CHEPSTOW REVIEW

FINIAN’S OSCAR DESTINED FOR THE TOP

The novice chase at Chepstow on Saturday has been won by Cue Card and Thistlecrack in previous runnings, and Colin Tizzard unleashed another potential star in FINIAN’S OSCAR (148+) in this year’s renewal.

There were three chases run on the card, with the other two over the near three mile trip.  The sectionals as timed from the first jump in the novice chase were:

Finian’s Oscar Rock The Kasbah Definitly Grey
11.71 12.45 12.32
25.52 26.95 26.71
35.77 37.67 36.89
46.59 49.18 48.52
115.17 122.72 121.38
125.2 133.15 132.17
132.97 140.97 140.02
144.95 153.22 152.02
158.14 166.7 165.66
169.05 177.53 176.81
221.32 228.71 230.13
233.93 239.79 242.25
249.26 252.81 256
261.04 262.59 265.82
274.3 273.68 277.06
292.28 290.06 295.04

Settled at the back of the four runner field by his new pilot, Bryan Cooper, Finian’s Oscar struck me as a professional enough jumper for his first run over fences, and he was given a nice education by Cooper.  At one stage he was ten lengths or so off the leading pair but once encouraged he picked up the leader AINTREE MY DREAM (133) fairly readily and travelled all over him up the straight to win eased down.

The fact he was eased down presents a bit of a conundrum in trying to accurately rate him.  Even with that he clocked a time just 2.22s slower than Rock The Kasbah, and a quicker time than Definitly Grey.  But he was so far in ascendancy at one point (8 or 9s ahead of both), and still seemed to have so much left in the tank at the end that I’ve upgraded him a fair bit to arrive at a mark of 148.

It was no secret that he was a potential top notch novice chaser, but he impressed me here on his debut.  The end of season choice would seem to be between the Arkle and the JLT… Coming from the family of Champion Chase winner Finian’s Rainbow and the way he picked up decent horses here suggests there is plenty of pace in his make-up so I can see connections going for the shorter race.  With his point to point background though his long term future is probably the 2019 Gold Cup and I wonder if he could follow Kicking King, War Of Attrition and Sizing John in finishing runner-up in the Arkle and then going onto Gold Cup glory?

 

ROCK THE KASBAH STARTS TO FULFIL POTENTIAL

The other performance of note on the chase front was from ROCK THE KASBAH (152) who won the handicap chase off a mark of 142 in a nice style.  He clocked a time 5s quicker than the winner of the other race over the same distance, but it was the impressive finish that caught my eye.  Up to seven out they clocked roughly the same time of around 177s, but from there Rock The Kasbah came home 6s quicker.  Adjusting for this points to a nice performance from the winner that goes some way towards fulfilling his potential.  He was carrying 15lbs less than the winner of the other race but this still merited a number 10lbs higher than the mark he won off.

I notice he has been raised to a mark of 149 as a result of this win.  He can still pose a threat off that mark should connections elect to go for the Ladbroke Gold Cup at Newbury.  Though considering he has good form here at Chepstow and on soft ground, the Welsh National has to be tempting for connections.  He’ll need to find some more improvement…but that is certainly possible for the seven year old.

 

WINNERS GALORE FROM THIS HURDLE RACE!!!

COURT MINSTREL (147) won the Silver Trophy for the second time at the age of 10.  He had dropped to a nice mark, and with the ground in his favour and his excellent jockey claiming 7lbs he was able to get his head in front ahead of SAM SPINNER (140).  However, it is the preceding race also won by Mitch Bastyan that I think is seriously worth following.

Silver Streak Court Minstrel Difference
72.1 71.83 0.27
88.73 88.82 -0.09
102.45 102.63 -0.18
174.39 175.78 -1.39
185.78 186.92 -1.14
196.17 197.09 -0.92
215.41 215.93 -0.52
227.33 228.39 -1.06

SILVER STREAK (142) won the race in fine style, travelling well before pulling 4.5 lengths away from DOLOS (150).  As you can see from the sectionals above, he clocked a time just over a second quicker from the first flight.  Adjusting for the lower weight carried and distance run and looking at the other races on the card I reach a number of 142 for the winner.  He was winning here off a mark of just 122, and has only been put up to 130.  I was interested to see his trainer talk about the Greatwood Hurdle as a potential target, and he would certainly be of interest there should he get in.  He looks on an upward curve, and ahead of his new mark.

DOLOS (150) seemed to get outpaced at the end by the winner and despite the fact he has yet to be successful beyond two miles he looks worth trying up in trip.  On pedigree he could well improve for it and he looks well ahead of his mark of 135.

FLASHING GLANCE (140) won a Stratford novice by 20 lengths in September, and has some smart bumper form in behind Irish Prophecy, Cap Soleil and Pym.  He is another worth following.

FIDUX (141), DINO VELVET (133) and PERCY STREET (130) all look capable of winning from their marks.  The two Alan King horses perhaps needed the run, and Percy Street looks well handicapped on the best of his flat form.  Having been gelded recently, Henderson is just the trainer to unlock the potential that looked to be there when he travelled well in the Fred Winter.

 

ROMAIN DE SENAM HAS TO GO FOR BETVICTOR GOLD CUP

Paul Nicholls wasn’t the only one devastated when ROMAIN DE SENAM (148) didn’t get into the novice handicap chase at the festival, as I’d made him one of the best bets of the week for that race.  Alas, there was some recompense as he slammed his rivals on Sunday at Chepstow from a mark of 133.

Mia’s Storm Bob Ford Romain De Senam
12.66 12.2 11.44
26.93 26.92 25.43
37.47 37.7 35.82
48.89 49.32 47.07
122.16 119.94 117.63
132.29 130.44 127.85
140.36 138.52 135.77
152.37 150.68 147.8
166.03 165.02 161.58
177.23 176.43 172.65
226.75 227.93 223.15
237.62 239.48 234.03
250.4 253 247.43
260.17 263.37 257.68
270.66 274.43 268.58
285.17 290.49 284.85

 

The other two chases on the card were over 4f further than this race, and Romain De Senam unsurprisingly was able to clock a faster time than both the other winners even after being well eased in the closing stages.

I was somewhat surprised to hear that the BetVictor Gold Cup wasn’t being considered for the winner.  It looks the obvious race, and assuming he goes up to a mark of around 142 after this and with further improvement he must have a big chance for the race.  Nicholls mentioned that he may not have sufficient experience, but this was his 8th run over fences….he just has to go for the race (unless the owner has another candidate, which I’ll come to later!)

DOUBLE SHUFFLE (157) was well beaten by the pacier winner, but this was a fine comeback run for him.  Back up in trip to another go at three miles and I think he can land a nice prize this year even from his mark of 151.

 

MIA’S STORM AN APPROPRIATE WINNER

With hurricanes hitting the British Isles it seemed MIA’S STORM (145) was an appropriately named winner of the novice chase on the card.  As we saw from the sectional’s the time she clocked was only just behind Romain De Senam despite the longer trip and carrying 6lbs more.  She was a progressive hurdler last year but looks to have kicked on again now moving to the bigger obstacles.  Unbeaten on good ground, she could be one to bear in mind for better ground in the spring should she get turned over on a softer surface over the winter months.

ELEGANT ESCAPE (149) has been a well touted horse having been beaten in his point to point days by the hype machine Samcro.  Now moved to the bigger obstacles he made an excellent debut here and looks a nice prospect for novice chasing, perhaps an RSA type, with stablemate Finian’s Oscar likelier to thrive at shorter trips.

 

GUMBALL A TRIUMPH HURDLE PROSPECT

Seeing a Terry Warner owned, Phillip Hobbs trained grey stirs the emotions as one reminisces about the mighty Detroit City.  And it looks like connections have another fine prospect in GUMBALL (136).

Gumball Poetic Rhythm Misterton
75.79 70.22 70.17
92.46 86.49 86.39
106.06 99.89 99.26
179.47 172.06 172.57
191.33 184 184.49
201.64 195.44 194.91
220.48 215.57 214.55
233.06 228.45 227.45

They clocked the slowest time in this race, as you can see above, but most of this can be accounted for at the start of the race, and perhaps explains the winners scratchy and clumsy jumping.  In a stronger run race he should jump better, as he had done on debut, and he looks a fine Triumph Hurdle prospect at this stage.

