Tag Archives: Cheltenham

2015 Betfair Hurdle Weekend Review

What a three days of racing. The type of weekend where once you’ve gone through it all you need a good lie down. Both sides of the Irish Sea held some top quality action with Super Saturday at Newbury and Leopardstown’s Irish Hennessy card being the main attractions, upheld by some solid meetings elsewhere.

It’s rare that a Friday afternoon would get such a mention but with the quality of racing on show at both Kempton and Bangor, I felt it was worth covering those cards as well as there were notable horses at both venues.

Minella Rocco looks a very smart prospect for JP McManus.
Minella Rocco looks a very smart prospect for JP McManus.

Kempton’s card attracted some fascinating contenders for its two mile and five furlong novice hurdle, none more so than West Wizard who has been beaten twice in the same novice hurdle at the track two years running. On this occasion he was running over further but the odds on favourite again found one too good for him in Minella Rocco, an expensive purchase for JP McManus who looked to win with a fair amount in hand for Tony McCoy and Jonjo O’Neill.

Both horses travelled by far the best throughout the contest but when it mattered most, Minella Rocco had too much class for West Wizard who didn’t find again like has promised to do before. The winner doesn’t hold any fancy entries indicating that he is very much a long term prospect; one for chasing next season. It’s hard to suggest a target for West Wizard as he clearly hasn’t lived up to the hype of what his stable have expected of him. He does have a handicap mark of 136 so connections may consider going down that route with him but he isn’t one to trust.

Scorpiancer has ran respectably back in third and could be one to benefit from a wind operation as he didn’t look to see out the race. Flying Bandit will be interesting once he goes back into handicap company having shown enough here to suggest he can win one. Pyrshan was runner up to a Graded winner in Ordo Ab Chao on hurdling debut and will definitely make his mark in handicaps. Two that caught the eye further back were Rock On Oscar and The Last Euro. The former pulled away his chance and looked a horse that will need a fair bit of time to mature whilst the latter shaped with promise and is another long term project.

Third Intention was far slicker in his jumping than Josses Hill.
Third Intention was far slicker in his jumping than Josses Hill.

The Graduation Chase looked a good opportunity for Josses Hill to gain more experience of chasing after looking sketchy on his first two attempts at Ascot and Doncaster but yet again, his jumping left an awful lot to be desired and had to settle for second behind Third Intention who made most of the running for man of the moment Daryl Jacob.

On his third start over fences, Josses Hill was still guessy at a couple, including the ditch going away from the stands where he gave his supporters heart failure by standing off too far. His technique hasn’t improved much either with him lingering in the air which currently holds him back from being a top chaser. The Arkle was confirmed as the plan post-race but he hasn’t had an appropriate test. The Kingmaker would potentially have been an ideal place to go with the five fences down the back straight providing a true test for a novice. He is one to avoid at the Festival; even for each way purposes.

Take nothing away from Third Intention though who was giving the runner up eleven pounds and bounced back from a fall last time at Haydock. He did something that hasn’t been known of him completely in the past and battled all the way to the line. His slick jumping was his main asset and with his main competitor losing ground in the air, he was gaining, in particular at the final fence. The Topham was nominated as a target by Joe Tizzard, son of trainer Colin and he would be an exciting ride over those fences.

Caesar Milan wasn’t given the best of rides by Sam Twiston-Davies as he decided to kick for home too early although it did look a race winning move for the early part of the home straight. He has clearly turned a corner in cheekpieces and is definitely worth a chance depending on where he turns up next whilst Thomas Crapper had a good blow out with the novice handicap chase at the Festival firmly in mind for him.

The first division of the bumper provided some compensation for Nicky Henderson when Newsworthy made a winning debut for owners Michael Buckley and Rich Ricci. At one stage up the straight, it looked as though Midnight Cowboy would get the upper hand with the winner showing signs of greenness but he eventually put the race to bed. Of the front pair, the runner up looked a more long term prospect whilst the third horse Bilzic did too much in the middle part of the race and was a sitting duck for the minor honours close home.

The second division looked to have more substance in the entries but again, it went to Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty with Ok Corral who fought off the favourite High Bridge despite being slightly green in the closing stages. The winner looked to have more to give compared to the runner up and may have handled the softer ground better. Both Henderson bumper winners weren’t mentioned post-race for the Champion Bumper which seems fair, as both would be too inexperienced. High Bridge should be better on a more sounder surface being out of a 1,000 Guineas winner but he isn’t one to get excited about.

The Unit travelled well but went round the inside where the ground wasn’t as nice compared to going out wide whilst Antartica De Thaix was keen early on but travelled nicely before lacking a turn of foot. Both him and Baraza, a full brother to Nacarat, both look stayers and should be kept on side.

Great Try got off the mark at the third attempt over hurdles at Bangor, doing so in a professional manner under Nick Scholfield in what looks a fair enough race. With this being an EBF novice hurdle, this qualifies him for the Final at Sandown over two and a half miles which should suit him well. The runner up Hedley Lamarr ran a race full of promise on his debut in the familar colours of the Hitchens, famous for horses like Toby Tobias and Golden Freeze. If allowed to, he will certainly make his mark somewhere later in the season. L’Aigle Royal would probably appreciate going back up in trip after being put in his place here by the front two whilst Bringithomeminty was a disappointment, his jumping lacking fluency.

Beast Of Burden won this with plenty in hand and is worth his place at the Festival.
Beast Of Burden won this with plenty in hand and is worth his place at the Festival.

The three mile novice hurdle looked a match between Mendip Express and Beast Of Burden which went the way of the latter who won easily under Paul Townend. He made the majority of the running and relished the step up in distance, even with a slight error at the last. He is certainly worth a place at the Cheltenham Festival but I would be inclined to see him in the Neptune at this stage of his career rather than the Albert Bartlett as three miles on a more galloping track may just find him out at this stage of his career.

Mendip Express certainly wasn’t disgraced back in second, especially with his slickness over hurdles and was able to keep up with the winner for a fair way. He wasn’t beaten that far in the end and that should have put him spot on for the Festival Handicap Chase on the first day where he would have a big chance.

The Hunter Chase that ended the card wouldn’t have looked out of place at any of the major spring meetings and even though eight were pulled out due to various reasons, it still looked a strong contest for the sphere. As readers from last year may remember, Teaforthree was a horse that I had convinced myself that defeat was out of the question in the Grand National so you can imagine my shock when he unseated Nick Scholfield right under my nose at the Chair. Having watched the race back on numerous occasions, he wasn’t travelling with his usual enthusiasm and excuses emerged with an injury suffered during the race.

Teaforthree needs to win or finish second in another hunter chase to qualify for Cheltenham.
Teaforthree needs to win or finish second in another hunter chase to qualify for Cheltenham.

For today’s run, there was enough evidence to oppose him with. He usually needs a couple of runs before he reaches his peak and the drop back in distance looked to be an inconvenience. However, class prevailed with him travelling and jumping in the manner in which we have become accustomed to over the last few seasons, gaining his first win since his National Hunt Chase win at Cheltenham in 2012. The plan is to go to Cheltenham for the Foxhunters but he needs another win to qualify for the race. The Walrus Hunter Chase at Haydock could be a target; especially with the £10k bonus if you win that and the Cheltenham Foxhunters before a third crack at the Grand National.

