CHELTENHAM 2018 REVIEW

CHELTENHAM DAY 1

HURDLES

NOVICE CROP LIVE UP TO THE BILLING

In the endless build up to this year’s festival, I found myself increasingly contemplating walking into the sea and not turning back as pundit after pundit lambasted the quality of this year’s novice hurdling division.  I’ve been keeping my own figures since 2009, and can safely say that in terms of strength in depth this is one of the deepest novice hurdling divisions I can recall.  When going back through the replays and times of this year’s Supreme then, I was happy to see this backed up as SUMMERVILLE BOY (162) put up a good performance on the clock to beat Betfair Hurdle winner KALASHNIKOV (162).

The other race on the card over the same distance was the Champion Hurdle and the direct comparison between the two races highlights the merit of this year’s novices.

Summerville Boy Buveur D’Air Difference
44.07 45.79 -1.72
91.64 92.38 -0.74
116.11 117.18 -1.07
137.53 139.14 -1.61
176.73 177.37 -0.64
195.01 195.68 -0.67
222.79 222.51 0.28
237.53 237.67 -0.14

As you can see from the above SUMMERVILLE BOY (162), when timed from the first jump, actually clocked a marginally quicker time than Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air.  They went much quicker earlier on in the Supreme, reaching the second 1.72s quicker, and this told in the latter stages as the Champion Hurdler runners made back time.

The faster earlier pace, meant that this was more of a stamina test, especially on heavier ground than normal.  Summerville Boy had previously clocked a good time when winning the Tolworth over two miles, and he clearly has scope to stay further.  Indeed, he made a mistake at the last here and still had enough in the tank to get by the runner-up up the hill.  There are plenty of 2.5m and 3m performers in his pedigree as well.

The owner has intimated that he is set to stay hurdling next season, and he can take high rank in that division.  Despite his two Grade 1 wins coming on bad ground, connections believe he will be even better on better ground.  That remains to be seen, but I would perhaps be worried about him in two miles races on good ground as he clearly stays well, and I would be wary of him getting outpaced.  If he is to do the rare Supreme/Champion Hurdle double, I would imagine he may need softer ground again or for the race to be run at a very fast pace.  Alternatively, they could look towards the Stayers Hurdle should they elect to not go straight over fences.  Wherever they decide to go with him though, he is one of the most exciting prospects around ahead of next year.

KALASHNIKOV (162) came very close to doing the “impossible” and coming to win a Grade 1 event off the back of a handicap run, but was unfortunate to bump into an exceptional winner.  He was also behind the winner in that hot Tolworth Hurdle, and were it not for Summerville Boy there would be a fair amount of hype building up about this guy.  Racing more prominently, and being quite keen, this was a huge run from him and continues the marked progression he has made this season.  I’ve rated his hurdle runs this year 146, 134, 150, 152 and now 162…..he is obviously going the right way!  He is from the family of Kicking King, and the trainer has intimated that chasing is going to be on the agenda next year.  He will no doubt take high rank in that division and, as with the winner, connections are entitled to have Gold Cup machinations on their mind down the line.

The front two pulled a few lengths clear of the pack, but that isn’t to say that the rest of the field aren’t worth discussing.  Far from it!!

In third was MENGLI KHAN (160) who had previously clocked a hot figure when winning the Royal Bond earlier in the season.  That run looked to have left its mark as he underperformed since then, but freshened up by his trainer, he bounced back here to run a huge race.  Seeing him up close for the first time, he is a massive horse, surprisingly considering he is flat bred.  Given his size, and connections, he may well go chasing, but I would be keen to see how he fares in open company over hurdles next season.  He got outstayed by the front two here, but perhaps on better ground and with less of a stamina test he can land a Grade 1 hurdle next year.  Indeed considering his size, and the fact he is only a five year old, I wouldn’t mind seeing him have a tilt at the Champion itself.

Fourth was PALOMA BLUE (158) who looks a lovely chasing prospect for next year, and would be at the forefront of my mind for the Arkle next year, as the bad ground probably counted against him more than any of the others in the race.  CLAIMANTAKINFORGAN (156) was fifth and coming from the point to point sphere, looks another nice prospect for novice chasing.

In sixth was WESTERN RYDER (153) who also was perhaps inconvenienced by bad ground here, and was hampered two out.  On better ground and with another year on his back I wouldn’t rule him out featuring in Grade 1 hurdles next season.  He was second, in a good time, behind Vinndication prior to this, and he could go under the radar considering he was “only” sixth here.  Another to bear in mind is LOSTINTRANSLATION (152) who was rated just 134 lining up here, but had clocked a good time when winning at Newbury in December (Black Op was 4th).  His mark will surely go up from here, but look out for him should he line up in a handicap hurdle, as he will likely still be ahead of his new mark.

 

BUVEUR D’AIR NOT AS GOOD AS LAST YEAR

Whilst the novice hurdling division looked hotter the more you looked at it, the Champion Hurdle division this year looked the opposite.  So it was no surprise to see last year’s winner BUVEUR D’AIR (166) go off the 4/6f this year, but it was perhaps a bit surprising to see him run so close by eventual runner-up MELON (166).

Plenty has already been said about the weakness of the two mile hurdling division this year, and Buveur D’Air had been beating up inferior rivals with the minimum of fuss prior to the this race.  I rated him 172 last year, so he hasn’t matched that on my figures, but this was heavy ground so perhaps that was a bit on an equaliser.  He goes into next year the favourite again, but with a plethora of novice hurdlers set to step into his yard I fancy he’ll have to be the 2017 Buveur D’Air to retain his crown for a third time.