The runner-up MALAYA (126) had a fair reputation from France but was no match for the winner here.  She should step up from this and looks a nice prospect herself.

SPEEDO BOY (104) is an interesting horse from the flat where he has been rated as high as 100.  He bumped into two smart horses here and if connections place him right he could end up on a nice mark for the Fred Winter.

 

VISION DES FLOS LOOKS ANOTHER NICE PROSEPECT FOR TIZZARD & POTTS

POETIC RHYTHM (142) won the novice hurdle in fine style, but it was the third placed horse VISION DES FLOS (136) that is the one to take out of the race.  The winner and runner-up were having their fifth and ninth starts over hurdles, yet Vision Des Flos travelled well in the race and just looked in need of the run here.  He should step up nicely from this and be on the scene in the big end of season novice hurdles.  This race was 3.5f further than the other two races on the card, yet they clocked a time just a second slower than the race won by Misterton.

 

COULD OLDGRANGEWOOD BE THE REASON ROMAIN DE SENAM ISN’T BETVICTOR GOLD CUP BOUND?!

MISTERTON (144) won the final hurdle race on the card in a good time but it was the horse in third, OLDGRANGEWOOD (144) that caught the eye.  He travelled well, but looked to get a bit outpaced at the end of the race and perhaps also in need of the run (was a drifter on the day)  He was just 5 lengths behind Cloudy Dream at Ayr over 2.5miles at the end of last season and looks dangerously handicapped on a mark of 147.  The benefit of this run, and going back up to 2.5miles should see improvement as should moving back over the larger obstacles.

With Nicholls so quick to dismiss the BetVictor Gold Cup in the aftermath of the race for Romain De Senam, I wonder if the owner has the race in mind for Oldgrangewood already!

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TOTAL RECALL MAKES A MOCKERY OF HIS MARK…AND OTHER HORSES OF NOTE

The jumps season stepped up a gear in the last week with some big names reappearing and some smart prospects laying down their markers for the season ahead.

TOTAL RECALL MAKES A MOCKERY OF HIS MARK

The Munster National run at Limerick on Sunday looked like a decent betting heat, with a Willie Mullins horse heading the market and a big field giving favourable place terms.  However, it was turned into a procession as the Mullins hotpot TOTAL RECALL (154) made an absolute mockery of his handicap mark of 129.  Previously trained by Sandra Hughes it is scarcely believable how much improvement Mullins has managed to eek out of the horse, albeit he had run with promise from such a mark last season.

Total Recall Jury Duty Attribution
10.6 10.38 10.02
21 20.81 20.05
31.5 31.45 30.85
46.04 46.13 45.14
103.45 104.75 103.02
113.51 115.48 112.91
176.95 180.46 173.13
187.38 189.98 182.71
197.95 200.58 192.47
208.42 211.48 202.49
222.62 225.58 215.94
275.95 279.21 270.13
285.45 289.38 280.04
298.02 299.53 293.14

The sectionals as taken from the first jump in the shorter races are shown in the table above.  The race won by Jury Duty was run at a relative crawl, but Total Recall still clocked a time 1.5s quicker despite travelling two furlongs further.  He was heavily eased in the closing stages and was in fact 4s quicker to the final flight!  Attribution ran a quicker time as can be seen above but this was over 4.5f further, and once adjusting for this it points to a big number for Total Recall.  He will rightfully get murdered by the handicapper off the back of this, presumably to a mark in the mid to high 140s, but he can go in again of such a mark…perhaps even in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup at Newbury.

I bet ALPHA DES OBEAUX (160) in the race and although he was well handicapped he was unfortunate to bump into the winner.  That said it was good to see him return back to form, having put up some big numbers for me in the past, most noticeably behind Thistlecrack in the Stayers Hurdle and behind Coney Island in the Drinmore.  His problems were well reported last season, and having bled it is possible he will always be hit and miss and perhaps even need to be fresh to be at his best.

The other two chases on the card saw a smart introduction to chasing for JURY DUTY (140) over 2m6f.  Well fancied when third in the Pertemps last season he was given a straightforward enough introduction to chasing here and was relatively untroubled in success.  He can take decent rank in the staying novice chase division, and looks a RSA horse at this stage.

ATTRIBUTION (151) and CHILDRENS LIST (154) fought out the finale of the other chase on the card, with the former coming out on top.  He ran some nice races in defeat last year, and seemed suited by this step up to 2.5m in fending off his rival who was travelling better.  A former 3m pointer he could be worth trying up to 3 miles in future.

The runner-up travelled menacingly in behind but perhaps their relative match fitness paid its toll in the ground.  This was Childrens List first run since beating Edwulf on New Year’s Eve last year, and he confirmed the promise of that run with a decent first showing this season.  Another from the point to point field, he is actually a half-brother to Schindlers Hunt and could pay his way in Grade 2/3 races over 2.5miles for connections.  Although considering those connections are the Mullins/Ricci/Walsh triumvirate his odds may not be appealing.

ROBIN DES FORET JUMPS TO THE TOP OF THE NOVICE HURDLE TREE

Over hurdles we saw a stunning performance from ROBIN DES FORET (156) to win the listed race over 2m5f.

Balakani Robin Des Foret Drakaina Crown Of Gold
9.81 9.65 9.12 9.67
71 67.52 68.44 71.23
80.36 76.69 77.45 80.53
90.02 86.37 87.07 90.54
99.61 96.3 96.67 100.51
160.72 156.26 158.57 161.2
171.06 165.03 167.54 170.35
184.32 178.13 180.09 183.19

As you can see from the sectionals above, taken from the first jump in the two mile race, Robin Des Foret clocked the fastest time despite racing over further than two of the other races on the card and carrying at least 6lbs more than the winners of those other races.  It was a stunning performance as he travelled well throughout to dispatch his well fancied stablemate FABULOUS SAGA (149).

The winner has been on the go throughout the summer and continues the previous Mullins trend of running his decent horses “out of season”.  He looks a top prospect for the Neptune or Albert Bartlett novice hurdles.

The runner-up had similarly been on the go throughout the summer and maybe set the race up for his stablemate here.  He is an exciting horse for the remainder of the season and on pedigree and point to point background could go well up in trip to 3 miles and the slower pace of race there could suit.  He seemed exuberant in front and if he can settle over that sort of trip he would be a live threat.  But as ever with Mullins, we have to keep all trip options open at this stage!

It would be appropriate to mention MEGA FORTUNE (150) at this stage.  He was set to take the opening hurdle race in fine style on his seasonal reappearance before succumbing to a horrendous fall two from home.  It was horrible to watch and served a reminder to us all of the risks involved in racing, and that is something we should all wrestle with in our minds.  These animals are treated like kings, but accidents like this are still hard to take.  Mega Fortune had proved a brilliant acquisition from the flat and had adapted into a top juvenile hurdler.  He was set to clock a decent time here and with some improvement would not have been out of place in Grade 1s this season, or the big handicap hurdles.  He will be sorely missed.

SOME HYPE HORSES WIN, BUT DON’T IMPRESS ON THE CLOCK

There are three horses I want to talk about here, the first being the Champion Bumper horse of last season FAYONAGH (117+).

Fayonagh Russian Roulette Difference
28.27 28.98 -0.71
43.54 44.61 -1.07
76.67 78.05 -1.38
92.87 93.79 -0.92
122.79 123.65 -0.86
153.49 153.03 0.46
171.26 169.68 1.58
198.35 196.65 1.7
211.99 210.78 1.21
225.26 225.26 0

There was one other race on the Fairyhouse card run over 2miles, and this was won by Russian Roulette in a handicap hurdle off a mark of 108.  Fayonagh clocked the same time from the first flight to the line and carried 7lbs less in doing so!

I played around with the numbers and comparisons with the other races on the cards, and a mark of 117 was all I could give last season’s bumper heroine.  Sure, she was relatively untroubled in defeating her rivals and one would expect her to progress a lot from here, but it backed up the underlying view I have that last season’s bumper horses weren’t a vintage crop.  Samcro and Lalor were the two that looked the ones to take out of last year for me, and it will be interesting to see how Fayonagh progresses.  At this stage, Elliots call to target the mares novice would look to be appropriate.

SHATTERED LOVE (120+) was another that falls into this category.  She was untroubled in despatching weaker rivals but didn’t clock a time of any note.

