POSTED ON APRIL 30, 2013
AL KAZEEM AS GOOD AS EVER
AL KAZEEM (40) earned yet another good Group 2 class speed rating from me when returning from injury to win the Group 3 Gordon Richards Stakes following a one year absence.
With two furlongs to run Al Kazeem was still cruising and soon powered forward to lead then hold off the runner up a shade comfortably.
On several occasions, including here and last time out, Al Kazeem has run as if he could perhaps go the extra bit quicker needed to make him a Group 1 horse if he'd faced stronger opposition. We'll soon get the chance to find out as he's set to tackle the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup next time.
Seeing that he's such a top heavy sort and has already suffered a stress fracture of the pelvis I'd be a little wary of supporting Al Kazeem on ground where the word 'firm' appears in the official description from now on.
Runner up THOMAS CHIPPENDALE (39) was also moving really well early in the straight and made a strong bid in the final furlong to go under by only a length.
It's interesting to note that Thomas Chippendale has run fifth or worse all four times he's run on dead flat tracks but would have won four out of four on tracks with gradients but for coming up against a smart rival here. It could be he needs the gradients to break up the gallop as he is such a keen going sort that tends to pull hard.
Third placed EKTIHAAM (39) was running second and looked set to hold that position until the winner edged in and forced him to be taken up quite sharply as they approached the line. Actually he seems to hoover up all the trouble that's going in a race as this was the third time in a row he's encountered traffic problems.
Ektihaam is a big-bodied, rather top heavy horse that may well be best on a dead flat track like the runner up. He's won three times out of four on dead flat courses and finished a close second in the Dante in his only loss.
SUGAR BOY SHOWS HIS STAMINA
SUGAR BOY (33-pace adjusted 37) is built for a mile and a half plus and showed once more how well he stays when rallying to re-take the lead when winning the Sandown Park Classic Trial over ten furlongs.
Sectional times suggest jockey Chris Hayes was probably right to suggest he should have kicked earlier on Sugar Boy. Most likely he would not have been headed at any stage had he done so. As it is he saved enough energy by setting a slightly slow early gallop run the last three furlongs 1.5 seconds faster than they did in the Esher Cup over a mile and only 0.3 seconds slower than in the Group 2 Sandown Mile.
Now that Sugar Boy has earned a Listed to Group 3 class rating for the second time in two starts this term it's tempting to conclude that's as good as he is. However I still see scope for improvement over a mile and a half and was interested to hear his trainer talking about the St Leger.
Runner up EYE OF THE STORM (33-pace adjusted 37) looked set to win well when going past the winner two furlongs out but just got done when his rival staged a big rally from there. He's only had three runs, so I'm reluctant to say this performance shows us definitively how good he is.
Third placed GALILEO ROCK (33-pace adjusted 37) is a long striding, rangy, staying sort. He cannot have been suited to the quickening pace but was relentlessly closing the gap on the first two all the way through the last quarter mile and only lost by half a length.
This run suggests that Galileo Rock may not need two miles to show his best like his three parts brother Saddlers Rock. But he will clearly appreciate the step up to a mile and a half. The Lingfield Derby Trial and Chester Vase therefore shape up as logical targets for him.
HIGHLAND KNIGHT WILL BE TOUGH TO BEAT IN DOIMED STAKES
HIGHLAND KNIGHT (32-pace adjusted 36) showed just why he has trouble showing his best form on right handed tracks when running second in the Sandown Mile. He made the running but started drifting left as the field exited the home turn and turned for home. His jockey did his best to keep him straight but Trumpet Major was able to slip through on his inside and win.
Last season Highland Knight earned a big rating of 41 from me when winning Germany's top mile race, the Group 2 Oettingen-Rennen by three lengths. The form of that race has worked out well, so I'm inclined to think I got his rating right.
Highland Knight always needs his seasonal debut but has won the other most recent three times he's run left handed. He's already won at Epsom so I see no reason why he shouldn't take the Diomed Stakes there next time out. The track is left handed and the race is only a Group 3 so he's unlikely to face rivals as good as those he beat impressively in Germany.
HOT SNAP ONE OF THE BEST FILLIES IN YEARS
HOT SNAP (40) clocked an extraordinarily fast time when winning the Nell Gwyn Stakes. I rated it the best performance by a three year old filly before May in all the time I've been making speed ratings.
There can be no question that Hot Snap is not just Group 1 class but one of the best fillies of the past decade or more on this performance. Trainer Henry Cecil will never replace Frankel but it looks like he's found himself a worthy new flag bearer for his stable.
Early on in the race victory didn't look that likely because Hot Snap was clearly having trouble going the early pace. She was being rowed along in last place of the fourteen runners. However when stamina started to become an issue in the closing stages she surged through down the rail and swept past the top class Sky Lantern to score impressively and full of running.
The 1000 Guineas should be a formality for Hot Snap if my ratings are any guide. So the 5-1 currently being offered by the bookies looks incredibly generous.
What is more interesting to speculate on is what Hot Snap does after the Guineas.
Hot Snap got outpaced early and is by Pivotal, who has produced more middle distance sorts than the sire of her half sister Midday, a top class international mile and a half performer. So I think there's little doubt she will stay the Oaks distance. Logically therefore she should run in the Oaks after the Guineas. And, assuming she's as good as I rate her, then her obvious end of season target, given Cecil's preference for British races, has to be the Champion Stakes, now Britain's most valuable race.
No doubt if Hot Snap takes the Guineas and the Oaks there will be a lot of talk about the possibility of her emulating Cecil's Oh So Sharp by completing the fillies Triple Crown in the St Leger. It's an intriguing idea but I'd rather shoot for the money in the Champion Stakes and I suspect her connections will be inclined the same way.
Runner up SKY LANTERN (38) was held up and surged through from the rear with the winner but simply couldn't go with her in the final furlong.
In a normal year Sky Lantern would have been an impressive, clear cut winner of the Nell Gwyn and be a deserving favourite for the 1000 Guineas. She looks to have a big chance of at least running second in the race and would be good enough to win it if anything went wrong for Hot Snap. So the 12-1 plus the bookies are offering about her looks an each-way steal.
Sky Lantern's biggest chance of adding a Group 1 win will probably come in the Irish 2000 Guineas, assuming Hot Snap skips that race and she gets the fast surface she needs. She looks a specialist miler to me so all the big fillies races over a mile are obvious targets for her.
GARSWOOD IS A SMART SPRINTER
My research shows that horses gain speed not stamina with age, the opposite of what's assumed in the weight for age scale. So it's very hard for a three year old to beat older horses in the top sprints. And the annual Australian raiding party at Royal Ascot and beyond has made it even harder.
However GARSWOOD (38) won the Free Handicap so easily I can readily see him giving his elders a run for their money in the King's Stand or the Golden Jubilee at the Royal meeting.
Like a lot of smart sprinters, Garswood is a big-bodied horse. And he has loads of top class sprinters close up in his pedigree. He showed his pace in the Free Handicap by surging through to win clearly with his ears pricked, looking as if he was simply having an easy exercise gallop.
I can see how you could argue that Garswood might stay the extra furlong of the 2000 Guineas on this effort. But he's built and bred for sprinting and his last two runs were over five furlongs - a win in a Listed race and a head second in the Group 3 Cornwallis Stakes. His size and the way he's put together suggest strongly to me that he's going to prove better over shorter than seven furlongs not longer.
TORONADO PROBABLY NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR GUINEAS
A strong wind cannot make a horse run faster than it's mechanically capable of going. But it does make it easier for them to sustain their top speed for longer. This, I think, is what explains the unusual situation that prevailed at Newmarket last Thursday when four of the seven winners made all or almost all the running.
The wind was reportedly coming from the West which means it was across as well as behind the runners. But it clearly affected the speed of races because a class 3 ten furlong handicap won by a tearaway pace-setter was run in a time just 0.26 of a second slower than the course record set by New Approach in the Champion Stakes (a course record that was also wind assisted).
In the circumstances I think we have to be rather wary of the apparent good form shown by the front running winners on the card. This is especially true for TORONADO (32-pace adjusted 38), the all the way winner of the Craven Stakes.
Toronado was allowed to amble through the first five furlongs in 62.26 seconds before sprinting the final three furlongs in a near miraculous 32.93 seconds. If we allow 1.7 seconds for the standing start that means he was travelling at a rate of 12.11 seconds per furlong for the first five furlongs and 10.98 seconds for the last three furlongs.
I do not know the precise strength or direction of the wind or how to quantify how much it was aiding the front runners. So I've left Toronado's pace adjusted rating untouched at 38. The fact that he earned a rating of 37 from me as a two year old suggests I may actually have his rating right.
However there are other factors that make me worry I may be rating Toronado a tad high.
The first is that Toronado's only serious rival among his three opponents was Dundonnell who missed work due to a bruised heel three weeks before and was probably unfit. Tawhid also needed the run according to his trainer. So Toronado really only had to beat Havana Gold, who surely needs longer.
The second is that only one of the last 21 winners of the Craven Stakes to run in the 2000 Guineas scored.
The third is that the form of the two pattern races Toronado won as a juvenile have not worked out very well. In fact the horses the beat in those contests have run a total of thirty times since without scoring a single win between them.
Of course this is one of those occasions when I could be horribly wrong. Newmarket is the only track in Britain or Ireland where race times are seriously and routinely affected by strong winds. So I just don't have enough data to even guess at its effect, let alone how strong it was for individual races.
Runner up HAVANA GOLD (28-pace adjusted 34) stayed on to take second in the closing stages after briefly getting outpaced. Previously I've been a bit dubious about his prospects of staying longer than a mile despite the face the has the build of a ten furlong horse. The thing that's troubled me isthe thirty wins scored by his dam, her siblings and her foals have all been over a mile or less. However Havana Gold looks and runs like a ten furlong horse so I'm now inclined to say he will stay when he gets the chance to run that far which will apparently be soon.
It's worth noting that if his saddle hadn't slipped in one race and one photo had gone his way Havana Gold would have won all six of his starts prior to this loss. Consistency like that makes me suspect he's likely to prove better than the Group 3 class ratings I've been able to award him so far.
DUNDONNELL(28-pace adjusted 34) started to shorten his stride soon after the three furlong marker, which is pretty bad considering the pace had been rather slow to that point. I recognise he was unfit because a bruised heel caused him to miss work. But I'm now worried that the big edge in maturity his US pedigree gave him at two has evaporated and that's why he ran so moderately here.
I can't leave the Craven without noting the amazing record of Richard Hannon in the contest with horsesthat earned Racing Post ratings of 100 or more over seven furlongs as two year olds.
2001...King's Ironbridge.........WON 12-1
2003...Hurricane Alan.............WON 9-1
2012...Trumpet Major.............WON 9-2
HILLSTAR SHOULD IMPROVE
The ten furlong handicap for three year olds at Newmarket's Craven meeting has become a minor Derby Trial over the years. Many of the big stables seem to target it with horses that are very smart but unexposed. There isn't another race like it.
This year's race was clearly up to the usual standard as the winner SOVIET ROCK (37) clocked a time of 2m 0.39 seconds - just 0.26 of a second off the track record set by New Approach in the 2008 Champion Stakes and the second fastest time over ten furlongs in the long history of racing at Newmarket. The only other horse to break 2m 1 seconds for ten furlongs at Newmarket was Monterosso who went on to win the world's most valuable race, the Dubai World Cup.
I should add that the time Soviet Rock ran was aided by a tailwind. But so were those clocked by New Approach and Monterosso.
Soviet Rock made all the running at a strong pace and probably enjoyed a significant advantage by being pushed clear at halfway, thanks to the tailwind. However he rallied strongly when the runner up attacked in the last furlong and held his advantage of a length all the way through the last hundred yards.
Soviet Rock's connections must now decide whether to exploit what will probably still be a very lenient official handicap mark or shoot for a Derby Trial. Whatever route they decide on he will merit plenty of respect next time.
Runner up HILLSTAR (36) was attempting to give weight and a head start to the winner and looked as if he might do it when surging forwards in the closing stages. He was hemmed in briefly by the third approaching the furlong pole but this didn't affect the result. He simply couldn't quite get to the winner.
Hillstar looks a proper mile and a half sort to me, so I'd like to see him go for the Chester Vase or Lingfield Derby Trial rather than a shorter Derby trial. He's probably not going to prove up to Classic standard but I'd like to see him tackle a longer, more normally run race before saying that definitively.
INTELLO IS USEFUL
When Andre Fabre sends a horse over to Britain before the Guineas meeting it's time to sit up and take notice. He's won six times out of twelve in these circumstances over the last quarter century, as you can see from his results below:
1988,.....Soviet Star........Trusthouse Forte Mile....WON
1992......Lion Cavern......Greenham Stakes...........WON
1995..... Diffident............Free Handicap................WON
2005......Valixir...............Earl of Sefton Stakes.......third
2006......Sweet Travel.....Nell Gwyn......................fourth
2007......Manduro............Earl Of Sefton.................WON
2011......Polytichnicien....Earl Of Sefton.................second
Fabre's latest early season British winner came in the form of INTELLO (31-pace adjusted 37) in Newmarket's Feilden Stakes over nine furlongs.
The early pace wasn't great in the Feilden Stakes but Intello came through smoothly to increase it markedly from three furlongs out and steadily forge clear, showing a long, flowing stride. He's built more for middle distances than a mile and Fabre was talking about the Prix du Jockey Club after this success.
Intello needs to do more to prove he's up to Classic standard. But he's unbeaten in three starts and should improve over longer distances. So it's too early to say he's not up to the task.
OLYMPIC GLORY SHOULD DO BETTER OVER A MILE
Sprint finishes can make a horse look bad, especially when it is running over a distance short of its best. This, I suspect, is why it was such a struggle for OLYMPIC GLORY (30-pace adjusted 36) to win the Greenham Stakes. However he did eventually start to come away from his rivals in the closing stages. And over a mile rather than seven furlongs I think he'll do better, especially off a stronger early pace.
Olympic Glory will face a hard task next time out when he tackles the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) against what looks set to be an unusually strong field. It could well be he's going to have a tough time in Group 1 company this season but I want to see what he can do over a mile off a stronger pace before reaching that conclusion.
Third placed MOOHAAJIM (28-pace adjusted 34) surged forwards, moving smoothly and easily approaching the furlong pole and looked set to sweep by the first and second (he went three to one on in running). But he tired and hung left in the closing stages and failed to go through with his effort. He's a good moving sort and would almost certainly have appreciated faster ground. It's also quite possible he failed to stay the seventh furlong. The main concern is that he was visibly smaller than his rivals and doesn't seem to have grown much from two to three.
POSTED ON APRIL 16, 2013
TESTOSERONE IS BACK
TESTOSERONE (39) was one of the top European fillies in 2011. A major sinus problem prevented her showing top form last year. But she bounced back to win the Listed Further Flight Stakes in a time that would win many Group 1's for fillies.
In the early stages Testosterone showed that she still has the same free running style that enabled her to make all the running in the Group 2 Prix de Malleret. She was keen but was eventually wrestled back to settle in fourth place before gradually moving forwards as they closed in on the three furlong pole.
The most impressive part of Testosterone's win was the acceleration she showed from three furlongs out when she was asked to kick on. She covered the last three furlongs in 36.06 seconds off a good early pace. For comparison the last three furlongs in the mile handicap won by Ingleby Symphony took 37.39 seconds and in the ten furlong handicap won by Sioux Chieftan it took 38.06 seconds. To run so much faster at the end of a race over a mile and three quarters was very smart. That sort of pace suggests Testosterone will have no trouble cutting back to the twelve furlongs over which she ran second in the Vermeille. I can readily see her being effective over ten furlongs as well.
The main reason to keep Testosterone in training is surely to secure the Group 1 win that will boost her stud value. At this stage that makes the Yorkshire Oaks and the Prix Vermeille her most obvious targets. The French race is a tough one to win which leaves just the one serious shot for Testosterone to win a Group 1 if she sticks to races over a mile and a half plus.
If she were mine I'd be entering Testosterone in the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh to see if she can be effective over less than a mile and a half. If she is that would open up many more opportunities for her. Namely the Nassau, the Beverly D, the Prix Jean Romanet, the Flower Bowl, the Yellow Ribbon Stakes, the Prix l'Opera, the E P Taylor, the Premio Lydia Tesio, the QEII Commemorative Cup and the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf
Runner up EARTH AMBER (37) is a deep chested, good-bodied filly that finished really strongly. She was last turning in and still only seventh of the eight runners with a quarter mile to run. But she picked up really well from there to get up for second close home.
Earth Amber was unlucky to run into a Group 1 horse in a minor race here. The same thing happened to her on her previous start when she finished second to subsequent Group 1 winner Les Beaufs.
Clearly Earth Amber stays very well. Now that she's with Nicky Henderson she will no doubt be heading to Royal Ascot for the Queen Alexandra Stakes or perhaps the Ascot Stakes if her official rating coming out of this is 95 or lower (I suspect it'll be a bit higher). Henderson has a really good record in big flat races over marathon distances and I suspect Earth Amber will be improving on it soon.
DON'T UNDER ESTIMATE LILY'S ANGEL
There have been 967 races run over a mile on Kempton's Polytrack and only two in faster time than LILY'S ANGEL (38) clocked winning a good Listed race there last week.
The record time over the course and distance was the 1m 35.73 seconds clocked by Western Aristocrat. He went on to win a Grade 1 on dirt next time out. The next fastest time was the 1m 36 seconds recorded by multiple Group 1 placed Sri Putra who went on to win a very good Group 2 soon after. So clearly the 1m 36.18 seconds Lily's Angel took to run the distance merits plenty of respect.
I liked the acceleration Lily's Angel showed in the closing stages. She covered the last three furlongs in faster time than they went in the good conditions race for colts but did so off a much stronger early pace. And the way she cleared away to win full of running suggests she might well be able to run even faster against better opposition.
It looks like Lily's Angel is best around a turn and on genuinely fast turf or an All Weather surface. She's won all six times she's run less than a mile in these circumstances. Her connections are apparently hoping to win a Group 3 with her. My ratings suggest they should be aiming a bit higher than that. The race I'd like to see her go for is the Group 1 Matron Stakes at Leopardstown. I'd give her a big chance of winning that race on fast ground.
VAN DER NEER FLIES HOME
VAN DER NEER (37) nearly blew the home turn when winning the International Trial Stakes over a mile on Lingfield's Polytrack. He came really wide and was half a dozen lengths down with just a quarter of a mile left to travel. Thankfully the early pace had been really strong, so he was able to mow down the clear leader with a terrific burst of speed and win a shade comfortably.
Jockey Richard Hughes is clearly right to say Van Der Neer has a fast ground action and will always be best on a quick surface. The horse looks like a miler to me and is good enough to have a shot in the Guineas or the Poulains (French Guineas).
POSTED ON MARCH 26, 2013
CLOSE TOUCH A GOOD CHASING PROSPECT
CLOSE TOUCH (38) showed remarkable stamina to run away with the Grade 3 Novices Handicap Hurdle over two and a half miles at Sandown on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival.
The early pace was strong and Close Touch was the only one able to sustain it. He was swinging off the bridle turning in and flew away from his rivals in the last three furlongs to score by a dozen lengths. It was remarkable that he could finish so full of running on heavy ground off such a strong gallop. Clearly he's going to stay a lot longer than two and a half miles.