Pacha Du Polder chased the winner throughout and whilst he was a useful performer at his best, giving eight pounds to Teaforthree proved too much. He only needs a win or another second to qualify for Cheltenham or Aintree with the latter looking a more preferable option over a trip that would suit him more. The other class horse Calgary Bay travelled up omniously going to three out before getting very tired. The market beforehand suggested he may need this outing and that was proven. He will no doubt be competitive in hunter chases over the coming months.

The main UK action of the weekend came in the form of Super Saturday with Newbury firmly in the limelight with a high quality card with some taking performances and some shocks along the way from both equines and human.

Qewy was impressive enough to get a 16/1 quote for the Supreme.
Qewy was impressive enough to get a 16/1 quote for the Supreme.

The opening race on the card was the two mile novice hurdle in which Qewy built upon his hurdles debut in Graded company behind Aso at Haydock when winning for John Ferguson and Tony McCoy, the first of two winner for him on the card. He jumped slickly throughout and used his tactical speed from the flat decisively against some fair opposition. He would need to improve again if he were to feature in the Supreme but with the improvement he has showed here, it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if he did.

Doncaster winner Cardinal Walter loomed up dangerously having travelled strongly but was firmly put in his place by Qewy and made to look one paced; he will no doubt find a decent handicap hurdle in the spring. Royal Vacation has ran well on his hurdles debut and has performed to a fair level, suggesting that he will win a couple of novice hurdles before embarking on his chasing career.

Bouveril didn’t particularly look the strongest of finishers and could just need a summer at grass to grow up mentally and physically. Cloonacool could be used as the marker for the race, having beaten the Betfair Hurdle winner Violet Dancer on his last start at Kempton which gives this race a solid look whilst Risk A Fine was far too free for his own good and faded away tamely.

The Denman Chase looked an ideal opportunity for one of the top staying novice chasers Coneygree to cement his Cheltenham Festival position against seasoned chasers and he put in a performance similar to the Feltham where he put his rivals to the sword and one by one, they fell by the wayside, albeit this time down to jumping errors as opposed to falling.

Coneygree jumped and galloped his rivals into submission.
Coneygree jumped and galloped his rivals into submission.

A seven length success over Hennessy runner up Houblon Des Obeaux who looks to have ran to his mark suggests he isn’t far off Gold Cup class this season and his style of racing is just an absolute joy to watch with fast accurate jumping and the ability to get his rivals into trouble, something very few horses possess.

The performance was similar to Gloria Victis, like Coneygree, a novice who had both the RSA and the Gold Cup as potential targets after routing a field in the Racing Post Chase at Kempton. He was also ridden by Richard Johnson who deserves plenty of credit for the ride he gave Coneygree as he allowed the horse to do what he pleased but when asked up the home straight, he responded superbly.

The million dollar question – Do connections opt for the RSA or the Gold Cup? I’m now convinced that if he goes down the novice route then he will be extremely hard to beat, even with his running style and if they decide to go for the blue riband, he would certainly have a strong chance of winning. Whilst a lack of experience would be the concern, his jumping has been faultless so far and his relentless galloping have made him so endearing to the public.

Houblon Des Obeaux has been a model of consistency this season and deserves a big race win with this being his third second place finish this campaign. This was his Gold Cup and he was comprehensively put in his place by Coneygree which underlines how much talent the winner has. He may go to Cheltenham but his record isn’t the best. He could go to Sandown for the Bet365 Gold Cup again where hopefully he’d get further than the first fence unlike last year. Unioniste was outpaced here before staying on stoutly up the home straight, showcasing his attributes for the Grand National. Paul Nicholls did also mention the Grand Steeple Chase de Paris which is another race that could suit him very well.

Both Taquin Du Seuil and Harry Topper’s jumping were exposed by Coneygree. The former did look a danger going to three out before fading away, suggesting that the distance stretched him. He would probably head towards the Ryanair now with him showing more positive signs compared to Haydock whilst the latter wants softer ground and a similar galloping track. Double Ross showed more here than at both Haydock and Kempton but wants to go back in trip.

Mr Mole is a reformed character this season and the Champion Chase looks realistic.
Mr Mole is a reformed character this season and the Champion Chase looks realistic.

The Game Spirit Chase marked the return of last season’s Champion Chase winner Sire De Grugy but the centre of attention shifted elsewhere as soon as the race finished with the shock announcement from nineteen times champion jockey Tony McCoy of his retirement at the end of this National Hunt season after gaining his 200th winner of the season on Mr Mole. McCoy’s retirement will get talked about more in due course on the videos and in written form closer to the end of the season.

To the race itself, the performance from Mr Mole was staggering. He gave about fifteen lengths away at the start when whipping round and almost looking reluctant to race. He got himself back into it early with the lack of a true gallop from Uxizandre but to make up that ground early on and to win in that manner was pretty impressive. A notoriously difficult horse in the past, this is yet another complete turnaround from Paul Nicholls who yet again has revelled in the challenge of making the horse a complete package. The Champion Chase now looks a realistic target and this is the exact same route Nicholls plotted out with a certain Master Minded in the 2007/08 season. With most of his main rivals having question marks hanging above them, the case is looking fairly strong for him and he could provide Tony McCoy a farewell present; a Champion Chase victory.

Both Upsilon Bleu and Karinga Dancer were here for prize money and have been rewarded but they were both outclassed. Uxizandre went out to make the running but was left behind quite easily by Mr Mole before his spectacular unseat at the final fence. It’s hard to know where to go next as he didn’t do anything here to enhance his Festival credentials.

This wasn't a satisfactory return by Sire De Grugy. Can he retain his crown next month?
This wasn’t a satisfactory return by Sire De Grugy. Can he retain his crown next month?

Strangely, that’s my way of thinking with Sire De Grugy as well. His fencing was far from fluent and he had threatened to get rid of Jamie Moore on more than one occasion before the final open ditch. With the ease Mr Mole won, I doubt he would have beaten him and whilst he’s entitled to come on plenty for the outing, this performance raises yet more questions about the Champion Chase rather than answer those before this contest.

As usual, the Betfair Hurdle was hugely competitive affair but it gave trainer Gary Moore a welcome tonic after the reversal of Sire De Grugy when he took the race for the third time with Violet Dancer who joined Heathcote and Wingman on the roll of honour for the Moore stable.

He was given a fantastic ride from the front by Gary’s son Josh who used the horse perfectly in first time cheekpieces and was never out of the first two. Left in the lead when Chieftain’s Choice fell at the last flight in the back straight, he built up an advantage that just wasn’t pegged back by the chasing pack. His jumping was much sharper than it has been in the past and these tactics looked to suit him well and he will no doubtedly head to the Festival for either the Coral Cup or the County Hurdle but unlike here, it will be harder to make most of the running and have something in reserve.

Cheltenian improved on his effort in this race a year ago when he was fourth by going two places better. He was another to be ridden handy and would have benefitted from that. It will be interesting to see where he goes next as he has plenty of options including going back chasing as he did jump well on chase debut behind the ponderous Josses Hill at Doncaster. Activial has ran another strong race after getting outpaced on the turn for home. He will be suited by going up in distance but the Coral Cup on normal Festival ground may prove too much for him as he did disappoint at Aintree on good ground.