Bamako Moriviere Shattered Love Fenlon’s Hill
18.39 19.62 19.73
51.88 56.18 55.59
63.46 69.61 67.81
76.43 84.39 81.42
112.85 122.3 118.83
139.94 149.33 145.77
163.08 172.14 168.76
187.55 196.94 195.09
204.34 213.96 213.31
220.93 231.23 229.72

As we can see she was consistently the slowest of the three winners when timed from the first flight in the two mile race, and on the clock her performance only merits a number of 120.  That said though, she looks a big imposing horse and clearly well suited to chasing.  There will be tougher engagements than this down the line and hopefully she will be up to the task.

Whilst the two mares are horses I feel can leave the marks I’ve given them well behind, I confess to not buying into the hype around PALMERS HILL (118+) who won a 2 mile maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter.  A staggeringly expensive purchase from the point to point field this horse has featured in many a “horses to follow feature” in the build up to this season.

Palmers Hill Dusky Raider Difference
16.48 15.86 0.62
39.49 38.44 1.05
53.39 51.58 1.81
100.76 97.56 3.2
121.29 117.47 3.82
172.53 170.48 2.05
192.67 192.58 0.09
205.03 206.04 -1.01
218.07 219.75 -1.68

The other two mile race on the card was a handicap won off a mark of 97 by Dusky Raider.  Although there was a slow pace in the maiden hurdle, Palmers Hill still only clocked a time 1.68s quicker and did so carrying 9lbs less.  Even adjusting for the quicker finish I still only give him a mark of 118.  Again, you would expect him to progress someway from here and he did travel well in this race.  His long term future presumably lies in staying chases, but better point to point judges than I have similarly balked at the £310,000 fee paid for him and I can’t help feeling he will turn into a costly horse for connections and probably a costly horse to follow.

DEATH DUTY ANNOUNCES HIS ARRIVAL IN NOVICE CHASES

Although perhaps a bit disappointing in the novice hurdles at the backend of last season (though his run behind Bacardys and Finian’s Oscar shouldn’t be underestimated), it was good to see DEATH DUTY (134+) make a winning start to his chase career at Tipperary.

Death Duty Miss Eyecatcher Crocodile Dundee
22.21 22.99 21.59
44.3 45.74 44.03
62.59 65.84 63.76
97.56 100.46 99.93
116.13 119.36 118.98
147.13 149.65 149.39
169.12 172.02 171.69
190.9 193.68 193.08
209.62 211.93 210.05
242.67 242.87 241.28
260.18 259.38 258.05
270.34 270.11 269.12

Timed from the first flight in the two mile race won by Crocodile Dundee, we can see the three races were won in remarkably similar times.  However, Death Duty did his winning over the longest trip (just short of 3miles), carried 5lbs and 8lbs more in weight than the other two winners, and seemingly did so while half asleep.  In fact it seemed the horse had nearly sent Davy Russell to sleep as they approached the last and seemed set to be outrun to the line by CAP D’AUBOIS (133) in an enterprising ride from Ruby Walsh.

At the last Death Duty slowed into the jump and flicked over, losing a degree of momentum.  However, once woken up and shaken up he picked up the runner-up with some comfort and wasn’t asked another question in the run to the line.  Connections mentioned the Drinmore as a first target and that looks just fine by me!  He should take high rank in the novice chase division this season, with perhaps the JLT a likely end of season target.

 

 

JUMPS RACING IS BACK AT GOWRAN AND TIPPERARY WITH SOME EYECATCHING PERFORMANCES

With the colour of the leaves changing, and the temperature dropping by the day the excitement only goes in the opposite direction for us jump fanatics, and it was good to see an old favourite return to winning ways alongside some other good performances at the weekend.

JEZKI (150) may only be a nine year old but seems to have been around for ages, and he bounced back here with a bang from a campaign last year that appeared to fizzle out with a whimper in beating five rivals by four lengths at Tipperary in a Grade 3 hurdle over two miles.  Happily for us sectional fans all three races were over hurdles were run over the same two mile trip and the times from the first hurdle in each race are shown here:

Jezki Sayar Persistent
9.29 8.32 9.09
52.78 48.6 52.43
70.81 65.14 70.26
102.04 95.91 102.18
150.32 144.05 151.31
158.4 152.65 159.85
196.33 191.89 198.8
211.62 209.1 215.08
221.92 221.05 225.99

The handicap hurdle was won by Persistent who I’ve rated 115, and Jezki, as one would expect, clocked a time 4s quicker, with the gap ever widening from early on in their respective races.  Allowing for the differing weights I’ve rated Jezki 150 as a result, which is actually 5lbs lower than I rated him on his reappearance last season at Navan in January.  Given how his season failed to progress from there it would have to be a concern that he can get back to where he was, but it was good to see him back in the winner’s enclosure all the same.  He didn’t reappear until January last year so the fact that he is back so early in the season would give cause for optimism that his preparation has been better this year.

The more interesting race to compare his run to was with the novice hurdle on the card won by the Willie Mullins trained SAYAR (141).

Jezki Sayar Difference
9.29 8.32 -0.97
52.78 48.6 -4.18
70.81 65.14 -5.67
102.04 95.91 -6.13
150.32 144.05 -6.27
158.4 152.65 -5.75
196.33 191.89 -4.44
211.62 209.1 -2.52
221.92 221.05 -0.87

As we can see from the table above, they went a much stronger pace in the novice hurdle, being a full 6.27s ahead at one stage.  Unsurprisingly they were able to finish much quicker in the Grade 3 race as a result and it is with this adjustment that I rate that race higher despite the relatively similar finishing times.

But make no mistake this was a smart performance from SAYAR (141) who backed up the eye-catching run he put in on his hurdling debut at Kilbeggan where he was an easy sixteen length winner.  Putting in this sort of number on his second hurdle start and just the fourth run of his life marks him down as a very smart prospect.  Two unheralded runs for Mick Halford over 10f on the flat have been firmly left behind and it would be no surprise should he turn up in the opening contest of the festival in March, especially as better ground than here looks like it should herald further improvement.  Bought for just €65,000 he looks a good purchase for connections.

The runner-up MORGAN (149) has plenty of experience for a novice and did well to get to within three lengths of the winner despite conceding 11lbs to him.  Rated just 139 before this race, he could now step into handicap company and looks well treated on his mark.

The biggest number I gave to a hurdler on this card though was to another Mullins horse, namely COQUIN MANS (152) who tried to give 7lbs to Jezki but did not have the turn of foot to go with the former Champion Hurdler.  This is probably unsurprising given he has already won over three miles, and going back up in trip he looks a smart horse.

The other horse that couldn’t go with Jezki’s turn of foot at the end of the race was the four year old EX PATRIOT (141).  Fourth in the Triumph Hurdle last year this looked to be a good opportunity for him getting weight from his elder rivals, but the slow pace, fast finish clearly didn’t suit him.  In a bigger field and perhaps on better ground I think he is well handicapped off 143, and I wonder whether connections may be tempted to go for a race like the Greatwood Hurdle.  Before that there is a four year old race at Cheltenham in October, where a likely clash with Defi Du Seuil would await.  Ex Patriot would be getting weight from the Triumph Hurdle winner and wouldn’t be without a chance to my eye especially with match fitness on his side (though the prospect of a small field there would potentially count against him).

 

On the previous day at Gowran there was a Grade 2 chase over two and a half miles, won in nice style by A TOI PHIL (168) beating the Galway Plate winner BALKO DES FLOS (157) in a Gigginstown 1-2.

A Toi Phil Deputy’s Pass Tout Est Permis
51.12 54.41 52.26
62.71 66.74 64.12
73.33 77.54 74.55
128.29 135.29 130.77
141.26 148.94 143.47
154.59 162.6 156.34
168.42 177.33 170.24
184.35 194.26 186.66
232.81 244.07 237.24
243.45 255.21 248.69
252.83 265.67 258.99
264.95 278.66 272.28

We can easily see the merits of the performance from the sectional comparison with the other two chases on the card (timed from the same first flight in the 2m2f race).  They were 13.7s quicker than the handicap chase run over 3m1f, but the comparison to note for me was with the novice chase where A Toi Phil clocked a time 7.3s quicker despite racing over 2f further, and carrying 6lbs more.  They were quicker throughout the race.

TOUT EST PERMIS (134) is a nice prospect and beat a fair horse in BRELADE (138) in the novice chase.  The fact that A Toi Phil was so dominant over them shows to me that he is still progressing and put in an excellent performance here.  That said though, he would still be below the top table of middle distance chasers around at the moment such as Un De Sceaux and Fox Norton but I wouldn’t dismiss him out of hand.

