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.

AINTREE REVIEW

DAY 1

BUVEUR D’AIR SET TO BE ONE OF THE GREATS

It occurred to me that there is a degree of irony in the year everyone was denouncing the Champion Hurdle as sub-standard, that the winner could turn out to be one of the very best hurdlers in recent times.

BUVEUR D’AIR (172+) confirmed the form of his Champion Hurdle win and then some, when fairly romping away with the Aintree Hurdle.  Always travelling best, he won going away under a hands and heels ride to confirm his superiority over the current (injury free) hurdlers.

The other hurdle race on the card was the juvenile race over a half mile shorter, and the sectionals compare as follows, when comparing times from the first jump in the shorter race:

Defi Du Seuil Buveur D’Air Difference
9.96 9.91 -0.05
25.92 25.95 0.03
83.58 83.77 0.19
97.06 97.34 0.28
113.92 113.98 0.06
165.28 164.66 -0.62
174.21 173.56 -0.65
188.58 188.17 -0.41
208.56 207.86 -0.7

 

As you can see, Buveur D’Air clocked a time 0.7s faster over the same section as the juvenile race and did this despite running over half a mile further, carrying 7lbs more and doing so well within his comfort zone.  It was a pure top class performance and underlines my view from Cheltenham that he is a Champion Hurdler worthy of the moniker.  When adjusting for the weight and race distances I give the winner a mark of 172, and considering the manner of his win and that he is only a 6 year old there is scope for him to improve from this mark.

It must then follow to look at his prospects for next season.  First of all, I hope they skip Punchestown as his last two runs will have taken a lot out of him and I would worry about another one leaving its mark.  Next season though must revolve around him defending his crown at Cheltenham and I confess to being slightly surprised that he is as big as 4/1 to accomplish that task.  On my marks even a fully fit Annie Power getting weight would struggle to match him, and it remains to be seen if either she or Faugheen return to the track.  Only the soon to be 9 year old Arctic Fire would have the tools in his locker to lay a glove on the Champion on my numbers.  Considering Altior is half the price at 2/1 when potentially having to lock horns with Douvan, Min or Yorkhill…the 4/1 about Buveur D’Air would make some appeal as he likely just has to get to March in one piece.

MY TENT OR YOURS (166) and THE NEW ONE (164) are both now getting on in years and have been firmly dismissed by the winner now.  My Tent Or Yours deserves to win a big race and I would be interested in his prospects at Punchestown should they decide to go there.  The New One has always been just below the top grade, and he can pick up his usual assortment of Champion Hurdle trials next season and finish 5th in the big one….again!

I was keen on the prospects of RASHAAN (147) in this race, mostly due to his form in small fields on good ground.  Before this run, his form in single figure fields on ground soft or better read 1121211.  He is below Grade 1 level and was found out here, but can run to a number in the mid-150s on my figures and if he gets a small field race in Ireland as they often do he can win races.

 

DEFI DU SEUIL SOME WAY OFF CHAMPION HURDLE CLASS….AT THIS STAGE

If there is a worse antepost price than the 8/1 currently available about DEFI DU SEUIL (153) for the Champion Hurdle then I’d like to see it.  The sectionals of his win on the same card as Buveur D’Air show just how inferior he is, and he would need to take a massive step up to challenge next season.  Not only that but the record of 4 years olds shows how tough it is, and the fact he is in the same ownership and the option of chasing on the table must surely extinguish any enthusiasm in his chances.  He could improve for sure but just keeps hitting the same mid-150s numbers without progressing to me, and he makes no appeal as a betting prospect for the big race.

DIVIN BERE (152) continued his progression after just getting touched off in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham.  Already rated 145 he is likely to go up further after this, and could be in a difficult position to place next season as a result.  I wouldn’t discount him in handicap hurdles as with improvement he can be a threat in that sphere having shown affinity for a big field already.

The interesting horse to take out of the race to me was the third place runner BEDROCK (147).  Trained by Dan Skelton this was just his second start over hurdles after finishing down the field in 5th on his debut in the Adonis when jumping poorly.  The fact that he was put in there on his debut surely shows the high regard he is held in my connections, and this 90 rated 10f flat performer improved markedly here and is a nice prospect to go to war with next season.  That he could finish 6 length 3rd in a Grade 1 on just his second start over obstacles is admirable and with his trainers record in big handicap hurdles he rates a horse to keep on the right side of next season when all those big handicaps are surely on his agenda.

 

FLYING ANGEL AND TEA FOR TWO WOULDN’T HAVE CHALLENGED AT CHELTENHAM

There was an interesting double of sorts as two horses who were perceived as unfortunate at Cheltenham were victorious at Aintree.

FLYING ANGEL (160) was badly hampered in the JLT and then nursed home to finish a long way behind the protagonists.  It was more to do with not fully racing at Cheltenham than his class though that enabled him to win here.  This is shown in the lower numbers run by CLOUDY DREAM (159) and TOP NOTCH (155).

Cloudy Dream travelled well in this race but there are two reasons for his lower rating here…the trip and his big performance at Cheltenham taking it out of him.  I believe a combination of the two and meeting a rival who hadn’t fully raced at Cheltenham that perhaps had the stamina edge on him contributed to his demise.  He remains an exciting prospect for next season.

Top Notch ran below par and again the effort of Cheltenham probably took its toll.  As a result Flying Angel was able to prevail, but don’t kid yourself that he was capable of winning the JLT.  For starters Yorkhill had plenty in the tank to see off any challenge, and at best he could have hit the frame….in all likelihood he would have finished an admirable 4th.

 

In remarkably similar circumstances TEA FOR TWO (160) prevailed in the Bowl after unseating Lizzie Kelly early on in the Gold Cup.  Not fully racing at Cheltenham aided his victory here…even more so when considering the pace that CUE CARD (160) went.

Flying Angel Tea For Two Difference
15.97 15.75 -0.22
27.93 27.42 -0.51
39.45 39.03 -0.42
65.68 64.48 -1.2
88.98 87.53 -1.45
101.62 99.99 -1.63
123.88 122.89 -0.99
165.46 164.49 -0.97
180.9 179.75 -1.15
192.24 191.08 -1.16
203.19 202.22 -0.97
227.3 226.52 -0.78
249.17 248.5 -0.67
260.9 260.88 -0.02
281.92 284.16 2.24
294.88 298.65 3.77

 

When looking at the sectional comparison of the two races, you can see that they went harder in the longer race won by Tea For Two.  Cue Card was given an aggressive ride, and they understandably tired towards the end to clock a time 3.77s slower than the shorter race, having been 1.63s ahead early on.  Adjusting for this and the longer distance I am happy to rate both winners around the 160 mark…they are both good horses on their day but rivals running below par or too aggressively when combined with the lack of racing they had at Cheltenham allowed them to prevail.

CUE CARD (160) was given an aggressive ride, as discussed, but he himself fell 3 out in the Gold Cup.  Last year he was able to bounce back and romp to victory in this race…I am afraid to say he just looks to be on the downgrade now at 11.  Perhaps with a more efficient ride he could have won here, and perhaps there is one last big race in the great horse…but the percentage play would have to be to take him on next season should he race again.  There are monsters on the scene ready to take over his crown as we shall come onto later.

 

TWO MILE HANDICAP CHASE WORTH FOLLOWING

The two mile handicap chase that closed the card was run at a decent pace…they were 3.5s ahead of Flying Angel at one stage in their run.  They understandably tired from there but I think this race will throw up plenty of winners.  DOUBLE W’S (152), THEINVAL (156), BUN DORAN (147), YORKIST (141) and ROMAIN DE SENAM (140) should all be well handicapped enough to land big handicaps in the near future.  Bun Doran especially could be interesting in a big field 2.5m handicap chase next season, he was 6th in the novice handicap chase at the festival and would rate a fair Bet Victor Gold Cup prospect at this stage.

 

DAY 2

FOX NORTON JOINS THE CHASING TOP TABLE

Colin Tizzard had a quiet festival, and so it was especially encouraging that FOX NORTON (174+) was able to go so close in the Champion Chase there.  Stepping up to 2.5miles here he progressed further and clocked an excellent time when slamming some strong rivals impressively.

When comparing his run with that of Might Bite in the longer novice chase we can see how impressive Fox Norton was on the clock.

Fox Norton Might Bite Difference
15.42 15.77 -0.35
26.95 27.58 -0.63
38.02 38.92 -0.9
62.65 63.74 -1.09
85.29 86.17 -0.88
97.91 98.95 -1.04
120.13 121.74 -1.61
161.67 163.05 -1.38
177.47 178.45 -0.98
189.3 189.8 -0.5
200.82 200.86 -0.04
224.77 224.07 0.7
245.79 245.63 0.16
257.05 257.67 -0.62
276.86 279.67 -2.81
289.82 293.36 -3.54

 

Running at a stronger pace he was able to clock a time 3.5s quicker than Might Bite when timed from the first jump in the 2.5m race.  Understandably they tired a bit in the longer race, but this was still an exceptional performance from Fox Norton, who now looks set to stay at this distance or even go up further to 3 miles in the King George.  On his pedigree I wouldn’t be crazy about his chances of thriving at 3 miles, and so the option of dominating the 2.5m division would be my choice (the owner already owns the Gold Cup winner).  In all likelihood I would say they will attempt to test his stamina at Kempton and get beaten there, before reverting to the Ryanair along with Un De Sceaux.  That clash is a mouth-watering prospect already.

SUB LIEUTENANT (166) ran another good race but just couldn’t match the impressive winner in the closing stages.  I wrote in my Cheltenham review that he seems to thrive on undulating tracks, and so was somewhat surprised to see him go off favourite here.  His form on undulating tracks over 2.5m reads 13111322 with defeats coming against Un De Sceaus, Sizing John and Djakadam.  I’d still like to see them try him at 3 miles again though, he is related to Lord Windermere, and would be a likely candidate on pedigree.  He couldn’t go the pace of the winner here and was staying on in a strongly run Ryanair chase…with connections lacking an obvious Gold Cup candidate and his love of undulating tracks there are crazier outsiders for the blue riband next season.

 

MIGHT BITE FEELING THE EFFECTS OF MONSTROUS CHELTENHAM RUN

Plenty has been written about MIGHT BITE (170) and his remarkable run at Cheltenham.  He wasn’t up to his brilliant best here, and I think that is down to the Cheltenham run taking so much out of him just 3 weeks ago.  He was much more composed and measured here, jumping well throughout and always holding his old rival WHISPER (168) on the run in.