Calipto was patiently ridden and travelled strongly throughout the race but once off the bridle, he looked fairly one paced. The suspicion is that he isn’t as well handicapped over hurdles as thought by connections and he will probably step up in trip before the season is out. Jolly’s Cracked It looked to be thrown in at the deep end and was given a perfect confidence boosting ride in rear by Nick Scholfield. This looks the race that may make a man of him and whilst a Festival novice hurdle is probably out the question, he will almost certainly win another race or two before the season finishes.

Arzal caught the eye massively and needs to be kept on side.
Arzal caught the eye massively and needs to be kept on side.

The eyecatcher of the whole race was Arzal as plenty went wrong throughout the race. Normally a front runner, he was inconvienienced by the standing start and was further back than ideal. He then was caught on heels passing the winning post with a circuit to go before getting badly impeded by the fall of Chieftain’s Choice which knocked him back to last place. For a couple of strides, it looked as though he wasn’t travelling at all well but he then picked up the bridle again and was allowed some time to recover. He was nursed onto the back of the main group before somehow finishing sixth. Without those problems endured in running, he would definitely have been in the frame and he has done incredibly well to be only beaten fifteen lengths.

Forced Family Fun would have finished closer having not made a blunder at the second last whilst On Tour was given a strange ride by Paul Moloney. On a horse that gets further than the minimum two miles, instead of sitting more handy, they held him up. Once he realised he was too far back, he made a mid-race move that used up too much energy and left him vulnerable after the last flight. Balgarry just wasn’t good enough on the day and may benefit with a confidence booster in a smaller contest whilst Wicklow Brave was a huge disappointment considering the amount of money that came for him. Ballybolley was beaten at the time when hampered two out but keep an eye on him if he goes to Aintree as the conditional jockeys handicap hurdle would suit him really well.

Of the non-finishers, Fascino Rustico had travelled kindly for Harry Skelton and hadn’t gone for his full effort when making a mistake and falling at the second last, bringing down Ebony Express and hampering Vasco Du Ronceray who was well beaten at the time. Fascino Rustico may well have placed and may well be a type for something like the Swinton at Haydock. It was a relief to see Ebony Express get up ok after a horrific looking tumble but he didn’t look to be going anywhere at the time. Chieftain’s Choice had jumped well up until departing whilst Goodwood Mirage barely took off at the first and gave Tony McCoy a pretty nasty fall. He then galloped off and decided to take on the open ditch in the back straight and from that evidence, I doubt he’ll ever make a natural chaser!

Kings Palace running style will leave him vulnerable in the RSA.
Kings Palace running style will leave him vulnerable in the RSA.

The three mile novice chase was a match between long odds on favourite Kings Palace and Vivaldi Collonges with David Pipe’s charge looking to regain his position at the top of the RSA Chase market after Coneygree’s sucess earlier on the card. Whilst he maintained his unbeaten record, he did give his backers a scare or two on the way round, esepecially at the three open ditches jumped. With showing that accuracy we have become used to, we did see his first real error at the third last when standing off too far and almost landing on top of the fence, doing extremely well to stay on his feet. Although he won a shade cosily, it did give Vivaldi Collonges a chance at victory as he did look vulnerable for a couple of strides.

Bookmakers were unimpressed and he actually drifted with a couple of firms. Even then, he doesn’t tempt me for the Festival at all. If Coneygree turns up in the RSA then he has competition for the lead and he would be vulnerable not just to that rival but to the whole field behind him that would stalk and pounce. Even without Coneygree, I would hold the same concerns that just like in the Albert Bartlett, he would set the race up for a stronger stayer. Vivaldi Collonges jumped better than he did on debut behind Kings Palace but it could be worth keeping his novice status for next season where he could gain plenty more experience.

The Listed Bumper that ended the card looked strong on paper and again went to an all the way winner in Barters Hill who remains unbeaten after three starts for Ben Pauling and defied all comers in tenacious style. There was a moment of concern passing the stands where his mind wandered towards the paddock exit and up the straight when taken on first by Final Nudge and secondly by the four year old Buveur D’air but he wasn’t for passing. The Champion Bumper could easily be tempting for connections and he could fare well there but would need to make the race a true stamina test from the front.

Others to note from the race for the future include Final Nudge who shaped well for a long way, Duke Des Champs who probably needed the run and Present Man who disappointed although he wouldn’t be the first horse to disappoint in this race and bounce back; Thomas Brown being a prime example twelve months ago.

Vibrato Valtat looks England's number one contender for the Arkle.
Vibrato Valtat looks England’s number one contender for the Arkle.

Warwick’s feature contest was the Kingmaker Novice Chase, which looked a match on paper between Vibrato Valtat and Top Gamble but it was turned into a procession with Paul Nicholls’ grey showing his class to dispose of an unbeaten novice whose jumping has impressed many. He was ridden with a huge amount of confidence by Sam Twiston-Davies but his jumping wasn’t as good as it has been in the past. He took a liberty at a couple along the side of the course but brushed those fiddly errors aside to beat Top Gamble comfortably giving him three pounds. He is now as short as 6/1 for the Arkle and whilst he looks Britain’s best chance of an Arkle winner, he comes up against a potential superstar in Un De Sceaux and I would expect him to be fighting out second with Clarcam, although he would need to iron out the errors made here.

Top Gamble jumped beautifully up until four out where he misjudged his takeoff and landed in a bit of a heap. He also made a slight error at the third last but was quickly back on the bridle however he was brushed aside by a smart novice. Although he has lost his unbeaten record over fences, he still emerges with plenty of credit but could be difficult to place.Turn Over Sivola has ran respectably back in third and will probably be one for the Red Rum at Aintree where he ran well last year behind Parsnip Pete whilst Kings Lad probably found the pace too hot down the side of the course. A step back up in distance would help his cause.

Petite Parisienne and Kalkir battle it out over the last.
Petite Parisienne and Kalkir battle it out over the last.

Leopardstown’s final main meeting before Cheltenham always throws up various clues and today was no exception. The Spring Juvenile Hurdle has thrown up the last two winners of the Triumph Hurdle and threw up a potential contender in Petite Parisienne who was impressive enough for her second hurdles start beating her stablemate Kalkir. She was in receipt of six pounds from the whole field (Bryan Cooper putting one overweight) and showed plenty of guts to battle all the way up the straight. Whilst her jumping was novicey in parts, she will surely improve for even better ground but she will need to considering the British juveniles.

Kalkir looked much happier than he did at Christmas on desperate ground but was beaten fair and square here. It’s hard seeing him reverse positions with the winner in the Triumph. Prussian Eagle appears to have shown improvement for slightly better ground after chasing home Fiscal Focus over Christmas and another Mullins juvenile hurdler in Dicosimo at Gowran. These three put twenty lengths between themselves and the fourth but it doesn’t look likely we saw the Triumph winner here. Vercingetorix made a bad mistake at the first and was a major disappointment, the first considerable one for owners Simon Munir & Issac Souede. That didn’t look his true running but that may sway the decision to keep him at home.

Nichols Canyon used his potent turn of foot from his flat days to full effect.
Nichols Canyon used his potent turn of foot from his flat days to full effect.

The Deloitte Novice Hurdle had yet another from the Willie Mullins stable sent off a short price favourite in the enormous grey Alvisio Ville who had attracted significant support not just for this race but for the Neptune at the Festival. But the bubble surrounding him burst when he was beaten into third by yet again, another Mullins stablemate in Nichols Canyon who shrugged off his unseat at Christmas in taking fashion, using the exact same tactics used to full effect on Vautour and Champagne Fever.