(One thing to note with his run in comparison to Summerville Boy was the turn of foot he showed between two out and the last where he clocked a time of nearly a second quicker!  Also bear in mind they were carrying 3lbs more in weight in the Champion).

I confess having to eat a portion of humble pie with regards to MELON (166) who stepped up on his previous form to the tune of 10lbs to go agonisingly close here.  With the benefit of hindsight, this was just his seventh run over hurdles and he is trained by a master but even so this was a big step up in form.  Maybe he relished the heavy ground here (it was his first time on it) but it is probably more likely that Mullins just unlocked some improvement in the six year old and he had a decent pace to run in.  He probably didn’t act well in the hood last time as well.  Should connections elect to have another go at the Champion next year he looks to be the main Mullins two mile hurdler now.

MICK JAZZ (162) ran a fine race back in third, running to a similar mark to his previous efforts.  A strong traveller, he no doubt enjoyed the decent pace of this race but is just below the top grade in this division.

 

APPLE’S JADE FAILS TO FIRE

The shock on day 1 came as APPLE’S JADE (145) was beaten at short odds in the Mares Hurdle.  Despite this race being over further, the time of it was some way behind the two mile races.

Summerville Boy Buveur D’Air Benie Des Deux
176.73 177.37 181.82
60.8 60.3 62.89

For the sections they overlap, you can see that BENIE DES DEUX (147) got to the third last 5s slower than Summerville boy, but was still 2s slower from there.  And it was a similar story in the comparison with the Champion.

It has emerged that Apple’s Jade was in season, and this could explain her underperformance.  But I’ve been banging on endlessly about how she needs a run to be at her best, and the evidence for this does stack up.  She was racing here off nearly an 11 week break and since moving to Ireland she has now raced six times off a break of that or more, and her form now reads 122213.  Off the back of a recent run her form is 11211111, with her only defeat by a nose in the Fighting Fifth she should’ve won!

At her best I don’t think there is a hurdler around that could give her weight and a beating, so I’m already hoping to get inflated odds about her in her next run.  I’m hoping that will be in the Aintree Hurdle.  Much as I would love to have seen her go for the Irish Champion Hurdle and then the Champion this week, she does look at her absolute best over 2.5m, and she put up a remarkable performance when winning at Aintree as a four year old.  Should Buveur D’Air line up, I’d be keen on her chances of toppling him.  Though with an Irish trainer’s title battle at stake, she may well stay in Ireland, but wherever she goes next I will be with her….hopefully at a decent price!

CHASES

BRILLIANT FOOTPAD LANDS THE ARKLE…BUT HOW WILL HE COPE WITH BIGGER FIELDS?!

Despite the small field, the Arkle was one of the more intriguing clashes of the week, and duly saw one of the standout performances as FOOTPAD (172) slammed his rivals by fourteen lengths.

Footpad Coo Star Sivola Rathvinden Mister Whitaker
142.41 148.64 156.16 152.3
56.09 59.87 58.96 58.56

Timing the four races where they overlap (from the third in the two mile race) we can see just how much quicker Footpad was in comparison to the three other winners.  In a direct comparison with Mister Whitaker, he got to three out nearly 10s quicker, and still came home 2.5s faster!  Ok, the other races were all over further and of inferior quality, but even when adjusting for all this I still give Footpad a figure of 172, and it marks him down as a novice chaser of the highest quality.

Given how strongly run this race was I wouldn’t mind seeing the winner go up in trip from here.  On pedigree he can handle it, and with Min and Douvan around the trainer may elect to keep his chess pieces apart next year.  One caveat with him is that all his wins have come in small fields, with eight being the biggest field he’s contested successfully.  Whether that is just coincidence or a marked preference for him remains to be seen, but in fields of nine or more his form reads 723F243.  If connections have Gold Cups on their mind, I’d like to see him prove comfortable in a big field before getting with him.

Disappointment of the race was undoubtedly SAINT CALVADOS (109) who had put up some blistering performances on the clock this season, and with the ground going his way looked set to run a big race.  However, I’d said in the build-up that he had had three hard races in a short space of time – his three wins came on 30th Dec, 17th Jan, 10th Feb – and considering the manner of his running style and on soft ground they look to have left their mark.  I’d rated him on par with the winner here prior to this, and if they leave him off to come back a fresh horse next season I’d be wary of opposing him, especially on soft ground.  If he was mine, I’d pull stumps on this season and come back next year and go for the Tingle Creek first time up.  He’d be some sight round Sandown jumping from the front, and I’m not sure anything could live with him….Altior may be too far behind by the last for his turbo gear to make a difference!

 

CHELTENHAM DAY 2

HURDLES

SAMCRO SET TO BE ONE OF THE GREATS

I’ve probably bored people silly going on about SAMCRO (166) this season, but I’m not going to stop now as he put up a stunning display to win one of the hottest novice hurdles seen at Cheltenham.  Plenty were denigrating his run last time in comparison to the juveniles, but it was his Navan run prior to that where he put in a remarkable time.  It was the best figure I’ve given a novice hurdler pre-Cheltenham, and so it was with some relief that he went and delivered the goods in the Ballymore.  To put his figure in context here, I’ve only got Altior (168) ahead of him for novice hurdle performances at the Cheltenham festival….and there is some evidence he could’ve gone higher!!

First let’s look at the clock, and happily there is an easy comparison to make with the Coral Cup over the same course and distance.