Close Touch is a three mile plus chasing sort that shows knee action. He won a couple of minor races on officially good ground but his only loss so far in five starts came when he encountered ground that was rated 7.5 on the going stick. That's the highest reading for any of his races and should denote a fast surface. The winner was the smart African Gold but I suspect the quick ground contributed to his loss.
Next year Close Touch will be going chasing. The Feltham will be an obvious target as it's more likely he'll get his ground there than in the RSA Chase. Meanwhile if it comes up soft at Aintree or Punchestown he'd be an interesting candidate there.
POSTED ON MARCH 25, 2013
JEZKI AND MY TENT OR YOURS CAN STILL WIN AGAIN THIS SEASON
The fields for the three novice hurdles at this years Cheltenham Festival were all the smallest in the last quarter century and quite possibly smallest ever. The reasons are obvious:
(1) the massive increase in pattern races
(2) the emergence of competing Spring Festivals at Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown (3) the addition of an extra day and new novice and juvenile hurdles to the Cheltenham Festival.
The solution is clearly in the hands of the Pattern Committee. They have allowed the percentage of jumps races carrying pattern status in Britain and Ireland to grow from just over 4% in 1996 to just shy of 6% last year. If the rate of increase continues in 128 years every national hunt race will be Listed or Graded.
In the past it has mostly been the many bogus Group 1 and Grade 1 races that have seen their field sizes depleted by the option of even easier targets at the same level made possible by the proliferation of such contests. Its worrying that the problem of Group race inflation has got to the point where the competitiveness of even genuine championship contests is being affected.
It was certainly odd to see just twelve horses line up for the Supreme Novices, a race that is normally a cavalry charge which opens for the Cheltenham Festival. And its hard to argue that this didnt make it easier for CHAMPAGNE FEVER (41) to make all the running. . In the bigger field that normally lines up for the race he would surely have been pressed to go faster in the early stages and would have had less left to repel the late charges of the second and third.
That said I have to say this was a seriously big run by Champagne Fever, his best ever on my ratings. He's won six of the last seven times he's run less than two and a half miles and ran Jezki to less than two lengths in the Royal Bond in his sole loss.
Next year the plan is to go chasing with Champagne Fever. In this regard trainer Willie Mullins commented "We've schooled him and he already jumps fences better than hurdles - he is electric over a fence."
Of course it's one thing schooling at home over fences but quite another when a horse is being crowded by rivals while jumping at top speed in an actual race. In addition it has to be said that Champagne Fever looks a little light-framed for chasing. However if he takes to the bigger jumps he could well prove very hard to beat as a novice since novices find it harder to make up ground on a front runner like Champagne Fever than more experienced chasers due to them being more apt to get pressured into a jumping error if asked to go flat out to close down the leader.
Runner up MY TENT OR YOURS (41) moved well for a long way and looked to be going a lot better than the winner turning in (he went 1-2 in running). But he couldn't quite peg back Champagne Fever and lost by half a length.
The stats suggest that the big win My Tent Or yours scored in the valuable Betfair Hurdle on his previous start took the edge off him.
I say this because since 1989 there have been 67 Supreme Novices runners that did not contest a novice hurdle in their prep race and they all lost. Twenty one of the 67 horses had reached the first four in a valuable handicap or Graded or Listed hurdle against experienced rivals just like My Tent Or Yours had
The lesson seems clear. If you want to win the Supreme Novices with a horse you should stick to novice company for its prep race.
The reason for this I think is that in novice races a horse can get away with having an easy race. This is because the pace is slower and the opposition weaker than it is in races for experienced hurdlers. Horses which prep in races other than novice events therefore cede an edge in freshness which is important this late in the season.
Its hard not to think of My Tent Or Yours as a replacement for Darlan who so sadly died just before Cheltenham. Darlan had masses of pace just like My Tent Or Yours and was on his way to winning the Betfair Hurdle when falling at the last prior to running second in the Supreme Novices. He followed up by winning the big two mile novice hurdle at Aintree. Not surprisingly thats where My Tent Or Yours will now be heading.
Given his abundant tactical speed I have a hard time seeing how My Tent Or Yours can get beat before the Champion Hurdle next season. Hell surely be able to swamp his rivals for finishing speed in the Christmas Hurdle and whatever other races he contests before the big meeting. This being so Id say its a smart move to take the 10-1 the bookies are currently offering about him for the Champion Hurdle and trade it back at what will surely be much shorter odds on the day of the big race.
Third placed JEZKI (40) came to challenge in the closing stages but bunny hopped the last. He hit the flight first with his front legs and then his back legs as the flight swung back. This cost him more ground than a normal jumping error. The immediate impact was to knock him back by a length but the overall impact was probably a little more. He ended up running third by under three lengths. My suspicion is that he'd still have been third but by a length or a length and a half but for the mistake.
As I've noted before. horses with a turn of foot like Jezki, especially those that are slightly below average in size as he is, often need a smallish field to produce their best form. Their late run gets interrupted by traffic in bigger fields.
This being so it is worth noting that prior to this big run Jezki had won six out of six in fields of twelve or less but failed to reach the first four both times he'd tackled bigger fields.
In the old days this likely preference for small fields would have prompted me to dismiss his chances of winning a Champion Hurdle. But the last four renewals of the race have all attracted fields of twelve or less.
The re-match between Jezki and Champagne Fever at Punchestown is now on. The score is now 2-1 in favour of Champagne Fever, but his two wins over Jezki were both at Cheltenham. The way Jezki totally outpaced Champagne Fever in the closing stages of the Royal Bond tells me that at Punchestown he's likely to get his revenge,
Fourth placed UN ATOUT (34) ran below his best, mostly due to costly jumping errors three out and at the last. he chased the winner for a long way before the first three got away from him in the closing stages.
Earlier Un Atout didn't have to come off the bridle to win a novice hurdle at Naas over two miles in pattern class time by nineteen lengths. He had won his two previous starts (also minor races) in similar fashion.
So far Un Atout has only clocked a Listed class time. I'd be pretty darned certain he can run faster over longer, especially over fences. But it is worth bearing in mind that his earlier form was all on heavy ground. As his trainer Willie Mullins says "is very strong on that ground". This is surely because he's built and bred to be a three mile chaser.
Un Atout's sire Robin Des Champs did get one Grade 1 winner at two miles. But that was in a very strongly run race on heavy ground. His other six Grade 1 winners were all over three miles plus. Un Atout's dam was a maiden but her four other winning progeny were all best over two and a half miles or more.
There's no question that Un Atout has the physique of a three mile chaser. And Willie Mullins says "he's really a staying chaser in the making."
When I look at Un Atout I think of another current Irish novice called Don Cossack who is also built and bred to be a three mile chaser. Don Cossack has looked pretty good over two miles against weak opposition and earned about the same speed and handicap ratings as Un Atout. But last time out against two top class rivals he was left floundering by their superior pace in the closing stages, getting beat almost a dozen lengths into third. The fact that the same thing happened to Un Atout here simply means he needs longer and fences just like Don Cossack. Next season he'll surely be back for the Jewson or more likely the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.
PACE MADE THE RACE FOR BOBS WORTH
Sectional times show that the leaders went off a little too fast in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and this hurt the overall time.
There's a path just before the winning post and if you time the runners from when they reach this point you'll find they clocked 3m 10.06 second the first time around but slowed to 3m 16.73 on the second circuit.
In between the third and second last fences the race looked to concern SIR DES CHAMPS (35-pace adjusted 39) who was going a bit better than LONG RUN (35-pace adjusted 39) who was alongside, with the pair five lengths clear of the rest. Soon after though the over-fast early pace told and BOBS WORTH (37-pace adjusted 41) came through to catch the pair who both ended up really tired in the final 100 yards.
It's very hard to judge the pace on ground that's being made steadily softer by rain. So I don't think it's fair to criticise Tony McCoy and Sam Waley-Cohen for kicking for home too soon on the second and third. It's only with the benefit of hindsight and sectional times that it's possible to see the tactical error they made.
I liked the way Sir Des Champs showed such class to rally when desperately tired to come back and take second place after the winner had cut across him and forced him to switch when taking the lead. In a more evenly run race I'd be rather confident about betting Sir Des Champs to turn the form around.
However I can't take anything away from Bobs Worth. His rider Barry Geraghty shrewdly waited till the two leaders had battled each other into exhaustion before asking his mount for his big effort. The win means that Bobs Worth has now won all five times he's run at Cheltenham, including three Festival victories.
Long Run did really well to hold on for third seeing the pace he set. He hit a few fences but he always seems to do that and has never fallen. His record of reaching the first three in all 25 of his starts is outstanding. He may not be quite the horse he was a couple of seasons ago but is clearly still capable of winning at the top level.
THE GIANT BOLSTER (33-pace adjusted 37) did well to finish fourth on ground too soft for him. He has completed the course in six jumps races with 14 runners or less on ground where the going stick reading was 6.8 or higher. He won four of those six races. In one of the others he ran second in lat year's Cheltenham Gold Cup. When he encounters a faster surface he'll be a threat to win again.
CAPTAIN CHRIS (29-pace adjusted 33) jumped right repeatedly, as he does on left handed courses. But he ran a whole lot better than the last time he tried a long distance at Cheltenham. The next time he runs on a right handed track he'll be interesting.
SILVINIACO CONTI was a close third and still moving quite well when capsizing on landing three out. But my feeling was that he was just beginning to get stretched by the two leaders and would probably have tired more than them to finish around the same position The Giant Bolster ended up. His performance added to my doubts about his ability to last more than three miles or jump fences effectively in a field bigger than eight.
NEPTUNE A RED HOT RACE
Sectional times suggest that the Neptune Novices Hurdle was a red hot race this year. The way the field picked up from the fifth last was pretty remarkable. The novices gained 5.27 seconds on the handicappers from this point.
The winner was THE NEW ONE (35-pace adjusted 42) who picked up really well to score by four lengths.
The New One is an athletic sort that clearly has a smart turn of foot. If he hadn't run green at Cheltenham last year and idled when losing narrowly in his prep for this he might well have won all his nine starts to date. I can now see why he was able to beat the smart My Tent Or Yours into second in last year's Aintree Festival Bumper. He clearly has plenty of speed. So the plan to cut him back to two miles next season and shoot for the Champion Hurdle makes perfect sense. Meanwhile it would be fascinating to see him tackle Annie Power, the best two mile novice hurdler on my ratings.
Runner up RULE THE WORLD (41) is more of a staying type than the winner. So he cannot have been as well suited to the way the race was run. His sire Sulamani has yet to have a runner over fences but Rule The World continues to look a good prospect for the bigger jumps.
Third placed PONT ALEXANDRE (39) has a lot of ability but lacks a serious turn of foot. So he too cannot have been best suited by the quickening pace from five out and the near sprint finish from two out. He's already shown that he can stand off and produce a bold jump over a hurdle. This will stand him in good stead when he goes chasing next season.
CHATTERBOX (38) lost his unbeaten record but ran up to his best to take fourth. His dam is a half sister to RSA Chase fourth Unioniste and scored her only win in a two and a half mile chase. No doubt this is the route Chatterbox will be taking next term.
MISK (37) keeps running well in big novice hurdles but has yet to earn anything better than a Listed class rating from me. Sixth placed TAQUIN DU SEUIL (37) on the other hand has earned bigger ratings from me. The near sprint finish was probably not helpful for him as he's a proper stayer. He's another that looks a good prospect for novice chases next term.
... AND SO WAS THE BUMPER
I was a bit surprised to see BRIAR HILL (41) charge from the back to win the Cheltenham Festival Bumper in fast time by seven lengths. I thought the two miles would prove a bit short for him in Grade 1 company. But the combination of a strong pace, slow ground and a testing course helped make the race more of a stamina test than most races over such a short trip.
Briar Hill cost his new owners 100,000 pounds after hed won a maiden point to point in Ireland by three lengths from a horse that won a novice hurdle next time. He does look built for chasing.
On his only start under rules before Cheltenham Briar Hill contested a five runner Bumper race at Thurles which was run at a crawl for the first half mile. He disputed the lead throughout and it was only in the last quarter mile that he was asked to race properly. He sprinted home well enough but looked a little awkward and uncomfortable being asked to go so fast. He covered the last quarter mile only a couple of seconds faster than the winner of the mares maiden hurdle earlier on the card where theyd gone a strong pace throughout. If he had the pace to win a Grade 1 event over two miles I thought he would surely have been able to produce better acceleration. But I hadn't considered what would happen in a more strongly run contest.
If he were mine I'd be tempted to put Briar Hill straight back over fences. But he's only five and ran so fast here it makes sense to try him over hurdles next season.
REGAL ENCORE (38) ran a good race to take second. But it's worth noting that he avoided the traffic in the race by being kept wide most of the way. This may well have improved his finishing position.
Regal Encore quickened away to win a Chepstow Bumper easily on his previous start, having taken one on Southwells Fibresand earlier.
He certainly looked good in that race, quickening away in the style of a good horse and showed he could run faster here. Anthony Honeyball rates him the best horse he has trained. He's more a hurdling type and looks a solid prospect for the good two mile novice hurdles next season.
Third placed GOLANTILLA (37) was the pick on my figures, having earned a rating of 39 from me on his previous start. He kept on strongly after moving into contention rounding the home turn.
Golantilla hosed up by ten lengths in a maiden point to point for four year olds in December then repeated the trick in a Cork Bumper. In that race he accelerated sharply off an ordinary pace to clock a decent time. He came home over the last mile a remarkable 4.4 seconds faster than multiple Grade 1 winner Blackstairmountain even when I add in the 0.7 second per hurdle. My sectional timing formula indicates it was a performance that would win most renewals of the Cheltenham Festival Bumper.
Golantillas trainer said after that race That was exactly what I knew he'd do. This horse is an absolute machine. We have some decent handicappers at home and they can't get anywhere near him. We might go to Naas or Fairyhouse with him now or else straight to Cheltenham. The Champion Bumper is the aim with this fella and always has been.
The owner turned down 190,000 guineas for Golantilla at Brightwells sales and switched him to new trainer Tony Martin for Cheltenham. I'd say Martin has a potential Grade 1 winner on his hands, and Golantilla could well start winning at that level in the big Bumper at the Punchestown Festival.
THE LIQUIDATOR (37) was always prominent and kept on well for fourth.
The Liquidator is a chasing sort like many of these, but hes more athletic than most and looks a future two and a half mile chaser rather than a three miler. He had already run in two big Bumper races, which is unusual for horses in this race.
First time out he ran in the valuable sales race at Fairyhouse in which he and two others kicked clear in impressive style from three furlongs out, leaving the rest of a big field sixteen lengths and more behind. He kept on strongly but just went under by half a length.
Next time out The Liquidator had his first run for David Pipe and ran second in a strongly run Listed Bumper over this course and distance in November. He was held up early in eighth place, about ten lengths off the strong gallop the leaders were setting. He moved up quite rapidly coming down the hill as they headed into the last half mile and was in second place as they turned into the straight. Hed been niggled along from some way out though and began to tire as they kept climbing the uphill finish. The winner got away from him as he tired and he ended up second by five lengths.
Switched to a minor race next time The Liquidator hosed up by 24 lengths. His performance at Cheltenham suggests he probably wants two and a half miles to produce his best.
Fifth placed PURPLE BAY (37) was moving eye-catchingly well rounding the home turn but found himself caught in traffic behind rivals. He picked up well once in the clear and is clearly smart.
On his only previous start Purple Bay was ridden with great confidence at the tail of the field. And it was easy to see why when he surged forward when barely asked to do so entering the straight. He looked set to win easily until you looked across and saw Wilde Blu Yonder also full of running. The pair duelled over the last quarter mile and pulled well clear of the previous winner Un Ace, covering that part of the race a remarkable 4.5 seconds faster than the pattern class Minella Forfitness in a good hurdle on the same card.
Purple Bay always looked to be going that bit better and was still running strongly crossing the line though he only prevailed by a short head.
The early pace was good enough to produce an unusually good time for a bumper race. When I factor in the fast final quarter mile it pushes the pace adjusted rating sky high. Clearly it was a big performance.
Purple Bay is a good moving sort that has the size for jumping but also a smart turn of foot. It could be that he will prove better suited by faster ground than he encountered at Cheltenham. I'd be wary of opposing him if he runs again this season. And I'd expect him to prove a Cheltenham candidate over hurdles next term.
PURE SCIENCE (37) stayed on really well in the closing stages to finish sixth.
He is a powerful chasing sort thats so strong he looks a bit muscle-bound.
His strength certainly helped him on his debut at Warwick when he kept on ploughing through the soft ground till he eventually began to power clear in the last furlong. But we saw the flip side of his strength over speed disposition when he floundered in a sprint finish at Newbury.
When the leaders finally began to slow in the last furlong at Newbury both he Caledonia finished with a rush. When he gets the chance to run longer distances, especially over fences he should be able to win good races.
OUR CONOR RUNS SERIOUSLY FAST AGAIN
OUR CONOR (42) had earned the biggest speed rating I've given a juvenile hurdler since Detroit City back in 2006 when taking a hot renewal of the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown. He was even more impressive when running away with the Triumph Hurdle by fifteen lengths. After chasing the tearaway Diakali he surged clear with very little effort to win full of running.
In the last quarter century only three other horses have won the Triumph Hurdle by more than eight lengths. One of the three was Katchit who won the Champion Hurdle next year. Another was Oh So Risky who ran second by half a length in the Champion Hurdle the following season.
There are a lot of smart young hurdlers around right now, but it's hard to argue with the bookies who have made Our Conor favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
Fourth placed DIAKALI (33) had run a good deal faster when five lengths second to Our Conor in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. Here he probably went a bit too fast in the lead. He jumped well, except for going a bit big at a couple. I can readily see him taking to fences. Meanwhile he's fast enough to win any juvenile hurdle where he can avoid Our Conor.
BOSTON BOB A SOLID GOLD CUP PROSPECT
I was impressed with the way BOSTON BOB (39) quickly ran past his rivals to take the lead approaching two out in the RSA Chase. Unfortunately things then went horribly wrong on the run to the last.
Boston Bob had drifted towards the running rail as horses often do. And for some reason he seemed unaware that that was putting him on a collision course with the wing of the last fence. At the last moment he saw the problem, jinked right and tried to put in an extra step to correct himself. But it was all too late. He was on top of the fence now and just couldn't rise in time, crashing through it then crashing to the ground on the other side where he instantly rolled sideways and found himself on his feet looking at the other horses going away up the run in.
I can't see why there's any debate about whether Boston Bob would have won this race. He would surely have done so clearly but for the mess he got himself into running up to the last.
This run showed once more that stamina is Boston Bob's strong suit. But he has good acceleration too. Few horses can withstand the powerful late run he's able to make at the end of a race.
Boston Bob's second place finish in last year's Albert Bartlett Memorial still raises the question of whether he can produce his best on fast ground. However if he hadn't run green when losing a bumper by half a length and fallen here he would have won his other eight starts. He looks a solid Cheltenham Gold Cup prospect to me.
My bet is Boston Bob will prove capable of handling faster ground over fences. Hopefully he will recover from this race quickly enough to have a chance to prove it in the Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown.