Since moving to Ireland, A Toi Phil has raced eight times in races below Grade 1 class less than three miles (I’m ignoring his debut where he ran out early on), and his form in such conditions reads 11111141 with his one defeat coming in the Galway Plate beaten just six lengths.  He is well worth following in such Graded races, and I wouldn’t dismiss his chances of landing a Grade 1 at some stage given the time he clocked here.  He actually had Disko twelve lengths behind him the Florida Pearl Novice Chase last year and I was somewhat surprised to not even see him quoted for the Ryanair Chase in March.  He is versatile groundwise and looks to be well suited to the middle distance trip.

SUMMER HURDLERS COULD ENTER THE CHAMPION PICTURE

It has been a consistent trend over the last few seasons with the quality of jump racing over the summer months improving year on year.  Usually, I can hibernate from May to October, going surfing and generally forgetting about racing….but these days quality animals can appear over the summer.  Penhill for instance was a winner at last year’s Galway festival, and it isn’t inconceivable that the big handicap hurdles this summer have thrown up a couple of hurdlers that are worth their place in the top races over the winter months.

Starting at Galway, I thought the big handicap hurdle wasn’t the greatest renewal of the race when looking through it at first glance.  But it was a very open renewal and the front horses fairly spread-eagled the field.  The winner TIGRIS RIVER (153) continued his progression under Joseph O’Brien, but I think got a masterclass ride from Geraghty to collar SWAMP FOX (161) on the line, with five lengths back to AIRLIE BEACH (148) in third.

Oakly Tigris River Difference
44.57 41.26 -3.31
62.69 59.23 -3.46
87.37 84.35 -3.02
111.23 107.75 -3.48
122.61 118.98 -3.63
142.86 139.17 -3.69
183.59 181.06 -2.53
202 197.83 -4.17
218.97 213.47 -5.5

As we can see from the sectional comparison with the other hurdle race on the card above, Tigris River clocked a time 5.5s quicker from the first flight in the two mile race compared to Oakly in the novice race over a half mile further.  What is especially noticeable is the time from two out where he was just under 3s quicker in the Galway Hurdle.  The novice hurdle over two and a half miles was of a decent standard, and the time comparison of the Galway Hurdle points to some classy figures for the protagonists, even after adjusting for the shorter trip and weights carried.

The winner TIGRIS RIVER (153) was landing his third race in a row after successes at the Curragh on the flat, and over hurdles at Bellewstown.  One of the battalion of Coolmore horses that JP McManus has acquired, he had run well in handicap hurdles (including in this last year) and has hit a new high figure on my ratings in landing this.  Still only a 6 year old, it is perfectly possible he can continue to progress further.

He was given a fine ride by Geraghty to pick up the runner-up SWAMP FOX (161) who perhaps went for home a bit soon but looked set to hold on until Geraghty galvanized Tigris River to collar him on the line and win by a neck.  I don’t know too much about Barry Brown who was claiming 7lbs on Swamp Fox, but it would be no shame in being outridden by Geraghty.  Swamp Fox finished a clear second here off a mark of 148, and I rate him nearly a stone higher now in the low 160s, putting him not out of place in a Champion Hurdle.  Furthermore, he is still only a 5 year old and potentially capable of improving on this level still.  I notice there is plenty of stamina in his pedigree, with his mother from the family of Beef Or Salmon, and indeed he has already won over two and half miles.  In a strongly run Champion Hurdle his stamina could come into play and he is worth a shot in that company…. Equally up in trip it may be worth trying him in the Stayers Hurdle division.  Saying all that though, the turn of foot he showed from two out shows he has the pace for this sort of trip.  He certainly isn’t a horse to underestimate at this stage of his career either way!

This was the second run of the week for Swamp Fox after finishing a close second in a flat handicap earlier in the week.  To run such a huge race after such a short lay off further adds to confidence that he is potentially a big player in the top hurdle races this coming season.

AIRLIE BEACH (148) was my main fancy for this race, and was prominent throughout before the leading pair took over at the finish.  But she was a game third having been up with the pace.  I have rated her higher than this previously, which may be a tad on the high side in hindsight, and this sort of mark seems a fair reflection of her ability at this stage.  She is in foal to Mount Nelson and won’t run too much after this, if at all.

 

The other race I want to talk about is the Summer Handicap Hurdle ran at Market Rasen.  Similarly, this has improved in quality over the years recently and was won this year by JOHN CONSTABLE (160) off top weight and in a decent time.

Hestina John Constable Blue Comet Whatzdjazz
61.09 58.31 59.78 58.89
69.85 67.13 68.76 67.64
120.3 117.45 121.3 119.77
135.67 133.79 137.51 136.06
149.38 148.12 152.35 150.62
204.84 202.66 209.08 207.79
214.18 210.68 218.04 216.08
234.68 228.79 237.83 233.93

You can see the sectionals timed from the first jump on the two mile course above in each hurdle race, and they clocked comfortably the fastest time in the Summer Handicap Hurdle.

Hestina John Constable Difference
61.09 58.31 -2.78
69.85 67.13 -2.72
120.3 117.45 -2.85
135.67 133.79 -1.88
149.38 148.12 -1.26
204.84 202.66 -2.18
214.18 210.68 -3.5
234.68 228.79 -5.89

In comparison with the other two mile race on the card won by the Dan Skelton trained Hestina, John Constable clocked a time nearly 6s quicker…and carrying 9lbs more.  It was an excellent performance from the winner, doing so off a rating of a 150 and one that I think merits a mark 10lbs higher that again puts him in range of running with credit in a Champion Hurdle.  He has improved markedly on his last two starts and is a full brother to St Leger winner Leading Light…I wouldn’t want to bet that his improvement stops here!

 

So, there you have it, two potential Champion Hurdle runners coming to prominence over the summer months!  I should point out that I have both Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade another 10lbs plus clear of both Swamp Fox and John Constable but the latter pair both seem to be on an upward trajectory and seem to be being dismissed in the general consensus….they could surprise a few!

GALWAY HURDLE PREVIEW

This isn’t a vintage renewal of the Galway Hurdle at first glance, but I do think it is one of the most open.

I had a shortlist of five after going through the race plenty of times, and two appeal to me above the others.  With decent each way terms around there can be an argument for backing all five, but I’ll discuss the main two I fancy in a bit more detail.

Willie Mullins won this last year with Clondaw Warrior, and he runs again off top weight.  Ruby Walsh has plumped for Max Dynamite, but it is the mare AIRLIE BEACH that I want to be with.  She ran up a sequence of wins as a novice hurdler last year, culminating in victory in the Grade 1 Royal Bond beating subsequent Grade 1 scorers Saturnas and Penhill, as well as Grade 2 winner Forge Meadow.  It was billed at the time as a sub par renewal but the time stacked up well with the other races on the cards.  She was then given a break before running down the field at Chelenham but was just about the only horse to give Apple’s Jade any sort of race at Punchestown.  Setting the pace she was no match for the exceptional winner, but held off Karalee to be second.  Again the time of the race was good, and even though she was put in her place by the winner, Airlie Beach had to lead most of the way and ran a solid enough time herself.  She ran on the flat two weeks ago, and given she seemed to thrive on her racing last year I hope that was being used as a tune up for this.  She runs off a mark of 141 and I think she’s capable of better than that and outrunning odds of 16/1.

Interestingly, she is in foal to Mount Nelson… The excellent Kevin Blake covered this topic in detail and it would be a somewhat topical result should she triumph!

The other one I’m really keen on is another Mullins runner, but this time the Seamus Mullins trained FERGALL.  I backed him at a big price in the Swinton at the backend of the season, and was sitting smugly to myself as he made a bold move round the entire field and started to pull away up the Haydock straight.  Unfortunately, my smugness was shortlived as John Constable loomed into view and careered away.  “Oh well, at least he’ll get second” I thought to myself, just as he ploughed through the final flight and fell.  The winner of course has gone on to win the big summer handicap hurdle prize, and I rate him 160, i.e. just below Champion Hurdle class.  Fergall looked set to take a respectable second that day and runs here off just a 1lb higher mark of 141.  The excellent Kevin Jones takes off a useful 5lbs and I think he can outrun odds of 28/1.