He was able from the home turn to use his flat speed to full effect and win by a comfortable three and a half lengths. Whilst the form of his Royal Bond win looked questionable, he was a class above them and the same comments apply for this performance here with much stronger opposition. With that potent flat speed, it may suit best going down the Supreme route and using the same tactics like the previous two winners listed above. Windsor Park improved on his effort two weeks ago when not given the best of rides. He was always going to come off second best to the winner and shaped like the Neptune would suit him but his jumping again would need to improve.

Alvisio Ville may benefit from staying at home this season.
Alvisio Ville may benefit from staying at home this season.

The hype surrounding Alvisio Ville has been pretty scary and he was well backed considering he had only won a maiden hurdle on Boxing Day. He jumped a lot better than on debut but was keen enough early on. That and the lack of experience probably told in the closing stages but he was beaten by a better horse on the day. With plenty of time on his side, he doesn’t need to go to the Festival this year when he has been brought for the purpose of going chasing. Silver Concorde shaped with more promise than on hurdling debut but the enthusiasm on my Supreme antepost bet has dwindled whilst Sempre Medici remains interesting if given a feasible handicap mark.

The Flogas Novice Chase looked an ideal target for Valseur Lido to remain unbeaten and book his ticket to the Festival in either the JLT or the RSA but the form of his Drinmore win was reversed by Apache Stronghold who was given an incredible ride by Paul Carberry considering he didn’t jump as well as he has done in the past. He paid a huge compliment to Don Poli who beat him over Christmas in the Topaz and was certainly suited by this intermediate trip under a patient ride. Trainer Noel Meade confirmed the JLT was his Festival target and he goes there with a definite chance as the end to end gallop should really play to his strengths.

Apache Stronghold reverses the Drinmore form with Valseur Lido. Both would have claims in the JLT.
Apache Stronghold reverses the Drinmore form with Valseur Lido. Both would have claims in the JLT.

Valseur Lido lost nothing in defeat but was just beaten by a slightly better horse on the day. He jumped and travelled like he did in the Drinmore and handled going the other way round. If he goes over to the Festival, you’d hope he would turn up in the JLT as he doesn’t shape yet like three miles would be right up his street. If he didn’t go, the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse could potentially be easy pickings. Adriana Des Mottes showed no ill-effects of her bad mistake at Limerick and has ran to a similar form level shown on that occasion as she would have finished a clear second behind Gilgamboa. She could easily drop back into her own company and win some decent prizes.

The Tullow Tank put in a much better effort than of recent times having travelled omniously well before getting outpaced after the second last. He is worth another go over three miles and this effort may have convinced his connections to ponder going to the Festival for the RSA. Jarry D’Honneur’s jumping was sketchy out in front and he unseated of his own accord at the last. A confidence booster in a lower grade will help.

RIP Le Vent D'Antan.
RIP Le Vent D’Antan.

The sad part of the race was the demise of Le Vent D’Antan who had jumped beautifully before overjumping at the last and injuring a shoulder. It’s a part of the sport no one wants to happen but for a small stable like Liz Doyle to lose their stable star, it’s heartbreaking. A one time favourite for the Champion Bumper in 2013, he had shown plenty of promise so far over fences to suggest he was above average. RIP.

Carlingford Lough and Tony McCoy in the winners enclosure after a famous win.
Carlingford Lough and Tony McCoy in the winners enclosure after a famous win.

The Irish Hennessy provided the fairytale with Tony McCoy, fresh from announcing his retirement at Newbury, gaining his first (and only) success in the race under a never say die effort on Carlingford Lough to repel the improver in the pack Foxrock with last season’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere running an eyecatching race back in third. The scenes that greeted the winner post-race were reminiscent of what Hurricane Fly received last month when winning his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle.

Carlingford Lough built upon his effort in the Lexus Chase where he travelled well before looking in need of the run. He did well here to recover from a mistake at the second last to run down Foxrock after the last to win going away. After this performance, he merits consideration for the Gold Cup but the concerns are based on the way he jumped around Cheltenham in last season’s RSA. It will be interesting to see whether McCoy chooses him or Shutthefrontdoor.

Foxrock continues to prove me wrong and this was by far a career best effort. He came off the bridle after the third last and found plenty for pressure, leading over the last fence before being caught on the run in by the winner. Connections may be tempted to supplement him for the Gold Cup but it could just pay to wait for the Punchestown Gold Cup this season with him.

Lord Windermere goes back to defend his Gold Cup crown with every chance.
Lord Windermere goes back to defend his Gold Cup crown with every chance.

Lord Windermere ran a much better race than he did in the Lexus. He was ridden more forward and unusually for him, he was probably in front plenty soon enough which has never been the case before. Considering he was only beaten eight and three quarter lengths, compared to last year when he was beaten twenty six lengths by Last Instalment, this was a Gold Cup preparation to be pleased with. Better ground here was a big positive compared to the testing ground he encountered over Christmas and he will now tick over until going back to defend his crown with as good a chance as any.

Boston Bob was never put in the race whatsoever having just hacked around at the back of the field. Bookmakers pushed his price out after this effort and whilst I wouldn’t be a backer of the horse, it seemed an unwise decision to let him drift. The concern for the Gold Cup would be if he gets himself out of position, whether that be by design or him getting outpaced. The other way to potentially look at this effort is that connections may have half an eye on the Grand National with the weights due to be published a week tomorrow.

Talking of Aintree, Home Farm ran a fair trial towards Aintree and would definitely be competitive there off a workable mark whilst First Lieutenant didn’t show very much for his National ambitions. Texas Jack put up a more competitive effort compared to recently but has never looked a true three miler. If kept in similar form, the Melling Chase could be his type of race having disappointed previously at the Festival whilst On His Own kept jumping out to his right and showed his inconsistency.

Prince De Beauchene isn't eligble this season for Cheltenham/Aintree Foxhunters.
Prince De Beauchene isn’t eligble this season for Cheltenham/Aintree Foxhunters.

The Raymond Smith Memorial Hunter Chase featured some old faces including 2012 and 2013 Cheltenham Foxhunters winner Salsify making his return to action and Mossey Joe but it was left to Willie Mullins and son Patrick with one time Grand National favourite Prince De Beauchene who didn’t jump as well as he did at Thurles but battled thoroughly to deny On The Fringe who was given a very patient ride by Nina Carberry.

The review of Prince De Beauchene could be described as pointless due to the fact he won’t be eligible for either the Cheltenham or Aintree Foxhunters, although he may return for the Grand National where he would give Patrick a thrill of a lifetime before failing to see out the trip. On The Fringe would be interesting in the Aintree Foxhunters as he has failed to get up the hill twice at Cheltenham although his main aim is likely to be Punchestown. Salsify was far too fresh on his return but showed that he was still in good enough form to suggest a return to Cheltenham is possible.

Emerging Talent should be a different horse after his summer holiday.
Emerging Talent should be a different horse after his summer holiday.

Exeter staged a good quality card on Sunday and three races are worth a mention. It was great to see Native River back in the winners enclosure after his fall on Festival Trials Day when taking the Listed novice hurdle and taking a notable scalp in Emerging Talent who still frustrates his backers as he travels so strongly through his races before finding little for pressure.