The winner LORD WINDERMERE (38) is a tall, rangy, long striding, sort that understandably ran a clunker the only time he encountered really fast ground. But otherwise he's been admirably consistent despite running over distances that look short of his best before this run.
Lord Windermere stumbled and lost ground at the path on the home turn, just as Sizing Europe did on the same day. But he rallied to pick up strongly and win by almost two lengths. I don't really see him as a Gold Cup type. He actually looks built to go four miles to me and might well end up as a Grand National prospect in time. If he were mine I'd be running him in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse rather than tackling pacier types in the Champion Novices Chase at Punchestown.
Runner up LYREEN LEGEND (38) would only have been third if Boston Bog hadn't fallen. And it's hard not to notice that he's won all three times he's run in races worth 10,000 or less to the winner since losing on his racecourse debut but lost all but one of his other eleven starts.
SIMONSIG NOT AS GOOD OVER FENCES AS HE WAS OVER HURDLES
I remember an episode of 'House' on TV when Dr House resists the idea of giving a patient an MRI. His reason was that if you took a bunch of people off the street and put them into an MRI it would probably show a couple of things wrong with them that weren't actually affecting them.
I think it's the same way with racehorses. If you put them through a thorough veterinary exam right after a race you're bound to find something wrong. Racing is so stressful it'd be surprising if you didn't. This being so I have to say I am not keen on the current vogue for instantly finding something to explain away even a slightly disappointing run for a high profile horse in a big race.
No doubt Nicky Henderson is being honest when he reports that SIMONSIG (40) scoped slightly wrong after his win in the Arkle. But the horse still ran as fast as he had in either of his two previous wins over fences according to my ratings. The harsh truth seems to be that good as he is over fences he is not quite as good as he was over hurdles.
Yes Simonsig made a blunder at the ninth fence, but it didn't seem to cost him that much. And yes he was perhaps idling a little on the run in, but he was driven along and didn't find much. As I see it when he gets taken on by a genuinely top class rival that's suited to the circumstances of the race he is going to get beaten over fences.
Runner up was the admirably consistent BAILY GREEN (39) who had won seven in a row prior to a narrow loss in a Grade 2 and a good three lengths third to Arvika Ligeonniere in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase. He stayed on strongly but couldn't quite get to the winner. I've suggested before that he's probably better over two and a half miles and the way he stayed on here points that way once more. So I like the idea of him going up to that distance next time.
Fourth placed OVERTURN (28) did his thing of dragging his back legs through four of the first five jumps. At that stage I thought he was soon going to get stretched into a major jumping error. But he then bounced over the next five fences, clearing them properly with all his legs until finally he made a dreadful error at the third last.
Approaching three out it became clear just how small Overturn is compared with most steeplechasers. For a few strides the fence almost hid him from view completely. I expected to see him pop into sight as he jumped the fence but instead he emerged on the other side by crashing right through the jump. Jockey Jason Maguire did well to stay in the saddle after being thrown forward sharply by this juddering error. It basically stopped Overturn in his tracks and he was soon fading to finish thirty lengths behind the winner.
What I find encouraging about this run is the way Overturn was able to ping five consecutive jumps out of ground that just didn't have enough bounce in it for him to clear the fences effectively. On faster ground in a small field I can readily see him improving markedly on this run if he's kept to steeplechasing. And let's not forget he's got Cup class ability on the flat and is fast enough to win a Grade 1 over hurdles.
The giant ARVIKA LIGEONNIERE moved well and pressed Overturn in the early stages. He then seemed to hurt his back by overjumping the first open ditch and landing rather heavily. At the next fence he barely bent his back at all and dragged his hind legs through the obstacle as a result. At the jump after that he didn't bend his back at all, so his rear end ploughed the fence. Ruby Walsh wisely pulled him up soon after.
It would have been useful if the racecourse vet had examined Arvika Ligeonniere after the race but I guess it would only be in the days following the race that the extent of the problem the horse had could have been diagnosed.
There's often a trade off between size and soundness with the best steeplechasers. The bigger a horse is the easier it is for them to clear a fence but the risk of injury is increased because they hit the ground so hard. Let's hope that Arvika Ligeonniere can recover from this soon as he'd shown such tremendous ability earlier.
It might simply be that Arvika Ligeonniere is so big he has difficulty coming down the hill at Cheltenham. After all he was travelling like a winner in last year's Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham before fading away to nothing. He bounced back from that wide margin loss to win at the Punchestown Festival next time. However a better explanation for that run is probably that he just didn't stay the three miles. And it's hard to get away from the clear visual impression that Arvika Ligeonniere was experiencing pain in his back after jumping the open ditch this time around.
STRONG EARLY PACE AFFECTED CHAMPION HURDLE
Thanks to the sectional times produced by Turftrax it's easy to see why the Champion Hurdle was run 2.39 seconds slower than the Supreme Novices. Runner up ROCK ON RUBY (33- pace adjusted 40) took the field along at too strong a pace in the early stages. Lit up by fist time blinkers he charged around the first turn from the second to the third jump in just 42.94 seconds compared with the 45.03 seconds that Champagne Fever clocked for the same part of the race.
The relatively slow final time suggests that this big early move hurt the chances of Rock On Ruby as well as those of Zarkandar and Countrywide Flame who stuck close to him early. On the other hand the winner Hurricane Fly ended up being fortunate that he was flat to the boards and some way adrift early because this meant he didn't waste as much energy as his three big rivals early.
It could be that Rock On Ruby is such a strong horse and stays so well it was a sound tactic to make the race such a serious test of stamina. In any event with only three runs so far this season he should certainly be fresh enough to have a decent chance in the Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. There's also the option of the Aintree Hurdle but I don't like the fact he's lost all four times he's tried the two and a half miles of that race.
HURRICANE FLY (34-pace adjusted 41) is justly renowned for his finishing speed but won this time on stamina more than anything else. He was stretched by the searching gallop Rock On Ruby set early but came through to challenge two out and kept on strongly once he'd hit the front. I can readily see why trainer Willie Mullins is convinced he'll get the three miles and a furlong in the French Champion Hurdle.
It's worth bearing in mind that third placed COUNTRYWIDE FLAME (32-pace adjusted 39) is only a five year old.Since See You Then won the Champion Hurdle back in 1985 only one horse that young has taken the big race even though 82 have tried. This was Katchit in 2008 - and he had way more hurdling experience than most horses his age (a dozen previous starts over timber).
Seeing how close Countrywide Flame stuck to the over-fast early pace he did really well to keep on to get beat just four and a quarter lengths into third.The stats say he's certainly worth bearing in mind for next year. Three of the last six five year olds to lose but finish fifth or better in the Champion Hurdle went on to win the next running of the race.
Next up for Countrywide Flame is the Aintree Hurdle. A lot of horses which reached the first three in the Champion Hurdle have gone on to contest this race. I don't have full records before 1988. However, it's a reasonable assumption that roughly the same proportion of horses which placed 123 in the Champion Hurdle have contested the Aintree Hurdle over the years. If that's the case then 13 of the 50 horses which reached the first three in the Champion Hurdle then ran in the Aintree Hurdle scored.
Those stats make it look like Countrywide Flame has a good chance at Aintree. But the stats are worse for five year olds and far worse for horses that haven't previously won over two and a half miles. So I don't think the race is a good option for Countrywide Flame.
The horse that interests me most from the Champion Hurdle is ZARKANDAR (31-pace adjusted 38). He did really well to finish a good fourth after chasing Rock On Ruby hard all the way.
Zarkandar was unbeaten in three hurdle outings as a juvenile when he took the Triumph Hurdle at this meeting and the Grade 1 juvenile event at the Aintree Festival
Things didnt go perfectly for him last year. He was off till February due to coughing then had a hard race winning the valuable Betfair Hurdle first time according to trainer Paul Nicholls. He hadnt recovered from the effort when fifth in the Champion Hurdle. He then went and fell at Aintree.
After Zarkandar had won his seasonal debut this season Nicholls saidHe never looked like that (physically) last year - he was never right after the coughing and class got him through the Betfair Hurdle but he wasn't right in the Champion. He is obviously better as he hasn't been trained for this race and when he came back he didn't want to school after his fall at Aintree.
Zarkandar gave the smart Prospect Wells seventeen pounds and a neck beating in that race first time out this term. In addition his rival was gifted a soft lead, so it was a good performance.
I liked the way that Zarkandar won the Grade 2 International Hurdle next time. He had to stand off a sustained challenge from Rock On Ruby and then another from Grandouet. But he just kept grinding away through the mud and wore them both down to score by two lengths.
On his most recent start before the Champion Hurdle Zarkandar had an easier time to win the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. He was always going best, kicked on early in the straight and merely had to be kept up to his work in the closing stages to score by four and a half lengths from Khyber Kim.
It's worth bearing in mind that the only two losses Zarkandar has suffered in nine completed hurdles starts came in the Champion Hurdle - first as a five year old and now when chasing an unsustainably fast early gallop.
At this stage Zarkandar has not yet run a tremendously fast time. He keeps on earning the same speed rating of 40 from me which is a couple of lengths per mile behind Hurricane Fly's best. But this is exactly what youd expect with a horse that was a five year old last year and unbeaten this season. The reserve energy he displayed at the finish of the Kingwell Hurdle while matching his best rating tells me he could very well run that little bit faster next time he runs in favourable circumstance.
GRANDOUET fell four out when close up and going well. Seeing that he'd been further off the unsustainably fast early pace than the second, third and fourth, I think it's a good bet that the would have reached the first three if he'd stood up. My best guess is he would have narrowly beaten Rock On Ruby for second.
Grandouet is not a very big horse and this surely explains why all his wins have been in single figure fields. He finds it hard to fight his way through crowds of bigger horses and has lost all five times hes run in fields of ten or more. This may also explain why he's fallen or been brought down in three of this last seven starts. However if he hadnt been brought down and fallen in two races he looked set to win hed have won all eight times he ran ins single figure fields before this season.
Last season Grandouet was fancied for the Champion Hurdle but had to miss the race with an infected hock that took a long time to heal. He was actually off for twelve months before reappearing in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham, the race hed won on his previous start.
In that race Grandouet, with a field of just seven, moved well in third behind the duelling Rock On Ruby and Zarkandar. He was understandably a bit keen on his first start in a year but looked to be going best turning in. However Zarkandar proved hard to pass. After looking like he might get past him for quite a while Grandouet had to give best in the closing stages and his jockey wasnt hard on him in the last 100 yards. He ran second by two lengths.
Grandouet was due to run in the Kingwell Hurdle as a prep for this but missed the race due to a swollen near fore. That means he's only had two runs this season and is fresh enough to win any big race where he meets a single figure field. The most obvious target would be the Irish Champion hurdle at Punchestown.
Last year's Supreme Novices winner CINDERS AND ASHES had to be pulled up. He has apparently developed a breathing problem and was given a wind operation after his last start. This race was hardly run to suit a horse with a breathing issue as the pace never let up, the ground was on the slow side and the track very stiff. It's therefore understandable Cinders And Ashes had to be pulled up.
Cinders And Ashes has the size to jump fences. So it makes sense to switch him to the bigger jumps next year. The slower early pace of novice chasing will put less of a strain on his breathing. Meanwhile I wouldn't discount his chances of bouncing back over hurdles this season if he encounters fast ground. He's had hugely unfavourable conditions in all three starts this term.
CUE CARD DOES IT AGAIN
CUE CARD (44) confirmed just how good he is by running away with the Ryanair Chase in fast time. He made a couple of minor errors but had his rivals in trouble before the last and cleared away to score by nine lengths despite seeming to idle a little.
It seems unlikely that anything can stop Cue Card winning the Melling Chase at Aintree. After that the plan is to take him to Punchestown where presumably he'll be tackling the two mile Champion Chase rather than the 3m 1f Punchestown Gold Cup. That means there's a real chance we'll be seeing him face off against Sprinter Sacre once more.
Cue Card is the only horse that's made a race of it with Sprinter Sacre over fences so far. And he's now twice run a good deal faster than he did on that occasion. I reckon there's a real chance he can reverse placings with his old rival at Punchestown. This was the second time this season he's earned a simply enormous speed rating from me. I don't think he's getting the credit he deserves. That could all change after Punchestown.
Runner up FIRST LIEUTENANT (41) showed that he can be effective over less than three miles by finishing second. No doubt the strong pace and stiff track had something to do with that. His owner's firm Ryanair don't sponsor any races he's eligible for at the Punchestown Festival, so hopefully he'll have the chance to show what he can do over three miles there instead of being diverted to a shorter race his owner sponsors for a third time.
Third placed FOR NON STOP (40) moved well from a long way out but couldn't quite get to the first two.
The key to For Non Stop I think is contained in a statement his trainer made a while back when he said "each race takes a bit out of him so well see how he takes this race.
This does seem to be true. Like a lot of horses that have broken blood vessels For Non Stop appears to need a while to recover from a run. He has yet to win a race when his previous outing was less than 48 days before. His record off breaks of 48 days plus though is exceptional. If you toss out his hurdles debut (which most horses lose) he'd won all four times he's completed the course off a break of 48 days or more before this big run One of the two races where he fell was the Coral Cup when he was on his way to finishing second. The other was a novice chase where he looked set to win easily when tipping up.
For Non Stop is capable of winning a weak Grade 1 when fresh. And the way he kept on off a strong pace has me thinking that perhaps he might get three miles.
I'd be inclined to side against For Non Stop if he lines up for the Melling Chase at Aintree as it will come too soon if my read of his form is correct.
Fourth placed RIVERSIDE THEATRE (40) might be more of a threat to Cue Card at Aintree as he's probably better suited to flatter tracks. Here he got outpaced before staying on too late. The trouble is he's run below his best in five lifetime starts in late March or April and seems to have trouble holding his form at the end of the season.
CHAMPION COURT (39) is the horse that disputed the lead at an unsustainably fast pace with Junior in the King George. He once more went off at a strong pace to dispute the lead with the winner. And once more he paid for it by tiring rapidly on the run in.
I can understand the gung ho tactics with Champion Court. He doesn't have much acceleration so it makes sense to try and run the finish out of his rivals. He's consistent but hard to win with.
BACK IN FOCUS STAYS AMAZINGLY WELL
BACK IN FOCUS (38) looked to have little chance when six lengths down at the last in the National Hunt Chase. But he stayed on tremendously well as the leader both idled and tired up front to get up close home.
This performance shows that Back In Focus does not need soft or heavy ground to produce his best. As long as the distance is far enough and the pace strong enough he'll probably produce his best on any going.
No doubt Back In Focus is going to run a few clunkers in future when a race isn't enough of a stamina test for him. But he's a fascinating prospect for long distance chases from now on. I doubt that he'll have the pace to win a three mile Grade 1 chase once he leaves the novice ranks. However I can see how he could win the Hennessy at Newbury if the ground is soft enough. As with Lord Windermere, he'd be a very interesting runner in the Irish National.
Runner up TOFINO BAY (38) was left six lengths clear when the challenging Rival D'Estruval fell two out. He then idled badly as he tired on the run in which allowed Back In Focus to catch him. Proof that he was idling as much as tiring comes from the fact he got going again once the winner was upsides.
My suspicion is that if Rival D'Estruval hadn't fallen Tofino Bay might well have beaten him narrowly with Back In Focus a close up third.
Although he scored his only pattern win in a five runner race where he was allowed to set an absolute crawl I think Tofino Bay is best in races where the field is big enough to guarantee a searching pace. If this race had gone his way he would have won all five times he's run beyond two miles in fields of sixteen or more. He's already won one big handicap chase, the Troytown. His seeming preference for big fields suggests that other big handicap chases are his best option for the future.
RIVAL D'ESTRUVAL (38) was going well from a long way out and had every chance when he fell at the second last. He would surely have gone close had he stood up. His trainer says "He goes exceptionally well fresh".
It looks like Rival D'Estruval is best on his first two runs off a ten week break and with rests longer than 28 days thereafter. These are slightly shorter gaps between runs than most horses that prefer to be fresh. But if this race had been a win he would have won six of the last eight times he's been fresh in this way, with one of his losses being a second place finish to the smart Bold Sir Brian over an inadequate two and a half miles.
HOW LONG WILL SPRINTER SACRE BE AROUND?
It was hard not to be impressed with the way SPRINTER SACRE (43) cruised clear of the top class Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase. It was clear he could have run a good deal faster. Indeed he already has.
However I take issue with Simon Bazalgette, head of the Jockey Club, who proposed a Champions Series for jumps racing in the wake of Sprinter Sacre's win.
Bazalgette said "You've got to have the stars. They are what gets the most interest. We've been lucky to have some great ones like Kauto Star and Denman and horses like Frankel on the Flat. Sprinter Sacre could be the next one on that conveyor belt. We've all seen the horses who have been built up and haven't quite delivered. But he has. The great thing about jumps racing is that horses stay around for several years and he's still relatively young, so hopefully we'll get a good few years out of him."
The first thing Bazalgette has wrong is the likelihood of Sprinter Sacre winning big races for several more years. His trainer Nicky Henderson is brilliant at getting horses to bloom early in their careers. But it's rare for them to continue for long, especially if they're steeplechasers. You can point to Long Run as an exception but since 1996 only one of the other fifteen Grade 1 steeplechase winners that he's trained has gone on winning in Grade 1 company beyond four more runs at the top level. The exception was Tiutchev who achieved the feat for another trainer (Martin Pipe after a ten month break).
The main thing Bazalgette has wrong though is what the head of almost every other body involved in racing administration on the planet seems to be wrong about too. Namely why people are interested in horse racing.
The answer is betting. And not just any type of betting. What excites people about horse race betting is that it gives them the chance to use skill and knowledge to put the odds in their favour.
The Jockey Club, and the BHA and HRI come to that, seem to be in denial about this. They appear to want to distance themselves from betting and seem keen to promote other aspects of horse racing in an effort to woo the fans.
They should face up to the fact that it's the ability to win by betting on superior information and analysis that attracts fans into the sport. Then they would understand that the way to improve racing's finances is to provide the fans with better information than they now supply. Information such as sectional times, horse's body weights, accurate race distances, detailed explanations of poor runs from trainers, declaration of every item of equipment including nosebands, bandages, protective boots, shoe type and more.
So let's forget this nonsense about another 'Champions Series' and start thinking about what punters really want and need on a daily basis - more and better official information.
Having got that off my chest let me now turn to SIZING EUROPE (35) who finished second to Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase. For the second year running the track itself gave him a problem. Last year it was the dolled off final fence which prompted him to get bumped by the winner as he swerved around it. This year it was the path across the track before the second last that gave him trouble. For some reason it was slippery on the Wednesday, as Lord Windermere discovered in the earlier RSA Chase. Sizing Europe slipped a good deal more than that one and lost more ground and momentum as a result.
There's no doubt that Sizing Europe would still only have finished second. And my best guess is that the slip cost him no more than three lengths. So obviously Sizing Europe ran well below his best. The question is why.
The simplest explanation is the distance.
As I've noted before Sizing Europe has lost all three times he's run 2m 7f or more. He's also lost 12 of the 25 times he's run two miles or 2m 110 yards. But if he hadn't tipped up when going much the best in one race he would have won all eight times he's run at distances in between these two extremes.