There were glimpses of his maverick brilliance in the race as he would step on the gas and have all of his rivals in trouble in behind making mistakes.  But he wasn’t at his top level here, and understandably so considering the effort he put in at Cheltenham.  Fortunately, it sounds like connections are drawing stumps on this season and then his campaign largely writes itself…Betfair Chase, King George and Gold Cup.  Cue Card and Bristol De Mai lie in wait in the first of those, and he should have enough to see them off with the former on the downgrade and the latter probably not in his league (though he would be a danger considering his form at Haydock).  The King George will probably see him take on doubtful stayers Fox Norton and Un De Sceaux and I’m always against horses returning from injury as Thistlecrack will be.  Which should then leave him to try and run his rivals ragged in the Gold Cup to land the million pound bonus.  He promises to be some sight next season and I would be keen to take big odds about him landing the huge bonus and landing all 3 races.

Whisper chased him home again, and connections intriguingly eyed up the National as his target for next season.  Only rated 155 before this run, and given his excellent form at this meeting, that would make sense to me as he will have to run against an array of top class horses next season at the top table.  I’d like to see him go for the Hennessy to start with to prove that he can handle the stamina test of the national, but assuming that he passes that test then he is of interest in the big race next year.

 

HURDLE RACES THROW UP INTERESTING PROSPECTS

I’ll tackle the 3 hurdle races on the card together, and you can see their sectionals here for the same 2 mile section they all covered.

Rather Be Pingshou The World’s End
10.22 10.15 9.99
26.72 26.18 26.03
84.82 83.52 83.06
98.46 97.59 96.52
114.69 114.21 113.41
164.57 164.4 166.47
174.01 173.65 175.9
189.14 188.41 191.83
209.05 208.57 213.57

 

RATHER BE (148) won the opening 2.5m handicap hurdle from the two JP McManus horses DREAM BERRY (145) and GEORDIE DES CHAMPS (146).  Rather Be was one of my handicap horses to follow at Cheltenham and I was devastated when he was hampered and unseated in the Martin Pipe race…he would’ve gone close there for sure.  He was beaten a head by Couer De Lion at Sandown in February when trying to give that rival a stone (before weight allowances) and ran to a big number that day in the 150s.  Couer de Lion backed up my opinion of the race when running well in the Triumph and happily Rather Be was able to hold off two well handicapped JP horses to prevail here.  They clocked a time just 0.6s slower than the grade 1 novices, despite going half a mile further and the three of them can be a threat in handicap hurdles next season.  Rather Be is a half-brother to Sign Of A Victory, he won this off a mark of 136, and is capable to being a mid-150s+ horse.  Similarly, both Dream Berry and Geordie Des Champs are capable of holding their own in big handicap hurdles off their likely revised marks in the low 140s.

(On a side note, the horse that finished 3rd behind Couer De Lion and Rather Be that day is rated just 118.  That horse is the David Bridgwater trained ACCORD, and I was interested that he was entered in a plethora of handicap hurdles before Cheltenham and in fact in the Supreme itself before not running in any of them.  Wherever he goes next he looks to be well handicapped on my ratings…he was also close in behind Thomas Campbell at Cheltenham earlier in the season).

 

I wrote in my Cheltenham review that PINGSHOU (149) was an eye catching horse in the parade ring, and he duly proved his previous form at Cheltenham was no fluke by winning cosily here.  A simply massive horse, he is the epitome of a chaser in the making, and he should make a fair one based on this run.  Below par at Cheltenham, Tizzards horses were under a cloud there, he bounced back to his best form to beat some useful novices.  He should be an exciting recruit over the larger obstacles if they can keep him sound (he has bled in the past).

Pingshou clocked a time 0.6s faster than Rather Be did in the handicap hurdle, but this was over a shorter trip albeit carrying 2lbs more.  Adjusting for this I reach a mark of 149 which shows him to be an able novice.  If he can improve for fences as he should he can be a top novice chaser.

The winner travelled prominently and kicked on up the run in away from MOUNT MEWS (145) who backed up his excellent win last time out at Kelso.  That was on heavy ground, and long term he may prove better on a softer surface but he was still able to run a good race here.  He rates an outstanding prospect for Trevor Hemmings.

MOON RACER (132) disappointed again after pulling up at Cheltenham, he clearly has his problems and much as I hope they can unlock his talent down the line, this fragile sort may never show his full potential.  The Greatwood Hurdle next season may be the last throw of the dice!

 

THE WORLD’S END (148) won the Grand Sefton in a close finish from BEYOND CONCEIT (148), DEBECE (147) and CONSTANTINE BAY (147).  They tired up the run in after a pace that was faster than the two shorter races earlier on the card, and when adjusting for this it points to smart performances from the four main protagonists.  That said though, they need to improve 20lbs to challenge Nichols Canyon, who like Buveur D’Air looks head and shoulders above his rivals looking ahead to next season in the staying hurdle division.

 

 

DAY 3

YANWORTH HANDLES STEP UP IN TRIP

YANWORTH (166) proved able to handle the step up in trip to 3 miles when landing the Grade 1 Liverpool hurdle.  Well beaten in the Champion Hurdle he perhaps lacks the pace for 2 miles at the very top level, but was able to run up to his best marks here up in trip.

Fountain’s Windfall Yanworth Difference
57.59 55.79 -1.8
74.4 71.58 -2.82
89.62 86.19 -3.43
141.68 137.06 -4.62
154.14 148.99 -5.15
170.38 165.02 -5.36
227.97 222.31 -5.66
243.61 238.3 -5.31
257.7 252.84 -4.86
304.4 303.39 -1.01
316.28 315.09 -1.19
332.21 329.9 -2.31
353.74 351.2 -2.54

 

When comparing his run to the handicap hurdle over the same trip earlier on the card, we can see that they went a much stronger pace in the Grade 1, reaching a maximum of 5.66s ahead.  The pace then slower and handicap hurdle closed to within a second. But the Grade 1 horses were still able to come up the run-in faster than FOUNTAIN’S WINDFALL (144), extending their advantage from 1.01s to 2.54s at the line.  Making this more impressive was the fact they were carrying 9lbs more.

Yanworth now looks set to tackle fences next season.  I’m never a huge fan of horses having an extra season over hurdles prior to chasing, and though he is likely to be a player in the novice chase division next year he could be worth opposing.  Trip wise at this stage the JLT must be the favourite as his intended target to my eye.

SUPASUNDAE (165) confirmed the promise of his excellent win in the Coral Cup, and was only narrowly eclipsed here by the winner.  Seemingly able now to handle this longer trip he looks a likely candidate for the Stayers Hurdle next season, with good ground seemingly a prerequisite.  Nichols Canyon lays in wait though!

Likewise for SNOW FALCON (164) who adds to the Irish staying hurdling contingent next season.  A strong traveller in his races, he didn’t find much off the bridle here.  He was going well when falling behind Unowhatimeanharry earlier in the season and clearly rates a contender in the top staying hurdles next year should connections elect to go down that route.

 

 

 

 

FINIAN’S OCAR AND CAPTAIN FOREZ ARE EXCITING NOVICE CHASERS

FINIAN’S OSCAR (152) won the Mersey Novices Hurdle for Colin Tizzard and Alan Potts, and rates a fine novice chase prospect for next season.  Having missed Cheltenham, this was his second Grade 1 hurdle win of the season, despite starting it in the point-to-point field.  With a summers improvement likely he can take high rank in the novice chase division next season.  Together with Pingshou, the Potts look like reaping the reward their investment deserves.

Finian’s Oscar Chesterfield Difference
12.63 11.58 -1.05
28.43 26.22 -2.21
85.76 83.43 -2.33
101.03 99.28 -1.75
114.81 114.02 -0.79
163.53 163.48 -0.05
174.94 174.97 0.03
189.83 189.5 -0.33
211.11 210.83 -0.28

 

They went a decent early pace in the Grade 1 race when compared to the handicap hurdle run over half a mile shorter later on the card.  Their overall time was just 0.28s quicker, but with the longer distance and extra weight I’m happy to award Finian’s Oscar 152 for this run.

He wasn’t the only exciting novice chaser in the race though, as he was chased home by CAPTAIN FOREZ (149) who looks crying out for fences next year.  To my eye he would look a 3 mile chaser in the making, so he did well to get so close to the perhaps speedier winner here on decent ground and a tight flat track.  His dam was a half-sister to a 3 mile winner and surely that’s where his future must lie next year…the RSA 2018, the Gold Cup 2019?!

 

ONE FOR ARTHUR AN EXCELLENT NATIONAL WINNER

I don’t do times for races over the National fences as there is only one a day, and I’m not a big fan of cross card analysis.  That said though the winner of this years looked exceptional, travelling well and winning impressively.

Rating the race through BLAKLION (158), I have both him and CAUSES OF CAUSES (160) on their marks I had them prior to the race, so this makes sense to me.  ONE FOR ARTHUR (163) gets a big number as a result and he followed up his eye catching win in the Classic Chase at Warwick over 3m5f confirming him as a classy staying chaser.  It may be a jump to argue the winner as a Gold Cup horse but still only 8 years old this was just his 11th chase start he could still improve.  National horses have run well in the blue riband before and he could stay into a place if Might Bite lines up and sets a crazy pace in the race next year!

VICENTE CAN LAND NICHOLLS THE TRAINERS CHAMPIONSHIP….AGAIN!!!

I’m not a huge stats fan, but the uniqueness of the Grand National means they have a degree of merit and over the years I’ve used a few to narrow the monster field down.  The stats I like to use to help find the winner are as follows:

8-11 years old

Had at least 10 runs over fences

Won over 3miles or more

Placed over 3m2f or more

Run to RPR of 148+

Best RPR is at least 4lbs ahead of OR

Had 3-6 runs this season

Won in a field of 14 or more

Placed in a field of 18 or more

Run in the last 3 to 8 weeks.

 

I’ve gone down as far as Goodtoknow for the likely field at this stage, and the stats leave the following candidates: THE LAST SAMURI, CAUSE OF CAUSES, HOUBLON DES OBEAUX, SAINT ARE, VICENTE, JUST A PAR, THE ROMFORD PELE and GAS LINE BOY.

The Last Samuri is probably too high in the weights.

Houblon Des Obeaux and Saint Are have both had 31 chase starts and are probably too exposed at this stage.