Samcro Bleu Berry Difference
20.2 19.1 1.1
71.87 71.56 0.31
119.82 120.06 -0.24
168.29 169.8 -1.51
194.64 195.27 -0.63
217.1 217.69 -0.59
254.95 255.85 -0.9
271.49 273.17 -1.68
296.91 299.5 -2.59
311.41 313.94 -2.53

Despite a relatively slow early pace (they were 1.1s behind by the second), Samcro clocked a time 2.53s faster than Bleu Berry did in the Coral Cup, and did so despite carrying 5lbs more in weight, and losing a shoe!!!

Samcro Bleu Berry Veneer Of Charm
183.08 184.29 184.28
56.46 58.09 58.94

When we look at the three hurdle races as timed from the first in the two mile course, the merits of the Ballymore become even more obvious!  They were over a second quicker to three out, and still Samcro clocked a time 1.63s quicker than Bleu Berry to the line, and 2.48s quicker than Veneer Of Charm in the Fred Winter.  In the last comparison, Samcro went 4.5f further and carried 7lbs more in weight!!

Even more remarkable, as mentioned, he apparently lost a shoe, and considering this was on heavy ground and that he looked to be idling in front I’ve little doubt that on better ground and with his shoes still on, he could’ve clocked a 170+ number.  Quite simply, he is the most exciting horse we’ve seen.  This was a red hot renewal of the race, and he has travelled all over his rivals to win by three lengths.

Where he goes from here is just so exciting for a racing fan.  He’d have won the Champion Hurdle this year if they’d gone for it I think, so if they did decide to stay hurdling he will take all the beating there.  But considering his connections, he looks sure to go chasing, and I noted that in the immediate aftermath of the race Elliott said he wouldn’t be afraid to go back to two miles with him.  The fact that he was winning over 2m5f on heavy ground here then is even more meritorious.  I would imagine it will be a choice between Arkle and JLT next year…and then all roads will lead to the Gold Cup in 2020.  I think he’s going to be that once in a decade horse that Kauto Star was in the “noughties” and be capable of winning over all distances 2m to 3m+ at the top level.  Right now, if he stays sound, in the future he could well be heralded as one the great horses.

However, brilliant as Samcro is, that isn’t to overlook those he vanquished.  Plenty has been written about how well the Supreme that Altior won has worked out, and this race looks like being a similar type, if not better!

In second was BLACK OP (163) who in any normal year would’ve been a fine winner of this race, going in by five lengths!  He is unfortunate to bump into a freak, but do not underestimate him as he is progressing nicely and looks set to be a top novice chaser for connections.  He did win a bumper on good ground, but this year has looked comfortable on softer ground, and given how well he went up the hill here trips up to 3m look sure to suit, and he must rate a top RSA candidate for next year.

NEXT DESTINATION (158) was the second highest rated novice hurdler on my figures this season, but failed to fire to some extent here, staying on to finish third.  I had previously thought he could go well in a Supreme, but that looks well off the mark with how he got outpaced here only to stay on up the hill.  A point to point winner already, chasing and the three mile division would look to be on his agenda where he should clash with Black Op again.

One of the main horses I want to take out of the race is SCARPETA (158) who was prominent throughout the contest and ran a huge race to finish 4th.  Bought relatively cheaply, he is rated just 75 on the flat, where he was last seen finishing 4th in a Newmarket handicap over two miles.  Given that background and how well he ran here on heavy ground, this looks a live contender for the Stayers Hurdle next season.  His form on the flat came on better ground, and considering he got 2m there, should find 3m well within his compass next season.  The three mile hurdling division is wide open, but I think this five year old could step up and mix it in that division.  This was just his third run over hurdles, and he’s clocked a figure of 158.  That he’s a flat bred horse with form on better ground, the fact he’s done this over 2.5m on heavy is very encouraging for his future in staying hurdles.  In the meantime that flat mark of 75 looks….lenient!

DUC DES GENIEVRES (157) and VISION DES FLOS (156) were 5th and 6th but still merit big figures from me based on the strength of the race.  Both of them are only five year olds, and with another years on their backs look fine prospects for next season.

 

CHASES

ALTIOR SHOWS THAT TURN OF FOOT AGAIN

There are only two races over fences on Day 2, but they saw two of the best performances of the week.  Starting with the Champion Chase, we saw ALTIOR (180) prove his wellbeing after an interrupted campaign by clocking an excellent figure.

Presenting Percy Altior Difference
8.59 8.25 -0.34
32.16 30.69 -1.47
53.74 51.75 -1.99
67.86 65.49 -2.37
80.48 77.85 -2.63
92.9 90.27 -2.63
112.63 109.59 -3.04
149.53 147.18 -2.35
178.9 178.02 -0.88
186.72 186.14 -0.58
206.12 202.84 -3.28

Comparing with the RSA won by Presenting Percy for where the two races overlap, we can see that at one stage Altior was 3.04s ahead, but that the RSA winner had regained most of this ground back to be just 0.58s behind at the last.  Altior then kicked in the turbo drive and came home in 16.7s vs 19.4s for Presenting Percy.  To highlight this even more, Footpad clocked 18.03 for the same stretch the day before!

This does now seem to be the nature of the way Altior races.  He seemed to get a bit outpaced at one stage, being niggled along but then finds this incredible turn of foot at the end of his race to win powering away.  The way he runs and the fact he did this on soft ground, would scream out that he should go up in trip.  I would imagine this may well get tested in something like the Melling Chase at Aintree.  Henderson did the same thing with Sprinter Sacre, and on the long flat run in, the turn of foot that Altior has could be something to behold, especially on better ground!