However it has to be said that Sizing Europe has shown smart form over two miles and still seems capable of doing so if the ground is soft or heavy. It seems to me he's simply developed more stamina as he's got older.
This is not uncommon. Desert Orchid and Kauto Star. Both started off being brilliant over two miles but ended up winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The best run Sizing Europe has ever put up on my ratings was his runaway win in the Clonmel Oil Chase over two and a half miles on soft ground earlier this season. The way he was powering away at the finish of that race suggests to me was most impressive. It suggests he might well last three miles.
The most obvious target for Sizing Europe is the two and a half mile Melling Chase at Aintree. Perhaps it's a bit late in his career to have one more attempt at three miles. But if the ground came up fast it would certainly be very interesting to see him take his chance in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
WORLD HURDLE NOT A TRUE STAMINA TEST THIS YEAR
The World Hurdle was effectively a 2m 5f contest this year because the runners barely cantered for the first three furlongs after their jockeys had all stood and looked at each other for ages before getting the race under way.
In fact sectional times show that the World Hurdle was really a truly run two mile race sandwiched in between two slow sections. The first section was slow because nobody wanted to go on. The last section was slow because the middle section was too fast.
In the circumstances it's perhaps not surprising the finish was fought out by two dubious stayers in SOLWHIT (38) and CELESTIAL HALO (37). And however I play around with the sectional times I can't award them Grade 1 class ratings for their performances.
Solwhit is a seven time Grade 1 winner that was trying three miles for the first time here. I'd been doubtful of his stamina for three miles before the race and I'm still not sure he'll get the distance in a race where they actually run the full distance. That said, he's obviously smart and back to his best.
Fourth placed REVE DE SIVOLA (37) is better over three miles than two and a half, so I'm prepared to forgive him this sub par run.
Fifth placed BOG WARRIOR (36) looked sure to win with two to jump but apparently incurred a fracture coming down the hill which explains why he stopped to nothing on the run in.
BENEFFICIENT SMART OVER TWO AND A HALF MILES OR LESS
It's not often that you see a dual Grade 1 winner that took a Grade 1 by twenty lengths on its latest start go off at odds of 20-1 in a Grade 2. That however is the situation we saw with BENEFFICIENT (39) who won this year's Jewson under a very decent ride from Bryan Cooper.
Benefficient had made all the running until he was headed three out. But Copper didn't panic as his mount was shuffled back into third place. He allowed him to keep on running well within himself and Benefficient was able to jump his way back into the lead at the last and clear away on the run in.
Benefficient seems best over two or two and a half miles and not an inch further. He also appears to need his seasonal debuts. Toss out his seasonal debuts and his runs beyond two and a half miles and you'll find he's won five of his other seven most recent starts.
Runner up DYNASTE (38) looked set to win when he kicked on but could not shake off the winner or the third.
Given the awful record of Feltham winners in the RSA Chase it was probably a good move to switch Dynaste to the Jewson.
In fact whatever race he'd tackled at Cheltenham Dynaste would probably have had difficulties as I just don't think he likes steep uphill finishes.
Before he beat three other finishers to win over two and a half miles on his chasing debut at Cheltenham Dynaste had tired badly late four of the five previous times he'd tackled tracks with uphill finishes. He did manage to last home well enough to finish seven lengths second in a Grade 2 to Big Buck's at Cheltenham in one of those races. But that was in a six runner contest where he was asked for his effort very late.
If Dynaste reappears at Aintree in the Mildmay Novices Chase I'd be very interested in his chances. The flat track would suit him very well.
POSTED ON FEBRUARY 25, 2013
OLYMPIAN BOY HAS IMPROVED
Sophie Leach seems to have improved OLYMPIAN BOY (34-pace adjusted 37) massively. He lost selling hurdles on his last four outings for his former trainer but produced a pattern class performance to win his latest outing at Sandown.
On his most recent start before this one Olympian Boy had moved up threateningly but failed to find as much as it initially looked when second to the very progressive Shangani. This time around the much faster ground saw him go through with his effort to win in really good style.
Olympian Boy travelled really well all the way in a race where his jockey Paul Maloney delayed asking him for an effort till the run in. He quickly asserted and was moving really strongly crossing the line.
The early pace had just been average for the class up to two out. But from there the first two duelled while pulling clear of the rest, getting home from there in 26.74 seconds compared to 29.60 by Kapka De Cerisy in the decent novice chase. When I adjust my ratings for this it suggests a Listed class performance by the winner.
I confess I find it hard to see any obvious pattern in Olympian Boy's form, other than massive and very recent improvement. It could be he's best over two and a quarter miles or less. Certainly he prefers faster ground. Only time will gives us the full picture. Meanwhile he looks a good bet to follow up this win at the Sandown meeting on the even of the Cheltenham Festival.
Runner up SUNNY LEDGEND (33-pace adjusted 36) tried to shake off Olympian Boy up the straight and pulled clear of the rest as he tried. But time will probably tell he was attempting a very tough task trying to give ten pounds to the winner.
My read of Sunny Ledgend is that he pulls too hard to last beyond two miles on a galloping track. If he hadn't come up against such a good winner here he would have won the last four times he's run two miles on a galloping track or any distance on tight one.
AINTREE BETTER THAN CHELTENHAM FOR FORGOTTEN VOICE
FORGOTTEN VOICE (37) showed a tremendous turn of foot to sprint away from his rivals on the run in to take the Grade 2 Dovecote Novice Hurdle at Kempton. He was so full of run at the finish I'd be pretty confident he could have equalled his best flat speed rating of 39 if there'd been anything to push him.
This is a good-bodied, classy sort who clearly has a lot of ability. However it's worth bearing in mind that Forgotten Voice has had all sorts of training problems in his career. This may well mean he's at his best off a break.
Forgotten Voice's form figures on his first two starts off a long break or with a six week plus break thereafter read 1111327111. One of his losses was a half length second to multiple international Group 1 winner Gloria de Campeo. Another was when he hung just before being laid off for two years with leg trouble.
Trainer Nicky Henderson has won with two of his six Dovecote Hurdle winners that have gone on to run at Cheltenham (another one ran second). It's possible he now has Forgotten Voice in such good shape that he'll be able to show his best form there without a break. However if he were mine I'd be waiting for the valuable handicap hurdle for conditional riders and amateurs at the Aintree Festival. He'll be fresher for that race. In addition he's won all six times he's run on relatively flat, tight tracks like Aintree.
Runner up BRICK RED (35) is an attractive, good-bodied horse that seems to have developed an odd but fast way of getting over a hurdle. He half jumps, half steps over them at the last minute. This saves him a lot of energy and ensures he gains ground over the jumps. Unfortunately it's a hard tick to pull off when hes under pressure. So it's understandable he made an almighty hash of the second last.
Like the winner Brick Red was a miler on the flat and is pretty heavy topped. So it's no surprise he shares the same affinity with tight tracks that don't have steep gradients. He's won six of the seven times he's run on such courses. He's failed to last home both times he's tackled stiff tracks over jumps. \
My feeling is that Brick Red can probably run a couple of points better than I was able to rate him here under optimum conditions.
STEP UP TO TWO AND A HALF MILES THE RIGHT MOVE FOR IRISH SAINT
IRISH SAINT (37) is a horse that's built and bred for at least two and a half miles. So he's not having an easy time of things in juvenile hurdles which are restricted to shorter distances. He showed this when under pressure from a long way out in the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton. He looked to have little chance turning in. But he eventually pulled himself into the race then used his stamina to wear away at a persistent rival to score.
If the photo hadn't gone against Well Chief seven of the last fifteen Adonis winners to run in the Triumph Hurdle would have scored. But I think trainer Paul Nicholls was right to suggest he'll probably be sidestepping Cheltenham with Irish Saint and saving him for the two and a half miler against older novices at Aintree. That will give him time to recover from a hard race and the right distance to race over.
Most likely we won't see the best of Irish Saint till he tackles fences next season. However he should improve over the longer trip at Aintree and must have some sort of shot there.
Runner up VASCO DU RONCERAY (37) travelled really well for a long way and looked the winner. He showed how much he'd been able to keep in reserve when quickly pulling clear of the rest in his efforts to hold off the winner. He's run big in all his seven starts to date and looks to be improving. He had an easier race than the winner here and I wouldn't discount his chances of taking the Triumph.
Third placed L'UNIQUE (33) had impressed when winning by eight lengths over the course and distance last time. But that was on soft ground. She's built for two and a half miles plus and fences. Here the fast ground seemed to find her out over two miles. After making the running she got badly outpaced by the first two and wasn't pushed that hard once they got away from her.
One impressive aspect of L'Unique's performance here was how well she jumped. She dragged her back legs through the first when the pace was really slow. But when she kicked on down the far side and had more momentum she was really flying the jumps. She will surely be switched to chasing next year when her stamina, size and jumping ability will stand her in good stead. Meanwhile it looks like she needs soft ground to be effective over the short distances juvenile hurdles are run.
PLANTEUR HAS A SHOT IN DUBAI WORLD CUP
PLANTEUR (39) had a very hard race when a head second in an exceptionally fast renewal of the Prix Niel as a three year old. Since then he's been unable to hold his form after his second run of the season.
That was no problem last week at Lingfield where Planteur made all the running to break the course record in the Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield. He kicked clear from the two furlong pole then had to be given three cracks with the whip to ensure the runner up didn't get to him. In the last 150 yards his jockey put his whip down and rode him out hands and heels, clearly not wanting to give him a hard race.
This was a good prep for Planteur's second attempt at the Dubai World Cup. He finished third in the race last year when asked to come from behind and gain ground into an accelerating pace in the closing stages. This run suggests he can be asked to race more prominently this time around which could well improve his performance.
The Dubai World Cup will only be Planteur's second run of the season, so he should certainly be fresh enough to produce his best. He clearly has a shot of winning it this time around.
Runner up MIBLISH (39) slipstreamed the winner most of the way and was steadily eating into his lead in the closing stages to lose by just a neck.
The only obvious pattern I can see in the form of Miblish is that his three best runs have come on his seasonal debuts. He won his first seasonal debut and ran second to Eastern Sun on his next one in a race run in pattern class time. Now he's gone and produced this big run. He's not run up to his best in eight starts after his seasonal debut. Whether he will do that this season I can't say. No doubt we will learn more about him later on.
POSTED ON FEBRUARY 21, 2013
CUE CARD WILL BE HARD TO BEAT IN RYANAIR
CUE CARD (41) didn't have to produce his best to win a good renewal of the Grade 1 Ascot Chase. He jumped with real athleticism, clearing several of the jumps a good deal faster than his rivals. He had to shorten up at a couple and did land on his nose at one on the far side but it wasn't that serious. He was always moving more strongly than his rivals and just kept powering away for a six length success. He was still moving strongly crossing the line. My past ratings for him plus the way he was travelling suggests he could have pulled out a good deal more if pressed. His jockey said the same thing after the race.
The big plus about this comfortable success is that Cue Card has not had a hard race in his prep for the Ryanair.
Cue Card didn't get home in the King George thanks to the unsustainable gallop set by Champion Court and Junior. I still think he'd get the three miles in a more normally run race. However it does seem the right plan to go for the Ryanair as he may well have won all six times he's run longer than two miles and shorter than three miles over fences if he hadnt unseated when moving well in one race and gone under by a short head to the top class Bobs Worth in another.
With three to jump Richard Johnson was faced with an impossible decision on runner up
CAPTAIN CHRIS (39). His mount had been jumping well down on the inside. But he needs to go right handed these days where he has to be kept to the innermost wing of a fence otherwise he'll dive across it to the right.
Cue Card's jockey Joe Tizzard had done all the donkey work up front and surely wasn't going to allow Captain Chris to slip through on his inside and thereby cede him the wing of the remaining fences. So Johnson steered Captain Chris around to challenge Cue Card in the middle of the third last. The result was predictable but not as extreme as it could have been. Captain Chris dived to his right but didn't lose much ground, so Johnson continued with his efforts to get by Cue Card on his outside.
Unfortunately Cue Card was going so strongly at the second last that Captain Chris was still marooned towards the middle of the track. This prompted a disastrous error at that fence. Captain Chris took off far too soon, landed on top of the fence and then collapsed to his knees followed by his backside. He lost lots of momentum but still kept going well enough to hold off Ghizao and Somersby for second.
If he were mine I'd be ditching the plan to shoot for the Gold Cup with Captain Chris. It would surely be better to save him for the Punchestown Gold Cup where he could run on a right handed track. Asking him to go three miles two and a half furlongs in a big field on a wide open left handed course is surely just asking for trouble. I just don't think he stays that far and would expect his jumping to fall to pieces as he tires.
GHIZAO (39) almost always runs well on his first two starts of the season or with breaks of five weeks plus thereafter as long as the field isnt too big. He did so again this time to take third. And the way he was finishing so well does suggest he'd get three miles.
Fourth placed SOMERSBY (39) was probably running about a furlong further than he truly stays but still ran his usual good race.
FINIANS RAINBOW (31) clearly didn't get home in the soft ground but has won the last four times he's encountered good ground - taking three Grade 1's in the process. However he has now run two clunkers in two tries this season. You have to worry that the problems which prompted his breathing operation are still at work. And even in his best form on fast ground I'd have serious doubts about him lasting the Ryanair distance following this run.
WELL REFRESHED AN EXCEPTIONAL STAYING CHASER
WELL REFRESHED (40) put up one of the best performance by a staying chaser in recent years when running away with the Grand National Trial at Haydock. He ran the last three miles 8.9 seconds faster than the good three mile good hunter chase on the same card and the last two and a half miles 0.6 seconds faster than the highly regarded two and a half mile novice chase winner. That is most impressive for a horse winning a three and a half mile race where the pace was strong right from the start.
Held up at the back, Well Refreshed moved through to lead halfway up the straight and powered away from his rivals on the run in despite trying to take the last home with him. He ploughed through that jump, leaving a great big hole in it but that didn't seem to dent his momentum at all.
Well Refreshed is a poor jumper and is somewhat ungainly. But he's won all four of his competed starts over fences and you'd have to be pretty brave to oppose him in a long distance chase. His sheer stamina seems to override the jumping errors he makes. And if he could start jumping properly he could be good enough to win in Grade 1 company.
Runner up RIGADIN DE BEAUCHENE (38) would have won his last three starts but for twice bumping into Well Refreshed and is clearly a smart staying chaser in his own right. He's improved markedly since stepping up to longer trips and is so well handicapped he looks nailed on to take a valuable handicap chase sometime soon.
Welsh National winner MONBEG DUDE (36) hit a flat spot before running on strongly to finish a rather distant third. This does seem to confirm the idea that he's much better going up hill and down dale on steeply undulating tracks like Chepstow and Cheltenham. He's won all four times he's completed the course on such tracks over three miles plus but blanked in his other eight tries. I wouldn't be surprised if he runs on into third, fourth or fifth should he take up his entry in the Gold Cup. Though I imagine his connections will now be concerned that running him in the race would risk ruining his handicap mark for a race he almost certainly isn't good enough to win.
PEDDLERS CROSS A BIG PLAYER IN WORLD HURDLE
Since he's stepped out of the weaker company found in novice hurdles PEDDLERS CROSS (39) has had a hard time holding his form until the Spring Festivals. But you have to admire the way trainer Donald McCain is keeping him fresh this time around. He gave him one run in a Jumpers Bumper in January. Now he's given him little more than an exercise gallop to take a good conditions hurdle at Musselburgh
Peddlers Cross was always cruising along behind his pacemaker and coasted into the lead with three to jump. He had to be ridden briefly as the secnd and third tried to challenge on the run in but he soon had matters in hand again and won absolutely full of running.
One impressive aspect of the win was how well Peddlers Cross jumped. He hit the last slightly when being pressed by the second and third but otherwise jumped neatly. This is unusual for a horse making its first start over hurdles after a spell of steeplechasing and suggests McCain has been doing a fair bit of schooling with Peddlers Cross.
Another impressive aspect of the run was the time. It rates 11 lengths a mile better than the novice hurdle and seventeen lengths a mile better than the handicap hurdle judged on sectional times. To run this fast without being hard pressed tells me that (a) Peddlers Cross can probably still run as fast as when earning ratings as big as 42 from me in the past and (b) he had no trouble staying the 2m 6f.
This run tells me that Peddlers Cross is now a big player in the World Hurdle. He hasn't had any hard races this season like his two big rivals for that race, Oscar Whisky and Reve De Sivola. What's more he beat Reve De Sivola into second when winning the Neptune at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival. So I'm surprised to see him offered at 14-1 for the big race compared with the best priced 5-1 for Reve de Sivola.
Finally I have to say it's most unfortunate that Big Buck's has been forced to miss this year's World Hurdle. In Oscar Whisky, Reve De Sivola and Peddlers Cross he would have faced three rivals with serious ability plus the one thing he's always lacked - a good turn of foot. Now we'll never know if he could have pulled off the five timer in the World Hurdle. And he'll be eleven when the race comes around next year, so he may well have lost a step or two by then.
Runner up CUE TO CUE (38) is best fresh according to trainer Keith Reveley and came into this off a three month lay-off. She had won well both times she'd gone two and a half miles plus off a break prior to this run. She was outpaced when the pace stepped up initially around the home turn but kept on strongly to have a go at the top class winner on the run in.
Cue To Cue will be going novice chasing next year and could well develop into an RSA candidate if she takes to the bigger jumps. Meanwhile there is clearly a decent hurdle to be won with her this season as long as she's rested for at least five weeks beforehand.
Third placed ORSIPPUS (37) clearly appreciated the faster ground as he seems to have trouble jumping out of a soft surface. He too tried to challenge the winner late but quickly got shaken off while still clocking a pattern class time.
To date all the good jumps form of Orsippus has been on good or faster ground around tight tracks. He'd won both times he'd run in these circumstances since his hurdling debut prior to this smart run. He looks seriously well handicapped and will be interesting if he gets his ground at the Aintree Festival.
UP AND GO IS USEFUL
UP AND GO (36) keeps on improving and produced his best performance yet to make all the running at a strong pace in a decent Ascot novice hurdle. He kicked on from four out and would have won by ten lengths rather than six but for being heavily eased in the last 75 yards.
Up And Go is a really strong sort that 's described by trainer Donald McCain as "a bull of a horse who has taken a huge amount of work to get ready." I doubt that he'll be good enough for the Neptune but he's certainly a horse with a future.
VINA GRIEGO STILL AHEAD OF THE HANDICAPPER
After his impressive win at Cheltenham I suggested it would be a good idea to step VINA GRIEGO (35-pace adjusted 37) up to three miles and run him in a valuable handicap to exploit his stamina and lenient official rating. This was duly tried in a Listed handicap chase at Ascot and Vina Griego scored again. He was always moving strongly, delivered his challenge around the home turn and kicked clear with Cappa Bleu chasing. He kept on well to hold off the staying on runner up.
Thanks to a slightly slow early pace and markedly increased gallop from before four out Vina Griego was not able to kick clear and dominate as he had in a more strongly run race on heavy ground at Cheltenham. This probably means his handicap mark will not be going up that much, so I can readily see him completing a hat trick next time.