Both the front two will have smart careers when they tackle fences in the future, especially the runner up who just needs to grow up physically and mentally. He is with the perfect trainer in Paul Nicholls who will bring the horse along steadily to peak at the right time. He will no doubt leave his hurdles form behind once he goes jumping fences in the autumn.

For a moment on Trials Day, it looked bad for Native River so to see him taking this prize was pleasing. That gives the impression he would have gone quite close on that occasion and this is a nice boost to the Challow Hurdle form. He is more than worth his place at the Festival but sadly only has the Albert Bartlett entry. He would be more than worth his place in a Neptune but unlike the big Grade Ones, I’m unsure whether you can supplement for novice events.

Kalane was firmly put in his place by two smart horses but there’s no reason to believe he isn’t fairly useful himself and should make a good chaser in the autumn. The disappointment of the contest was War Sound who pulled far too hard for his own good and was comprehensively beaten. He is far better than what he showed yet but he has plenty of learning to do.

The Pertemps Qualifier looked one of the strongest so far and finally Regal Encore put it all together over hurdles with a comfortable success. The step up in distance looked to suit him really well and if progressing from this, he would almost certainly be able to make his mark in a Festival handicap but he is still one I wouldn’t completely trust. Alavian made it a JP McManus one-two and he was another to benefit from going up in distance although he was looked after significantly in the closing stages. If he is to make the Pertemps cut, he needs his mark to go up several pounds and it will likely be touch and go whether he scrapes in. Similar comments apply to the The Tourard Man who is currently in the form of his life and is worth his go in the Final.

Big Easy deserves to win a big handicap hurdle and whilst he would run his usual honest race, I don’t think he would have more improvement in him to win a Pertemps however the next home Knight Of Noir could potentially have more to come and is on my shortlist of three I have currently for the race. The other two being Brother Brian who chased home Rock On Ruby back in December and Edeymi who caught everyone’s attention last week at Musselburgh behind Dawalan.

Morito Du Berlais wouldn’t get in the Final based on this effort but hasn’t finishing winning over hurdles this season. He should win a decent handicap on good ground before the season is out. Unowhatimeanharry ran respectably from out of the handicap and has definitely shown enough to suggest he can bang a staying handicap hurdle. Pineau De Re shaped with plenty more promise compared to his previous effort at Carlisle and just managed to qualify. With improvement likely, he will run well at the Festival before attempting to regain his Grand National crown back where he should give another good account of himself.

Aubusson just failed to qualify but that could be a blessing in disguise as he could now be put away for the remainder of this season and be brought back for a chasing campaign in the autumn. Southfield Royale didn’t show his true running at all and can be forgiven whilst Ambion Wood likely needed this outing after a fair amount of time off the track.

Southfield Theatre would be more interesting at Aintree with the pace he showed.
Southfield Theatre would be more interesting at Aintree with the pace he showed.

Southfield Theatre got back to winning ways in the novice chase under replacement jockey Noel Fehily after chasing Carraig Mor home at Newbury on unfavoured soft ground. Back on better ground and allowed to make his own running, it was the best he has jumped over fences so far but it would have been touch and go had chasing debutant Val De Law stood up at the final fence as he was mounting a serious challenge. He looks a smart recruit for Jamie Snowden and was outrunning his odds when taking a heavy tumble. Happily, he got to his feet and galloped away unharmed. Whilst he holds no obvious entries, a race that could suit him towards the end of the season is the Future Champions Novices Chase at Ayr over two and a half miles.

The pace throughout was a stop start affair and they have sprinted up the straight and for a horse who has got form over further in Southfield Theatre, this shows he has tactical pace as well. Although it was the best he has jumped over fences, at this stage in his career, missing Cheltenham wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world as the RSA can be a particularly brutal test for a horse. With the pace he showed here, the three mile Grade One at Aintree could suit him really well under a bold front running ride, as he could potentially get his opposition into trouble down the back straight.

Melodic Rendezvous was sticky at a couple of fences but this was a much better effort than on his chasing debut at Bangor when scraping home against Boondooma. He did look the likely winner until a mistake three out put him on the back foot. Considering the ground was probably as lively as he would have wanted it, this was a good effort and there is no doubt he will bag a few novice chases with more cut in the ground. The Pendil at Kempton has been mentioned as a target but he will bump into England’s leading JLT hope Ptit Zig.

Thank you for reading this bumper edition which I hope makes up for not doing a blog last week. Next week features the Ascot Chase and the Grand National Trial at Haydock which will be an attritional test and I’m sure the Cheltenham video previews will begin soon.

Eyecatchers

Caesar Milan – Was better than the result suggested.

Great Try/Hedley Lamaar – The winner has the capability to go well in the EBF Final whilst the runner up is worth keeping an eye on.

Arzal – No luck at all in running and should be backed next time out.

Lord Windermere/Boston Bob – That will have put the former spot on to defend his Gold Cup crown whilst the latter wasn’t given a chance to show anything.

Knight Of Noir – Looks interesting for the Pertemps Final.

Val De Law – Looks a smart horse for Jamie Snowden and if his confidence isn’t affected, he should win novice chases.

2015 Cheltenham Trials Day + Doncaster & Leopardstown Review

The Festival is getting closer and closer with Cheltenham’s Trials Day meeting being the centrepiece of the weekend, the last chance we can get some Festival clues from the home of National Hunt racing. We also had some informative action from Doncaster relating to the Festival and other spring targets plus a fantastic card yesterday from Leopardstown.

Peace And Co jumping the last with Karezak in the Triumph Hurdle Trial.
Peace And Co jumping the last with Karezak in the Triumph Hurdle Trial.

The JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial revolved around the hugely impressive Doncaster winner Peace And Co who was sent off a very warm favourite however he gave his backers cause of concern early on as he was exceptionally keen due to the complete lack of pace with nobody wanting to make the running. The new tactics worked well enough as he travelled by far the best before putting the race to bed in comfortable style, albeit showing some signs of greenness. The winner will now be next seen in the Triumph Hurdle itself and whilst he deserves to be favourite, the price is pretty ridiculous with it as short as 6/4 in spots. I think he is the most likely winner of the Triumph but I couldn’t put him up as a selection with his price so skinny.

Karezak continues to improve in juvenile hurdles and this is by far his best effort over timber. He took up the running after the second last but was just a sitting duck for Peace And Co. He could potentially be the each way value of the Triumph having only been beaten three lengths here and is still a relatively big price compared to the favourite. Whilst the whole field were affected by the lack of pace, Zarib was one that was especially keen disputing the lead with Ibis Du Rheu and has definitely improved upon his Newbury win back in December. He has the option for both the Triumph and the Fred Winter depending what the handicapper assesses him with better ground likely to suit as well.

Storm Force Ten was outpaced once the tempo quickened up sharply after the second last before he stayed on well up the hill to almost grab third from Zarib. He shaped with plenty of promise when behind Bivouac at Sandown and although he was getting seven pounds from that rival here, this was certainly his career best over hurdles. He would definitely have a leading chance in the Fred Winter and his mark should go up sufficiently to get into that race. Bivouac looks a long term chasing prospect and was badly inconvenienced by the lack of a gallop. He clattered through the last flight but was beaten at the time. He probably won’t return for the Festival which would be a wise decision for his future.

Ibis Du Rheu looked immature and is one for the future.
Ibis Du Rheu looked immature and is one for the future.