It could be though that it is only at two miles that he can unleash this turn of foot, and that over 2.5m he may not have so much in reserve.  I’d like to see them try though, but either way he is one of the best two mile chasers we have seen.

MIN (172) can count himself unfortunate, as were it not for the winner he would now be a dual festival winner himself.  He is a good horse in his own right, and I’ve now rated him 172 a number of times, so that would suggest is the level he is at.  A free going sort, he looks set to contest all the top two mile chases his connections see fit.

I was surprised to see DOUVAN (?) line up after a year off, but he looked to be going well before crashing out four out.  No one can say with any certainty how things would’ve panned out, indeed it is perfectly possible that having been off for some time he would’ve been fairly beaten by the end of the race.  However, at his best I’ve clocked Douvan at 186, and based on that he would have the beating of Altior.  If he gets a cleaner run to the race next year their clash could be a classic, though connections have intimated stepping up in trip is an option.  Wherever, he goes, let’s hope they can get him back to his peak as at that level he may well be the best around.

 

PRESENTING PERCY A LIVE GOLD CUP CANDIDATE

There had been plenty of talk about the campaign that PRESENTING PERCY (173) had in the run-up to the RSA, and I confess to being in the camp that wasn’t a fan of it.  It goes to show how much I know, as he went on to win the RSA in a fine manner, and step up markedly on some of the figures I’d given him previously.

Presenting Percy was 3s behind Altior in the comparison at one stage, but fairly turned on the taps as he was just 0.58s behind at the last.  Unsurprisingly he doesn’t have the Champion Chasers turn of foot, especially after going a mile further, but it was still an excellent run and he rates a fine winner of the RSA (I had Might Bite 176 last year by way of comparison).

He looks to have all the makings of a Gold Cup candidate for next year having now won twice at the festival, and with proven stamina having won of 3m5f earlier in the season.

He could well renew rivalry with MONALEE (166) who ran a fine race in his own right, but couldn’t match the winner in the latter stages.  Perhaps better ground would see him close the gap, but he will still be up to contesting all the top three mile races next year.

 

CHELTENHAM DAY 3

HURDLES

FARCICAL PACE LEAVES PLENTY OF QUESTIONS UNANSWERED IN STAYERS HURDLE

There was a ridiculously slow pace seen in the Stayers Hurdle this year, and it leaves the race difficult to weigh up going forward.

Delta Work Penhill Difference
14.44 15.5 1.06
26.43 28.18 1.75
56.99 59.46 2.47
109.79 112.87 3.08
153.84 158.46 4.62
196.01 204.01 8
210 218.57 8.57
221.74 230.76 9.02
249.73 260.76 11.03
297.82 308.69 10.87
337.51 346.28 8.77
351.47 360.65 9.18

The Pertemps is over the same course and distance and was won by DELTA WORK (150), and the comparison above just shows the extent of how slowly run the Stayers Hurdle was.  By three out they were 11.03s behind!  From there they did make up nearly 2s in time, but even adjusting for that I still can’t give a decent rating to the winner.

Unsurprisingly, it was like a cavalry charge up the hill with almost everything in with a chance.  But it was PENHILL (143+) who emerged victorious after a year off.  He has now won his last four starts off a break of 11 weeks or more, and has only met defeat on an undulating track over hurdles at Punchestown last year when finishing second.

SUPASUNDAE (141+) was second and considering this was slowly run on heavy ground still leaves questions as to whether he truly gets three miles.

SAM SPINNER (137+) was the guilty party in setting the crawl from the front, and one can’t help but feel that he should’ve taken things up sooner.  There were plenty of pacey two and half milers in behind him on the run to the line, and he just got swamped by them.

LAURINA WOULD’VE GONE CLOSE IN THE SUPREME

I’m not going to get into the debate on whether the race should exist or not, but regardless of that LAURINA (155) put up a fine performance in winning the Mares Novice Hurdle.

Delta Work Penhill Laurina
143.98 150.23 141.41
53.65 51.96 57.02

As you can see they went a much stronger pace in the shorter race, unsurprisingly, reaching two out 2.5s quicker than they did in the Pertemps for the same stretch.  Laurina came home slower from there, but was heavily eased in the closing stages and could’ve gone much faster if required.  I’ve allowed for a degree of this and awarded her a figure of 155 as a result.

She’d have been getting 7lbs from the boys in the Supreme and that would appear to be sufficient to see her go close in that race.  With the program around for mares at the moment, she may not tackle the geldings, but if she did she is capable to mixing it with them based on this run.

CHASES

IS BALKO DES FLOS A GOLD CUP HORSE?

I copped a fair amount of abuse in maintaining that UN DE SCEAUX (170) should’ve gone for the Champion Chase this season. (“You really are clueless” was a personal favourite).  So it was with a degree of smugness that I watched the Ryanair unfold with BALKO DES FLOS (174) emerging victorious.

Going back to Un De Sceaux first.  We are always being told that the plethora of entries given to horses, Mullins in particular, is to keep all the options open so they can be flexible should conditions and situations change.  Now, Un De Sceaux is a freak of nature on heavy ground… I’m not sure anything can go with him in such conditions OVER TWO MILES.  Entering him in the Champion Chase always seems a folly, given conditions invariably come up on the good side.  So, given we saw a rarest of race occurrences, and a heavy ground festival materialised, why wasn’t Un De Sceaux reverted to the Champion?!  They will never get another chance to win the race with him again.