Runner up CAPPA BLEU (34-pace adjusted 36) is a big tank of a horse that's tailor made for the big fences at Aintree. He ran a good National trial here. He was moving noticeably well from a long way out and did not get outpaced or stretched into jumping errors by the significantly increased pace from four out. In fact he jumped the last really well, landed running and was closing on the winner all the way to the line.
Cappa Bleu ran a good fourth in the Grand National last year and looks one of the major candidates for the race again this time around.
ROCKY CREEK AN UNLIKELY RSA CANDIDATE
The Reynoldstown Novices Chase was run in rather an odd way this year. Sectional times show the early gallop was strong over the first eight fences and then slowed down mid race before picking up again. My calculations suggest the mid-race slow down hurt the final time.
ROCKY CREEK (34-pace adjusted 37) won the race and is a strong, attractive sort. He may not have been suited by the near sprint from six out to two out. But nonetheless if he was a serious RSA Chase candidate he would surely have been able to put a lot more daylight between himself and the runner up.
The record of Reynoldstown winners in the RSA Chase does not exactly inspire confidence. If the same proportion of Reynoldstown winners have contested the RSA Chase since 1973 as they have since 1988 then only one of the last 25 horses to attempt the double has pulled it off (Albertas Run in 2008).
Horses that have filled second place in the Reynoldstown have a better record in the RSA Chase. Three of the last twelve to run in the big Cheltenham race have scored.
This year's Reynoldstown runner up was HOUBLON DES OBEAUX(33-pace adjusted 36) but he's not lost four in a row and just doesn't look good enough for the RSA if my ratings are any guide. Nonetheless he did keep on strongly and clearly appreciated the step back up to three miles here. He's a Grade 2 winner and Grade 1 placed too, so I'm still going to give him some thought if he lines up for the RSA.
KEEP AN EYE ON WHITBY JACK
I had a Great Aunt who believed in Christian Science; I worked with a man who dyed his hair bright green and shouted at an invisible friend; and I heard of another guy who put on a rubber diving suit, charged on all fours into his companys boardroom and bit the chairman on the ankle while growling like a dog. But for full on, barking at the moon, tin foil hat crazy nobody beats the bloopers the BHA handicappers occasionally make with their official ratings.
The BHA handicappers have a weight for age scale that allows young horses to meet their elders on insanely favourable terms compared with elsewhere in flat races. They have a nutty practice of moving up a horse only a bit at a time in the official ratings even when its just shown massive improvement. And they have a totally off the wall policy that leads them to drop a horses official rating massively simply because its been absent for a fairly long time.
The idea of building in assumed deterioration into official ratings makes a little sense with really old horses as they are apt to deteriorate with age. But it makes no sense at all with a young horse like WHITBY JACK (25). The handicapper thought he was good enough to carry top weight in a Grade 3 at the Cheltenham Festival just four runs back. But last Saturday he was carrying close to bottom weight in an unlisted handicap at Ascot despite winning impressively in a career best performance on his previous outing.
Whitby Jack moved up and looked the be going best of all with four to jump. But he slithered on landing at the third last and nearly sat on his backside. This seemed to cause him some kind of physical problem as he was soon back-pedalling. He was allowed to come home in his own time from soon after two out.
Whitby Jack is a good-bodied, strong sort that looks built for three miles and fences. Nonetheless hes shown some smart form over hurdles. All he needs is soft ground and a vaguely recent run.
Before this run Whitby Jack had encountered ground that race times indicate was slower than good twice when hes had a run within the last few months. He hosed up both times.
The first occasion was in a juvenile hurdle at Fontwell run over the unusually long distance of two miles, two and a half furlongs. There are only a handful of juvenile hurdles over that far and Whitby Jack clearly appreciated the distance. He was always moving well but it was in the last couple of furlongs when stamina became an issue that he really started to dominate, blasting fourteen lengths clear of his rivals to win in very fast time.
The time Whitby Jack clocked was the fastest on the card, around 0.8 of a second faster from the first to the finish than the next fastest race which was won by a Listed class older horse. The thing is Whitby Jack was eased heavily on the run in. This slowed his final time by around 0.7 of a second. If I factor that into his speed rating it bumps it up from 37 (Listed class) to 38 (Grade 3).
Next time out Whitby Jack was asked to tackle fast ground under top weight over a shorter distance at the Cheltenham Festival. The ground was just too fast for him. He was then brought down and injured at Ascot before returning 21 months later in a handicap at Sandown. Where he pulled hard against the slow early pace and tired.
Trainer Gary Moore said after that raceI thought he was a certainty at Sandown last week, but they went no pace and he pulled too hard. Horses often pull hard on their first run after a long break. And its obviously hard to get them fit after such a long absence.
On his next and latest outing Whitby Jack encountered soft ground following a recent run for a second time and he won well just as he had on the first occasion.
The distance was a rather inadequate two miles at Kempton. But thanks to a strong early pace and soft ground it proved enough of a stamina test for Whitby Jack to dominate in the closing stages and pull clear, having moved much the best from a long way out.
The sectional times of the hurdle races that day at Kempton show that the field went much faster in the first third of the race than in any of the other races. They then slowed mid race before quickening up again to clock the joint fastest time to the finish. The other joint fastest time was by LUnique who I rate one of the best juvenile hurdlers this season.
Whitby J...L'Unique..Oscara D...Cloudy C
2m hdl......2m hdl......2m 5f hdl...3m 110y hdl
No doubt the problem Whitby Jack experienced at Ascot was only a temporary one. He will surely be exploiting his very lenient mark in a similar race sometime soon.
RED SHERLOCK NEEDS LONGER
RED SHERLOCK (35) earned a good speed rating from me when hosing up in a Bumper on his racecourse debut at Towcester. His second win in another bumper at Ascot merits an equally big rating. But the way he was stretched in the sprint finish does suggest pretty clearly he wants a longer distance.
At Towcester the severe uphill finish coupled with heavy ground made the race much more a test of stamina than the Ascot contest. And it was clear Red Sherlock did not like being asked to run flat out in the sprint finish. He flashed his tail seven times when his jockey put him under pressure. But he still got up to win the race. Clearly he would have been suited by a much stronger early gallop and will want longer than two miles when he goes over hurdles. I now have to second his jockey's opinion that this time around it's probably best to sidestep Cheltenham. He'd have more of a chance next year when he'll have the chance to go a longer distance in the Neptune.
Runner up THE SKYFARMER (35) is clearly useful and was unlucky to come up against such a smart winner in a race of this type. He's already won a point to point and is built for the bigger jumps, but this race showed he's not short on pace.
TWO ROCKERS A GOOD CHASING PROSPECT
TWO ROCKERS (36) won the Grade 2 Prestige Novice Hurdle over three miles at Haydock in pretty fast time. And he could almost certainly have run a bit faster if he'd only had some more competition. He was always moving much better than his rivals and came there cruising to lead at the last. He pulled clear easily to finish full of running and was obviously much the best.
A proper three mile chasing sort. Two Rockers has already won a point to point and is now unbeaten in four starts. It's a pity he's not in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham as the three miles of that race would surely suit him better than the 2m 5f of the Neptune. Next year he will likely become a solid RSA Chase candidate.
POSTED ON FEBRUARY 11, 2013
SILVINIACO CONTI NOW LOOKING A DOUBTFUL GOLD CUP PROPOSITION
Paul Nicholls clearly sees the Denman Chase at Newbury as the best prep race for his Gold Cup prospects. The track is close to his stables.
Nicholls has won the race eight of the twelve times it has been run at Newbury from a total of seventeen runners.
The other strong statistical trend for the Denman Chase is that most of the winners previously scored around a two mile oval like Newbury.
In fact ten of the eleven times the race has been run at Newbury and contested by such a horse it has been won by one of the horses that earned one of the two biggest Racing Post ratings when winning around a two mile oval - as you can see from the following:
2000.....See More Business....172....WON 1-3
2001....Shotgun Willy.............152....WON 4-1
2002....Whats Up Boys.........157....pulled up
2003....Valley Henry..............153....WON 4-1
2005....Farmer Jack................169....WON 5-1
2007.....Kauto Star..................159....WON 2-9
...........Tricky Trickster...........134....WON 8-1
............Noland ........................137....WON 13-2
2013....Silviniaco Conti 160.....WON 8-11
............Little Josh .152......pulled up
SILVINIACO CONTI (40) maintained the statistical trends this year, winning the race by seven lengths. But I have to say I am now very dubious about his Gold Cup prospects despite having been enthusiastic before.
For me the race raised a couple of major issues about Silviniaco Conti. The first is stamina. The second is his ability to jump properly in a crowded field.
Not since all time great Desert Orchid won the race back in 1989 has a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner previously contested a Graded non-novice race over two miles. Horses that have the speed to become candidates for the Champion Hurdle rarely have the stamina to become viable candidates for the Gold Cup. That's why Dawn Run's Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double was so historic.
Stamina certainly looked to be an issue with Silviniaco Conti in the closing stages of the Denman Chase. He was labouring on the run in and had to be driven along to keep going. He took 21.3 seconds to complete the run in compared with the 19.4 seconds taken by the novices in a race run over the same distance. Admittedly the novices did so off a slower early pace but nonetheless Silviniaco Conti looked tired enough to have me really worried about his ability to keep going at the end of an extra two and a half furlongs up Cheltenham' steep uphill finish.
When he won the Betfair Chase Silviniaco Conti clocked a seriously fast time, good enough to earn a speed rating of 43 from me. But that was off a rather moderate early gallop. In the Denman Chase the early gallop was much stronger and he ended up clocking a time that only merited a rating of 40 from me. You can argue that he wasn't fully fit off a mid season break but trainer Paul Nicholls will not have left that much to work on just a few weeks before the Gold Cup.
Then there is Silviniaco Conti's size. I've got a pretty good visual memory of all the Cheltenham Gold Cup winners over the last thirty years or so and none of them were as small as Silviniaco Conti looked in the video when he was near or alongside several of his rivals in the Denman Chase.
To date Silviniaco Conti has not run in a chase with more than eight runners. Given his size I have to wonder how well he'll cope when crowded at a fence by a large field of bigger rivals in the Gold Cup. The fact that he had to screw in the air and twist his back legs sideways to get over the second last in the Denman adds to this concern.
I will now be looking elsewhere for the Gold Cup winner with some confidence.
One possibility is the runner up THE GIANT BOLSTER (38). He was always bang there and made a good attempt to rally on the run in.
I have come up with a whole mess of theories to explain The Giant Bolsters form in the past. But trainer David Bridgwaters decision to pull him out of the Argento due to heavy ground does seem to simplify matters. It now seems rather clear that The Giant Bolster just doesnt handle really soft ground.
Its also pretty obvious that The Giant Bolster has trouble jumping in really crowded fields (he's always been a sketchy jumper and failed to jump several fences cleanly here, notably the fourth last)..
To date The Giant Bolster has completed the course in six jumps races with 14 runners or less on ground where the going stick reading was 6.8 or higher. He won four of those six races. In one of the others he ran second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Giant Bolster's other loss on relatively fast ground in a field of 14 or less came in last year's Denman Chase when he may well have been brought back too quickly after his runway 17 length success in fast time at Cheltenham just 20 days earlier. Nonetheless he still ran a good race to be fourth (earning a rating of 38 from me).
The ground was too soft for The Giant Bolster this time around yet he still forced Silviniaco Conti to pull out all the stops. Over the longer distance and likely faster ground in the Gold Cup I'm pretty confident he will turn this form around. He looks a serious candidate for the big race to me.
French import MAIL DE BIEVRE (33) led the field a merry dance, jumping well at a strong pace. He then tired quite rapidly from the third last, was soon headed and failed to get home. No doubt he'll do better over shorter distances but he was no better than a grade 3 horse on my ratings in France so I would urge caution about his chances in the Ryanair or Champion Chase.
A SLOW PACE SUITS WISHFULL THINKING
It's hard for jockeys to judge the pace in jump races when the going is soft or heavy. This led to them going rather too slow early on in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. As a result the field had enough zip left to get from the fourth last to the finish 5.5 seconds quicker than they did in the Denman Chase.
WISHFULL THINKING (33-pace adjusted 40) clearly appreciated the lack of a testing gallop as he produced a tremendous late rush to get up on the run in and win going away rapidly by two lengths. He's a horse that has developed breathing issues, so I doubt that he's ever going to win again in a field big enough to generate a strong early pace - as that will put too much stress on his breathing. However he has been very consistent in fields of seven or less since his novice days, barring that one race at Kempton where the early pace was too fast and he stopped - almost certainly due to choking up.
Runner up FRENCH OPERA (32-pace adjusted 39) is another that seems to excel in small fields, at least on galloping tracks. Before this smart run his only loss in six starts in fields of seven or less on galloping tracks had been when he ran six lengths second to the brilliant Sprinter Sacre in last year's Game Spirit. His obvious target is the valuable two mile Grade 1 at Sandown's end of season meeting. But any race where a small field lines up will have me thinking hard about his chances.
Third placed EDGARDO SOL (39) jumps left on right handed tracks but has a smart record in Grade 3 or lower class on left handed courses. He's won three of the last six times he's encountered these conditions and finished a close second or third the other three times.
Further back in the field SHOOTERS WOOD (25-pace adjusted 33) was guessy at several of the jumps. It's now looking like he's much better going up hill and down dale. He's won all three times he's tackled the steep undulations at Cheltenham but lost all nine times he's run on relatively flat tracks like Newbury.
UNIONISTE PROBABLY NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR RSA CHASE
The early gallop was slow in the three mile novice chase won by UNIONISTE (24-pace adjusted 34) at Newbury. But even the most generous interpretation of his sectional times suggest his short head win was not a pattern class performance.
His best run to date came when he earned a speed rating of 37 running third to Dynaste. I just don't think he's quite good enough to win the RSA Chase.
Runner up HADRIAN'S APPROACH (24-pace adjusted 34) seemed less well suited by the slow pace than the winner but rallied powerfully in the closing stages and very nearly got up. His only loss in four previous completed starts came when he ran second to Dynaste in the Feltham. He's earned a slightly better rating (38) from me than Unioniste and looks a better prospect for the RSA Chase than him.
STATS SAY MY TENT OR YOURS WON'T WIN AT CHELTENHAM
MY TENT OR YOURS (41) clocked a seriously fast time to win the valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Always moving well, he showed a terrific turn of foot to run away form his rivals and win comfortably.
However I would be wary of taking the 2-1 and 9-4 the bookies are now offering about My Tent Or Yours for the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. He's already won his big target race. It's going to be awfully hard to get him to peak again in just a few weeks time.
I suggested after his last start that it would probably be a good move to run My Tent Or Yours in the Betfair Hurdle because he had a better chance of winning it than the Supreme Novices. So it made sense to run in the race even if it compromised his Cheltenham chances.
The stats suggest running in the Betfair did indeed compromise My Tent Or Yours' Cheltenham chances. You can see what I mean by looking at how horses have done in the Supreme Novices Hurdle which made their last start before the big race in something other than a novice, juvenile or maiden hurdle last time - or one of those Irish conditions hurdles that's not quite a novice event but is still for runners with limited experience of hurdling:
Year....Horse.....................Last time out.........................Supreme Novices placing
1996.....Dance Beat.............won Ladbroke Hurdle.............sixth
.............Le Khoumf.............11th handicap hurdle...............twelfth
.............Beakstown.............won handicap hurdle..............unseated
1997.....Nordic Breeze.......unseated handicap hurdle.......third
1998.....His Song................second Champ Hurdle Leop..second
.............Amberleigh House..fourth handicap hurdle..........twelfth
.............Charming Admiral..third AW hcp......................fourteenth
.............Wahiba Sands.........third Kingwell Hurdle..........fifteenth
.............Faru........................won flat France.....................23rd
.............Quinze....................fourth Red Mills Trial hdl....26th
.............Fabulon..................eighth selling hcp hdl...........28th
1999.....Ricardo..................won handicap hurdle............sixth
.............Perfect Venue........second hcp hdl......................eighth
.............Silence Reigns......second Listed flat race..........eleventh
............Hoh Invader...........secnd hcp hdl........................sixteenth
2000....Rodock..................second Will Hill hdl..............fifth
............Dodjo....................won flat hcp France...............eleventh
2002....Westender..............eighth Ladbroke hdl..............second
............Native Scout..........second Pierse Hurdle............sixth
............Got One Too.........fourth Tote Gold Trophy.........tenth
............Snob Wells...........23rd Pierse Hurdle.................19th
............Fireball McNamara..9th handicap hdl.................22nd
............Ansari....................won handicap hdl..................23rd
2003....Chauvinist..............11th Tote Gold Trophy.........third
............Keltic Bard............fell handicap.........................fourth
............Thisthatandtoher....second Kingwell Hurdle.......fifth
............Lirfox.....................won French conditions hdl...11th
............Detonateur.............third hadnicap hurdle.............15th
2004....Garde Champetre...second Agfa Hurdle..............fifth
............Zibeline.................fourth Kingwell Hurdle.........ninth
2005....Aleron...................fifth Scot Cnty Hdl trial.........fifth
............Stan........................second hcp hdl......................11th
............Madiba..................second AW handicap............20th
2006....Natal......................third Kingwell Hurdle..........sixth
............Whispered Prom....fifth Kingwell Hurdle...........eighth
............Rasharrow.............fifth Agfa Hurdle..................ninth
............Crow Wood...........6th conditions race AW.......13th
............Muntami................10th hcp hdl..........................17th
2007....Special Envoy.......6th hcp hdl............................7th
............Tipperary All Star.17th Ladbroke hdl................14th
............Hide The Evidence.7th Champion hdl Leop.......15th
2008....Blue Bajan..............9th Totesport Trophy..........sixth
............Lemon Silk.............4th Kingwell Hdl................19th
............Norther Bay............2nd AW handicap..............PU
2009....Intensifier................10th hcp hdl......................18th
............Leamington Lad.......unseated Ladbroke hdl.....PU
2010...Get Me Out Of Here..second Totesport Trophy..second
2011...Cue Card..................seocnd International hdl...fourth
...........Recession Proof.......won Totesport Trophy.......fifth
2012...Darlan......................fell (gng wl) Betfair hdl....second
...........Tetlami.....................won Jumpers Bumper.......ninth
As you can see since 1996 there have been 51 Supreme Novices runners that did not contest a novice hurdle last time and they all lost. Fifteen of the 51 horses reached the first four in a valuable handicap or Graded or Listed hurdle against experienced rivals
I only had time to check the records of the winners of the Supreme Novices Hurdle before 1996 back to 1989 (I can't find records online going back further). But if the same proportion of Supreme Novices runners didn't run in novice company last time over the last 23 years as over the last 16 then 73 such horses have contested the race without success.
The lesson seems clear. If you want to win the Supreme Novices with a horse you should stick to novice company for its prep race.
Next year I'd be pretty sure My Tent Or Yours is going to develop into a serious Champion Hurdle prospect. Right now though the stats say he is well worth taking on in the Supreme Novices. In fact if he were mine I'd be inclined to skip the race and wait for Aintree or Punchestown.
Runner up COTTON MILL (39) hadn't quite lasted home when third in a three mile Grade 1 at Aintree last season. But he showed how smart he is at shorter distances with this big run. He's probably not quite good enough for the Champion Hurdle but would be awfully interesting off his official mark of 145 in the County Hurdle.