Just A Par has a nice profile, but I’m not sure he’s that well thought of out of the Nicholls entries, and rather fell in last time as the pace of the race caused a “pace collapse” as he came from the back of the field.  He could run a big race though on a course that suits.

The Romford Pele has pulled up on his last 3 starts and I’m happy to rule him out on that.  And Gas Line Boy is probably not good enough.

So, this leaves us with two: CAUSE OF CAUSES and VICENTE.

 

CAUSE OF CAUSES (160) has a really nice profile for this race.  He ran to a mark of 160 on my numbers when winning the four miler a few years back, and runs here off a mark of 150 here.  Winner of the Cross Country race at Cheltenham last time, it is interesting to note that Gordon Elliott used that race as a prep when Silver Birch was a narrow runner-up before winning the big race.  Jamie Codd has expressed concerns that he is on the small side and may not be ideally suited to the race, but with the fences now a bit easier and the fact he was 8th in the year Many Clouds won the race I think alleviates those concerns.  In short, he stays, likes the ground, handles big fields, is in form and has had an ideal prep for the race….he looks to have a massive chance to me.

The other runner I am really keen on is VICENTE (163).  He helped Paul Nicholls land the trainer’s championship last season when winning the Scottish National last season and I think he can land the biggest pot of all to help him secure it again this season.

He has the right age, experience, stamina, big field form and prep to be nigh on the ideal National candidate to me.  I like horses to have “National” form, Auroras Encore was second in the Scottish version, and Rule the World likewise in the Irish National before winning this and Vicente just ticks all the boxes for me.

Furthermore, there is evidence that this is the time to catch him.  Looking at his form the thing that leaps off the page for me is his love of good ground.  If we focus on his runs on genuine good ground or in the spring months his form reads 1P1113151.  Of his defeats, he was pulled up in a handicap hurdle and found to be suffering from a fibrillating heart and was left off until the following season as a result.  His 3rd, was a 1½ length defeat in a decent Cheltenham novice chase, and his 5th was a good run in a red hot renewal of the four miler at the Festival (trainer later confirmed it was a prep for his Scottish National win and he was hampered in the race).  He is unbeaten all other times he has met genuine good ground or run in the spring months.

Two of his victories under such conditions include giving 8lbs and a beating to dual Cheltenham Festival winner Un Temps Pour Tout, and the other came in the Scottish National last season.

This season Nicholls has been quoted that this race has been the target all season and they have been working backwards from there.  He fell in the Hennessy, was then 6th on soft ground in the Welsh National, 6th over an inadequate trip at Doncaster and down the field on softer ground last time at Haydock.  In short, this race has been the target all season and you can be sure they have left plenty to work with on every occasion he has run this season.

He is a French bred which traditionally isn’t ideal for a National horse, but he is by the same sire as Neptune Collonges and Dom Alco’s seem to relish stamina tests so I’m not duly concerned about that.  Also, he hasn’t had a hurdles prep this season, but his mark has dropped from 151 to 147 for this so he hasn’t been “hiding a mark” and he now runs off just 1lb higher mark than his win at Ayr last season.  In that race I gave him a big number that suggests he could have at least a stone in hand on his official mark if getting back to his best.  And conditions and preparation lead me to think that is very much on the cards.

Interestingly, he has been bought by Trevor Hemmings, and not that it is of any major significance to his chances, it would give the “National Story” side to things should he win given that connections lost the brilliant Many Clouds earlier in the year.  Vicente is currently number 35, runs off a mark of 147 and is set to carry 10st9lbs…everything looks right for him, and at 25/1 with extra place offers around he has to be a bet.

 

I don’t like to be bound religiously by the stats though, and there are a few “stat busters” that I feel could run big races.

MORE OF THAT (166) is an eye catching runner, and ran a nice race in the Gold Cup.  Riddled with problems the last few years, Jonjo has never hidden his love for this horse and I feel he has something in hand on his official mark here of 157.  Probably the classiest runner in the field, he could be the selection of Geraghty and go off fav on the day.  Worth getting him onside now at 16/1 and 20/1.

THE YOUNG MASTER (160) was a really good novice chaser a few seasons ago, and has started to live up to that promise after landing the Bet365 Gold Cup last season.  He fell in the Becher this season, before having a run over hurdles in the Cleeve.  He then ran a nice race to finish 6th in the handicap chase on day one of the festival and can go well here for Sam Waley-Cohen who has a good record over these obstacles.

The other one I like at a wild price is DOUBLE SHUFFLE (156+) who would be a big stats buster!  Perhaps this will be too soon for him, being a 7 year old, but coming from the family of Nil Desperandum I feel going up in trip is what this horse has been crying out for and he has shown improved form after getting stepped up to 3 miles this season. Yet to run over a real marathon trip, stamina is taken on that pedigree link rather than form, but he is a young progressive chaser who looks to have something in hand on his mark.  He likes good ground and travels well in his races, he can be a cheap each way play at 50/1.

Conclusion

  1. VICENTE
  2. CAUSE OF CAUSES
  3. MORE OF THAT
  4. THE YOUNG MASTER
  5. DOUBLE SHUFFLE
  6. JUST A PAR

 

Vicente and Cause of Causes look to have everything going for them for me and they are my two main fancies for the race.  The other three are runners that have something to find on the stats but look well handicapped sorts that can go well in the race.

Of the head of the market Vieux Lion Rouge looks to have lots going for him but has only had 2 runs this season, and may lack the overall experience despite having form over these fences.  Either way, he is short enough now at the head of the market.

Definitly Red is another one that may lack the required experience of the fancied runners, and I’m not sure he will relish this big field.  An accusation that can be thrown at Blaklion as well.

Hopefully these 6 can go well at decent prices.  Contrary to popular belief this is a decent betting race, and the place market will be overbroke so backing a few to have running for you has plenty of merit.

 

 

 

CHELTENHAM 2017 REVIEW

DAY 1   

BUVEUR D’AIR A WORTHY CHAMPION

The build up to this year’s Champion Hurdle had seen plenty consider it a below par renewal, and I would confess to being in that camp myself.  However, the race produced a winner worthy of the Champion moniker in BUVEUR D’AIR (170) who readily cleared away from perennial Cheltenham runner-up MY TENT OR YOURS (166) and PETIT MOUCHOIR (163).

Despite flattening the hurdle 4 out, Buveur D’Air travelled well throughout the race and could be called the winner round the turn, backing up the view that last years Supreme was a vintage renewal (he was 3rd in it behind the monsters Altior and Min).

There were two other hurdle races on the card, the Supreme over the same distance, and the Mares over a half mile further.  The comparative sectionals from the time of the first in the 2 mile course are shown here, with the cumulative time alongside:

Labaik Buveur D’Air Apple’s Jade Labaik Buveur D’Air Apple’s Jade
42.84 43.37 45.84 42.84 43.37 45.84
45.9 44.38 45.5 88.74 87.75 91.34
24.17 23.52 25 112.91 111.27 116.34
21.09 20.69 21.41 134 131.96 137.75
37.07 36.15 37.63 171.07 168.11 175.38
16.52 16.37 16.78 187.59 184.48 192.16
24.6 25.47 25.08 212.19 209.95 217.24
13.64 14.16 13.95 225.83 224.11 231.19

 

They went a stronger gallop in the Champion in relation to the Supreme, reaching 2 out 3.11s quicker than the novices.  From there the novices were able to close the gap to 1.72s at the line, but even allowing for this the Champion is the superior race and backs up my earlier view that this year’s novices are not a vintage bunch.

BUVEUR D’AIR (170) won the race readily and is a deserving Champion.  Reverting back from chasing has certainly paid off and he proved able to handle the undulations of Cheltenham here, whereas previously his best form had been on flatter tracks.  Connections would have the option of going back chasing, but should he keep to hurdling he will be tough to beat next year.

That is largely due to the lack of candidates to challenge the winner.  MY TENT OR YOURS (166) ran a similar mark to last year but will be 11 next year.  PETIT MOUCHOIR (163) is probably better suited by a flatter track, and was going to go chasing this season before proving his worth in this sphere…one would assume that is his likely path next season.

FOOTPAD (160) stayed on well up the hill to take fourth, and will probably be suited by a step up in trip, which would also be the case for THE NEW ONE (159)SCEAU ROYAL (157) ran his usual admirable race but will be hard to place in being handicapped to his best, and beneath the top grade.

YANWORTH (156) seemed to get outpaced on this course, and again would be one to go up in distance…but even running up to his best form I think he would have been firmly put in his place by the winner.

WICKLOW BRAVE (155) remains an interesting horse…he was the only one travelling as well as the winner rounding the turn and seemed to run out of gas up the hill.  This was his first run since November 1st and Mullins had talked about trying to get him ready for this race in the run up.  With a better prep he could’ve run into the places based on his previous form.  I certainly wouldn’t discount him at the Aintree and Punchestown festivals.

The other runner to bear in mind for subsequent festivals is Ch’tibello.  A non-runner on the day of the race he has had his wind done since his last run at Wincanton, and if that improves him he can run to a mark in the mid 160s+ and be a contender.  I read that he is a likely runner for Punchestown previously, and if he goes there a fresh horse where others have run both here and at Aintree he could run a big race.

MOON RACER (?) seemed to put in a few sketchy jumps early on and was jumping out to his right before being pulled up coming down the hill.  Something surely went amiss with him here.  If connections can get him right one day then I’m sure he can run to a mid-160 number.

The only other horse I can see as a threat to the winner, bar the returning Champions, is in the same owenership…namely Campeador.  An unlucky faller at the last in two big handicap hurdles he has already proved capable of being a 160 horse.  With a mega high cruising speed, he is the most exciting prospect I can think of to lay down a threat to the winner.

 

The Supreme saw something of an upset with the previously recalcitrant LABAIK (158) winning for Gordon Elliott and the superb Jack Kennedy.  Having refused to race a few times, he was eventually cajoled into running last time finishing miles behind the winner, but was reportedly highly rated by connections and so this victory should not come as a massive shock.  He travelled well off the pace before making his move off the turn to win the race readily, beating the Mullins hype horse MELON (156).

This though was not a vintage renewal of the race with not much to take out of it at first glance.  LABAIK (158) will probably stay hurdling but needs to improve to be competitive at the top grade, and will always be a risky proposition considering his previous behaviour at the start of races.