He is a hardy handicap hurdler, having just been touched off at Ascot twice, the latter time behind Brain Power and that experience can count for a lot in a race as tough as this.  He was actually 8th in this race a few years ago behind Thomas Edison when trying to make all.  I think he’s improved since then (he actually missed a season in 2015/16 so perhaps has less miles on the clock than your average 10 year old) and he ran a nice race on the all weather recently that should set him up nicely for this.

The other three on my shortlist were Tigris River, Joey Sasa and Automated.  They all look to have something in hand on their marks and should run well but AIRLIE BEACH and FERGALL at big prices are the two for me.

GALWAY AND GOODWOOD CUP MUSINGS

A briefish post with some musings on the Galway Plate and Goodwood Cup……

There are a plethora of horses to like in the Galway Plate this year, but there are two that leapt off the page at me and are the two I have best handicapped in the race.

The first has been well found, and on form it is no surprise to see BALKO DES FLOS head the market.  A decent novice hurdler, he was 5th in the Albert Bartlett, and 4th in the Sefton before switching to fences last year.  I gave him a big number when he finished 3rd in the Flogas Novice chase in February behind Disko and Our Duke, beaten just 8 lengths.  With the subsequent exploits of those two it is easy to see that he is potentially very well treated off a mark of 146.  He fell when going well enough in front in the JLT at Cheltenham, before rounding off his season finishing third in a hot handicap chase at the Punchestown festival.  With a bit of juice in the ground at Galway this week suiting him as well, all the signals point to him running a big race.  Road To Riches went off 7/2 favourite for this last year, and I can see him being similarly supported, so the 8/1 currently is probably only going to get shorter.  He is capable of being a 160+ performer to me, and looks sure to run well off 146.

The other one I like is bit darker, and his price could be very much influenced by jockey bookings as Willie Mullins has a number of likely runners at this stage.  But I think HAYMOUNT has a huge chance running off a mark of 145.  A solid, if unspectacular novice hurdler, he firmly left that form behind on his chase debut in November at Punchestown where I rated his win highly.  He had horses such as Coney Island, Mall Dini and Woodland Opera in behind him that day and they are now rated 157, 141 and 149 respectively.  He then finished a close second to Bellshill in a Grade 2 before finishing 3rd and 7th over marathon trips in the four miler and Irish Grand National…I don’t think he’s necessarily a 3 mile plus staying chaser and dropping back to 2m6f here I think is sure to suit.  The other aspect of his form that appeals to me is his record fresh.  He won a Tipperary bumper on his racecourse debut (Joshua Lane was 3rd that day), and finished a neck second to Royal Caviar over in a 2 mile maiden hurdle on his seasonal debut in 2015.  His massive run in dispatching Coney Island last year also came on his seasonal debut, and he’s going to come here off a break of 107 days.  At 16/1 he seems a fair each way to price to me….it will be interesting to see who gets the ride considering Mullins could end up running four or five.

I’m still trying to get my head around the Galway Hurdle which at this stage looks a somewhat weak albeit open affair.  But I can’t let an old friend go unbacked in the Goodwood Cup today.

The favourite Big Orange has now been labelled the “people’s horse” whatever that means.  What I know it does mean is that he is going to be a dreadful price wherever he runs.  Cue Card was given a similar moniker recently, and as much as I love him he was rarely a betting prospect.  That leaves us with plenty of value on offer and I can’t let WICKLOW BRAVE go unbacked.

He came of age when romping to victory in the County Hurdle a few years ago and since then has been an admirable horse for connections.  It seems to me the key to the horse is to have a bit of cut in the ground.  Since that run, on ground softer than good, over 14f-16f his form reads 11133311. His defeats include a close third in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot, a monster run behind Nichols Canyon and Faugheen, and a 3rd in the Fighting Fifth when running too soon after that big run.  The last two times he has encountered such conditions he has won the Irish St Leger and the Irish Champion Hurdle!  The going stick today is reading 6.8 which to me seems firmly in the Good to Soft range despite the clerk of the course calling it good (it wouldn’t be the first time a clerk has called it differently to suit popular horses).

Wicklow Brave was fourth behind Big Orange in this last year, but the ground was good to firm that day, with the rain in the race not getting into the ground in time.  On softer ground today I think we can reverse the placings, with Big Orange in need of better ground.  I’ve rated Wicklow Brave in the mid-160s over hurdles, which should translate into a 120ish number on the flat so he has the quality to threaten the favourite.  Last time out he went for home too soon and just got collared by Rekindling, giving that runner a stone in weight.  That may turn out to be hot form with the winner on my mind for the St Leger.  In the mean time, at a big price I think Wicklow Brave can take on the people’s horse today!

EMINENT CAN PROVIDE FRANKEL HIS FIRST UK CLASSIC WINNER

Whilst I tend to focus on the proper action over jumps, I still take an interest in the big flat action and the openness of this year’s Derby has piqued my interest to say the least. I would be one of the first to confess to being slightly annoyed by the endless hype and interest surrounding the offspring of Frankel, but that is the world we find ourselves in and I do find myself drawn to one of his progeny in the Derby, namely the Martyn Meade colt EMINENT (114+).

Plenty has been written already about the relative weakness of this year’s Derby trials and the lack of a main candidate to emerge from them. But I think this has thrown up an opportunity, and everyone is forgetting that in the build-up to the 2000 Guineas it was being billed as one of the hottest renewals for a few years. Churchill was the winner of course, and the form looks strong with the well touted Al Wukair and Barney Roy filling the places in behind him. Happily there is only one horse set to run in the Derby that ran in the Guineas, and I think Eminent has plenty going for him to be a factor in the big race at Epsom.

First factor is the ratings themselves.  I only keep crude ratings for flat races, but on my numbers he actually comes out top of the expected line up:

Horse Rating
Eminent 114+
Best Solution 114
Waldgeist 113
Cliffs Of Moher 111+
Cracksman 111+
Permian 111
Yucatan 110
Douglas Macarthur 110
Capri 110
Benbatl 110
Venice Beach 108
Wings Of Eagles 106
Rekindling 106
Mirage Dancer 105+
Dubai Thunder 101+
Atty Persse 94+

With the trials failing to throw up a “clear” Derby candidate, it is worth remembering that the 2000 Guineas is a historically significant Derby trial in its own right. Eminent was beaten just over 3 lengths in sixth in this years running, and I went back over the 2000 Guineas since the turn of the century and focused on horses that finished in the first five lengths “zone” in the mile classic. 20 horses that finished in that zone (including winners) went onto run at Epsom, and of these 5 won the race, with a further 5 finishing in the first 3. Another 2 finished fourth, highlighting the strength of this race as a Derby trial in its own right. With the perceived weakness of the traditional Derby trials this year I think it is being somewhat forgotten that the 2000 Guineas is a good trial itself and this years was a strong renewal and thus Eminent deserves high consideration.

The second factor to consider is the manner of his running in the 2000 Guineas. On the face of it 6th was a disappointing run, but the race was certainly not run to suit with it being a slow pace that developed into a sprint finish. Unsurprisingly the speed horses came to the fore, but up to that point Eminent featured prominently before coming home under a considerate ride, only just being run out of 5th in the closing few strides. On Topspeed figures in the Racing Post, Churchill was awarded the lowest rating since Footstepsinthesand won in 2005, highlighting the lack of pace in the race and slow overall time as a result.  Eminent won the Craven over the same course and distance prior, but the lack of pace in the Guineas certainly counted against him and highlighted the need for him to step up in trip. Interestingly, I watched that Craven run a few times and it is noticeable how long it takes to pull Eminent up after the line after a strongly run race over a mile, suggesting that going up in trip should suit and bring further improvement. The fact that he can run to a mark of 114 in a race over a trip short of his best shows that he can be a live contender when stepped up further.   Put simply, Eminent had the race go completely against him in the Guineas and still clocked a decent rating…going up in trip should bring improvement and put him right in the mix in the Derby.

This all ties in with the next factor which is his pedigree screams out that he should be a better horse going up in trip. He is a half-brother to a 6f horse, but his dam You’ll Be Mine suggests that the Derby trip should be within his compass. She is a half-sister to Diamondsandrubies who won the Pretty Polly stakes over 10f, and was a Cheshire Oaks winner and fourth in the Oaks itself. Their mother was Quarter Moon, who herself was second in both the English and Irish Oaks and a sister to Yesterday who was also 2nd in the Oaks.  As you can see we don’t have to go back far on the dam side to find plenty of evidence that the mile and half is well within Eminent’s genetic make-up. We are of course yet to see evidence of how Frankel is going to influence his progeny, but I always felt he was most impressive in his Juddmonte win over 10f, and that the mile and a half would’ve been no problem. This middle distance pedigree ties in with the impression Eminent gave that the extra distance will suit when being hard to pull up in the Craven, and seemingly outpaced in a sprint finish to the Guineas.