Third placed SWING BOWLER (38) was always close up and ran really well to establish herself as one of the better mares in training. She'd won all her previous three starts and is a half sister to the recent smart bumper winner Red Sherlock. If she were mine I'd be sending her to Ireland where there are more good hurdle races restricted to mares.
CHATTERBOX DOES IT AGAIN
CHATTERBOX (24-pace adjusted 36) stretched his unbeaten record to three races with a comfortable win at Newbury
The moderate early pace of the race inevitably led to a sprint finish, and it was impressive that Chatterbox was able to jump the last cleanly at the pace he was travelling. He didn't have much of a race so this run didn't tell us too much except that he's clearly got a good turn of foot. This in turn suggests he'll do even better on faster ground.
My rating for his previous start (where he beat smart stablemate My Tent Or Yours) suggests that Chatterbox deserves his place in the Supreme Novices. Though I take on board the warning of his shrewd trainer Nicky Henderson that he thinks the race comes a year too soon for his charge.
ATTAGLANCE LOOKS A GOOD BET FOR CHELTENHAM
The Scottish Future Champions Novice Chase at Musselburgh was one of those all too common jump races featuring a small field where none of the jockeys wanted to ask their mount to lead. So they stood there for several seconds after the race had officially started.
I reckon the solution to this problem is to have a muck spreader at the start of each jumps race which is activated two seconds after the starter drops their flag. The prospect of being blasted by a high pressure spray containing several hundred gallons of pig poop would be a great way to motivate jockeys to get a race under way. It would also add to the entertainment.
In any event ATTAGLANCE (28-pace adjusted 38) was the horse whose jockey eventually decided to kick on and the others allowed him to go on by about eight lengths despite setting a very slow pace.
It's not surprising that Attaglance's jockey was the first whose nerve broke. The horse has been caught flat-footed several times when a slow early gallop has quickened, including in one of his early starts where this got his jockey into trouble under the non-trier's rule.
Unfortunately Attaglance had gone so slow in front it was inevitable that a sprint finish would develop, and he had trouble coping with it. He just lost out to two rivals who had a better finishing kick. I've little doubt that in a more strongly run race he'd have been a clear winner.
Attaglance has now lost all four times he's run in races with nine runners or less like this one. He is always likely to have trouble in contests with small fields where he cannot be covered up as he was when scoring his two big Festival wins last season.
However one thing this race showed is that Attaglance jumps amazingly well for a novice. He jumped like an old hand, gaining ground at every fence, even when the race turned into a sprint in the closing stages. At one point it actually looked like he might be able to jump his way back into the contest but he ended up losing by just over a length.
I now see Attaglance as a banker for the Cheltenham Festival in the big two and a half mile novice handicap chase. The race is limited to horses with official ratings of 140 or lower, so it excludes pretty much any horse that might have the ability to trouble Attaglance. It's a handicap that features a big field and is therefore near certain to be run at a searching early pace which will suit Attaglance admirably. His superior jumping would give him a big edge against his novice rivals. And he's shown that he tends to peak in the spring.
The winner VIA COLONIA (28-pace adjusted 38) is clearly useful and has a good turn of foot. It's interesting to note that he's won the last four times he's run around tight tracks when there's been a bit of cut in the ground. But it could simply be that his new trainer Brian Ellison, for whom he's unbeaten in two starts, has found a way to improve him.
Runner up DESERT CRY (28-pace adjusted 38) had seemed a heavy ground specialist prior to this run. He'd won three of the four times he's encountered heavy ground in a jumps race and run two and a quarter lengths second to the high class Celestial Halo in his sole loss. Most likely the step up to two and a half miles is what enabled him to show his best form here. He'd run a good second to the smart Bold Sir Brian over two and a quarter miles - the longest distance he'd tried previously.
OVERTURN LOOKS A DODGY PROPOSITION FOR ARKLE
OVERTURN (37) clocked a decent time to win the Scottish Arkle. And yes sure he looked good and seemed to jump well. But take a closer look at the video and you'll see Overturn has an odd way of getting from one side of a fence to another. He doesn't seem to be able to pick up his back legs enough to avoid dragging them through a fence unless he takes the jump slightly squiff and then swings his back legs sideways in mid air. He did this most noticeably at the first two fences.
Overturn did clear a few fences by jumping straight without causing the birch to fly when dragging his back legs through them. But it's a little troubling that the two fences where he dragged his back legs most through the birch were the third last and the second last where he would have been most tired.
Put it this way: If this had been a show jumping course Overturn would have knocked the top bar off at least eight of the thirteen jumps with his back legs.
It may be that Overturn's difficulty with lifting his back legs high enough to clear a fence properly is simply a result of inexperience. Or it could result from the fact he's so well built he's muscle-bound to some extent. Either way I have to say I'm worried about his prospects of jumping efficiently when he's crowded at a fence as he will be in the Arkle. To date his three chase outings have all been in four runner races when he's been so superior he's been able to go clear from the start and have each fence all to himself.
SUPERIOR QUALITY A DECENT CHASING PROSPECT
SUPERIOR QUALITY (30-pace adjusted 36) won the Albert Bartlett Scottish Trial at Musselburgh, as race where they went slow for the first mile. A classy looking, muscular chasing sort, he was moving far better than any of his rivals as he closed up two out and looked set to win by a big margin. However he was stretched into a mistake two out by the much increased pace and was unable to kick clear. He looks a good horse and will do better off a stronger early pace.
Runner up LORD WISHES (30-pace adjusted 36) is a long striding, staying chasing sort who picked up really well for a horse with his physique from before the last and nearly ran down the winner. I can readily see him developing into a Grand National horse when he goes chasing.
Fifth placed KRISS CROSS (27-pace adjusted 33) was moving well at the back of the field before the sprint for home began. A nice looking chasing sort he would have appreciated a stronger gallop or an uphill finish. He's already won a point to point and chasing is clearly his game.
SAMETAGAL A HORSE WITH A FUTURE
SAMETEGAL (35) clocked a decent time for a juvenile hurdler when winning the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh. He was going so well just before halfway that he cruised up to join the tearaway leader and soon went on. There was a point halfway up the straight where it looked like he might just be challenged. But he kept going so strongly he began to draw further clear from before two out to win ridden out by eight lengths. He's a wiry, good looking sort that is built to jump a fence in time.
ROCK ON RUBY NOT ON TARGET FOR CHAMPION HURDLE DOUBLE
ROCK ON RUBY (39) was leading at the last when winning his prep for the Champion Hurdle at Doncaster. But he was under pressure and surely about to be passed by the ill fated Darlan who was cruising when he fell and broke his neck so distressingly.
Trainer Harry Fry says Rock On Ruby will be fitter when he attempts the double in the Champion Hurdle next month. But will he be fit enough? The stats say it's unlikely.
I must repeat what I said earlier this season about older horses needing more work to get fit. In this regard I would once more point you towards the record of older horses in the Champion Hurdle that have had a light preparation.
Here is the Champion Hurdle record as far back as I can check of horses aged eight or more with two or fewer previous national hunt runs that season (n.b. Im counting August as still being the start of the season as trainers still do):
2012 Hurricane Fly 4-6 3rd
2011 Dunguib 10-1 8th
Khyber Kim 12-1 9th
2010 Khyber Kim 7-1 2nd
2009 Harchibald 33-1 17th
Ebaziyan 50-1 20th
Cybergenic 250-1 pulled up
2008 Sublimity 7-1 7th
Blythe Knight 50-1 11th
Contraband 200-1 pulled up
2006 Hardy Eustace 11-2 3rd
Astonville 500-1 13th
Turnium 500-1 pulled up
2005 Back In Front 7-2 9th
Intersky Falcon 40-1 6th
Turnium 500-1 14th
2004 Specular 14-1 9th
Westender 16-1 5th
Geos 20-1 pulled up
2003 Like-A-Butterfly 13-2 10th
Landing Light 14-1 7th
Copeland 25-1 fell
2002 Istabraq 2-1 pulled up
Mister Morose 100-1 8th
Mr Cool 100-1 7th
2000 Make A Stand 33-1 12th
1998 Relkeel 14-1 9th\
1997 Large Action 7-2 pulled up
1996 Danoli 5-1 4th
Hotel Minella 10-1 9th
Land Afar 25-1 10th
Staunch Friend 66-1 8th
Boro Eight 100-1 7th
Muse 100-1 pulled up
1995 Fortune And Fame 5-1 4th
Montelado 10-1 9th
Destriero 33-1 11th
Granville Again 100-1 12th
1994 Halkopous 13-2 9th
Morley Street 16-1 pulled up
Mole Board 40-1 4th
1992 Kribensis 12-1 14th
1991 The Illiad 11-2 21st
Sondrio 10-1 20th
1990 See You Then 25-1 16th
As you can see all 45 horses as old as Rock On Ruby that had a similarly light preparation for the Champion Hurdle lost. The losers included nine previous Champion Hurdlers, only two of which even reached the first six. I still say Rock On Ruby will come up short on fitness on the big day.
Runner up COUNTRYWIDE FLAME (38) did well for a five year old to get within three lengths of the winner. The stats say it's very difficult for a horse less than six years of age to be competitive in the Champion Hurdle.Since See You Then won the Champion Hurdle back in 1985 only one horse that young has taken the big race even though 80 have tried.
Being only five, Countrywide Flame is almost certainly too young to have a serious chance in this year's Champion Hurdle. But he's still a rather light-framed sort and might well fill out and strengthen up into a major candidate for the big race when he's more mature next season.
Being only five, Countrywide Flame is almost certainly too young to have a serious chance in this year's Champion Hurdle. But he's still a rather light-framed sort and might well fill out and strengthen up into a major candidate for the big race when he's more mature next season.
GREY MIRAGE SHOULD GO UP TO TEN FURLONGS
I've mentioned before that old EMERALD WILDERNESS (37) now seems to be back to his best. He proved this when winning a hot mile handicap on Lingfield's Polytrack in Listed class time.
A couple of the horses he beat look rather interesting.
First of all there is the runner up GREY WAY (37) who adopted his usual front running role. I liked the way he responded to pull out more when the winner rolled down the outside with his late run. This suggests to me that he has a very good chance of getting ten furlongs, just like his multiple Group 1 winning half brother Distant Way.
Grey Way seemed to develop some sort of a problem in the middle of last year. After winning a couple of races in good style he turned in a pair of clunkers and was then given five months off. My bet is he needed his first two comeback runs. Since then he won a good handicap at Lingfield and has now shown just how smart he is with this big run.
You could argue that Grey Way is a horse that is best dominating a small field from the front as his wins have all been in fields of eight or less. But there were a dozen runners here and he rallied so strongly when the winner went by I'm inclined to think the obvious pattern is his form is misleading. Certainly he's still well handicapped. He's also proven that he's equally good on turf and Polytrack. So whether he sticks to a mile or goes up in distance he should win more races in the coming weeks.
The other horse I'm taking out of the race is fourth placed GEORGE GURU (35) who looked set to win when coming with a smooth run to challenge halfway up the straight. However, as has happened to him in the past, George Guru couldn't quite cope with the flat out sprint finish that's all too common on Polytrack
You can see this by looking at the closing sectional times for the last three furlongs
of his races over a mile on Polytrack (the furthest he's ever run);
Date....................Track....Final 1f.....Finish pos.
2nd Feb 2013.....Ling.......11.67........fourth
30th Dec 2012....Ling......11.26.........fifth
13th Dec 2012....Kemp....12.06.......WON
17th Nov 2012....Ling......11.33.........fourth
7th Nov 2012......Kemp....11.39........sixth
8th Sep 2012.......Kemp....11.86.......fourth
24th Mar 2012....Ling.......12.13.......WON
3rd Mar 2012.....Ling.......11.06......second
11th Feb 2012....Kemp......12.19.......WON
24th Jan 2012.....Kemp......11.46.......second
2nd Nov 2011....Kemp.......11.53.......second
12th Oct 2011....Ling.........11.99......WON
15th Sep 2011....Kemp.......11.79......fifth
As you can see, whenever the early pace has been strong enough to make the final furlong 11.99 seconds or slower George Guru has won - four times out of four in fact. He's lost the nine times the early pace has not been that fast, including his latest start.
It's possible that George Guru simply needs a longer distance . But his physique is that of a sprinter miler. His sire and dam were sprinters so this is not surprising. He clearly acts on turf, as long as the ground is fast. So maybe what he needs is a switch to turf and perhaps a stiff track or maybe even a cut back to seven furlongs. On grass the shorter trip might be better for him as the early pace is often strong in seven furlong turf handicaps, leading to a slow final furlong.
POSTED ON FEBRUARY 4, 2013
CHELTENHAM CLUE FROM RED SHERLOCK
No racecourse has a stiffer uphill finish than Towcester. The track rises a monstrous 28 yards over the final seven furlongs. But RED SHERLOCK (35) didn't seem to notice at all when winning a Bumper at Towcester on his racecourse debut. He simply cruised along while his rivals had to be ridden to get up the demanding final climb in heavy ground.
It was only when they approached what would be the second last in a hurdle race that Red Sherlock was asked to stretch clear. He then bounded away from his rivals to score by 23 lengths. At no point did his rider even think about going for the whip. He just nudged Red Sherlock along and the horse cruised clear to win with any amount in hand. It's hard to guess how much he had in hand but I can readily believe he'd have extended his advantage by ten lengths if ridden out. That means he'd have earned a rating of around 40 from me which is serious Grade 1 class for a Bumper horse.
Red Sherlock is a proper national hunt sort that will jump a fence in time. But he's clearly not short on acceleration.
This was the best performance by a Bumper horse all season in Britain or Ireland according to my ratings. So I think the 14-1 being offered by the bookies about Red Sherlock's chances of taking the Cheltenham Festival Bumper are rather generous.
ROBIN HOOD'S BAY A SERIOUS WINTER DERBY PROSPECT
The way that ROBIN HOODS BAY (38) readily kicked clear in the closing stages of a hot class 2 ten furlong handicap on Lingfield's Polytrack suggests he may actually be capable of running even faster than the Group 3 class time he clocked.
That's pretty amazing because on my ratings Robin Hoods Bay out up one of the best performances we've seen on the Polytrack in recent years.
It looks like Robin Hoods Bay has been brought back to the races too quickly a couple of times. However if he hasn't lost his footing, been short of room and raced wide in three narrow losses he might well have won seven on the eight times he's run on Polytrack off a break of a fortnight or more.
I'm not entirely convinced that Robin Hoods Bay can't show the same level of form on grass as he's yet to tackle a turf track that's as tight as the AW ones he's run on when the ground is firm enough to be similar to the fast Polytrack surface.
In any event Robin Hood's Bay now looks a big player for the Winter Derby over the same course and distance as his recent success.
In his previous starts runner up STRICTLY SILVER (37) had seemed to hoover up all the trouble that was going in a race and create plenty of his own. He'd only run ten times before this but had already earned a litany of form book comments suggesting trouble in running, notably 'bumped', 'pushed right', 'stumbled badly', 'stumbled bend', 'not much room', 'switched left', 'dwelt', 'not clear run', 'slowly into stride', 'steadied start', 'edging left', 'switched left', 'hung left', 'edged left' and 'bumped'.
Quite often a horse that runs like this benefits from a step up in distance because the slower speed of the race makes it easier for them to manouver out of trouble That seemed to be the case here as Strictly Silver found a clear run through to finish strongly for second while clocking a pattern class time. He's already show he acts on turf by running second in a couple of valuable handicaps. So he looks a very interesting prospect for the immediate future over ten furlongs, perhaps even longer.
Old EMERALD WILDERNESS (37) ran his best race in quite a while and followed up a few days later by winning over a mile. It looks like he's now in the same form that enabled him to score a hat trick at Lingfield at this time last year.
CARRUTHERS STILL TOUGH TO BEAT IN SMALL FIELDS
CARRUTHERS (38) produced one of his memorable front running performances to rally gamely and win the William Hills Wales National at Ffos Las.
Most people think of Carruthers' win in the eighteen runner Hennessy Gold Cup when his name pops up. But it has been in smaller fields that he has really tended to shine.
So far Carruthers has run in nine races with single figure fields and won seven of them. His only two defeats in fields that small were good second place finishes to multiple Grade 1 winners What A Friend and Taranis.
Runner up CANNINGTON BROOK (37) pulled over thirty lengths clear of the rest in his efforts to get by the winner.
Quite a lot of steeplechasers have dodgy forelegs due to the repeated concussion they receive when lading over a fence. It's very common for such horses to only show their best form on soft or heavy ground and on dead flat tracks. The soft ground reduces the concussion as does the level nature of the track (horses hit their forelegs harder when running downhill on undulating courses).
This seems to describe Cannington Brook. Before this big run he had contested five races on dead flat tracks when the ground was soft or heavy and won four of them - his only defeat being a good effort in the Betfair Chase. He's lost his other fourteen starts.
EASTLAKE SERIOUSLY GOOD OVER TWO MILES
EASTLAKE (39) set a searching pace and just kept on running to win a good two mile handicap chase at Sandown. He clocked a time between Grade 2 and Grade 3 class on my ratings and has now won seven of the eight times he's run two miles around a galloping track.
Trainer Jonjo O'Neill says Eastlake has had trouble with his knees and for this reason probably wants a little cut in the ground these days. He must be hoping that the handicapper gives Eastlake a big enough penalty to ensure he gets into the Grand Annual at Cheltenham where he'd have a serious chance off bottom weight.
I can understand why the stewards called in the connections of TOUBAB (28) to explain his running. The grey was moving eye-catchingly well though last at the Pond fence three out but was allowed to come home in his own time up the straight. The explanation that Toubab was unsuited by the ground seems reasonable. Jockey Ruby Walsh looked to be taking care of him after a mistake four out and probably felt he would have fallen had he asked him for an all out effort jumping out of ground way too soft for him.
The run did show at least that Toubab is in form. He has put up some very useful performances on good ground in the past, notably when running second to Sprinter Sacre in the Grade 1 Maghull Novices Chase at the Aintree Festival last season. He'll be very interesting in a handicap when the ground turns in his favour as his official rating understates his ability by around ten pounds if my speed figures are a guide.
POSTED ON JANUARY 28, 2013
FOR STARTERS THIS HAS TO CHANGE.
The start of this year's Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham was extraordinary. Mad Moose was given an enormous head start on his rivals. The other runners by my estimate from the video took 3.39 seconds to get to the point where he started the race. And they landed over the first fence (which comes up very quickly) 3.33 seconds behind him.
In other words the starter allowed Mad Moose to begin the race slightly more than a fifth of a furlong ahead of the other runners.
I recognise that the jockeys and the starter were taken by surprise in this race when the normally tearaway Sanctuaire was dropped in behind the other runners at the start, signalling his rider's intention to change tactics and hold him up for a late run. But surely the starter's primary task is still to ensure the horses form a line behind the starting tape and begin a race on level terms - even if none of their riders want to make the running and are happy to let some huge long shot like Mad Moose do so. The starter surely also has a duty to call a false start when a horse begins a race as far ahead of the others as Mad Moose did.
I hate to say it but it seems that at a lot of jumps tracks in both Britain and Ireland it is the jockeys and not the starter who decide where each horse starts the race.