Ibis Du Rheu was a disappointment however, there were positives to take from the performance. He will certainly improve once he gets a lead in a race as he looked very green running into hurdles, almost as if he was going to run out at them. On the whole he jumped well enough but his keenness ended any chance he had. On appearance, he looks to have plenty of growing to do and it wouldn’t surprise to see him next season as a decent handicap hurdler like his half brother Saphir Du Rheu. He shouldn’t be returning to the Festival in March but for the future, he is one firmly to keep on side.

The Timeform Novices Handicap Chase was missing Ned Stark who was a non-runner but it still looked particularly strong contest on paper and it didn’t disappoint with Generous Ransom, an eye-catcher last time out when staying on at Kempton behind Stellar Notion, improving on that effort to take his second victory over fences. The stiffer track definitely suited here and he travelled powerfully before idling in front.

Generous Ransom making an error at the last but won with a bit to spare.
Generous Ransom making an error at the last but won with a bit to spare.

There was definitely plenty left in the tank and a step up to three miles in time will no doubt bring about improvement. He remains on the eyecatchers list as he deserves to be kept on side and would go very well in a Festival handicap chase, apart from the novice handicap as I think the Old Course would be too sharp for him over that distance. If his mark isn’t high enough, then the three mile handicap chase on Grand National day would suit him well.

Astigos improved on his Newbury third behind Gevrey Chambertin and nearly capitalised on the winner slowing up on the run in. His handicap mark is too low for the big spring Festivals but he still has time on his side to get his mark up, although his mark could be preserved for next winter. Irish Cavalier caught the eye for the Rewards4Racing Novices Handicap Chase having travelled well on the heels of the leaders. He was slightly outpaced before staying on strongly up the hill behind two better handicapped horses on this occasion. Although he will need to jump slightly better, he has the capability to improve again and his mark should get him into the race.

Carole’s Destrier put in a much improved effort over a distance probably on the sharp side for him and a return to three miles will definitely help. Perfect Candidate stayed on up the hill after getting outpaced at the top of the hill and is another that will benefit from going back up in distance. Mosspark was a shade disappointing in the first time headgear and it could just be that over this distance they were going a yard too quick for him. He holds an entry in the National Hunt Chase and whilst he wouldn’t be my idea of a fancy for the race, he could be very interesting as they would go a stride slower which would help his jumping. Stellar Notion made a couple of jumping errors but considering he looked a sitting duck, he wasn’t beaten that far overall. A return to a flatter track would be of benefit.

Many Clouds cemented his position as a key Gold Cup contender. Will he be as effective on spring ground?
Many Clouds cemented his position as a key Gold Cup contender. Will he be as effective on spring ground?

Many Clouds gave yet another boost to his Hennessy Gold Cup success when remaining unbeaten this season with a gutsy victory in the Betbright Cup, finally getting the Cheltenham monkey off Oliver Sherwood’s back with this being his first win at the track since the year 2000. Throughout his career, he has threatened to be a very good horse and this is the season where he has kicked on to repay the faith his connections have had in him.

The race was fairly muddling with a stop-start pace set by the winner and Black Thunder, which definitely wasn’t a help to some in behind but take nothing away from the performance of Many Clouds as his claims as a genuine Gold Cup contender were cemented. The only concern I would have come March is whether he needs genuine soft ground to be at his most effective.

One horse affected by the pace of the race was the runner up Smad Place who was another to give the Hennessy Gold Cup form a positive outlook. He was pulling for his head early on due to the lack of early pace and was also inconvenienced by Dynaste on the home turn who was entitled to keep him in behind Many Clouds. To give him credit, for him to finish as close as he did with how much he pulled was a testament to the horse. Whilst he was receiving eight pounds from the winner, he is entitled to come on plenty for this effort having needed the run in the Hennessy.

Smad Place still looks good each way value at 25/1. Photo taken by @fivestripes
Smad Place still looks good each way value at 25/1. Photo taken by @fivestripes

If there was a horse to take for the Gold Cup then Smad Place would be the one for me at an each way price. Sure, he may not be a Gold Cup winner but you cannot fault his record at the Festival with him placing three times out of four, his only below par effort coming in the Triumph Hurdle when shaping as though he needed further. The 25/1 with William Hill and Boylesports looks big enough considering he probably has more going for him than most of the key contenders lining up.

Dynaste was back in third and whilst he wasn’t stopping up the hill, he has been beaten by two stronger stayers than him on the day. Due to the pace, his jumping wasn’t as fluent as it has been in the past. You suspect connections will drop back to the Ryanair, the race where he would have his most realistic chance of Festival success. The Giant Bolster was another that didn’t enjoy how the race panned out and looked to be struggling with over a circuit to go. He got himself back into the race before losing his position again. He will definitely be seen in a better light when presented with an end to end gallop in March and wouldn’t be one to dismiss. Black Thunder looks to want a stiffer test of stamina on this evidence whilst Theatre Guide shaped better than the distance he was beaten. It will be interesting to see where he heads in the spring.

Value At Risk (Left) looks worth a bet in the Albert Bartlett.
Value At Risk (Left) looks worth a bet in the Albert Bartlett.

The Neptune Trial centered around the exciting talent that is Value At Risk who had come over from Ireland to be trained by Dan Skelton and had made such a huge impression when bolting up on hurdling debut at Newbury. He was sent off a very well backed favourite but had to settle for second best behind Ordo Ab Chao for Alan King, returning from a below par effort at Sandown behind Vyta Du Roc in the Winter Novice Hurdle back in early December. He travelled well behind the leaders and took it up after the last; showing a likeable attitude to fend off the favourite. He will get entries for both the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett and would have definite claims in both races.

If he did turn up in the latter, he would be re-opposing Value At Risk who shaped like a strong stayer. On second viewing, he wasn’t as outpaced as originally thought between the last two hurdles and he fought back tenaciously up the hill. If there was one to take for the Albert Bartlett from the weekend, this was the horse as it was confirmed by Dan Skelton that this was the plan. His jumping had improved from Newbury and the 14/1 best price looks generous considering he was only beaten less than a length. The only small concern I have is about him settling but with a stronger pace guaranteed, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.

The horse that travelled the strongest throughout was Vago Collonges but when push came to shove, he didn’t look the most genuine when putting in his effort. I will give the benefit of the doubt having read comments that his wind may not have been completely right, although it was pleasing to see him boost his form from earlier in the season with Maximiser at Haydock, who is sadly out for the season with a setback. Robinsfirth is a horse that will come into himself next season as he still looks relatively weak but he does have plenty of ability. It may be wise to miss the Festival with him and give him an easy time of things for the remainder of the season.

Some Buckle made a significant move after the second last and looked to have place claims before weakening back in fifth. This was a solid effort in his toughest task over hurdles to date and whilst he may not be good enough for a novice hurdle at the Festival, his future lies over fences next season. Present View wasn’t good enough to hold his own against some smart novice hurdlers but has ran respectably with his next target being the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton. Both Thistlecrack and Stiletto were way too keen for their own good and were both comprehensively outclassed in the end whilst Native River was yet to be asked a question when taking a nasty looking fall two out. He would have been another pointer towards the Challow and it would be silly to assume where he would have finished but he was shaping well at the time of his departure.