 The final factor is his form.  I’ve already highlighted that he comes out at the top of my ratings of the Derby runners, and the form of his races stacks up well.  He won a Newmarket mile maiden by 2.75 lengths in September, with the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 10th all subsequent winners.  Put away for the winter he returned to win the Craven in a fast time, and the form of that race already stacks up well.  He beat Rivet by 1.75 lengths, who went onto run a great race in the French 2000 Guineas finishing a close 3rd having set the running (clear of the 4th).  Benbatl was 3rd who went onto run a close 2nd in the Dante and Larchmont Lad was 5th who subsequently just got beaten a head in a Listed giving weight to a progressive rival.  War Decree was 6th who had previously won a Group 2, and even the last placed Gulliver just got beaten a length off 90 in a Windsor handicap when slowly away recently.  Eminent then of course went onto finish 6th in a red hot renewal of the 2000 Guineas, where the race wasn’t run to suit, but he was bang in contention before the sprint finish paid its toll.  He needs to go up in trip, where further improvement should be found and can readily be a 120+ horse as a result.  In an open Derby that should put him right in contention.

 Of the competition, Cliffs Of Moher would be the one I’d fear most.  He should come on for his comeback run in the Dee Stakes, and the form and time of his maiden win last year was good.  O’Brien is set to be mob-handed in the Derby with seven runners, and Churchill is probably their standout colt this year.  Cliffs Of Moher has largely been found by the market though and will probably go off favourite.  I would be more interested at the prices in the Stoute horse Mirage Dancer who ran an eye catching race in 4th.  It wasn’t long after the line that he was past the winner and I can see him running a big race at Epsom.

Also, don’t discount Best Solution who won the Lingfield Derby Trial well.  He probably has less scope to improve compared to others in the race but rates well and is a decent horse in his own right.  I would be less keen on Cracksman, a lot has been made of his form being franked by Permian but I didn’t feel that he handled the track that well that day and only just got up to win and on a line through Benbatl, Eminent should have the beating of the Gosden horse.

 Conclusion:  EMINENT has the best form in the race, and should improve for the step up in trip.  The traditional Derby trials haven’t thrown up a clear candidate and Cliffs Of Moher heads the O’Brien battalion.  It may be that Mirage Dancer emerges as the best horse from the trials after getting no run at Chester.

1.       EMINENT

2.       MIRAGE DANCER

3.       CLIFFS OF MOHER

4.       BEST SOLUTION

PS. If the Andre Fabre horse Waldgeist turned up he would be a live outsider.  He was second in the Prix Greffulhe, remember Pour Moi won that race before Derby success, but I would wait and see that he shows up before considering him as he surely must be more likely to run in France.  He had Best Solution, Capri and Douglas Macarthur in behind him in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud last year.

Some jump horses to note for next season…

With the flat season now well underway, us jump fanatics are already pining for the jump season to return, so with that in mind I thought I’d highlight some exciting prospects for next season to pass away the time!  The idea of this is to try and keep away from the obvious as much as I can, and hopefully find some value selections to follow next season….

CAPTAIN FOREZ (FR)

Trainer: Dan Skelton

Owner: John Hales

Dan Skelton continues to make his presence felt in the trainer ranks, and the five year old CAPTAIN FOREZ can be his first really big star when going chasing next season.

3rd on his debut in a hot novice hurdle at Newbury behind Jenkins, he was then second to Capitaine at Ascot in December.  Skelton seems to like to give his best prospects time to develop and he elected to skip Cheltenham with him and instead stepped the horse up to 2.5 miles at Aintree.  Going down by just 3 lengths to Finian’s Oscar in that Grade 1 novice hurdle was no mean feat as the tight track would not have suited.

By Network, out of a Robin Des Champs mare he is bred to be a chaser and he could step up in trip again and be at the top of the staying novices next season.  The JLT or RSA Chase would be his target next year but long term I see him as a Gold Cup prospect for 2019.

CLAN DES OBEAUX (FR)

Trainer: Paul Nicholls

Owner: Mason, Ferguson & Barber

Paul Nicholls was pipped to the trainer’s title this year, but it has been an on-going transition from the Kauto Star years for the Ditcheat handler and he has plenty of fine prospects to go to war with next season.  Among those is the 5 year old CLAN DES OBEAUX who could make an impact in the staying chase division next year.

A decent juvenile hurdler he was always going to be a long term chase prospect and he announced himself a smart horse when slamming subsequent Grade 1 placed Virgilio by 10 lengths at Newbury in November.  He then went down by a narrow margin to the top class Whisper at Cheltenham at the New Year meeting, his 3rd defeat in 3 attempts at the track.

It would seem he is to be seen at his best on soft ground, where his form reads 1121251, with his two runner-up places coming at Cheltenham and his 5th at Sandown where something was amiss.  Arguably his two most impressive performances have come at Newbury, and that would raise the obvious possibility of going for the Ladbroke Gold Cup (formerly Hennessy).  There is plenty of stamina in his pedigree, and with the furthest he has gone so far being 2.5 miles there is every possibility that there is improvement to be found when stepped up further in trip.  His last run was at Ayr where he finished 4th behind the classy Cloudy Dream, seemingly outpaced before staying on well to finish only 6 lengths adrift at the line.  He was rated 150 prior to that run, and happily got dropped 2lbs after it.  I make him well capable of being a 160+ performer and he can be a threat in the big staying handicap chase despite his youth.  He did jump to his right at Ayr, so hopefully Nicholls can iron out and chinks in him and allow him to realise his potential.

CONEY ISLAND (IRE)

Trainer: E P Harty

Owner: JP McManus

I spent plenty of time analysing the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting, and could find no other way other than to give huge ratings to the front three horses.  Happily the winner Our Duke went on to land the Irish National and is now a major contender for next seasons Gold Cup, while the third horse Disko was 3rd in the JLT before landing his own Grade 1 at Punchestown over 3 miles.

With the form being franked so well, and the sensational time of the race I can’t help feeling that the horse that split those two rivals has been somewhat forgotten.  That horse is CONEY ISLAND, and I hope to see him match the subsequent exploits of Our Duke and Disko.

A decent novice hurdler, Coney Island is already a Grade 1 winner over fences after landing a red hot renewal of the Drinmore Chase (Road To Respect was 4th) over 2.5miles.  He was towards the head of the market in both the JLT and RSA Chase before suffering a bruised foot and missing the end of season festivals.  Whilst that is not ideal, and it remains to be seen how he returns from that injury, there is some comfort in that he didn’t have to go head to head with Might Bite in a brutal RSA Chase, or take on the enigmatic Yorkhill over half a mile shorter.  With another summer on his back, and time to recover from his injury I hope this horse can be a major player in the staying chase division.

His mother was a half-sister to Wichita Lineman and so 3 mile chases should be well within his grasp.  He did get outstayed by Our Duke at Leopardstown though and one could argue that 2.5 miles may be the more suitable distance for him.  Either way, do not forget about Coney Island!

 JERRYSBACK (IRE)

Trainer: Philip Hobbs

Owner: JP McManus

In a year where the novice hurdling division looked a fairly average vintage, there is one horse that created a lasting visual impression on me who actually skipped the end of season festivals.  That horse is the Hobbs trained JP McManus horse JERRYSBACK.

The time of his races haven’t leapt off the page, but that is largely due to the manner of his victories where he has simply toyed with the opposition winning hard held on both occasions.  And he hasn’t been beating trees in those races.  Look at the form of the horses in behind him on his first start:

2nd Jaisalmer – set to win Kempton novice hurdle before falling at last.  Race was won by 135-rated horse.

3rd Groundunderrepair – won next time out at Lingfield.

4th Zero Grand – won next two starts, now rated 134.

5th King Uther – won Lingfield maiden hurdle.