What makes this incident particularly upsetting is that Mad Moose was able to beat Somersby two and a quarter lengths (0.56 of a second) for second place. There can be no question whatsoever that Somersby would have finished second, many lengths ahead of Mad Moose if the start had been fair and level.
In a race where the favourite was long odds on a lot of punters must have been betting purely on what was going to finish second to Sprinter Sacre, either with the bookies who were offering odds for that possibility or through the exacta or straight forecast. Those who bet Somersby to run second were robbed by the starter.
The obvious solution is for starting stalls to be used in jumps races just as they are on the flat.
You might think I'm crazy for suggesting such a thing and say that national hunt horses are just too big to fit into starting stalls. My counter to that is to invite you to watch the video of the Grand Annual steeplechase at Warrnambool in Australia. You can do so by surfing to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2Z4H_CIAw0
As you can see if you watch the video there was no problem loading and starting thirteen steeplechasers into starting stalls for a race over nearly three and a half miles. This in a country where they have the biggest racehorses in the world according to the body weights of horses recorded in Hong Kong. The average Australian horse to race in Hong Kong over a recent eight year period weighed 1086 pounds compared with 1056 pounds for British and 1059 pounds for Irish horses.
It's also worth noting that in French Bumper races restricted to AQPS runners (non-thoroughbred jump bred horses) they do use starting stalls.
At the very least HRI and the BHA need to take some sort of action to re-train starters to ensure this sort of thing does not happen again. They should also make some kind of announcement to assure the betting public that starters will in future be heavily sanctioned or fired if they fail to produce a level start - and that horses will be demoted to the finishing position they would otherwise have filled if they hadn't been given a head start.
I think this is an important issue because in Australia animal rights activists were able to co-opt the support or at least acquiescence of punters in their very successful efforts to curtail jump racing by pointing to incidents which (they claim) make the sport less predictable and therefore less of a worthwhile betting medium than flat racing. Bad starts are one type of incident the sport's organisers can do something about.
VINA GRIEGO SHOULD GO BACK UP TO THREE MILES PLUS
VINA GRIEGO (38) showed tremendous stamina to sustain a strong pace in heavy ground and power to a nineteen length win in a good novices handicap chase at Cheltenham. He just kept on going as everything else ran out of gas.
Looking at his record it does seem clear that Vina Griego needs a greater test of stamina than he normally has. At the relatively short distances he's been running over only heavy ground appears to provide this. To date he's won three of the four times he's completed the course on heavy ground and run a good third in a tactically run Grade 2 in his only loss. He's lost all 22 times he's run on ground faster than heavy.
I'd be pretty sure Vina Griego can cope with slightly faster ground over a longer distance. After all he ran second in very fast time to The Minack in a hot Listed chase over three miles run on soft ground. Over a marathon distance he might well handle an even faster surface.
Even with a big penalty Vina Griego would be a very interesting proposition for a valuable three mile plus handicap chase in the near future on soft or heavy ground. If he were mine I'd be getting very interested in the Racing Plus Chase.
IMPERIAL COMMANDER NOT IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOLD CUP
Before any big race I always go back and look at past renewals to see if there's any obvious pattern to the winners. This certainly looks to be the case with the Argento Chase run at Cheltenham last Saturday.
The Argento Chase seems to be a happy hunting ground for horses attempting a comeback. You can see this from the following stats which show horses that ran in the race which previously earned a best Racing Post chase rating of 160+ and pulled up last time or previously earned a rating bigger than 165 and ran at least 20 pounds below that last time while completing the course.
Year......Horse.........................Best chase rating.....last time..Result
2000......Looks Like Trouble..............170.................P...........WON 100-30
2001......See More Business.............176................156.........WON 9-4
2004......Jair Du Cochet...................166.................P...........WON 11-4
2011......Neptune Collonges................178..............141.........WON 11-2
The comebackers that fit the above profile this year were Imperial Commander and Midnight Chase. With the ground looking too soft for Midnight Chase, I started taking a long hard look at IMPERIAL COMMANDER (28 - pace adjusted 34).
Initially I thought that Imperial Commander was just too darned old to stage a comeback off a near two year lay-off at twelve years of age. Then I stated looking at the stats for horses like him since 1996.
I came up with the following table which shows horses like Imperial Commander with official ratings of 165+ that started the season as eleven year olds when they ran in chases over 2m 5f plus since 1996:
16th Nov 1996...Jodami................3m 1f.........not............second
18th Jan 1997.....Jodami................3m............Gr 1..........WON 9-2
29th Nov 1997...Barton Bank.........3m 2.5f....Gr 3...........second
31st Jan 1998.....Dublin Flyer........2m 5f........not............third
26th Oct 2003....Edredon Bleu.......2m 5f.......Gr 2..........WON 6-5
26th Dec 2003...Edredon Bleu.......3m............Gr 1.........WON 25-1
12th Feb 2004....Edredon Bleu.......2m 5f........not...........WON 1-5
26th Dec 2004...Tiutchev................3m...........GR1.........pulled up
18th Mar 2005...Tiutchev................3m 2.5f....GR1........pulled up
26th Oct 2005....Grey Abbey...........3m 1f.......GR2........pulled up
26th Dec 2005...Grey Abbey...........3m 1f.......GR3........pulled up
28th Dec 2007...Beef Or Salmon.....3m...........GR1........fourth
10th Feb 2008....Beef Or Salmon...3m............GR1.........fifth
20th Feb 2010....Monet's Garden....2m 5.5f....GR 1........WON 11-2
19th Nov 2011...Kauto Star.............3m...........GR1.........WON 6-1
26th Dec 2011...Kauto Star..............3m...........GR1........WON 3-1
16th Mar 2012...Kauto Star..............3m 2.5f....GR1.......pulled up
1st Dec 2012.....Tidal Bay...............3m 2.5f....GR3........second
28th Dec 2012...Tidal Bay...............3m...........GR1........WON 9-2
Eight wins out of nineteen is impressive. And Imperial Commander so nearly made it nine out of twenty. He moved storngly and jumped exceptionally well from a long way out. He looked sure to win jumping the last but just got run out of it and caught two strides from the finish.
Imperial Commander has always been best fresh. . If that unlucky head bob against Kauto Star had gone the other way he would have won all nine times he'd come into a race off a break of seven weeks or more prior to breaking down on his last start. He's only won a minor race in eight tries when returning to the races more quickly.
It's a day shy of seven weeks till the Gold Cup. But seeing how long he was off before this effort I think it's fair to stretch a point on that score. And let's not forget Imperial Commander excels at Cheltenham. He's won the Gold Cup and the Ryanair Chases on the course. At his best I actually rated him almost as good as the great Kauto Star on my ratings. He seemed to validate this idea when running the champion to a short head in the Betfair Chase.
A few weeks back I produced some stats which seemed to suggest really old horses had a bad record in the Gold Cup. They do. But I was including horses older than twelve. And horses older than twelve almost never win the really big chases.
If you look solely at twelve year old runners in the Gold Cup things get a bit more interesting.
In the last 24 renewals of the Gold Cup eleven of the 337 runners were twelve years of age. None of the eleven won but three finished third (Desert Orchid, Miiniehoma and See More Business).
If we assume that the same proportion of the 726 Gold Cup winners were twelve years of age since 1951 then 24 twelve year olds have run in the race since then for two wins, two seconds and three thirds. In other words they've reached the first three 29% of the time.
Imperial Commander needs to improve significantly to win the Gold Cup for a second time. But I can't say it's impossible. He was reportedly carrying a lot of condition in the paddock and dominated his rivals till the closing stages where he probably blew up through lack of fitness. He also pulled hard against an early pace that was slow enough to hurt the final time significantly.
The winner CAPE TRIBULATION (28 - pace adjusted 34) was well ridden to catch Imperial Commander with an ultra-late charge. But he lacks a bit of size for the bigger jumps. This almost certainly explains why he's run unplaced all five times he's been asked to tackle fields bigger than ten over fences or fixed brush hurdles - getting beat 50 lengths plus on three of those occasions. However when the field size is small enough to prevent him getting crowded at the jumps bigger rivals and the distance is three miles plus he's smart. In fact if he hadn't stumbled an pulled hard when a close second in a Grade 2 he might well have won the last five times he's run three miles plus excluding hurdles and fixed brush hurdles with fields of eleven or more.
In view of his apparent dislike of big fields over fences I can't really see Cape Tribulation being a factor in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
HUNT BALL (16) went well for a long way, mounting a sustained challenge to Imperial Commander before getting beaten off and then tiring badly. It now looks pretty clear he doesn't last three miles on a galloping track. But he did so around the tight Mildmay course at Aintree last season when a good third in the Betfred Bowl.
However the fact is Hunt Ball's win streak was achieved in ungraded handicaps and novice events. He's yet to win a Graded race in four tries.
Then there is the clock. I can't give Hunt Ball any better than a Listed to borderline Grade 3 rating for any of his wins. I think he needs to be cut back in distance or switched to a tighter track and dropped in class.
MIDNIGHT CHASE finished far behind. But the heavy ground gave him a perfectly valid excuse.
Midnight Chase is clearly ground dependant, something his trainer has often pointed out. When the ground is soft or heavy he runs below form. When it's faster he runs big - unless it's a Grade 1.
Midnight Chase lost his chasing debut around the ultra-tight circuit at Fakenham. But he has won all seven times he's run over fences since below Grade 1 class when the going stick has read 6.9 or higher. He's lost all nine times the ground has been softer as it was here.
Midnight Chase is best when able to dominate rivals a bit below Grade 1 class from the front. Again this is something his trainer has banged on about. He's saidHe is the sort of horse who needs things to go his way." He is what American punters call a 'need to lead' sort. In Grade 1 company there always seems to be something that presses him to go too fast which explains why he's run unplaced all four times he's run at that level.
Last year Midnight Chase went a fair gallop when winning last year's renewal of the Argento on much quicker ground. But the clock shows he was still allowed a fairly soft lead. This enabled him to come home from two out 1.4 seconds faster than The Giant Bolster did in the four and a half furlong shorter Grade 3.
WAYWARD PRINCE had to be pulled up. But again he had an excuse as it seems clear he doesn't like being crowded at a fence.
So far Wayward Prince has never won a chase in a field bigger than eight in six tries and his only place in a chase field that big was in a contest where only seven finished due to a too fast early gallop. Here, in a ten runner contest, he got hampered early and had to be pulled up.
Wayward Prince had to revert to hurdles for a confidence boosting run four runs back after a string of races in big fields where he jumped the fences poorly, often slowly. But he's bounced back to form this season to show smart form in small field chases on his last two starts before this run.
The other obvious thing about Wayward Prince is that he is best when fresh. The norm for this is that a horse is best on its first two runs of the season and then needs breaks of at least five weeks thereafter. Toss out his runs in big chase fields and Wayward Prince's form figures over three miles plus when fresh in this way read 1111121, with his sole loss being a second place finish to Silviniaco Conti who clocked a Grade 1 time to beat him and went on to win the Grade 1 Betfair Chase next time out.
That big run was on his seasonal debut. Wayward Prince followed it up with a win in a decent four runner Listed chase at Aintree last time out.
The next time Wayward Prince comes into a three mile plus chase with a single figure field off a break of five weeks or more I'll be interested in his chances.
A CRUISE FOR SPRINTER SACRE
SPRINTER SACRE (47) ran almost impossibly fast to run away with the Victor Chandler Chase. He cruised home to score by fourteen lengths, earning the biggest speed rating I've given a jumper since Kauto Star. He's not simply the best two mile chaser since Moscow Flyer, he's actually a bit better on my ratings.
If there's one flaw I can see in Sprinter Sacre it's his near faultless jumping. He has yet to make a serious mistake over fences, so there has to be a concern that he hasn't yet learned how to 'find a leg' and recover from a jumping error. In this regard I can't help thinking about his one loss in a dozen runs over two miles. This came in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle where he made a mistake at the last.
Most likely Sprinter Sacre will keep his unbeaten record over fences in the Champion Chase. But I'm going to be scrutinising his opponents closely to see if any of them could put his jumping under pressure.
MAD MOOSE (35) was officially the runner up. But he started the race a fifth of a furlong ahead of the others. When I factor this in his performance was nothing special.
Third placed SOMERSBY (39) hit a couple a bit heavily and lost momentum, but he does that. He ran a perfectly respectable race on a track he doesn't seem to favour. He didn't lose ground on the long downhill run towards the straight as he has at Cheltenham in the past. However he did run a bit below his best and racked up his sixth loss in six tries at Cheltenham.
One of the biggest surprises in the race was that SANCTUAIRE (31) was led in at the start and dropped in behind the other runners. He was then held up before trying to get into the race from before three out. He was soon in trouble and got beat by a wide margin.
I've noted before that Sanctuaire seems best over fences when allowed to dominate from the front, He appears to down tools if he's challenged. For this reason I doubt that he is ever going to win a Grade 1.
I can't criticise his connections for trying an experiment with him in this race. It might have worked. And they needed to try something seeing how Sprinter Sacre had hammered Sanctuaire in their previous meeting.
Further back in field OISEAU DE NUIT (27) had a valid excuse in that he was set to carry 11-7. He seems very sensitive to weight.
So far Oiseau De Nuit has run in eight two mile chases when carrying less than eleven stone. He won six of those eight times. In one of his losses he finished second to Kalahari King, one of the top two mile chasers. In the other he ran second in the Red Rum Chase, one of the most valuable two mile chases of the season.
Oiseau De Nuits only success in 28 attempts with 11 stone or more on his back came by a short head in a low class contest restricted to horses with official ratings of 105 or lower.
On his seasonal debut Oiseau de Nuit showed hes as good as ever when beating Kumbeshwar ten lengths at Chepstow off a mark a pound below eleven stone. But he then got beat 77 lengths with 11-12 on his back on his next and latest start.
If the handicapper drops Oiseau De Nuit a pound or two for this loss he could well get into the Grand Annual at Cheltenham or the Red Rum at Aintree with less than eleven stone. Should that happen I'll be very interested in his chances.
ROLLING STAR A WORTHY TRIUMPH FAVOURITE
These days Nicky Henderson seems to save up many of his best novice and juvenile hurdling prospects until January. Those has given their first UK start over hurdles in January at distances short of two and a quarter miles since 2006 have won an astonishing 25 times out of 40.
ROLLLING STAR (37) kept his tremendous strike rate going by winning the Grade 2 Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham on his first UK start.
Rolling Star raced in third, always going well even though he was novicey and reached for a couple of the jumps. Coming down the hill he moved up to press the leader Irish Saint more and the rest of the field immediately began to come under pressure as Irish Saint responded and increased the gallop to a pace everything bar Rolling Star had trouble keeping up with.
It looked like Irish Saint would be able to hold on approaching the last but Geraghty seemed to know his mount could produce a much better turn of foot and was happy to wait until the run in to really ask Rolling Star. The response was immediate. Rolling Star closed the gap rapidly and sprinted clear in the final 75 yards.
The run was something of a replay of Rolling Star's run over fixed brush hurdles at Auteuil on his sole jumps start over there. In that race his jockey seemed content to be three or four lengths adrift of the leaders in third turning into the relatively short (two furlong) home straight. He didn't even ask Rolling Star for an effort till jumping the last and only needed to give him a couple of cracks of the whip to produce the same kind of acceleration we saw from the horse at Cheltenham.
A horse with Rolling Star's turn of foot is normally better on faster ground than he met encountered at Auteuil or Cheltenham. So I'm not worried about the likely much firmer ground at the Festival.
It's worth noting that since 1996 Nicky Henderson has won with six horses that he imported from France on their first UK hurdles start which went on to run in the Triumph Hurdle. Three of the six went on to win the Triumph Hurdle. Rolling Star looks to have a major chance of making if four out of seven.
Runner up IRISH SAINT (36) is a strong, good-bodied sort. Trainer Paul Nicholls is surely right to say his future lies over fences. His dam is a sister to a four time chaser winner and ran over fences herself (her only previous foal has just started doing so).
Irish Saint jumped well and made all the running till he simply couldn't cope with the winner's turn of foot on the run-in. He's going to be a smart novice chaser next season. Meanwhile he's capable of winning a decent Juvenile hurdle.
REVE DE SIVOLA DOES IT AGAIN
In winning the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham REVE DE SIVOLA (40) demonstrated once again that he is the best staying hurdler in training now that Big Buck's is sidelined.
It was impressive that Reve De Sivola was able to hold off a rival like Oscar Whisky who has such a good turn of foot. But of course one of the things that separates Reve De Sivola from most staying hurdlers is that he too can produce really good acceleration towards the end of a race.
In seven hurdle outings over two and a half miles plus Reve De Sivola has won three Grade 1's and a Grade 2 and finished second to the smart trio Tell Massini, Peddler's Cross and Big Buck's. When he ran second to Big Buck's it was his first run back from a lengthy spell over fences and he ballooned several of the jumps as a result. Now that he's got his eye back in over the smaller obstacles it'd be great to see how well he could do against the old champion. Let's hope we get the chance.
Reve De Sivola's trainer Nick Williams has said that his charge actually acts well on fast ground. Indeed he won the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival on a lightning fast surface. He's rather a racy, athletic, good moving sort that should prefer quick ground. The concern is that he's had soundness issues in the past and his trainer has expressed reservations about running him on a really firm surface.
It's impossible to predict the weather so far in advance. But seeing how wet it's been all winter it's hard to believe we're going to get ground fast enough to worry Reve De Sivola for the World Hurdle. He continues to look the one they all have to beat.
OSCAR WHISKY (40) is more problematic. He moved supremely well in a race where his jockey tried unsuccessfully to do the winner for a turn of foot. The question now is whether he can show his best form at the Cheltenham Festival.
At each of the last three Cheltenham Festivals Oscar Whisky has looked to have a serious chance of winning one of the big races. But each time he's lost and run below his best. Before this narrow loss he had won all his other thirteen completed starts.
I wish I knew why Oscar Whisky has run below form all three times he's run at the Festival. Perhaps he doesn't like all the excitement surrounding a big meeting where he's exposed to the crowds for so long. Maybe it's the fast ground which tends to prevail at the big meeting. Most likely it's something I haven't been able to think of. Whatever the reason though I just have to be cautious about Oscar Whisky's chances of turning this form
Third placed KENTFORD GREY LADY (38) couldn't go with the first two but showed how well she stays by clocking a decent time to chase them home. She can get done for a turn of foot in tactically run races. But in fields big enough to guarantee a decent gallop (nine plus) she'd won three times out of four over two and a half miles plus before this smart run and finished a good second to Quevega in her sole loss.
THE NEW ONE CAN IMPROVE ON THIS
For a horse that's built and bred for three miles over fences AT FISHERS CROSS (29 - pace adjusted 37) did well to win a rather slow run Grade 2 novice hurdle at Cheltenham from a very decent rival.
The pace picked up markedly from two out. The field came home from there 4.4 seconds faster than they did in the Cleeve Hurdle and 2.8 seconds quicker than they did in the fastest two mile hurdle won by Rolling Star.
At Fishers Cross owed his win to the second place horse running green. But it was still a big effort over a trip surely short of his best in a race not run to suit him. I can readily see him doing well when he steps up to three miles for the Albert Bartlett at the Festival.