MELON (156) had run a big number on his debut run for Mullins and confirmed that promise running a big race here.  Connections made noises intimating that he will go chasing next year and with some improvement to come he could make an impact in that sphere.

RIVER WYLDE (148) ran to the same number I gave him at Kempton, and would look one for the big 2 mile handicap hurdles next season, though is already rated 144 so would need to improve somewhat to land one of those.

BALLYANDY (147) ran a bit below his Betfair Hurdle form on my numbers, and probably left his race behind there.

One horse who caught the eye in preliminaries was PINGSHOU (124) who had won a hot novice hurdle here back in December.  He is a huge horse, who can make an exciting chaser if connections can nurse him right as has reportedly bled in the past.

 

MARES RACE WAS THE RIGHT CALL FOR THE BIG THREE

There was plenty of talk about the Mares race taking runners away from the Champion Hurdle and there would be some truth in that, as the big 3 mares can make an impact in that race receiving weight.  However, the time of their runs in the longer race they ran in would indicate that they were probably suited by running here.

APPLE’S JADE (145++) won the race with a well-executed front running ride from Bryan Cooper, but they clocked a time 7s slower than the Champion Hurdle winner when timed from the equivalent first jump in that race, and didn’t make up any significant time in the latter stages despite this slower pace.  She is probably best at this sort of trip.

That said though, the winner is top class and is capable of running a much better number than this (I rated her 166 in her Aintree romp last season).  She was pulling clear of her rivals at the end and can certainly progress from this as she thrives on her racing.  Indeed, looking at her form off a recent run she has only seen defeat in such conditions when going down by a nose in the Fighting Fifth over a trip and course probably on the short and tight side.  With just 23 days to the Aintree Hurdle and getting 7lbs from her male counterparts she will surely be the one to beat in that race.  (Something I hadn’t noticed before was how she jumps, as she is surely one of the best hurdlers around and was taking lengths out her rivals with her nimble jumping).

VROUM VROUM MAG (144) and LIMINI (143) were both readily beaten by the winner here.  Vroum Vroum Mag has benefitted from being well placed previously and has always been a bit below the top grade on my numbers.  Limini failed to confirm form with Apple’s Jade and is likely best fresh.  Should she run at both or either the Aintree and Punchestown festivals she is probably worth opposing, and would then be one to be with first time out next season as she can run a stone better than this mark and receiving any weight from her rivals she can be a threat when fresh.

 

ALTIOR VS DOUVAN WOULD BE TOO CLOSE TO CALL

Over fences, there was a stellar performance from ALTIOR (180+) who blasted away from his rivals to record a comfortable win in the Arkle.

Altior Un Temps Pour Tout Tiger Roll Tully East
8.12 8.57 8.03 8.59
29.02 29.27 30.22 30.29
49.29 48.9 50.78 50.7
62.64 62.3 64.62 64.69
74.89 74.29 76.88 77.49
86.73 86.03 89.26 89.96
105.38 104.99 108.32 109.96
140.53 141.33 145.15 147.47
168.74 172.26 174.99 178.07
176.12 180.12 183.6 185.76
191.68 196.51 203.73 202.08

 

The sectionals above show the times taken from the first fence over the 2 mile course to each fence and the finishing line.  As you can see Altior clocked a time 4.83s faster than the top class Un Temps Pout Tout (more on him in a bit) but perhaps more stunning was the fact he was 10.4s quicker than Tully East in the novices handicap chase over just half a mile further.

From 3 out to line Altior clocked a time 4s quicker than Un Temps Pour Tout, and when adjusting for this and the distances of the race it points to number of 180 for Altior.  He was well touted as being the next superstar and duly delivered the goods.  However, we are unlikely to get rich steaming into him at short prices so there are a few things to consider.

The first is the potentially mouth-watering clash between himself and Douvan.  At their best I believe both can run to a mid-180 potentially 190 figure and should Douvan recover from his injury this is one of the biggest clashes in our sports history.  At this stage one would probably go with Altior as we await to see how Douvan recovers.

The second issue I would have would be with how this horse is now campaigned.  Despite what the press would have you believe, these animals are not machines and whilst Henderson is a top class trainer I still haven’t quite forgiven him for what he did to Sprinter Sacre in running him at both Aintree and Punchestown after his Cheltenham win.  These horses that clock such big numbers take a lot out of themselves despite the visual impression of doing this easily, and if Henderson elects to take a similar route with this horse I would be worried about history repeating itself and these performances eventually take their toll on him.  Only freaks like Kauto Star and Cue Card have been able to produce big performances alongside longevity and if they are aggressive in their campaigning of Altior the rest of this season, be wary of getting involved at a short price either at Punchestown or perhaps next season.

Last season’s Arkle saw Douvan clock a big number and I was perplexed at some of the ratings given to those in behind who had also run big numbers on the clock.  Of those behind last year, Sizing John has gone on to win the Gold Cup, Fox Norton won a handicap chase and nearly the Champion Chase itself and Aso won a handicap chase before placing in the Ryanair.  When rating this race I can’t help if there will be a bit of history repeating, and I feel the vanquished horses in this race are worth following going forward.

CLOUDY DREAM (172) was runner-up and deserves credit for getting to within 6 lengths of the winner.  Interestingly he was also second to Buveur D’Air in one of that horses chase runs, and was an unlucky second to Ch’tibello in the Scottish Champio Hurdle… I think he is a top class chaser for Malcolm Jefferson.  His dam is a half-sister to smart 2m chaser Get Real, and I think this horse is an exceptional chaser going forward.  Should he find an opportunity to avoid Altior he can get a deserved victory, and he could also be capable of giving weight in a big handicap chase (only rated 147 before reassessment).

That handicap chase prospect is probably more applicable to ORDINARY WORLD (164) who confirmed the promise of his run behind Min at Leopardstown.  Indeed this horses last 3 runs have now been behind Altior, Min and Identity Thief, and before that he put up and impressive display at Fairyhouse.  Rated just 146 prior to this, even after he is reassessed he can land a big handicap chase over 2 miles for connections, though he seems to be at his best on good ground.

CHARBEL (172) was running a huge race before coming down at the second last and is another worth following going forward.  5th in last years vintage supreme he has improved for going chasing and been given time to do so by Kim Bailey.  Connections had previously debated going to the JLT and that would be an option to step up in trip in the future.  There isn’t much stamina in his pedigree to my eye though, and they may be better sticking to two miles.  Certainly together with Cloudy Dream and Ordinary World, Charbel is one to keep onside in the future….previously trained in Ireland I wonder if they may go to Punchestown with him as they did last season, and as long as he is none the worse for this fall he can run a big race there.

 

UN TEMPS POUR TOUT (165) put up and excellent display to win the Ultima for the second season running and see of the well handicapped SINGLEFARMPAYMENT (152) by a short head.  They were going a similar pace to the Arkle over 2 miles here, and whilst that effort took its toll from 3 out they still put up a good time in this race.   The winner may go for the top grade 1 chases now, but would be a bit below that grade on my ratings.  Depending on how the handicapper assesses Singlefarmpayment he can win a big handicap chase at Aintree or Punchestown.

THE YOUNG MASTER (135) ran a nice race in 6th, and this should put him right for the Grand National after previously running over hurdles in the Cleeve.  Rated 150 for that, on previous form he can run to a 160+ number and could go well for Sam Waley-Cohen in the big race.  He won the bet365 last season off 148 with subsequent winner Just A Par just touched off in second and has surely been trained with just the big race in mind this season.

 

The other run of note was that of TIGER ROLL (147) in the National Hunt Chase.  He tanked through the race, and stayed on well up the hill to win this race, proving his love of undulating tracks.  Indeed, on undulating tracks and yielding ground or better he is a tough horse to beat.  Throw out some runs off short breaks and ones where he was running in big grade 1 hurdles and he has now won 5 times from 6 runs under such conditions, including the Triumph hurdle and pulling up lame in his one defeat.  It would be a leap of faith to suggest he could go well in a Gold Cup, but big priced horses have hit the frame in that race (and indeed last years 1-2 in this race, placed in this years Gold Cup).  The logical thing to do though would be to run in unsuitable conditions next season in Ireland and hope to scrape in at the top of the handicap in the Kim Muir!

 

DAY 2

MIGHT BITE IS CRAZILY GOOD….LITERALLY!

There is only one place to start when looking at Day 2 of Cheltenham 2017, and that is with MIGHT BITE (176+).  In all the races I’ve seen live at Cheltenham this must rank as one of the most extraordinary races I’ve ever seen.

Before we get to his antics after the final fence, let’s start with the mental gallop that Might Bite went to that point.  There’s a few things to look at when showing how crazy fast the eventual winner went.  First let’s look at how he ran compared to the close runner-up WHISPER (170).

Might Bite Whisper Difference
20.34 20.91 -0.57
39.64 40.13 -0.49
52.41 53.54 -1.13
64.45 65.86 -1.41
76.43 78.02 -1.59
95.28 96.94 -1.66
131.19 133.25 -2.06
162.09 164.52 -2.43
170.37 172.58 -2.21
192.09 194.09 -2
212.35 213.65 -1.3
225.26 226.68 -1.42
237.37 238.91 -1.54
249.3 250.5 -1.2
268.09 269.39 -1.3
303.05 304.57 -1.52
332.38 334.06 -1.68
340.76 342.16 -1.4
360.67 359.99 0.68

 

The sectionals above show the times the two horses took from the first flight to the finish line.  One thing this does show is the mastery of Davy Russell round Cheltenham…there’s no coincidence that he is a heavy level stakes winner at the festival!  As a result of efficient riding, Whisper actually clocked a faster time from the first fence to the line.  The reason for this is that Might Bite just went savagely fast.  At one stage he was 2.43s ahead of Whisper in their relative times, equivalent to about 12 lengths on this ground.  We can gain a further insight into the crazy time set when comparing it to that of Un Temps Pour Tout the previous day:

Might Bite Un Temps Pour Tout Difference
20.34 21.05 -0.71
39.64 41.13 -1.49
52.41 54.61 -2.2
64.45 67.05 -2.6
76.43 79.3 -2.87
95.28 98.31 -3.03
131.19 134.93 -3.74
162.09 167.37 -5.28
170.37 175.94 -5.57
192.09 196.64 -4.55
212.35 216.27 -3.92
225.26 229.67 -4.41
237.37 241.66 -4.29
249.3 253.4 -4.1
268.09 272.36 -4.27
303.05 308.7 -5.65
332.38 339.63 -7.25
340.76 347.49 -6.73
360.67 363.88 -3.21

 

As you can see, before two out Might Bite was a crazy 7.25s faster than Un Temps Pour Tout.  Even when accounting for the ground and rail movement this is still bonkers.