He then won his second start cosily at Wetherby; with the third horse Eaton Hill subsequently winning.  The manner of his two victories from decent horses leads me to believe this former point to point horse is a red hot prospect for novice chasing next season.  Hobbs and McManus combined with the Triumph hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil this season, and I expect to see this horse take high rank in the novice chase division.

The horse was as short as 12/1 for the Neptune Hurdle after his second success, but connections wisely opted to let him start his summer holiday early and that caution will hopefully be rewarded as he is only a 5 year old and with his point to point background his future undoubtedly looks set to be over the larger obstacles.  By Jeremy, his dam was out of a 3 mile hurdler half- sister to Celtic Shot, so trips of 2.5m+ would look to be on his agenda.

JETT (IRE)

Trainer: Jessica Harrington

Owner: G M McGrath

Yorkhill was undoubtedly one of the star horses of last season, winning the JLT Chase at Cheltenham before putting in one of the most extraordinary jumping displays I’ve seen when throwing away the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse.  He put up some strong performances on the clock and it was one of the horses in behind him last year that caught my eye, namely the Jessica Harrington trained JETT.

From the family of Champion Hurdler Jezki, Jett similarly has to have good ground to be at his best.  At the time of his run behind Yorkill, the form was being dismissed largely due to Jett’s proximity to the winner, however whilst he is a notch below that class do not dismiss this horse altogether.

If we look at his form in races on yielding ground or better his form reads 52U2, there is nothing to get excited about straightway until we dig deeper into those runs.  His 5th was in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown, and his first runner-up position was on his comeback run over hurdles behind De Plotting Shed when he needed the run.  Subsequently sent over fences he unseated two out at Christmas when going well, considering the race was won by Bleu Et Rouge, with Gangster, Don’t Touch It and Acapella Bourgeois in close proximity it was potentially going to be an excellent run.  He then chased home Yorkhill on the best ground he’s had, with the aforementioned Gangster 6.5 lengths further back in third.  The time of that race was exceptional, and whilst he was no match for Yorkhill he highlighted himself as a very good chaser and one worth following.

Like the rest of his family, he has to have decent ground to be at his best, so look out for him should he encounter such conditions as he seems to be well under the radar at this stage.  Currently rated just 142, he could land a big handicap chase over 2.5 miles off that mark.

SUTTON PLACE (IRE)

Trainer: Gordon Elliott

Owner: JP McManus

I’ve written before about how exciting a novice chase prospect SUTTON PLACE is, and next season is the time for him to deliver on that promise.  On my ratings he will be the highest rated hurdler going chasing next year and he can make a big splash in that scene.

He spent an extra season over hurdles this season, and whilst this isn’t ideal it largely came around due to an interrupted preparation to the campaign so I can let it go on this occasion.  Over hurdles this season he put in an awesome display to give weight and a beating to subsequent Coral Cup winner and Grade 1 placed Supasundae.  He was pulled up when set to launch a challenge in the stayers hurdle at Punchestown on his last start, but this came on decent ground and I was surprised that connections let him take his chance there.

Providing that race hasn’t caused anything untoward to go wrong, he can be a major player in novice chases over 2.5 miles, with the Drinmore looking the obvious early season target.  He would appear to be better on soft ground though, and so I would look to be with him in autumn and winter in Ireland but perhaps look to take him on at short odds on better ground should he go to Cheltenham.  He can though land Grade 1 races away from there should he get his ground conditions and his chase debut is eagerly anticipated.

I’ll be adding a few more to this list throughout the summer to try and alleviate the dross from the flat!

SOME GOOD PERFORMANCES AND HORSES TO NOTE AT AYR

VICENTE SHOWS HIS WORTH ON GOOD GROUND

I’ve written previously about VICENTE (160) and his affinity for good ground conditions, and despite his fall at the first in the Grand National itself a few weeks ago, he made some amends by landing the Scottish version for the second year in a row.  Timing the race for the final 2.5m section gives the following sectionals:

Label Des Obeaux Vicente Difference
12.76 12.76 0
26.22 26.45 0.23
37.37 37.5 0.13
52.03 52.02 -0.01
79.94 79.04 -0.9
92.25 91.46 -0.79
104.1 103.03 -1.07
119.08 117.93 -1.15
173.3 172.28 -1.02
185.38 184.09 -1.29
197.97 196.86 -1.11
208.19 207.48 -0.71
221.6 221.36 -0.24
247.15 248 0.85
258.48 259.93 1.45
269.27 271.03 1.76
283.33 285.3 1.97
295.38 298.01 2.63

As you can see, they were going a decent pace in the marathon chase, in comparison with the mile shorter handicap chase earlier on the card.  At one stage they were 1.29s ahead but understandably the national runners lost some time as their efforts told later in the race, but this was still a smart performance from Vicente and he remains of interest for the National next season if he gets the decent ground he needs.  He clearly stays well, and if he can improve his jumping for the national fences I remain convinced he can land the big race.

 

CLOUDY DREAM FRANKS THE ARKLE FORM

In my Cheltenham review I’d written to look out for the vanquished runners behind the mighty Altior, and CLOUDY DREAM (166) duly landed the Future Champion Novice Chase in a decent time.

If we compare his time to that of Label Des Obeaux in the handicap chase we can see the merits of this race clearly:

Label Des Obeaux Cloudy Dream Difference
12.76 12.61 -0.15
26.22 25.88 -0.34
37.37 36.75 -0.62
52.03 51 -1.03
79.94 77.55 -2.39
92.25 89.27 -2.98
104.1 100.75 -3.35
119.08 115.55 -3.53
173.3 168.69 -4.61
185.38 180.49 -4.89
197.97 193.44 -4.53
208.19 203.46 -4.73
221.6 217.21 -4.39
247.15 242.59 -4.56
258.48 253.58 -4.9
269.27 264.13 -5.14
283.33 277.62 -5.71
295.38 289.7 -5.68

 

As you can see they went steadily faster all the way to the line, clocking a time 5.68s quicker.  It should be noted that this was done carrying 5lbs less, and over 4f less in distance, but even when adjusting for this it was still a top class performance from the winner.

I’d been worried about his ability to get this trip after his run at Aintree but he would now seem capable of thriving at 2 and 2.5 miles.  He went into this race with an official mark of 155 and he would be an interesting runner in any big handicap chase next season off that mark…maybe the Bet Victor Gold Cup?

He wouldn’t be the only potentially well handicapped horse to emerge from this race though, with THEINVAL (161) and OLDGRANGEWOOD (160) both looking well handicapped before their reassessment.  Theinval travelled well in this race but couldn’t quite go with the classy winner, it is interesting to note that he has solid form in big fields with a win in a 21 runner handicap hurdle at Aintree, and a 3rd place in the Grand Annual this year.  A big field gives him plenty of cover and the opportunity to travel in his races…he goes on the shortlist for big handicap chases next year.

The fourth placed horse CLAN DES OBEAUX (160) came under pressure as the pace quickened but stayed on well to finish just six lengths back.  Still only 5 years old, there is plenty of stamina in his pedigree and he looks an excellent prospect for staying handicap chases next season.  He jumped to his right at times here, but is unbeaten in two starts at Newbury and is at the top of my list of Hennessy Gold Cup prospects next year (or whatever they call it these days!).  He was rated 150 prior to this race, and could certainly have the required stone in hand to land a race of that ilk.

 

CHEEKPIECES (AND A FLAT TRACK) FIRE VANTIEUX BACK TO HIS BEST

To say VANITEUX (170) had been a frustrating horse this season would be an understatement, but in first time cheekpieces he bounced right back to his best to clock a fast time and land this handicap chase from some well handicapped horses.

Cloudy Dream Vaniteux Difference
11.48 11.03 -0.45
26.28 24.9 -1.38
79.42 77.14 -2.28
91.22 88.8 -2.42
104.17 101.32 -2.85
114.19 111.68 -2.51
127.94 125.14 -2.8
153.32 150.65 -2.67
164.31 161.92 -2.39
174.86 172.67 -2.19
188.35 186.53 -1.82
200.43 198.99 -1.44

Clocking them from the first jump in the two mile race, Vaniteux clocked a time 1.44s quicker than the top class Cloudy Dream did in the 2.5m contest.  Even allowing for the fact that this run from Vaniteux was over the minimum trip, it still merits a big number and one that is in line with some of his performances last season which culminated in his fall when going well alongside Douvan and Sizing John in the Arkle.