Saphir Du Rheu clearing the last on his way to winning the Cleeve Hurdle.
Saphir Du Rheu clearing the last on his way to winning the Cleeve Hurdle.

Having suggested in the Christmas review that Saphir Du Rheu could return hurdling, the Cleeve Hurdle looked a retrieval mission for him after his novice chase career went astray with an unseated rider on chase debut at Newbury and a fall at Kempton in the Feltham on Boxing Day. The apple of Paul Nicholls’ eye managed to get his season back on track and whilst he made it look like hard work, it was pleasing to see him stick his head down and battle up the hill to fend off the six time Grade One winner in Reve De Sivola with another up and comer in Un Temps Pour Tout back in third.

The winner travelled strongly behind the leaders but did look slightly in trouble on the run down to the final flight but showed guts to match his class on ground probably not ideal either. Better ground will help him a fair amount, and the World Hurdle now looks the aim. His current price of 7/1 seems fair considering the majority of his main market rivals all have questions to answer and he is now confirmed a definite runner. On Friday’s video, I mentioned having a theory about the horse however it was blown out of the water by the cool ride given by Sam Twiston-Davies who sat quieter in the saddle on the way round compared to Kempton.

Can Saphir Du Rheu emulate his former stable mate Big Bucks and win the World Hurdle?
Can Saphir Du Rheu emulate his former stable mate Big Bucks and win the World Hurdle?

It was interesting to hear Paul Nicholls comparison of Saphir Du Rheu to Big Bucks after the race over the tannoy. Nicholls described Big Bucks as ‘gutless’ over fences compared to Saphir Du Rheu who is more ‘brave’. I have no doubt in time that Saphir Du Rheu will learn to respect his obstacles more as he gets older and he will no doubt be a leading player come the Festival for the World Hurdle.

Reve De Sivola ran a far better race than expected after his heroic effort in the Long Walk last month at Ascot. He made this a fair test for the young pretenders and to his credit, battled all the way to the line on a track where he has never really shown his best form. He will probably line up in the World Hurdle however, he would need very testing ground to be at his most effective. For his comeback run, Un Temps Pour Tout ran a really nice race having jumped and travelled very sweetly before his effort petered out in the last one hundred yards, which it was entitled to having not seen the track since May. He definitely saw out the three miles which was a question mark beforehand and he’ll re-oppose the front pairing in March. Whether he can reverse the form remains to be seen and would he be as effective on better ground.

Cole Harden jumped out to his left violently at the second last and faded away on ground probably soft enough for him. With the yard form questionable at present, he is definitely worth forgiving plus I’m not convinced Cheltenham’s his track. Unconfirmed suggestions post-race were that he had a breathing problem. If so, let’s hope it’s rectified and hopefully we see him at Aintree on Grand National day for the Liverpool Hurdle.

The Druids Nephew would have a big chance in the Baylis & Harding Handicap Chase.
The Druids Nephew would have a big chance in the Baylis & Harding Handicap Chase.

The Druids Nephew ran a race full of promise heading towards the Festival, with the most suitable race being the Baylis & Harding Handicap Chase on the first day. His handicap form over fences this season looks strong with his second to Sam Winner at the Paddy Power meeting and his seventh to Many Clouds in the Hennessy and he would go there with a big chance. Olofi clearly didn’t stay three miles and may also benefit from dropping into handicap company at the Festival.

The final handicap hurdle went to the ultra consistent Lightentertainment who gave Chris Gordon his first ever Cheltenham winner and was a welcome tonic after the sad loss of King Edmund last week. He did exceedingly well to win considering the lack of hurdles to jump plus he looked one of the first beaten. The horse to take out of the race was Dell’ Arca for the County Hurdle as he should have won this contest. He should be reassessed for this and even then he will still be competitive come March.

Three Kingdoms gained the biggest success of his career. Aintree would suit him well.
Three Kingdoms gained the biggest success of his career. Aintree would suit him well.

Doncaster hosted some quality action and the first of three races to focus on is the Lightning Novices Chase which went to Three Kingdoms who did well to recover from a bad mistake at the third last to see off the tough Solar Impulse to gain his second victory over fences. The winner will be even better on good ground and could be one to skip the Arkle with and go to Aintree with. Solar Impulse chased home Josses Hill last time out and almost beat Three Kingdoms here. This was definitely a career best and he would deserve a go in the Arkle where he could easily run into a place if the race cuts up, especially as it has the potential to.

The Albert Bartlett Trial looked easy pickings for Blaklion on his return to three miles but was another short price favourite to be beaten by Caracci Apache who was given an unbelievable ride by Nico De Boinville as he was struggling a fair way out and not really travelling but perseverance was the order of the day. He clearly doesn’t look straight forward as he collided with the rail right on the line and Cheltenham could come too early for him this season. If connections go to the Festival, it would no doubt be the Albert Bartlett but he would need to travel much better than he did here.

Blaklion was ridden similarly here to his Cheltenham run but took a long time to go past the tough Zeroeshadesofgrey who put him to the sword a long way out. Although he has run well in defeat, I’m not entirely sure what to think of the run but he does go to the Festival with his chance for the Albert Bartlett. It could just be that needs to be freshened up having had plenty of runs.

Zeroeshadesofgrey was meant to run in a Pertemps Qualifier on Friday at Huntingdon and has ran a solid race back in third, proving the trip at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day was on the sharp side for him. He wouldn’t be out of place either in the Albert Bartlett and already has Festival experience from the bumper and is proving himself to be a very good horse for Neil King whilst Binge Drinker travelled really well but when the tempo quickened, he was left flat footed. A real stamina test is what he wants and he will definitely make into a National Hunt Chase contender next season when he goes chasing.

If In Doubt looks ahead of the handicapper on this evidence.
If In Doubt looks ahead of the handicapper on this evidence.

The Skybet Chase had the potential to go to an improving young chaser and If In Doubt proved to be one with a comfortable success on handicap debut. His jumping early on left a lot to be desired but it did improve once the race warmed up and he has won like a horse that is ahead of the handicapper. He will probably go for the Baylis & Harding on the first day of the Festival but he would need to jump better.

Baileys Concerto has been a wonderful servant for Dianne Sayer. His improvement from a mark of 96 last March to 134 here has been a joy to watch and the step up in distance here held no barriers for the horse. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he could improve again on this run and saw him in another three mile handicap chase. Night In Milan has ran an excellent trial for the Grand National, a race which he missed by one last year but there is no concerns about him getting in this year. He could return for the Grimthorpe as his final race before Aintree where he would be competitive off a racing weight.

Another horse muted for Aintree is Renard and he stayed on again back in fourth after getting outpaced. He doesn’t strike me as a Grand National winner but the type to run a decent race. Lost Legend didn’t convince on his first try at three miles over fences and although he won at Kempton on Lanzarote day, his handicap mark looks tough enough. Fairy Rath ran well for a long way before finding the three mile distance stretched his stamina. Back down in trip, he definitely has more races in him,  something like the Newbury Gold Cup in early March before a go in the Topham Trophy which has been the long term plan.

Medermit can be forgiven for this effort as he returned lame whilst his stablemate Godsmejudge looked to need this outing badly and was pulled up. He showed enough promise towards the Grand National and will hopefully have another run before Aintree whilst Royal Player looked to find this too much this early in his career.