I know Mullins has Douvan and Min for the race, but they are in different ownership.  Surely it should be down to what suits each horse best, and not for the trainer to maximise their own chances of winning more races?!  I’ll finish my rant there, but I must say if I was the owner of Un De Sceaux I would question why he was ever entered for the Champion in the first place given his conditions came up and he still didn’t run!!!  He probably wouldn’t have beaten Altior, but the race would’ve been a different affair altogether with him blasting off from the front and playing catch me if you can over two miles.

He was of course the defending Ryanair Champion, but won the race last year on better ground, and given how exuberant he is in his races he got found out here on soft ground at this distance.  He still ran a good race mind, and would’ve won but for bumping into a horse going right to the top in my view.

Shattered Love Balko Des Flos The Storyteller
224.11 220.52 226.17
77.33 81.08 81.08

You can see how much quicker they went in the Ryanair from the above comparisons with the other two races over similar distances on the card.  Balko Des Flos reached four out 5.65s quicker than The Storyteller did in the Plate, and still came home in the same time from there and carried 6lbs more.  He was 3.59s quicker to four out, and then 3.75s slower than Shattered Love was in the JLT, but she was carrying 13lbs less in weight, and running over a furlong less.

Putting all the data together, and I reach a figure of 174 for Balko Des Flos.  I’d rated him 169 when he was just touched off in the Christmas Chase over 3m, and he is clearly at the top table of chasers around.

I’d like to see him have another go at three miles, as he ran so well here at a fast pace on soft ground over 2m5f.  On better ground he is capable of being in the Gold Cup picture.  He is now a festival winner, and being only a seven year old may still have some improvement to come.  He travelled all over this field having gone a fast pace, and looks right out of the top drawer to my eye.  Looking at his pedigree I noticed the dam is a half-sister to a 3m4f hunter chase winner, so there is stamina in his genes.  Given this year’s Gold Cup was a brutal race that may have bottomed a few horses, there only looks to be Footpad and Presenting Percy coming out of the novice chase division capable of mixing it in a Gold Cup.  I certainly wouldn’t underestimate Balko Des Flos should he go that route.

AND GIGGINSTOWN MAY HAVE THE NEXT RYANAIR WINNER IN SHATTERED LOVE!

As you could see from the previous sectional splits, SHATTERED LOVE (166) came home much quicker from four out when landing the JLT.  This is to expected given how much quicker they went in the Ryanair, but her time is still very favourable when compared to the plate, and merits a mark of 166.

She has now won five of her six chase starts, with her one defeat coming against Jury Duty when going down by just three quarters of a length.  She is clearly a good mare, and could well find herself defending the Gigginstown crown in the Ryanair next season.  Her best form does seem on softer ground though so she may always need that to be at her optimum.

That said though, there were decent horses in this field who couldn’t give her weight and given she is such a big horse, it may prove difficult to concede her weight in the future.  TERREFORT (165) was unfortunate to bump into the winner and comes out close on the figures when adjusting for the weight.  This was just his third start in this country and still only five years old he looks to have an exciting future ahead of him.

BENATAR (161) ran a fine race considering how keen he was in the early stages and he looks one to be with going forward.  I’d say the same about KEMBOY (159) who matched the figures I’ve previously given him.  Rated just 145 prior to this, he could be one to land a nice handicap chase at some point.

It was also good to see FINIAN’S OSCAR (158) get somewhat back on track.  I don’t think he’ll live up to the hype that has previously been thrown his way, but he is still a good horse, though may be a notch below Grade 1.

Back in seventh was BIGMARTRE (148) who I’d rated highly on his Newbury win earlier in the season.  I’m not sure Cheltenham is his track, and I’d still keep him in mind for the Manifesto Chase at Aintree that the trainer won with Arzal.

 

CHELTENHAM DAY 4

HURDLES

NO CHAMPIONS IN THIS TRIUMPH

It has proved nigh on impossible for juveniles to step up into the Champion Hurdle picture the following season, and it doesn’t look like that trend is going to end this time as FARCLAS (152) reversed form with MR ADJUDICATOR (150).

Farclas Mohaayed Difference
48.29 46.98 1.31
91.3 91.29 0.01
105.02 105.44 -0.42
116.1 117.06 -0.96
144.78 145.01 -0.23
192.73 193.25 -0.52
232.38 232.9 -0.52
247.83 248.56 -0.73

 As you can see from the above comparison with the County Hurdle winner Mohaayed, Farclas clocked a time just 0.73s faster, and did so carrying 3lbs more in weight.  But Mohaayed was winning (a relatively poor) a handicap hurdle off a mark of 139 and with that in mind I can only rate him 152, in line with his previous run.  He’s going to have to step up markedly next season to tackle the existing hurdlers and the red hot novices that stick around.  The same problem will go for Mr Adjudicator.

APPLE’S SHAKIRA (137) ran in line with some of the previous figures I’d given her.  Even getting weight I only had her in amongst the rest of her rivals based on what they’d done prior to this.  Ultimately, I don’t think she’s that good, though it would look that a step up in trip should suit her.

On a personal note, I was disappointed that SUSSEX RANGER (77) failed to land a blow.  He looked on edge in the preliminaries, got quite warm and raced keenly after flattening the first hurdle.  He has clocked a number that would’ve seen him go close in this race and I’d hope that he may get back on track at Aintree.  Indeed, the long run in could see this relentless galloper to best effect.

ALBERT BARTLETT A STRANGE RACE….AGAIN!