He has been tried over 2.5miles this season and I wouldn’t give up on that project with him, one thing that does seem necessary though is a flat track.  His form on such tracks since joining Henderson reads 41512111 with his defeats coming on ground that was probably too soft for him, and a second place to the top class Ar Mad.  On a flat track he is a very good horse, and the obvious race that comes to mind as a target next season is the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton at Christmas.

ROMAIN DE SENAM (145) and SOMCHINE (148) both chased home the impressive winner, and clocked decent times in their own rights finishing 5 lengths behind him.  They should still be well handicapped once reassessed, running here off marks of 133 and 136 respectively and should pay their way next year in handicap chases.

 

FAIRYHOUSE REVIEW…YORKHILL AND OUR DUKE ARE TOP CLASS

YORHILL HAS TO STAY ON LEFT-HANDED TRACKS

This year’s renewal of the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup saw a remarkable performance from YORKHILL (168+) where he jumped markedly left at his fences and went down by a neck to the classy ROAD TO RESPECT (164).  I’m not sure how much extra distance Yorkhill covered as a result of his wild jumping but I’ve estimated him as 4 lengths superior to the winner, in line with his form from Cheltenham.  With another few yards he would still have won the race, and we can see how classy a performance this was in comparing the sectionals with the other race over 2.5m on the card:

Road To Respect Killaro Boy Difference
22.3 21.65 0.65
34.1 33.32 0.78
49.44 48.36 1.08
87.14 88.96 -1.82
100.85 102.8 -1.95
118.51 121.43 -2.92
137.81 142.06 -4.25
155.92 160.86 -4.94
164.66 169.83 -5.17
190.09 196.32 -6.23
210.55 217.34 -6.79
233.44 241.3 -7.86
253.72 262.5 -8.78
264.54 273.64 -9.1
279.13 287.81 -8.68
289.95 298.44 -8.49

 

As you can see, ROAD TO RESPECT (164) clocked a time 8.5s quicker than Killaro Boy over the same distance when timed from the first jump, and did this carrying a stone more in weight.  I’ve rated the winner the same mark as I gave him at Cheltenham, and this points to him being a good novice chaser…he will need to improve though to challenge the current vintage crop of top class chasers at 2.5 or 3 miles next season.

Of more interest is to discuss the future of YORKHILL (168+).  The first obvious conclusion is that he must stay on left handed tracks.  Mullins mused in the aftermath that they may elect to go back over hurdles next season and if that is the case he can be a worthy adversary to the current champion Buveur D’Air.  Should they decide to stay over fences they have the choice of going back in trip to 2 miles, and this may suit as he is such a free going sort.  The downside of this though is that they already have Douvan and Min in that division.  Staying at this trip would see him clash with Un De Sceaux and Fox Norton and that would be an option, but on his pedigree though he should be a Gold Cup horse and with Might Bite set to go that route next season he has the perfect target to aim at.  Wherever he goes though he is top class, despite his idiosyncrasies.  The only condition I would insist on is going left-handed but I would be wary of opposing him over any trip over fences or hurdles going that way.

 

 

HURRICANE BEN AND DON’T TOUCH IT ARE WORTH FOLLOWING…AND SO IS GREAT FIELD

The other chase on the card was over 2 miles and saw a classy performance from HURRICANE BEN (156) who benefitted from getting weight to see off the top weight DON’T TOUCH IT (155).  We can see the merits of this performance when comparing the sectionals with the Grade 1 chase over half a mile further for the same section:

Hurricane Ben Road To Respect Difference
38.19 37.7 0.49
51.91 51.41 0.5
70.1 69.07 1.03
89.2 88.37 0.83
107.14 106.48 0.66
116.15 115.22 0.93
141.4 140.65 0.75
161.33 161.11 0.22
184.44 184 0.44
204.56 204.28 0.28
214.93 215.1 -0.17
228.81 229.69 -0.88
239.21 240.51 -1.3

 

As you can see, Hurricane Ben actually clocked a time 1.3s quicker than Road To Respect did, albeit over a shorter trip and carrying 7lbs less.  But this still merits a decent mark, and indeed he has been raised to a mark of 145.  I still feel this underestimates him and together with the runner-up (now rated 144) they are worth following going forward.

Don’t Touch It has some very strong form in particular, beating Petit Mouchoir over hurdles in a Grade 1 last season and running in behind Bleu Et Rouge and Great Field this year over fences.  He can land a handicap off his current mark for sure.

Hurricane Ben himself was slammed by Great Field before this race and that horse is a most exciting prospect, notably with an entry in a Grade 1 next week at Punchestown.  The winner here though has stacks of stamina in his pedigree and could be worth another try back up in trip.

 

OUR DUKE IN THE MIX FOR HOT GOLD CUP NEXT SEASON…ALONG WITH CONEY ISLAND!

The Irish Grand National is traditionally won by a lightly raced horse off a featherweight.  This year’s renewal was indeed won by a lightly raced horse, but he did so off a mark of 153 carrying 11st4, and did so slamming the field easily by 14 lengths.  That horse of course is OUR DUKE (174) and he is absolutely a worthy candidate for a Gold Cup next season that looks set to be a vintage renewal at this stage.

I’d given Our Duke some big numbers already this season based on his form with the classy Disko and Coney Island, but I was still sceptical of him being able to carry this weight in a big field over 3m5f, especially as he had showed some jumping weaknesses previously.  He dismissed those concerns with a savage performance here that backs up on the clock.

Our Duke White Arm Difference
9.39 9.04 0.35
35.04 33.68 1.36
56.45 54.22 2.23
82.23 80.53 1.7
104.38 102.79 1.59
116.94 115.65 1.29
133.04 131.85 1.19
172.48 172.99 -0.51
186.45 187.69 -1.24
204.81 207.35 -2.54
224.72 227.63 -2.91
243.78 246.43 -2.65
253.09 256 -2.91
277.77 280.96 -3.19
298.07 301.21 -3.14
323.29 325.68 -2.39
343.15 346.16 -3.01
354.55 357.58 -3.03
369.67 372.14 -2.47
381.21 384.08 -2.87

Comparing his run to White Arm over 4.5f shorter, we can see that he clocked a time 2.87s faster, despite the extra distance and carrying 21lbs more on his back.  We can also see that the pace steadily improved around halfway.  Racing prominently Our Duke pressed on and left his rivals for dead, with others that raced on the pace finishing tailed off…both Stellar Notion and Fletchers Flyer are classy horses in their own right, but just couldn’t live with the pace here and both pulled up a result.  Only Our Duke could go this pace over this trip.

His performance is perhaps even more remarkable when compared with that of Slowmotion in the Grade 3 chase over 2.5m on the card:

Our Duke Slowmotion Difference
22.15 22.25 -0.1
34.71 34.64 0.07
50.81 51.34 -0.53
90.25 92.82 -2.57
104.22 107.62 -3.4
122.58 127.51 -4.93
142.49 147.65 -5.16
161.55 166.14 -4.59
170.86 175.16 -4.3
195.54 199.62 -4.08
215.84 219.99 -4.15
241.06 243.82 -2.76
260.92 264.02 -3.1
272.32 275.64 -3.32
287.44 290.45 -3.01
298.98 301.96 -2.98

You can see in the sectionals that at one stage Our Duke was over 5s ahead of the race, despite running over a distance a mile further.  He inevitably lost some time from there, but still clocked a time 3s quicker, carrying 8lbs more.  It all points to a savage performance on the winner, and I’ve rated him 174 in line with his previous form this year.  He is a worthy Gold Cup candidate for next season.

Next year’s blue riband looks set to be a classic renewal should all the protagonists’ line up.  Might Bite, Our Duke, Sizing John, Thistlecrack, Yorkhill are all mid-170+ horses for me and I hope they all make the big race.  At this stage I would favour Might Bite, whose incredible performance in the RSA marks him out as potentially the best of these but it could be some spectacle all the same!

When flicking through the prices for the gold cup next year though, one horse leapt out as an interesting prospect.  Coney Island was just half a length behind Our Duke at Leopardstown at Christmas and himself won a hot renewal of the Drinmore (Road To Respect was 4th) prior to that.  He missed Cheltenham with a bruised foot, but as long as he makes a satisfactory recovery from that he can take high rank in the staying chase division next year.  He is out of a half-sister to Wichita Lineman and so should have the stamina in his genes to make a Gold Cup horse.  He certainly shouldn’t be 50/1 for the Gold Cup next year and seems a bit of a forgotten horse.