What then evolved up the run in, I still couldn’t believe when watching the replay.  Might Bite appeared to be tiring, and if he had been beaten a few lengths by Whisper we could all have gone away and said, “yes Nico went too fast, Scorpion’s don’t get up the hill blah blah blah” but with the loose horse and Whisper running up to him the winner then picked up and got back up on the line.  After what he had done previously, I was flabbergasted to see him get back up and win.  I’ve given the winner 176+ as I’m sure if they can get him settled better and run a bit more efficiently from the front he can be one of the best horses of recent times and record a mid-180 figure.  The obvious target has to be the King George, and it will take a fair horse to beat him there….though there may be one or two as we shall come on to!

The runner-up WHISPER (170) benefitted from a crazily good ride from Russell to get so close to the freak winner, and I’ve adjusted the ratings as a result.  He is an admirable horse but 10 next year I find it difficult to see him successful against the raft of good horses around at the moment, perhaps Aintree will be his best chance and last chance saloon to land a big race pot….he has won the last two times he has run there.

BELLSHILL (160) ran to the sort of mark I’ve been giving him all season, and this is just as good as he is I feel.  It was interesting to hear in his brilliant interview on  the Final Furlong Podcast that Grah Wylie said he could be a National horse one day and that could be the way to go with him down the line.

 

DOVUAN WOULD’VE WON THE CHAMPION CHASE

The Champion Chase saw a shock result as SPECIAL TIARA (172) and FOX NORTON (172) fought out the finish with the hot favourite DOUVAN (160) unable to land a blow and pull up lame suffering from a stress fracture.

Let’s be clear that if the favourite had run up to his best he would’ve won by about 8 lengths or more.  But as previously discussed these animals are not machines and things go wrong…and they went wrong in a big way here.  I had the binoculars on him from the outset and his jumping was unrecognisable, being big and long instead of the low and efficient jumping we are used to from him.  It was clear from an early point that Ruby wasn’t happy and I don’t know why he didn’t pull him up…maybe it was down to the results they had had up to that point.  We can only hope that no lasting damage was done.  Better experts than I inform me that the injury should be resolvable but I will have to see evidence first.  If he does get back to his best, the clash between him and Altior would be awesome.

This was always an each way scumbag race (my kind of race!) and the result will make their Christmas party a big one this year.  SPECIAL TIARA (172) beat FOX NORTON (172) a head and was undoubtedly suited by the prevailing ground conditions.  If we compare him to the efficiently ridden Whisper we can assess the scale of the performance:

Whisper Special Tiara
8.06 7.82
29.57 28.58
49.13 47.83
62.16 60.95
74.39 72.86
85.98 84.34
104.87 102.93
140.05 137.73
169.54 167.64
177.64 176.14
195.47 194.28

 

He clocked a time 1.19s faster over the equivalent distances they covered, and when adjusting for the 2mile/3mile difference I get a number of 172 for the winner and runner-up.  This is fractionally ahead of their previous bests so I am happy to go with it.  They are both admirable horses, but if the favourite had run his race they would’ve been put in their places.  With Altior looming on the scene both will need luck to be successful at the top grade.

SIR VALENTINO (166) ran a nice race in third, just beating the supplemented TOP GAMBLE (166).  Sir Valentino gave 6lbs to the winner at Kempton, and on that running could’ve won this race, but I was left with the impression that he is better suited to right-handed tracks (his last two wins have been at Exeter and Market Rasen) and I hope that Tom George now skips Aintree and targets Punchestown with the horse.  He could also run GOD’S OWN (165) there, and having had previous success at the meeting I would be keen on both their chances.  Top Gamble ran a big race here and I have previously given him a big number for his run at Newbury last season, back on soft ground and a flat track he can win a race.

 

NOTHING SPECIAL IN THE NEPTUNE, BUT MORE EVIDENCE THAT SUTTON PLACE IS A TOP PROSPECT!

Over hurdles, the view that this seasons novices are a mediocre crop was backed up with the win of WILLOUGHBY COURT (151) who put in a good front-running performance to see of hot favourite NEON WOLF (151) by a head.  The winner is a likeable type and a nice horse to go novice chasing with but I feel he is below the top grade 1 grade at this stage.

I would say the same sort of thing for Neon Wolf.  On his Haydock run he probably should’ve won this race, but a sloppy jump at the last put paid to his chances.  He may well be suited by softer ground, but I can’t help but think he is a bit overhyped on his Haydock run…ratings there sometimes don’t follow elsewhere, and in the back of my mind I don’t know why Mullins didn’t purchase him as Mags Mullins trained him and Paddy rode him in his point to point – they wouldn’t let a potential superstar slip through their fingers.  I think this is just as good as he is.

In the Coral Cup, SUPADSUNDAE (158) paid a complement to Sutton Place by winning the big handicap hurdle with a nice performance.

Willoughby Court Supasundae Difference
18.56 18.16 -0.4
70.28 66.43 -3.85
117.15 111.46 -5.69
163.42 158.01 -5.41
187.58 182.37 -5.21
208.38 203.8 -4.58
244.58 240.37 -4.21
260.81 256.87 -3.94
286.07 282.15 -3.92
300.85 296.37 -4.48

 

He clocked a time 4.48s quicker than Willoughby Court, although most of this difference was made early on, and when adjusting for this I get a number of 158 for Supadsundae, which ties in nicely with numbers I gave him previously.  I’m not sure where the winner goes from here, as I looked at him beforehand as a Stayers Hurdle candidate and thought he didn’t have the requisite stamina.  He is probably just below the top grade but can run well in 2.5m hurdles.

Of more interest is the extra excitement he creates about Sutton Place, a horse who could be a monster over fences next season.  Sutton Place comfortably beat Supasundae in his last two runs, and if translating that sort of form to fences he can be the star novice chaser next season.

They went a good pace in this race and clocked a good time so bear in mind the beaten horses going forward…there are literally too many to name here, but WHO DARES WINS (152) and SCOIR MEAR (142) would be two who leap off the page as potential handicap hurdle winners in the near future.

 

The Fred Winter was as usual a very competitive race and was won by FLYING TIGER (143) in a tight finish from DIVIN BERE (148) and NIETSCHE (138).  There will be plenty of winners out of this race but one that caught my eye was PERCY STREET (125).  He had run to a RPR of 104 on the flat and ran here off a mark of just 124, having struggled to adjust to the hurdling game.  He travelled well in this race and maybe failed to handle the climb to the line…running off his rating he just has to have a handicap hurdle success in him down the line, maybe on a flat track, so could be one for Aintree.

 

 

DAY 3

YORKHILL GOLD CUP, UN DE SCEAUX KING GEORGE?  BUT COULD SUB LIEUTENANT BE A GOLD CUP DARK HORSE?!

Maybe not on the same bonkers scale as Might Bite, YORKHILL (168+) won the JLT in his typically unique style…travelling like the wrath of God, and then doing nothing more.  I have given him 168+ here, as he was by far the best horse in the race, and just only does enough when in front as seen in his previous runs.  I will come onto the sectionals when looking at the Ryanair, but they are largely redundant with this horse as he just keeps so much to himself and only does enough.  He got to the last fence on the bridle against two top class horses in TOP NOTCH (167) and DISKO (164) and then held them off without ever looking like getting beaten.

Inevitably we have to look at where this horse goes from here with 3 options for next season…Champion, Ryanair or Gold Cup.  I’m going to stick my neck out and say this is the Gold Cup horse for next season.  There’s just too much stamina in his pedigree for him not to be able to get the trip, and I don’t feel dropping back in trip and meeting Altior will be of any use.  He settled much better in this race than previously and will continue to settle better with racing I feel.  He just can’t hit the front too soon, and he may be lucky in having just the horse to run against in next seasons Gold Cup…Might Bite.   You could not design a better “bunny” for Yorkill to run at in a Gold Cup than Might Bite…sure to set a good gallop to settle off, and a question mark about seeing out the trip!

He wasn’t the only top class chaser on the card for Mullins though as UN DE SCEAUX (176) put up a stunning performance in the Ryanair.  This is evidenced in the sectional comparison with Yorkhill here:

Yorkhill Un Se Sceaux Difference
14.92 14 -0.92
52.94 50.97 -1.97
64.46 61.71 -2.75
84.84 80.58 -4.26
96.89 92.22 -4.67
132.71 126.13 -6.58
146.22 140.27 -5.95
157.37 151.63 -5.74
167.82 162.48 -5.34
183.04 177.88 -5.16
197.04 192.29 -4.75
213.94 209.25 -4.69
233.5 228.97 -4.53
261.29 257.75 -3.54
271.98 269.07 -2.91
288.83 287.07 -1.76

 

As you can see, at one stage Un De Sceaux was 6.58s ahead of Yorkhill.  Understandably, Yorkhill closed the gap in the latter stages to be only 1.76s behind at the finish, but adjusting for this points to a huge performance from Un De Sceaux and one that poses a few interesting options for the future.  The fact he was able to hold off some strong rivals in SUB LIEUTENANT (172), ASO (166) and EMPIRE OF DIRT (165) after setting a blistering gallop shows that he is well capable of handling this step up in trip.  One though would have to be worried about him stepping up further to the Gold Cup, and I would be tempted to stick to this Ryanair Chase for the next few years.  Though I would understand connections wanting to have a go at the big one, and the thought of Might Bite and him taking each other on in a Gold Cup is an almost laughably entertaining prospect….and one that would set the race up for Yorkhill!!!  The more likely place for Might Bite and Un De Sceaux to meet would be the King George, with Yorkhills propensity to jump left leading to the Lexus being the more suitable race for him.

SUB LIEUTENTANT (172) sat off the place and got closest to threatening the trail blazing winner.  He is a top class horse and could be the Gold Cup horse to take out of this race!  Running on well here off a strong pace, he has the pedigree of a Gold Cup horse being related to Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere and shares that relations love of undulating tracks.  His form on undulating tracks over jumps reads 143341311322 and he got to within a few lengths of both Djakadam and Sizing John this season at Punchestown and Thurles over two and half miles.  If he can handle the step up in trip, and there would be optimism for that based on his run here and his pedigree he could be in the Gold Cup mix next season.  By my reckoning Gigginstown may be struggling for a runner with Don Poli injured, Empire Of Dirt already 10 years old, Outlander bombed in the race and only Disko emerging from their novice chasers this season, and so this one could be an ante post play at big prices.