I stopped punting on the Albert Bartlett a few years ago, as it just seems a race that throws up wild results year on year.  The theory doing the rounds this year was to go for the experienced horse in the line-up.  KILBRICKEN STORM (145) came through to win on his 5th start over hurdles….though there were plenty more experienced rivals in the race.  This race was run at a fast early pace (I’ll put the figures in the appendix), and the leader emptied on the run up the hill to give way to the eventual winner.  What the form is worth considering how the race unfolded I wouldn’t want to guess.

CHASES

NATIVE RIVER WINS BRUTAL GOLD CUP

The Gold Cup this year largely turned into a duel between NATIVE RIVER (180) and MIGHT BITE (176) that will live in the memory.  The merits of the run are obvious on the clock:

Native River Pacha Du Polder Le Prezien
12.72 12.88 12.6
50.15 50.85 49.51
64.33 66.09 64.43
a75.54 77.79 75.91
86.78 89.11 87.67
102.39 105.6 103.57
117.28 120.85 119.05
134.65 139.29 137.09
155.25 161.27 158.14
184.27 192.45 187.76
195.95 205.16 200.38
215.39 225.08 218.91

 

Where all three races overlap, Native River still clocked a 3.52s quicker time that Le Prezien did for winning the Grand Annual, despite racing 10f further and carrying 2lbs more in weight.  He actually got to the last 4.43s quicker!  It was a savagely run race.

That said though, I think on better ground the placings would be reversed.  Native River thrives in soft ground, and this was his 4th win on the bounce under such conditions.  He was just touched off in the four miler two years ago and has won a Welsh National and a Hennessy, so his stamina came into play here as he galloped his rivals into submission.  It was a brilliant performance.

However, do not underestimate what this will have taken out of the winner.  He looks set to be put away for the season and that looks sensible to me, as this must’ve taken its toll.  Should he come back next season and get soft ground again he will be the one to beat.

MIGHT BITE (176) looked to have the measure of the winner but couldn’t pick up in the bad ground after the last.  He would’ve been suited by better ground, and I think would’ve won had such conditions prevailed.  Alas, they didn’t, and unfortunately he will be a ten year old next season.  Brilliant as he is, I can’t help but feel the Gold Cup might have slipped through their fingers.  Like the winner, do not underestimate the lasting effect this race will have on the horse.

That then follows for the rest of the horses.  ANIBALE FLY (172) ran a big race, and would look attractively weighted in the National, but I’d worry about him backing that up.  And ROAD TO RESPECT (168) ran a fine race on ground that probably didn’t suit.  He is just seven years old so may be able to come back for another crack if minded.

I think the one thing to take away from this Gold Cup is given how savagely it was run (it was 14.76s quicker than the Foxhunters) that one should be wary about how horses come out of the race.  Footpad, Presenting Percy and Balko Des Flos look the ones around to step up should places be vacated.

 

Appendix

I’ve attached all the raw data I’ve taken if you want to play around with the figures yourself.  Note these time the winner from the first flight in their respective races.

Summerville Boy Buveur D’Air Benie Des Deux
    11.24
    42.84
44.07 45.79 49.17
47.57 46.59 47.77
24.47 24.8 25.62
21.42 21.96 21.18
39.2 38.23 38.08
18.28 18.31 17.75
27.78 26.83 28.8
14.74 15.16 16.34

 

Footpad Coo Star Sivola Rathvinden Mister Whitaker
    13.14  
    15.76  
    42.21  
    12.17  
    26.49  
  7.98 9.13  
  23.65 24.24  
  22.39 22.58  
  15.12 15.75  
  13.45 13.95 12.58
  13.13 13.3 15.79
  20.58 20.54 41.16
11.26 39.86 40.25 12.91
23.31 34.63 34.15 25.88
8.15 8.65 9.15 9.32
21.28 22.39 23.87 23.67
19.66 20.73 22.13 21.95
13.59 14 14.58 14.67
12.34 12.95 13.04 13.33
11.79 12.91 13.36 12.68
18.99 19.88 20.62 19.97
36.61 37.13 39.41 36.71
30.18 31.62 32 31.8
7.88 8.58 8.64 8.66
18.03 19.67 18.32 18.1

 

Samcro Bleu Berry Veneer Of Charm
20.2 19.1  
51.67 52.46  
47.95 48.5 46.19
48.47 49.74 49.25
26.35 25.47 26.78
22.46 22.42 22.94
37.85 38.16 39.12
16.54 17.32 17.09
25.42 26.33 27.05
14.5 14.44 14.8

 

Presenting Percy Altior
23.46  
22.18  
14.23  
13.08  
12.94  
20.19  
37.68 10.85
33.06 23.21
8.59 8.25
23.57 22.44
21.58 21.06
14.12 13.74
12.62 12.36
12.42 12.42
19.73 19.32
36.9 37.59
29.37 30.84
7.82 8.12
19.4 16.7

 

Delta Work Penhill Laurina
14.44 15.5  
11.99 12.68  
30.56 31.28  
52.8 53.41  
44.05 45.59 47.73
42.17 45.55 42.2
13.99 14.56 13.79
11.74 12.19 11.19
27.99 30 27.72
48.09 47.93 46.51
39.69 37.59 40.72
13.96 14.37 16.3

 