Yesterday’s action at Leopardstown had some outstanding performances for various reasons, with the three Graded contests all holding their clues towards March. The Irish Arkle looked one of the most exciting novice chases of the season with three genuine Graded chasers taking their chance to boost their claims for the Arkle.

Un De Sceaux was electric beating two very good horses.
Un De Sceaux was electric beating two very good horses.

The race most certainly didn’t disappoint with one of the best performances I’ve seen in a novice chase from Un De Sceaux who jumped beautifully and nimbly in front and then quickened off a fairly strong gallop to make two very good horses in Clarcam and Gilgamboa look pedestrian. To give ten pounds to a Grade One novice winner in Clarcam and win without Ruby Walsh having to get serious by fifteen lengths just underlines the horse’s scary natural talent.

Although he wanted to get on with things out in front, Walsh was able to settle him more and he didn’t look as buzzed up as he was on chasing debut at Thurles or at Fairyhouse. At this moment in time, he looks the likely winner of the Arkle even with his running style as I don’t think anything could go with him once he kicks off the bend going to the second last. The last horse to make all the running in the Arkle was Anaglog’s Daughter back in 1980 and I fully expect Un De Sceaux to do exactly the same. At a time when the National Hunt game needs a big name for the public to get attached to, this horse could potentially be the blockbuster.

Clarcam who was so impressive over course and distance at Christmas was made to look ordinary here, which he most certainly isn’t. He jumped well but just wasn’t able to live with Un De Sceaux from the second last and off level weights in the Arkle, he would only be fighting it out for a place. Gilgamboa looked outpaced before Un De Sceaux kicked for home and would be much happier going up in distance for the JLT at the Festival where he would hold strong claims in what will likely be the strongest novice chase at the Festival.

22 Grade One victories. There won't be another to match Hurricane Fly's record for a very long time.
22 Grade One victories. There won’t be another to match Hurricane Fly’s record for a very long time.

Words cannot describe Hurricane Fly. Now a twenty two time Grade One winner after taking his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle. Yesterday summed up what he is. Having looked to be in trouble down the back straight and looking one of the first beaten, his class got him back into the race and showed yet again the heart of a lion to battle against Jezki. He had that battle won before Jezki made a shuddering error at the final flight.

This performance also underlines his longevity and the fact that he isn’t regressing in the slightest, a testament to Willie Mullins and his staff. Whilst the heart would love to see him win a third Champion Hurdle at Prestbury Park on the 10th of March, the head says he needs very testing ground for it to be a reality as on this slightly better ground over two miles, he looked vulnerable for a moment. It was a shame not to see him get an entry in the World Hurdle as on better ground and going a stride slower than they would in a Champion Hurdle, it would be fascinating to see how he would fare against the top staying hurdlers.

Arctic Fire has confirmed himself here to be a worthy Graded hurdler following his more illustrious stable mate home, proving here that he is worth a place as the Mullins third string in the Champion Hurdle. On spring ground as well and a thorough end to end gallop, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world were he to finish in the frame.
The team tactics for the JP McManus horses failed to work with Plinth unable to set a gallop and go far enough into the race to suit Jezki, who sat on his tail for the early part of the race before disputing the lead around the halfway mark. This move was always going to leave him vulnerable to Hurricane Fly and once they turned for home, it was inevitable the same result was going to happen again. He was beaten before the last flight mistake which he did well to stand up at and he was run out of second place by Arctic Fire. The saving grace for Jezki’s supporters is the improvement we are likely to get from him come March time.

Tiger Roll looked last time to want a step up in trip and the same comment applies after this run. Fiscal Focus ran a really encouraging race for his second try over hurdles, travelling really well until the leaders kicked for home and he was left due to a lack of experience. He would be worth his chance in the Triumph Hurdle against his old age group or if they believe he wouldn’t get up the hill, a trip to Fairyhouse or Punchestown in the spring would be the ideal targets as I wouldn’t expect him to come over for Aintree, even though the flat track would suit him well.

Outlander bounced back from his loss over Christmas at Limerick.
Outlander bounced back from his loss over Christmas at Limerick.

The Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle had a strong favourite in No More Heroes who was unbeaten this season going into this race. However, he was a tad disappointing when fifth behind Gigginstown’s second string Outlander who got back to winning ways over hurdles, reversing the form with Martello Tower from Limerick over the Festive period. He travelled really well and was ridden with plenty of confidence by Paul Townend. Once he was asked to quicken away, he did so impressively but against horses that will likely be better at three miles. The Neptune was nominated as his Festival target by trainer Willie Mullins who was completing a Graded treble and in his stable of superstars, he’d probably take a high enough rank. His price for the race is skinny enough.

Martello Tower probably wasn’t suited by the drop back down in trip compared to the winner but has ran a solid race in defeat. If he doesn’t go to Cheltenham, the likely big target for him would be the Punchestown Festival over three miles. Killultagh Vic was given a different ride altogether compared to Ascot when second to L’ami Serge and the step up in distance here certainly suited better. He would certainly go to the Festival as a second or third string but wouldn’t disgrace himself. Windsor Park was given a strange ride by Davy Russell as he gave the leaders a head start before jumping into the back of Hurry Henry at the second last. If he had been ridden closer to the pace, I feel he would have at least finished second although it could just be a below par effort.

No More Heroes didn’t jump with much fluency compared to his other two starts this campaign with Bryan Cooper never looking completely happy. If he were to miss Cheltenham, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise. Especially as at the end of last season, Gordon Elliott was mindful to look after the horse with his future lying next season over fences. Another factor for the disappointing run could be down to fitness as Elliott had said after his last start that he would go straight to the Albert Bartlett, similar to Road To Riches at Gowran earlier this season where he was brought in earlier than planned. He is definitely a much better horse than this showing.

Next weekend may provide further clues towards the spring with Sandown holding a decent enough card on Saturday plus the potential to see King’s Palace in action at Wetherby, albeit against weak opposition in the Towton Novices Chase. We also have Musselburgh’s excellent Trials Day and based on the entries so far with two races being reopened, it looks to have some quality about it.

Eyecatchers From The Weekend

Storm Force Ten – Has the potential to be one of the leading UK contenders for the Fred Winter.

Ibis Du Rheu – Not this season but he deserves a mention towards next season and beyond.

Generous Ransom – Keep him on side.

Irish Cavalier – Could be one for the Rewards4Racing Novice Handicap Chase.

Smad Place – He is definitely the E/W value in the Gold Cup market.

Value At Risk – 14’s for the Albert Bartlett could potentially be a decent price right now compared to the day.

Saphir Du Rheu – Obvious eye-catcher but he holds leading claims for the World Hurdle.

The Druids Nephew – The Baylis & Harding Handicap Chase on the first day would suit well.

Dell’ Arca – The County Hurdle would suit perfectly.

Binge Drinker – Staying novice chaser next year.

Fairy Rath – A drop back in distance will see a return to the winner’s enclosure.

2015 Cheltenham Trials Day Preview

Here is tonight’s link for OnTheOtherHoof’s preview of Cheltenham’s Trials Day and also features a look at Doncaster’s Channel Four races plus a preview of the Irish action on Sunday at Leopardstown.

NAPS

Adam – Ink Master – 12:25 Doncaster

Calum – Ned Stark – 1:15 Cheltenham

Luke – Blaklion – 2:40 Doncaster

Good luck if you are having a bet and have a great day whatever you are doing!