In the handicap chase, ROAD TO RESPECT (164) backed up his big time figure behind Min at Leopardstown in winning this race with something in hand.  It is worth looking at that form briefly as Min had Arkle 3rd Ordinary World well beaten in that race as well, and I gave him a number of 178.  At the time I was wary of the mark but with the runner-up and third performing so well subsequently, I have to hope that Min returns in one piece and he can show his worth in the two mile chase division.  Min, Altior and Douvan would be akin to Well Chief, Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop and I hope they all take each other on at some stage.  Though that is probably wishful thinking.

Road to Respect is a decent horse, but may be just below the top grade…he would be obviously similar to Empire Of Dirt who won this race last season, but Road To Respect is only 6 years only and with some improvement can be a fixture in Grade 1 chases next season.

Of the beaten horses, depending on what the handicapper does with BARON ALCO (159) and BOUVREUIL (156) they would be high on my list for Bet Victor Gold Cup prospects next season should the ground be on the good side.  They clocked a good time in this race, and could still have something in hand of the handicapper.

 

 

NICHOLS CANYON LANDS THE BIG RACE HE DESERVES

Over hurdles, we saw a top class ride from Ruby Walsh to see NICHOLS CANYON (172) over the line victorious in the Stayers Hurdle.  But don’t read too much into the ride as explanation for the win, this horse deserves all the accolades he can get and then some.  As I had written previously, I thought Nichols Canyon was top class and could win this race and so it proved.  They rode him as if stamina was a question mark, but I would hope now that his stamina is proven they can ride him with more confidence and he can replicate Inglis Drever and win the next two renewals of this race.

Presenting Percy Nichols Canyon Difference
12.98 13.41 0.43
24.26 24.79 0.53
52.53 51.99 -0.54
102.69 99.53 -3.16
145.29 140.85 -4.44
184.69 180.65 -4.04
197.59 194.22 -3.37
208.41 205.19 -3.22
234.59 232.04 -2.55
280.83 278.77 -2.06
318.88 316.85 -2.03
333.87 331.36 -2.51

 

When comparing his run to that of Presenting Percy over the same trip, we can see that he clocked a time 2.51s faster than that race.  The mark I reach as a result is 172, and this ties in with his best previous form so I am happy to go with it.  This horse is so underrated, but is top class when fresh and not on good ground over the minimum distance.  He should win the next two renewals of this race, as I can’t see anything on the horizon to trouble him at this stage.

LIL ROCKERFELLER (171) ran an admirable race and is one of the most likeable horses in training.  Only 6 years old, he deserves to win a big race at some stage.

The favourite UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (168) ran in line with his previous form, and had no obvious excuses on the day.  Ten next year, I would worry that this was his big chance.

 

 

DAY 4

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE SIZING JOHN

It never ceases to amaze me how the racing press label a horse with a tag and stick to it.  In this case the trip was a huge question mark in the media for SIZING JOHN (180), but he had put up a big performance the first time he had tackled 3 miles in the Irish Gold Cup and duly went and showed that was no fluke in winning the big race here.

The sectionals for the 3 chases from where they overlap were as follows:

Sizing John Pacha Du Polder Rock The World
12.26 11.69 12.32
46.27 46.24 46.22
59.7 60.15 59.59
70.5 70.97 70.4
80.76 81.83 81.28
95.76 96.89 96.46
110.03 111.29 110.42
126.27 128.7 126.88
145.83 148.25 145.99
173.64 176.82 173.26
185.09 188.56 184.09
202.69 207.01 200.62

 

As you can see, Sizing John clocked a similar time to 2 out that Rock The World did in the Grand Annual.  Having travelled over a mile further at that stage, it is understandable that the two milers came home quicker, but it just shows that the pace they went was strong in the Gold Cup, and that Sizing John is a worthy winner.  Overall he clocked a time 7.37s faster than Pacha Du Polder over the same course and distance, and all this points to a red hot number of 180 for the winner.  Make no mistake about it, he is a top class winner of the race and even the renegades Might Bite, Un De Sceaux and Yorkill will have to be at their absolute best to topple him next season.

MINELLA ROCCO (177) and NATIVE RIVER (177) both came from the four miler last season to fill the frame here.  The former has a Grand National entry and would have an obvious chance off a mark of 158.  Native River proved me wrong, stepping up on his previous form this season to run a huge race.  Whilst he is an admirable horse, I can’t help feel he will always find one too good at the very top level of staying chases.

DJAKADAM (177) again got desperately close to landing the prize for connections.  He came here a fresh horse and again ran up to the same sort of mark he had previously, with no obvious excuse for not landing the pot.

Both SAPHIR DU RHEU (174) and MORE OF THAT (170) have National entries and would be of interest there.  That race is now looking more like a Grade 2 Gold Cup these days, so these sort of horses have to be of interest.

BRISTOL DE MAI (160) ran alright without seeming to get up the hill.  As discussed previously, Haydock form doesn’t always translate to elsewhere and the obvious target for him would be the Betfair Chase next season.

This could especially be the case as CUE CARD (170?) could be on the downgrade by then.  Incredibly he fell at the same fence he did last season but was being niggled at that stage this year.  I think he left his race behind at Ascot when he put up a big number, similarly to how Kauto Star did in 2008 in the same race.  That meeting just comes too damn close to Cheltenham and I wish trainers wouldn’t run their big staying chasers at it.  It’s sad to think that Cue Card could be on the decline now, and I would be happy to be proved wrong…they should’ve come here a fresh horse and on my numbers he would’ve won this race.  With better luck I think he could’ve won three Gold Cups, and it is sad to think he won’t get the full recognition he deserves.  He deserves to be compared to horses like Kauto Star in my eyes.  Maybe there is one last swansong for him in the Betfair Chase next season?!

 

ARCTIC FIRE COULD’VE WON THE CHAMPION HURDLE

Over hurdles ARCTIC FIRE (170) ran a stunning race to land the County Hurdle off top weight in his first run in over a year.

Defi Du Seuil Arctic Fire
43.95 45.5
82.36 83.29
95.26 96.78
105.95 107.28
131.79 134.2
177.91 180.35
217.33 217.32
232.05 231.31

 

As you can see Artic Fire clocked a time 0.74s quicker than Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph Hurdle, despite being 2.44s behind 2 out.  Put simply, making up that sort of time off top weight is a top class performance from the winner.  He loves good ground and a strong pace and I feel he could’ve run well in the Champion Hurdle this season…it begs the question why connections ran Wicklow Brave instead!  Though I guess connections thought the best ground and faster pace was guaranteed in the County.  With not much else coming through the novice ranks this season, Nichols Canyon being on the stayers scene, and the likely hike in the weights he will get for winning here I would like to see the winner back in the Champion Hurdle next season.  He could run in the Aintree Hurdle, but would have to give weight to Apple’s Jade there, and a small field may not play to his strengths.

L’AMI SERGE (163) has been called a lot of names this season, but has run some big numbers on my ratings.  A big field suits him best as he can get plenty of cover, and he could land a handicap hurdle off a big weight in the near future.

The same could be said for any of the others in behind as this was a hot race in my eyes.  Special interest though goes to AIR HORSE ONE (149), WINTER ESCAPE (149), IVANOVICH GORBATOV (159) and WAIT FOR ME (142).  Wait For Me especially looks crying out for a step up in trip both on looks and pedigree…he ran here off 135 and could have a stone in hand going up to two and half miles.

DEFI DU SEUIL (155) won the Triumph hurdle in fair style but as ever would need to find plenty of improvement to challenge in the Champion Hurdle next season.  CHARLI PARCS (145) travelled with some menace down the hill but didn’t get up the other side.  He could be a morning glory horse, but is so well thought of I’m sure he can live up to the promise of his debut run that would’ve seen him go close here.  Maybe a flatter track will suit him better and so Aintree could be a play for him especially as this run was on the back of a heavy fall.

 

APPENDIX

All the sectionals I’ve taken are listed here, if you want to play around with the numbers!  All taken from the first flight in their respective races to the finishing line.

DAY 1 HURDLES:

Labaik Buveur D’Air Apple’s Jade
10.14
39.8
42.84 43.37 45.84
45.9 44.38 45.5
24.17 23.52 25
21.09 20.69 21.41
37.07 36.15 37.63
16.52 16.37 16.78
24.6 25.47 25.08
13.64 14.16 13.95

 

DAY 1 CHASES:

Altior Un Temps Pour Tout Tiger Roll Tully East
12.23
14.91
39.58
11.26
25.38
8.1 8.68
21.05 22.83
20.08 21.27
13.48 14.26
12.44 13.01 11.68
12.25 12.93 14.72
19.01 20.26 36.8
10.98 36.62 38.91 11.48
22.94 32.44 32.62 23.87
8.12 8.57 8.03 8.59
20.9 20.7 22.19 21.7
20.27 19.63 20.56 20.41
13.35 13.4 13.84 13.99
12.25 11.99 12.26 12.8
11.84 11.74 12.38 12.47
18.65 18.96 19.06 20
35.15 36.34 36.83 37.51
28.21 30.93 29.84 30.6
7.38 7.86 8.61 7.69
15.56 16.39 20.13 16.32

 

DAY 2 HURDLES:

Willoughby Court Supasundae Flying Tiger
18.56 18.16
51.72 48.27
46.87 45.03 43.27
46.27 46.55 45.6
24.16 24.36 24.4
20.8 21.43 21.99
36.2 36.57 38.01
16.23 16.5 16.97
25.26 25.28 25.73
14.78 14.22 13.93

 

DAY 2 CHASES:

Might Bite Whisper Special Tiara
20.34 20.91
19.3 19.22
12.77 13.41
12.04 12.32
11.98 12.16
18.85 18.92
35.91 36.31 10.59
30.9 31.27 22
8.28 8.06 7.82
21.72 21.51 20.76
20.26 19.56 19.25
12.91 13.03 13.12
12.11 12.23 11.91
11.93 11.59 11.48
18.79 18.89 18.59
34.96 35.18 34.8
29.33 29.49 29.91
8.38 8.1 8.5
19.91 17.83 18.14

 

DAY 3 HURDLES:

Presenting Percy Nichols Canyon Let’s Dance
12.98 13.41
11.28 11.38
28.27 27.2
50.16 47.54
42.6 41.32 43.17
39.4 39.8 39.54
12.9 13.57 13.09
10.82 10.97 11
26.18 26.85 27.48
46.24 46.73 47.39
38.05 38.08 37.48
14.99 14.51 14.4

 

 

DAY 3 CHASES:

Yorkhill Un Se Sceaux Road To Respect Domesday Book
11.71
35.79
14.15
11.15
11
11.97 11.38 16.26
14.92 14 13.78 14.63
38.02 36.97 36.86 18.26
11.52 10.74 11.2 21.15
20.38 18.87 19.84 31.4
12.05 11.64 12.06 12.41
35.82 33.91 36.16 35.52
13.51 14.14 13.23 13.95
11.15 11.36 10.62 11.01
10.45 10.85 10.75 11.45
15.22 15.4 15.55 16.28
14 14.41 14.25 14.53
16.9 16.96 17.17 17.05
19.56 19.72 19.99 19.52
27.79 28.78 27.62 29.04
10.69 11.32 10.82 12.81
16.85 18 17.82 19.76

 

 

DAY 4 HURDLES:

Defi Du Seuil Arctic Fire Penhill Champagne Classic
13.54
11.19
28.01 9.94
49.75 39.73
43.95 45.5 42.55 46.69
38.41 37.79 40.32 40.73
12.9 13.49 12.97 13.22
10.69 10.5 10.95 10.81
25.84 26.92 26.14 26.52
46.12 46.15 45.44 46.44
39.42 36.97 37.99 38.06
14.72 13.99 13.85 14.47

 

DAY 4 CHASES:

Sizing John Pacha Du Polder Rock The World
11.92 11.63
34.35 34.97
13.82 14.1
11.13 11.33
10.69 11.11
14.93 15.59
14.11 14.67
17.1 17.34
20.63 20.88 11.38
30.79 30.9 19.98
12.26 11.69 12.32
34.01 34.55 33.9
13.43 13.91 13.37
10.8 10.82 10.81
10.26 10.86 10.88
15 15.06 15.18
14.27 14.4 13.96
16.24 17.41 16.46
19.56 19.55 19.11
27.81 28.57 27.27
11.45 11.74 10.83
17.6 18.45 16.53

 

STAYERS HURDLE PREVIEW – NICHOLS CANYON CAN SERVE IT UP TO THE FAVOURITE

Next on the preview list is the Stayer’s Hurdle, where until last night I was planning to write about reluctantly admitting UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (170) was basically as solid as they come and as equally an uninspiring a selection.  Up until last night I was going to say he probably should be odds on, so any odds against was a value bet to take.  But up until last night I didn’t believe NICHOLS CANYON (172) was likely to run.

 Let’s start with the favourite.  UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (170) won the Albert Bartlett last year over this course in a race I didn’t rate too highly but this season he reappeared and put in a stunning display at Newbury where he earned the rating I have given him.  He just seems the type of horse you want for this race in he just gets the job done, something akin to Big Buck’s in style (if not quite that class).  However, his last two runs have seen him return figures a bit below that Newbury run so it was in the back of my mind if he was up to that standard still and as a nine year old I was keen to find something to take him on.

 That was proving a problem as I couldn’t see something in the line-up that had it in them to take on the favourite and potentially record a 170+ number likely needed to accomplish the take.  BALLYOPTIC (164), LIL ROCKERFELLER (163), SHANESHILL (161), AGRAPART (160), COLE HARDEN (158), CLONDAW WARRIOR (156), JEZKI (155) all seemed to have plenty to find to challenge the favourite.  But then last night Graham Wylie intimated that NICHOLS CANYON (172) was now a likely runner in the race, and he can serve it up to the favourite….and beat him.

 Nichols Canyon is one of the most underrated horses in training, yet he has won seven grade ones (that is not a typo) and beaten the monster Faugheen.  People always crab that run, saying Faugheen was below his best but the clock doesn’t back that up and when he gets his conditions Nichols Canyon is a seriously top class horse.  Let me explain those conditions…

 He was previously with John Gosden on the flat and is in fact one of the highest rated flat horses to go jumping that I can find, and his form on the flat gives us clues as to his preferences.  In nine runs on the flat he encountered soft ground or worse 3 times, winning twice and finishing runner-up in a Group 3 on his one defeat.  On the other six occasions he encountered a sounder surface he failed to win.  So that is our first clue….soft ground.  Sure nothing ground breaking there, but he also ran with credit in the two mile Queens Vase at Royal Ascot (on better ground in fact) and the old adage dictates that if you get two miles on the flat you will be a stayer over obstacles.  So this led me to thinking at looking at his form with the criteria of including runs on softer ground over 2 miles or more, but allowing for runs over more than 2 miles on better ground.  In effect we are dismissing his runs over 2 miles on good ground with the belief that a) he prefers softer ground, and b) wants further.  Over 2 miles on soft ground his stamina can come into play, and similarly over further on better ground there is less emphasis on pace….on 2 miles on better ground I believe he just gets a bit outpaced.  The final caveat I wanted to look at was based off his aggressive running style, and running big speed figures leading me to believe he takes a lot out of himself in his runs.  So, I allowed for him having a 30 day rest in between his runs as well and then looked at his form.

 In these conditions Nichols Canyon is nigh on unbeatable.  Namely with a 30 day break in soft ground over 2 miles or more, or over more than 2 miles in better ground.  He has raced under these conditions 8 times, winning 7 of them with his one defeat when finishing third in a farcical renewal of the Neptune where he got outpaced in a sprint finish by Windsor Park (a horse he beat on his previous start).  Furthermore, the last 4 of his wins in such conditions have all been in grade 1 races.  He won Grade 1s at the Aintree and Punchestown festivals on better ground over 2.5m so this gives me optimism for his ability to handle better ground over a longer trip where the pace isn’t as fast.

 This season he put up a stunning performance beating Jer’s Girl at Punchestown on his comeback in soft ground over 2 miles…he just galloped them into submission here and the trainers post-race comments all emphasised his stamina.  In short he is a horse who can sustain this sort of relentless gallop for longer than most horses.  On better ground he can be a bit outpaced but on soft ground or over a trip he can just gallop horses into the ground.  His next two runs have seen his critics reappear but these runs were on better ground over two miles and he couldn’t go the pace to match the well fancied Champion Hurdler Petit Mouchoir.

 Should he turn up in the Stayer’s Hurdle he will not have run for 44 days and comes there fresher than he has on his last two Cheltenham festival appearances where he has finished third in both the Neptune and Champion Hurdle.  There is as ever a caveat or two and I would be concerned about his fall last time out having left its mark, and there is an argument for his preference to go right handed.  He jumps to his right at times, and his form at right-handed tracks over jumps reads 11111, but this is quite a lazy approach I think as he has won Grade 1s at Leopardstown and Aintree so I prefer my deeper analysis to his form.

 In short, he comes here a fresh horse and steps up to a trip that should suit regardless of the ground in my opinion (though any juice in the ground the better).  If he had turned up in a very soft ground Champion Hurdle I would fancy him but it sounds like the intention is to run here, and at 12/1 he is a monstrous price.

  1. Nichols Canyon
  2. Unowhatimeanharry
  3. Shaneshill

LET TOM GEORGE PUT YOU IN BOOKIES BAD BOOKS IN THE CHAMPION CHASE

With only Leopardstown on Sunday to look forward to this weekend, I thought I’d have a quick look at the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.  It perplexes me that a lot of people seem very bored with this race, you hear a lot of commentary on this being a procession for Douvan, yawn, what a dull race.  For me this is by far the best race to be playing in antepost this season at Cheltenham, and in fact is the only race I have a meaningful position in at this stage.

Let’s start by highlighting the only reason for me to have an antepost bet namely what I am I getting NOW that won’t be available on the day.  For many the obvious angle in antepost betting is the bigger price angle, and sure there is the possibility of this, but you take the risk of getting a non- runner on the day as a result.  For me you need more than just the bigger price to be getting involved and the key here is the place terms offered on such bets.  Now this approach will not make you very popular with your bookie, but who wants to be in his good books anyway?!

The Champion Chase for me this season is the one of the best antepost markets I have seen for a long time.  At the time of writing there are 20 entries for the race, but by my research I think we are due a 5-7 runner field on the day.  Now you can currently bet antepost each way first 3 places, yet should this predicted small field arrive on the day you will only get 2 places….in other words you are likely getting something NOW that won’t be available on the day.  With the favourite being such a short price, this race becomes even more appealing as an antepost proposition.

The obvious place to start is with DOUVAN (180+), as the red hot favourite.  I’m not going to suggest he doesn’t win the race, but you never know in jump racing, and with the way the race is shaping up there is a prospect for some decent antepost value to be had in the place terms.  But let’s be clear in stating that he is a superstar and capable of registering stratospheric numbers on the clock.

FOX NORTON (168) is a best priced 10/1 NRNB, and he would be the usual first port of call when looking for an each way bet in this sort of race.  However, he sustained a bad cut at Cheltenham in November and ran poorly on his comeback run at Newbury.  Combine this with the fact he may go for the longer Ryanair and he can be passed over for what we are looking for here.

I believe that you should let Tom George firmly put you in the bookies bad books with his pair of entries, namely GOD’S OWN (170) and SIR VALENTINO (170).  Available at 20/1 and 40/1 respectively, the place parts of these bets makes massive appeal to me.  The rest of the potential runners are much of a muchness but God’s Own has a decent record here being 2nd in an Arkle and 4th in a stronger renewal last year…and he comes alive on better ground.  He is the most underrated horse in training in my opinion having won 3 Grade 1 chases and at the prices he can make the frame.

His stable companion Sir Valentino is another that many overlook but his form makes him of interest to me.  He won the Haldon Gold Cup on his comeback run this season before finishing a close up 5th in the Tingle Creek.  He then went down by ½ length to SPECIAL TIARA (164) (who had optimum conditions) but was giving the winner 6lbs that day, and clouted the second last.  His form when having a break on good ground reads two wins from two starts including that Haldon Gold Cup victory and he can well outrun his odds to be in the frame in this race.