Shattered Love Balko Des Flos The Storyteller Missed Approach
      11.45
      37.63
      14.9
      12.28
      12.2
  12.77 12.44 17.39
15.32 16.16 15.59 16.01
41.47 41.05 40.88 18.48
12.13 11.99 12.62 22.27
21.28 20.26 21.28 32.95
12.62 12.07 12.59 13.36
36.84 35.82 37.64 39.02
14.28 13.86 14.38 15.02
11.49 11.51 11.36 12.34
10.79 11.01 11.45 11.57
15.67 15.77 16.04 17.12
14.45 14.38 14.86 15.35
17.77 16.64 17.48 18.57
19.6 19.97 20.54 21.34
28.37 29.23 29.84 30.11
11.44 12.08 12.09 12.06
17.92 19.8 18.61 18.38

 

 

Farclas Mohaayed Kilbricken Storm Blow By Blow
    14.6  
    12.03  
    30.12 10.78
    51.86 42.65
48.29 46.98 43.31 50.46
43.01 44.31 42.38 44.75
13.72 14.15 14.07 15.13
11.08 11.62 11.72 12.34
28.68 27.95 28.79 29.63
47.95 48.24 49.24 49.54
39.65 39.65 41.9 40.41
15.45 15.66 16.37 15.9

 

 

Native River Pacha Du Polder Le Prezien
12.56 12.74  
37.71 38.13  
15.26 15.4  
11.84 12.87  
11.45 11.48  
16.2 16.91  
15.54 16.34  
17.96 18.22  
22.22 23.03 11.77
32.26 32.95 20.67
12.72 12.88 12.6
37.43 37.97 36.91
14.18 15.24 14.92
11.21 11.7 11.48
11.24 11.32 11.76
15.61 16.49 15.9
14.89 15.25 15.48
17.37 18.44 18.04
20.6 21.98 21.05
29.02 31.18 29.62
11.68 12.71 12.62
19.44 19.92 18.53

 

 

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CHAMPION HURDLE PREVIEW

Looking at the Champion Hurdle entries for this year I can’t help having a similar feeling to last years Champion Chase.  Every pundit you read or listened to last year was lambasting the Champion Chase as terrible outside the favourite and not worth any punter looking at.  I wrote at the time that I found this slightly confusing as with an odds on favourite and the potential each way implications for a race that could cut up it seemed to me like a very appealing race to get involved in from an antepost perspective.  This years Champion Hurdle looks very similar to me…. we have a short odds on favourite that no one can see getting beaten, and it being largely dismissed as a betting proposition.

To my eye though looking at the entries, we are looking at maximum field of 10 and there is the chance that it could cut up to 7 or less by the off.  That makes it top priority for me when looking at Cheltenham antepost races!

Let’s go through the runners… (I’ve listed their best rating this season first, and their best ever after)

BUVEUR D’AIR (154,172) – The defending Champion was a brilliant winner last year and is the short odds on favourite to go in again this season.  Similar to Douvan last year if he’s at his best and runs to it on the day, he will win.  But, these are still animals and not machines so let’s see if we can find an angle in.

His only defeat over hurdles has come at the hands of Min and Altior in the hot Supreme from 2016, so we can tenuously take some comfort in the fact he has lost on this course. This season he has run three times in very slowly run races on soft ground beating a total of nine rivals.  In the Champion he’ll likely face the quickest ground he’s raced on this season and as many rivals as his previous three runs combined!  Henderson is on record as saying he takes plenty of work and is it perhaps possible that the ease with which he is winning could be detrimental come the big day?!

FAUGHEEN (165,179) – That 179 figure came in his Irish Champion Hurdle romp a few years ago and I don’t think it’s being controversial to suggest that he won’t be running to that mark again.  I have rated him 165 on his run behind Supasundae and that is probably as good as he is now.  That is actually the clear best piece of two mile form this season and at a general 6/1 for the Champion now I am probably keener on his chances than many are.  However, he is now ten and I can’t help but think that they had him cherry ripe for the Irish Champion and I’m not sure how much more will be left in the tank considering the issues he’s had in the past.  Also, I feel he may now be better on softer ground and I wonder whether he may end up getting taken off his feet in the big race.

MY TENT OR YOURS (149,166) – A year older than Faugheen the old stager My Tent Or Yours comes back for another crack at the Champion.  Second in a Supreme and two Champions it was nice to see him gain a success at the track (albeit on the New Course) in December.  That was a slowly run affair though and he was getting weight from most of his rivals.  Now he’s eleven I’d be inclined to look beyond him this year.

MELON (154,156) – Was a big talking horse last year and posted a big figure on debut, but for me he hasn’t really progressed from that.  I’m inclined to think the figures he’s been running to are just as good as he is and with that in mind I can leave him alone at the prices.

WICKLOW BRAVE (-,168) – One of my favourite horses in training I actually backed him for this race last year, and was feeling pretty smug as he travelled well down the hill but hope soon turned to despair as he faded into 7th.  Of course he then came out and won the Punchestown Champion with a front running ride!  He is again going to come here fresh (if at all) and his form off a ten week plus break reads 915027 with the only victory coming in a maiden hurdle when sent of 2/5.  With that in mind I’m going to reluctantly pass him over, and he’s been found already this year given he is a best price of 20s.

ELGIN (155,155) – 7th in last year’s Supreme he has been a good horse for connections this season in landing a Greatwood and Kingwell Hurdle.  However, I’ve only been able to rate him 155 and that doesn’t scream Champion Hurdle contender to me, for all that this is an open year behind the favourite.

MICK JAZZ (160,160) – The horse that picked up the Grade 1 hurdle at Christmas when Faugheen bombed he was then third behind that horse and Supasundae in the Irish Champion.  I’ve rated him as a 160 horse and that puts him in the mix regarding the field in this race.  Since moving to Elliott he hasn’t been out of the first three over two miles and was in fact only a length and three quarters behind Labaik in a novice hurdle last year.  Still only seven and with the potential for better ground suiting he is a strong traveller that is of definite interest at 33/1.