Runner up THE NEW ONE (29 - pace adjusted 37) seemed to have his race won when quickening into a couple of lengths lead approaching the last. But his ears came up and he began to have that look of a horse longing for company. He idled and eased himself up despite his jockey's best efforts to keep him going. At Fishers Cross joined then passed him close home, The New One rallied but it was too late. In a bigger field at the Festival he will have more cover. He still looks a solid candidate for the Neptune.
POSTED ON JANUARY 21, 2013
FAGO A SERIOUS ARKLE PROSPECT
French import FAGO (39) clocked a seriously fast time to win a good novice chase at Newbury on his first UK start. Assistant trainer Dan Skelton said "we haven't had him long" and it showed. Fago seemed to get fazed by the water jump, jumped big at three down the far side and then ploughed through the last.
However none of the jumping errors cost him any ground as he was fairly tanking along throughout and ploughed on regardless. He finished his race out strongly and may well be able to run even faster when he's more used to the UK jumps.
Fago is a pretty tall, strong sort that has already run second in the top French chase for four year olds, the Prix Maurice Gillois over 2m 6f. But this run showed he has plenty of speed and marks him out as a serious prospect for the Arkle. He's obviously a keen going sort and ran too fast and stopped in a longer race three runs back. So right now the Arkle has to be the way to go. His new trainer Paul Nicholls and jockey Ruby Walsh can work on getting him to settle so that he can last longer distances later.
Runner up OHIO GOLD (38) could not go with the winner in the closing stages but kept on really well to beat the rest clearly. Jockey Brendan Powell said after his fourth last start that Ohio Gold can lose interest in a race. In this regard I note with interest that he's won three out of four on tracks a mile and a half or less in circumference and run second to Ballabriggs in his only loss. He's lost all eleven times he's run on bigger courses. So good as this run was around Newbury's two mile oval I'm going to prefer him in tighter courses in future. For this reason I'd say he's more of an Aintree than a Cheltenham prospect.
POLAR KITE BETTER THAN CLAIMING CLASS
POLAR KITE (35) clocked a very decent time to win a seven furlong claiming race at Wolverhampton. And it looked clear he could have run faster if there'd been something to press him in the final furlong.
His jockey, Tony Hamilton said after the race that Polar Kite is best in claiming company because they go a slower early pace which suits him and enables him to get in a rhythm. I think he's probably right. But small fields in any class tend to generate a slower early gallop, and Polar Kite's record in small fields is exceptional.
If one photo when he ran green had gone his way Polar Kite would have won six of the seven times he's run in single figure fields on fast ground or Polytrack in flat races. Back in 2011 he actually beat the subsequent Group winner Tullius into second place when winning a hot seven runner class 3 handicap at Pontefract. I'd be wary of opposing him next time he hits a small field at any level.
POSTED ON JANUARY 16, 2013
OSCARA DARA A SERIOUSLY GOOD STAYING HURDLER
OSCARA DARA (38) clocked a fast time to win the valuable Lanzarote handicap hurdle at Kempton. And he would have run even faster if he hadn't made a mess of the last.
In the early stages Oscara Dara just cruised along in midfield. He was still cruising as he improved to lead entering the straight while all his rivals were being hard ridden. He himself was not ridden till after two out whereupon he quickly went clear. He then made an almighty hash of the last, jumped it sideways and landed on all fours, losing a lot of momentum. It was a testament to how much he had in hand that he was able to recover quickly and scoot clear again to win comfortably, full of running passing the line.
If Oscara Dara hadn't made the last flight blunder I'm pretty sure he'd have completed the run in very close to the 13.3 seconds taken by Whitby Jack instead of the 14.7 he took. If he had then he'd have earned a rating of 40 from me for this performance. That makes him look a very interesting proposition not just for handicaps but for the top staying hurdles.
Runner up ROMEO AMERICO (37) doesn't seem that good at carrying weight. If he hadn't bumped into such a smart winner here he'd have won the last four times he's carried 11-2 or less. He's been beaten 26 and 36 lengths the two times he's been asked to carry more than that.
Third placed BUCK MAGIC (37) tired the two times he was asked to go three miles but had won three of the four times he'd gone shorter distances before this good run.
L'UNIQUE A FUTURE CHASER
It's not often you see a horse with the physique for chasing in a juvenile hurdle, especially when it's a filly. But there's little question that L'UNIQUE (35) will be better over the bigger jumps and over three miles or so. She's a good sized, tall, scopey filly that jumped really well, clearing several of the hurdles with plenty of room to spare.
L'Unique clocked just a fair time. But she won so comfortably I'm inclined to believe she can run faster. However two miles over hurdles is not her game. I don't think we'll see the best of her till she goes longer over fences.
TETLAMI FRAGILE BUT SMART
TETLAMI (38) is a fragile horse. He's fractured a pelvis and has also needed two breathing operations. However he's very smart as he showed when winning a two mile novice chase at Kempton in fast time on his chasing debut.
Tetlami took quite a while to get the better of the runner up but was able to cruise along from two out when he'd finally won the battle. I suspect he'd have equalled the best rating of 40 I've given him over hurdles if he'd had more company in the closing stages.
To date Tetlami's form has fallen apart in the spring. He's run three clunkers in March and April but would have won all seven times he's run earlier in the season but for losing narrowly when running green second time out.
I assume Tetlami was started off much later this season in an effort to get him to hold his form to the Spring Festivals this time around. If he manages to do that he's got a good chance of finally landing a big Graded contest. But personally I'd be inclined to go with his record and oppose him when he runs at the Cheltenham, Aintree or Punchestown festivals.
The horse I'm taking from the race is ESCORT'MEN (33) who would have finished ten lengths last of the three but for being eased on the run in.
Escort'Men made a hash of the first fence but then moved well in last place for a long way before getting stretched into jumping errors over the last two when Tetlami turned on the gas.
A lot of Escort'Men's relatives on either side of his pedigree were best over 2m 5f or more. I reckon he simply needs to go up to that sort of distance over fences to show the smart form he showed as a three and four year old over hurdles. After all his best chase run to date came the only time he had the chance to run longer than two miles.
MY TENT OR YOURS BARELY HAD A RACE
MY TENT OR YOURS (33) fairly hacked up in a Huntingdon novice hurdle. He pulled his way to the front at the end of the far side and cantered clear up the straight. He was eased so heavily on the run in that he took 16 seconds to get to the line from the last compared with the 13.3 seconds the winner of the Bumper took. It looked pretty clear that My Tent Or Yours could have come home at least as fast as the Bumper winner which would have seen him equal the speed rating of 39 I gave him for beating Taquin De Seuil a couple of runs back.
This run showed that My Tent Or Yours is a very pacey horse with a terrific turn of foot. I can see why he ran a little below his best when chasing home Chatterbox last time on ground that was so slow it blunted his acceleration. But I would add that on my ratings Chatterbox is also one of the top novice hurdlers.
My Tent Or Yours is shaping up as a potential Champion Hurdle prospect for next season. He ran here to qualify for handicaps and give him the option of running in the valuable Betfair Hurdle - a race his smart stablemate Darlan would have won as a novice last year but for falling two out.
It seems logical to go the same route with My Tent Or Yours even if it compromises his chances of winning the Supreme Novices. The big Newbury handicap is a race he has a better chance of winning. So I'd be inclined to go for it even if it means My Tent Or Yours has a hard race too close to Cheltenham. There's plenty of time to win other races. Missing the chance to win a very valuable handicap off an extremely favourable mark seems silly.
BRACKLOON HIGH STILL AHEAD OF THE HANDICAPPER
BRACKLOON HIGH (37) clocked a good time to win a 0-145 handicap chase over three miles at Kempton. He wasn't that far off the searching early pace and looked set to win by a good margin after kicking clear till the runner up rallied on the run in.
Trainer Noel Chance says that Brackloon High is best jumping right handed. Toss out his hurdle and chase runs over anything but a right handed course and he would have won six of his other seven completed starts but for one half length loss. In his other defeat going right handed he apparently disliked the heavy ground.
Runner up ON TREND (36) set and chased such a strong pace and was under pressure from such a long way out that I felt sure he was going to drop out to finish far behind. Instead he showed tremendous reserves to rally on the run in and cut the winner's margin to less than two lengths.
I note with interest that On Trend's only chase win under rules to date came over 2m 6f at Towcester where the track rises an amazing 28 yards over the last seven furlongs. That's way more than any other track and makes Towcester an exceptional test of stamina over 2m 6f. This being so, and seeing the stamina he displayed here I reckon On Trend is likely to excel over marathon distances.
THE NEW ONE STILL NEEDS TO DO MORE
THE NEW ONE (33 - pace adjusted 36) was certainly impressive when taking the Grade 2 novice hurdle over 2m 5f at Warwick on Saturday. He picked up the pace massively down the far side, went well clear and was then eased heavily on the run in. However even if I say he'd have finished as fast as the winner of the Pertemps qualifier but for being eased I can only award The New One a Listed class rating for this performance. You can't argue that the early pace was slow enough to hurt the final time either The field were never more than about 4.7 seconds behind the pace of the Pertemps qualifier and had caught up by the seventh jump.
No doubt The New One can run faster when facing better company. He's won six of his seven starts to date and beat the smart My Tent Or Yours in the big Bumper at Aintree last season. However I now need convincing that he's going to be capable of winning one of the big Grade 1 novice hurdles at the Spring festivals. My feeling is that he's built to do better next season when trying three miles over fences.
POSTED ON JANUARY 7, 2013
MELODIC RENDEZVOUS PROBABLY NEEDS MUD
MELODIC RENDEZVOUS (40) clocked a seriously fast time when winning the Tolworth Hurdle. He lobbed along not far off the lead, surged forward to lead at the last and then powered clear of the runner up.
The concern with Melodic Rendezvous in terms of the Cheltenham Festival is that he's a pretty big, strong sort with a long, raking stride that shows knee action. In other words he's designed for mud. So there has to be a worry that he won't handle the much faster ground he's likely to encounter at Cheltenham. Only time will tell whether this is the case, but my money is on him being a mudlark.
I loved the way that runner up PENDRA (38) kept gaining ground at the jumps. This enabled his jockey to save a bit in front for when the big challenge from the winner finally came. He responded really well when it did and took a couple of bumps from the winner as they duelled. But it made no difference to the result. He couldn't quite go with Musical Rendezvous in the closing stages.
This was the closest that Pendra's sire Old Vic has come to producing the winner of a Grade 1 hurdle. His progeny have won fourteen Grade 1 chases. It's tempting to say that Pendra has a good chance of ending his sire's losing streak of 35 in Grade 1 races over timber. But Pendra is surely going to prove better over fences next season given his sire and excellent jumping.
CAID DU BERLAIS LOOKS A SOLID TRIUMPH PROSPECT
The Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow was a bit of a mess. Swynmor failed to rise and capsized on landing after leading and looking sure to win at the last. He fell right underneath the pursuing Megalypos and brought that one to a standstill, leaving RUACANA (38) to win.
My impression from replaying the video several times is that Ruacana still had a fair bit of run left in him whereas Megalypos was beginning to tire. So I reckon he'd have finished second by a length, perhaps less but for the melee at the last.
Ruacana has now won both his hurdles starts and was a decent performer on the flat. However he was the smallest horse in the line up and doesn't look likely to be suited to the rough and tumble of the Triumph Hurdle. So, fast as he is, I'd be inclined to favour him for Aintree rather than Cheltenham.
If there was a Triumph Hurdle winner in the line up I reckon it was the runner up CAID DU BERLAIS (38).
Caid Du Berlais was a useful performer over fixed brush hurdles in France. On his final outing over there he got outpaced as the initially slow gallop picked up in the backstraight at Auteuil but worked his way back into contention to challenge at the last before the winner did him for a turn of foot. The third went on to win G2 and G1 events on his subsequent two starts, so it was clearly a red hot contest.
At Chepstow the early pace was strong but Caid Du Berlais was cutting back nearly a quarter of a mile in distance and switching from fixed brush hurdles which are basically baby fences. So it's not that surprising he had to be niggled along to keep up while racing in last until entering the straight. From there he began to make up ground. He ballooned three out, as horses switching from bigger jumps are apt to do (he'd jumped a bit big at the second and third too). But he picked up really strongly from the last and was closing the gap quite rapidly on the winner close home.
If he'd been used to jumping standard British hurdles I think Caid Du Berlais would have won this.
Caid Du Berlais is a strong, classy looking sort that has the build of a two and a half or three mile steeplechaser. His connections now face the choice of sticking to juvenile hurdles and going for the Triumph or stepping him up to two and a half miles, which will involve taking on older horses.
If he were mine I'd be going the Triumph route with Caid Du Berlais in the hope that the stiff uphill finish at Cheltenham will bring his stamina into play. I think the 33-1 the bookies are offering about him for that race is way too big.
SWYNMOR (38) would almost certainly have won had he stood up. He'd hosed up at Newbury on his only previous hurdles start and is clearly one of the best juvenile hurdlers. However I want to see him prove his trainer's assertion that he can handle faster ground. The fact that he turned in his worst performance by far the one time he encountered a quick surface has me concerned about his prospects for the Spring Festivals.
DON'T UNDER ESTIMATE CHATTERBOX
Most people seem to think that the recent win by CHATTERBOX (39) at Newbury was a fluke caused by a combination of heavy ground and a slow early pace. The numbers I see in front of me suggest something very different.
Yes the early pace was slow. But they picked up tremendously in the closing stages. Compared with the one hurdle that was strongly run throughout (the Juvenile race) they came home 3.27 seconds faster from the second hurdle and a monstrous 10.27 seconds faster from three out. Whether I rate the race from the second jump or invoke my sectional timing formula to combine ratings for the last three flights and the full distance I come up with the same big rating of 39. That equals the best rating earned by a novice hurdler in Britain so far this season.
The fact that the horse that the runner up previously earned the biggest rating I'd previously given a UK novice hurdler this second suggests my interpretation of the sectional times is correct. As does the fact that the 12.75 length fourth Hells Spirit had finished 12.50 lengths behind Puffin Billy on his previous two starts. Puffin Billy is regarded by many as the top UK novice hurdler.
The popular view is that the runner up and long odds on favourite MY TENT OR YOURS (37) was left with too much ground to make up in a race clearly run to suit those sitting close to the pace. However the furthest behind he ever got from a long way out was down the far side where he was only 1.2 seconds behind the leader. He closed to within 0.7 seconds of the leader two out but Chatterbox then got away from him again, crossing the line 1.1 seconds ahead.
I accept trainer Nicky Henderson's explanation that My Tent or Yours didn't like the heavy ground. He ran a couple of lengths a mile below his best according to my ratings. But he still produced a pattern class performance and continues to look a big player for the Supreme Novices and the other Spring Festivals when the ground should be more in his favour.
Chatterbox is now unbeaten in two starts. He won a Bumper on his sole previous outing in which he and the runner up pulled well clear of their rivals. Nicky Henderson says he's not as mature as his stablemate My Tent Or Yours and will therefore probably not be going to Cheltenham.
Chatterbox is the only foal of a dam whose sole win came in a two and a half mile steeplechase (she's a half sister to staying chaser My Will). His sire gets quite a few chasers too, mostly over at least that far. So it seems likely that Chatterbox will be switching to the bigger jumps next term. Meanwhile I'll be very interested in his chances in any decent novice hurdle he contests for the rest of this season. He looks likely to be massively under-rated.
Third placed BEST BOY BARNEY (37) set the moderate pace but couldn't go with the winner when he quickened away and then just got outrun for second by the pacier runner up. He won impressively on his only point to point start and will surely be wanting further than the two miles of this race on normal ground. I don't know why he flopped a few days later but would bet on him bouncing back to win soon.
ALBERT BARTLETT LOOKS RIGHT TARGET FOR TAQUIN DE SEUIL
TAQUIN DE SEUIL (37) gave himself all sorts of problems and ran a couple of lengths a mile below his best as a result. But he still won the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury. He was initially rather geed up by the increasing pace at the fourth and jumped that hurdle with a little too much enthusiasm, gaining a couple of lengths. He settled down again and moved will before kicking on early in the straight. He then made a hash of the last, landing on all fours and losing momentum, before wandering around on the run in. He still managed to stay a few lengths clear and then began to draw away again in the last 100 yards as he straightened up and his stamina kicked in.
Taquin De Seuil is still a bit immature physically and will surely be better when he fills his frame. He's obviously a future chaser but is clearly one of the best staying novice hurdlers right now. The way he picked up again on the run in makes the Albert Bartlett look a better target for him than the Neptune (no Challow Hurdle winner has ever won the Neptune).
CLONDAW KAEMPFER was one of two horses visibly moving better than the rest when the pace picked up, along with the winner. He looked a real threat as he was still moving strongly until stumbling three out and getting pulled up. His jockey clearly felt something was amiss but he returned sound. I've seen this sort of thing before when a horse raps a hurdle and is momentarily lamed.
CARRICKBOY IS SMART IN SMALL FIELDS
I liked the way that CARRICKBOY (38) just kept on going so gamely after setting a strong pace to win a good two and a half mile handicap chase at Chepstow. He seems to be best off a quick turnaround in smallish fields. So far he has won four of the five times he's run in a single figure field off a break off three weeks or less. His sole loss was over the National fences at Aintree which he didn't seem to handle.
Despite the fact that he fell at the last I reckon CEDRE BLEU is made for the National fences at Aintree. He cleared several of the jumps with feet to spare and rallied gamely in the closing stages till falling simply by being very tired at the last. His fall was reminiscent of the recent fall experienced by another really bold jumper in Rathlin who also jumped magnificently till falling purely through tiredness in the Paddy Power chase where the three miles tested his stamina.
Seeing that he takes so much out of himself in his races with those huge jumps I wasn't surprised to see an obvious pattern in Cedre Bleu's form suggesting a need for rests between his runs. Like a lot of two and a half mile chasers he seems best on his first two starts off a long break and then needs rests of at least five weeks thereafter. He's won three of his five UK starts over less than 2m 6f when fresh in this way. One of his losses was in a Grade 1 and the other was a second place finish to the top class Spirit Son. I'll be interested if I see Cedre Bleu running in the Topham at the Aintree Festival. But any race he comes into off a five week plus break from now on will also have me looking closely at his chances.
MONBEG DUDE PROBABLY BEST ON UNDULATING TRACKS
MONBEG DUDE (38) showed tremendous stamina to win the Welsh National, coming from last to win narrowly. He made mistakes at three of the first six jumps when perhaps a bit crowded. But he then jumped better until a mistake at the last on the far side on the final circuit made him cede a lot of the ground he had gained. He then steadily worked his way into the race in the straight and kept on gaining despite diving through tiredness over the last two jumps. He ended up winning narrowly.
It does seem clear that Monbeg Dude is best going uphill and down dale. So far he's won all four times he's competed the course in steeplechases on undulating courses (I'm including his point to point win).
Runner up TEAFORTHREE (38) is a great big tall, one paced horse who does nothing but jump and stay. He was always close up and looked to have the race won when kicking on three out only to get caught late by the irresistible run of the winner. He has now run in thirteen chases stretching back to 2009 when you include his point to point starts. So I'm not sure the negative stats about horses running in the Grand National that were novices the previous season are that meaningful for him. He does look just the sort to excel over the giant fences at Aintree over four and a half miles.