The other runner of interest to me is THE GAME CHANGER (165) who is a wild price at 100/1 for a confirmed runner who likes good ground.  He was 4th in the Arkle last year but was hampered on the run in and would likely have made the frame otherwise.  He has then chased Douvan around a few times and then probably been a bit over raced since.  But he has now had a break not having run yet this calendar year he comes here a fresh horse….with not much between the rest of the runners the place part of 100/1 is very big.

Of the rest Garde La Victoire is of interest but I haven’t seen anything to suggest he goes and likewise the Gary Moore duo of Sire De Grugy and Traffic Fluide both may not show and wouldn’t appeal much to me anyway with the first on the downgrade and the latter being so fragile.

So we could easily end up with a 6 or 7 runner field and if that is the case we could have 3 horses running for us at massive prices to fill two of the places behind Douvan.  For me it really is a no brainer to bet like this in this race (depending on your attachment to your online accounts) considering the chances that we are only fighting with a few other runners for those two places.  On the day it is likely you’ll only get paid for finishing second to Douvan so this is a market to play in now.  If you can get on the without Douvan market is also of interest.

Conclusion – DOUVAN is the superstar in the field but the two Tom George runners are decent horses who can fill the frame behind him in a favourable antepost market.  With the Game Changer another worth throwing a few quid at to fill the frame.

  1. Douvan
  2. God’s Own
  3. Sir Valentino

A FEW THOUGHTS ON RACE PACE, MOON RACER AND THE CHAMPION HURDLE

Been asked a few questions about timings and sectional analysis and thought I’d share an analogy that helped me grasp the effect of pace on a horse race and rating races where they have gone slowly and quickened at the end….which leads to a few thoughts on Moon Racer…and then the Champion Hurdle!

Imagine, for the sake of argument, I am racing Usain Bolt in a 100m sprint.  Although I am 32, I wouldn’t fancy my chances of getting much beyond halfway before Usain has crossed the line in just under 10s.  That would be an accurate reflection of his superiority over me in a 100m sprint.  Now let’s say when we next “clash” we walk the first 90m chatting about his gold medal exploits and then sprint the final 10m.  Sure, Usain would still win, but I would say I could get to maybe 6-7m by the time he crosses the line in our mini dash.  Anyone can go fully hell for leather for such a short distance and Usain wouldn’t be able to fully show how superior he is over such a short distance (I may be exaggerating my sprinting ability, but you get the idea!).

Now if we extrapolate the same theory to horses, imagine a race where horses of differing abilities crawl around for 90% of a race that then develops into a mini sprint finish…similar to mine and Usain’s over 10m.  A horse can run full speed over a short distance, almost regardless of ability and it takes some performance to show any sort of superiority.  An example of this was the recent Acapella Bourgeois race where they went so slowly for the first circuit, that the leader still had so much in reserve that the chasing pack couldn’t close on him.  Any horse could’ve been in the lead in that race and maintained the winning distance.

This leads me on to a horse that has caused us time geeks a lot of consternation this season….namely Moon Racer.  His last race at Cheltenham was run at such a crawl that they were 12s behind the winner of the Greatwood 3 out if their races had been run concurrently.  From there Moon Racer came home 3s quicker to the line.  There is no easy way to adjust Moon Racers rating into what he is off the back of that run; they just went too damn slow.  However, it is dangerous to let times dominate your analysis.  I gave him 125 but have developed a complicated way of accounting for this sort of run that makes me sure he is a 160+ horse.   And if we go back to the original example of Usain vs me, it is akin to how dominant Moon Racer was over his rivals that day, i.e. only an exceptional horse could’ve pulled clear the way the race was run.

With only two cracks of the whip, Moon Racer was able to bolt two lengths clear of the bunched pack.  Now remember what I said about any horse being able to run full power for a short distance after a slow pace… Mirsaale and Keep In Line were in that bunch with future Betfair Hurdle 1-2 Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes.  The fact that Moon Racer travelled so well, and with two cracks of the whip pulled clear of the chasing pack, shows just how superior he is compared to his rivals that day.  It is the equivalent of Usain putting a few metres between him and me over the 10m sprint after our 90m chit-chat.  Two lengths grossly underestimate just how far ahead Moon Racer is of the horses he beat that day…there just isn’t an easy way to massage the data to reflect it!

This is a horse whose only defeat has been to Blow By Blow in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown after a yearlong lay off.  That day he had future grade 1 winner Barcardys behind him in third, and the winner is undoubtedly a top class prospect.  He won a vintage renewal of the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham (Yanworth in behind) and the fact he pulled clear of the 1-2 in the most expensive handicap hurdle off a ludicrously slow pace IS impressive.

There is of course a caveat…now in his 8th year his next run will be only the 7th of his life.  Not a huge fan of the older horses don’t do well in the Supreme stat…this is based off a small sample and in fact there have been 7 and 8 year old winners previously.  If I were connections though, I’d go for the Champion Hurdle, it’s an open renewal and they may not get a better chance to win the race.  He won a top class renewal of the bumper off a similarly long layoff, and can win an average renewal of the Champion.

Leading on from this I thought I’d give a quick run through some of the ratings and thoughts I have on the Champion Hurdle protagonists.

BRAIN POWER (164) – an impressive winner of two handicap hurdles this season, with the clock backing up the visual impression he made.  Big concern that he ran poorly over C&D in the Greatwood though, and even in an average renewal he doesn’t strike me as the winner of this.

BUVEUR D’AIR (160+) – reverting back from fences, he cruised through his hurdle comeback to cosily beat a solid yardstick.  Third in a vintage Supreme last year, it is easy to see why connections wanted to have a go at this with Altior and Yorkhill in opposition in the novice chases.  Beaten horses in the supreme have come back the following year and won (Sublimity and Jezki) so he makes plenty of appeal.  Probably wants soft ground though and maybe a flatter track would be question marks at the price he is at this stage.

CH’TIBELLO (161) – placed behind Yanworth on his last two runs, I gave him a write up highlighting him being overpriced at 40s.  Interestingly he is now having a wind op, but is 50/50 to line up.  If he does and he recovers suitably and finds improvement he can cause a shock….but sounds like he waits for Punchestown, where he could cause that upset!

FOOTPAD (161) – ran on behind Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion, I can see him doing the same sort of thing in this race.  Probably wants further but can be in the first 5 or 6 here threatening most at the end.

JEZKI (155) – at his best he would be of massive interest but I can’t help thinking he isn’t the horse he was.  Won well enough on comeback but time was nothing to shout about that day, then hated the heavy ground behind Tombstone last time.  If finding his old form he could win but not for me.

MOON RACER (135+++) – as discussed his runs on the clock have been nothing of note this season but it was the fact he put clear distance between himself and the pack off a slow pace that impressed me.  His form is rock solid with Yanworth, Supasundae, Blow By Blow, Ballyandy and Movewiththeimes among the vanquished (that’s more than you can say for some in the field).  Chance he might not line up, but is capable of winning this in my eyes and at 8 years old surely it must be tempting to have a go.  To add to confidence he has raced three times on the old course and won all three.  Despite his times on the clock this season, he just hasn’t had the chance to show himself to be the 160+ (maybe even 170) horse I’m sure he is.

MY TENT OR YOURS (158) – gave him a rating of 167 in this last year, but unfortunately he seems to a horse on the decline now at 10.

NICHOLS CANYON (172) – ran a blistering time when winning on seasonal reappearance but has failed to spark in subsequent runs since.  Better on soft ground, and seems to have a preference for going right-handed it sounds like he isn’t going to run here.  If he did turn up and it was a bog he would be of major interest.

PETIT MOUCHOIR (166) – winner of two grade 1s on his last two starts he is on the face of it of obvious interest especially with the time backing up his performances.  However, his best form would look to be on flat tracks, and he was well down the field in the supreme last year so at the prices he doesn’t make too much appeal in my eyes.

SCEAU ROYAL (161) – will probably end up being the horse I rate the race through, as he seems to be a solid yardstick at this level, running to the same sort of level each time…which unfortunately is just below top class.

THE NEW ONE (166) – was very impressive in winning at Cheltenham in December, and seems to have found a new lease of life after suffering from kissing spines.  That win was on bad ground though and on the more stamina based new course, so there is a chance he wants further than this now, although at the prices he makes some appeal as an each way proposition.

WICKLOW BRAVE (?) – ran a huge number (168) in behind Nichols Canyon and Faugheen back in November 2015, before disappointing in the Fighting Fifth (think the run had taken it out of him that day).  Since then he has been campaigned on the flat and has won a Group 1 as well as running in the Melboure Cup.  Rated 115 on the flat he is an intriguing outsider at 33/1 as a former county hurdle winner.  In an open year, if he lines up he could cause a shock as he comes in well under the radar but could well be the classiest horse in the race.

YANWORTH (166) – three wins this season has seen him propelled to nearly favourite, and the clock backs this up.  Concerns for me are that in two runs over the old course he has been beaten, although in hot races, and this track is perhaps on the sharp side for him.  I would rate him bombproof to be in the first 3 and battling all the way to the line, but maybe finds one to good.

LIMINI (158) – needs to be supplemented but sounds like she will be, she was impressive when beating Apple’s Jade on her comeback and getting 7lbs in this race will put her amongst the protagonists.  However, there is a big question mark for me (kudos to Bernard Cullinane @JBCullinane for this) and that is the bounce factor.  She will reappear in this race just 20 days after her last run, and since joining Mullins her two defeats have come after 22 day breaks.  According to Bernard her sire is notorious for producing these types and this would be a concern for sure.

TOMBSTONE (158) – another that is apparently set to be supplemented, but seems a strange one.  Some of his novice hurdle performances would give him a chance in this but hard to see him featuring.

 

Conclusion – the most open renewal I can recall of this race, I wonder if this is ripe for something from left field to come and win.  If they elect to run him in a bizarre way MOON RACER would have fewer question marks than most.  He is unbeaten on the track and won the bumper off the long layoff he will have prior to this.  Petit Mouchoir and Buveur D’Air are perhaps better on flat tracks and time is catching up with Jezki, My Tent Or Yours and the New One.  Limini could bounce and Tombstone, Sceau Royal and Footpad would look short of what is required.  Brain Power has the rating to get involved, but his shocker in the Greatwood would worry me if taking a short enough price.  Of the ones at the head of the market Yanworth appeals as the most solid, but may get a bit outpaced.  How about with all the wild comings and goings, Mullins still has Wicklow Brave to run a stormer in the race?!

  1. Moon Racer
  2. Wicklow Brave
  3. Yanworth