestion from Sam Twiston-Davies post-race on that occasion was his breathing may not be helping him and the application of the tongue tie seems to suggest this. When he returns after the summer for novice chasing, it would be no surprise to see a much improved horse once a breathing operation has taken place. The Grey Taylor ensured a fair gallop but was pushed aside easily. He should improve for a step up in distance and could be interesting in a handicap at either Aintree or Ayr.
The Betbright Chase didn’t look the strongest renewal beforehand but a different opinion has been formed post-race. In a race that was run at a furious gallop by Renard, you needed a thorough stayer and in the end, it was a fine weight carrying performance by Rocky Creek who finally showcased the potential that he has threatened to show in the past. Having had a breathing operation last summer, his comeback run was promising enough behind Road To Riches before he disappointed in the Hennessy. He jumped and travelled beautifully throughout for Sam Twiston-Davies who gave him a confident ride and kept him wide looking for better ground before seeing out his race decisively.
He was cut to 14/1 best price for the Grand National and with Rhyme N Reason and Rough Quest both winning this race before going onto Aintree glory in the same year, Rocky Creek has every chance to do the same. The obvious question would be whether he’d see out the distance but last year he looked to have a winning chance going to the second last before his breathing stopped him. On that basis and having had a much better preparation, he would have a brilliant chance with Twiston-Davies already looking keen to take the ride at Aintree.
Le Reve has continued to improve throughout the season and considering the ground was probably plenty soft enough for him, he ran a fine race in defeat having raced handily throughout. The ideal aim looks the Bet365 Gold Cup at the end of the season before a campaign aiming at the 2016 Grand National where he shouldn’t have any issues going left handed. Bally Legend ran his best race since winning this contest twelve months ago but is very hard to predict. This was probably his main target so he wouldn’t be one to necessarily take forward whilst Ardkilly Witness finished very tired but ran a lot better than he did at Sandown.
Godsmejudge was another to run an excellent Grand National trial having got outpaced at a crucial stage before staying on through beaten rivals. He shaped with more promise than he did at Doncaster in January and nothing in this run put me off his Aintree chances. Trainer Alan King wants one more run with either the Grimthorpe in two weeks time or the three mile handicap at the Festival the only two logical targets before the National.
Tenor Nivernais didn’t appear to see out the distance which was slightly disappointing considering the way he stayed on at Ascot previously. Rajdhani Express was also a non-stayer but jumped and travelled with real menace before fading away late on. On better ground, the Topham Trophy is a race that looks tailor made for him and with Sam Waley-Cohen’s record around the National fences, he would be one firmly on the shortlist.
Of those that didn’t complete, Easter Day made a shuddering error at the second fence and was sensibly pulled up soon after. Tap Night made an error at the first before unseating Richard Johnson at the third and Fox Appeal was another whose jumping let him down as he got rid of Richie McLernon. The Rainbow Hunter clearly hated the ground on his comeback whilst Chartreux ran absolutely no race whatsoever and Renard paid the penalty for setting the strong gallop early on.
With the previous race looking an ideal Grand National trial, the Bobbyjo Chase also had potential Aintree clues with the return of Spring Heeled for Jim Culloty. He did his Aintree credentials no harm with him jumping exhuberantly throughout before getting tired late on which he was entitled to do on ground he wouldn’t have liked. The race went to small field bully Roi Du Mee who fought off Foildubh in the closing stages. Aintree was mentioned for the winner but as a small field bully who likes to dictate, he may struggle getting to the lead. My Murphy is another entered for Aintree but would only go if the ground came up on the softer side.
The final race to concentrate on is the return to the winners enclosure of Sire De Grugy at Chepstow. Giving a fair amount of weight away to three rivals, he jumped a lot better than he did at Newbury and when asked to come up at the final three fences, he duly obliged on each occasion. This can give the Moores plenty of confidence and the Champion Chase is now firmly back on the radar where he shall return with leading claims to defend his crown.
Primogeniture – Will hopefully retain his novice hurdle status for next season where he will definitely be winning races.
Vago Collonges – One to watch next season when he goes novice chasing.
Godsmejudge – Lovely National trial.
Rajdhani Express – Topham Trophy on decent ground is well within his grasp even off his handicap mark.
To end the blog this week, this is what I started last week before deciding it wasn’t worth much time to continue and I feel the write up of the first from Ascot deserves a mention. Next weekend’s blog may be short and sweet compared to others I’ve written but closer to the Festival, some written previews will go up on this and other sites.
Ascot’s card in a way summed up the National Hunt season a whole; hugely disappointing. Field sizes being the big issue. The largest coming in the bumper with ten runners with the rest of the card having single figures in each race. With decent prize money on offer, why aren’t owners who are normally the first to complain when there is a lack of it actually supporting these meetings?
The opener looked a match on paper between Lanzarote winner Tea For Two and Arpege D’Alene who was fifth in the Challow Hurdle. In the end, it was the latter who obliged for Sam Twiston-Davies and Paul Nicholls but it didn’t look likely going down the side of the course as he was being ridden along to stay in touch. His jumping kept him in the race and he showed a really tough attiude to battle back against the odds on favourite.
Just like his course and distance win back in November, he was putting in his best work in the closing stages which shows no fears to step him up in distance. He misses Cheltenham and if he does run again this campaign, the Sefton at Aintree has been mentioned, but it wouldn’t be the worst idea to put him away for the summer as he will be a top prospect in the big staying novice chases next season and a name we shall hear plenty more of in the coming years. It wouldn’t surprise me either if he had a wind operation over the summer as something may have been affecting him to get outpaced in that way.
Tea For Two was certainly not disgraced, especially as his jumping has improved a ton since his debut round Kempton. He travelled far better than the winner and looked the likely winner on the turn for home before getting outbattled on the run in. He is a big fine strapping type who will also make his mark when he goes novice chasing in the autumn.
Buckhorn Timothy has improved over the last couple of months and has probably exceeded expectations against two smart horses. His trainer Colin Tizzard has some very interesting horses to go novice chasing with next season including the likes of Robinsfirth and Native River and this horse certainly would deserve a creditable mention.