CH’TIBELLO (146,161) – Was another that I’d backed at big prices last year only for him to be ruled out on the morning of the race.  He’d run some big figures in defeat last year but unfortunately hasn’t reached the same heights this year on my numbers.  There is the chance that better ground will suit him come the big day but I’d be inclined to say that injury and preparation have meant that he isn’t quite as good as last year this time round.

VERDANA BLUE (155,155) – With Apple’s Jade set to go for the Mares Hurdle, her sex looks set to be represented by Verdana Blue.  She was actually fourth in last years Mares Novice Hurdle and has run to a decent level this season in good two mile handicaps.  Getting 7lbs from the boys puts her in the mix for this race and her run last time out gives some cause for optimism as she travelled well but couldn’t pick up in the bad ground at Newbury.  All her wins have come on good and good to soft ground and with that in mind she is worth considering for all that she had a hard race last time out.

JOHN CONSTABLE (150,160) – One of the horses to race against the favourite this year, John Constable is an interesting contender for this race.  He was 6th behind My Tent Or Yours in the International and then runner-up when chasing Buveur D’Air at Sandown.  But both those races were on soft ground and this horse thrives on better ground and the better weather!  He won the Swinton Hurdle by 14 lengths last year, and the the Summer Handicap off a mark of 150.  His form in two mile hurdle races on good ground with a five week break reads 17F11 (fell when likely to be second in hot handicap) and the fact he has been running good races on unsuitable ground this winter is encouraging.  I reckon he’s a stone better on better ground and that will put him in the mix come the big day should the ground go his way.  With Davy Russell the owners retained rider he’ll also have the ideal jockey to get him into the frame.  He’s actually regally bred being a full brother to St Leger winner Leading Light, and as one of the younger horses in the field I’m interested to see how he goes in top company on good ground.  In an open year he can go well at a big price.

 

CONCLUSION

Obviously Buveur D’Air is going to be tough to beat, but the shape of the race screams an each way angle and there are a few to focus on.  I’m against the old boys My Tent Or Yours and Faugheen, and also Wicklow Brave first time up.  Elgin and Melon haven’t posted a figure yet to suggest they can be competitive even in this open a renewal of the race.  And Ch’tibello seems to be a bit below the horse that came into last years race with such promise.

With that in mind I’m left looking at Verdana Blue, Mick Jazz and John Constable.  Verdana Blue had a very hard race in the Betfair Hurdle on bad ground, and with just a 31 day break I wonder if that will leave it’s mark as she steps up into Grade 1 company.  Mick Jazz is of interest at 33/1 but at an even bigger price (and with the hope that Davy Russell rides him instead) I’m chancing JOHN CONSTABLE at 50/1 each way.  He has a blue blooded pedigree, and has been running good races on bad ground this season.  In the hope that he can step up on better ground I don’t think he is a 10/1 chance to hit the frame, and he is 20/1 in the w/o market (has been 33s though so maybe wait for the day of race special markets).

  1. BUVEUR D’AIR
  2. JOHN CONSTABLE
  3. MICK JAZZ

(Potential curveballs – there are three horses that should be running here in my opinion, namely Supasundae, Yorkhill and Apple’s Jade.  It seems unlikely that any of them will show though, but they are the three horses genuinely capable of shaking up the favourite if he is in his best form)

WAITING PATIENTLY STARS AND OUR DUKE IS BACK…BUT IS IT ALL TOO CLOSE TO CHELTENHAM?!

WAITING PATIENTLY FULFILLS HIS POTENTIAL

I’ll confess to not being one to get too into stories involved in racing, but even I found it hard not to feel the soul stirring as CUE CARD (166) rolled back the years and led the Ascot Chase field a merry dance by setting a brutal pace.  Even then it was perhaps even more heart-warming to see WAITING PATIENTLY (169) come and win the race for Ruth Jefferson who has taken over the licence from the late Malcolm Jefferson.  Waiting Patiently had previously clocked a good time at Kempton in eye-catching style, and duly delivered on the potential of that performance here.

The novice chase on the card was run at a farcically slow pace so I’ve just put up the sectionals with Regal Encore in the three mile handicap by way of comparison:

Regal Encore

Waiting Patiently

Difference

34.3

33.59

-0.71

44.63

44.04

-0.59

55.89

54.88

-1.01

67.8

66.1

-1.7

96.76

94.14

-2.62

112.93

109.99

-2.94

155.48

150.92

-4.56

167.45

162.67

-4.78

185.36

180.28

-5.08

198.71

193.68

-5.03

233.08

226.99

-6.09

243.68

236.78

-6.9

254.89

247.32

-7.57

266.71

258.35

-8.36

293.15

284.74

-8.41

307.75

300.04

-7.71

321.61

315.49

-6.12

 As you can see from the above, Waiting Patiently got to the fence two out 8.41s quicker than Regal Encore did in the longer handicap.  This pace told on the run in as he came home 2.29s slower, but even allowing for this and the shorter distance this was still an excellent performance from the winner.  He loomed up travelling well behind Cue Card on the run-in and won the race fairly convincingly.

He has now been shortened for the Ryanair Chase, though connections seem reluctant to commit to that race at this stage.  To be honest, I’m inclined to agree with them.  For starters, regardless of how easily he seemed to travel in this race, this was still run at a frenetic pace on soft ground and will have left its mark on the horses.  With just three and a half weeks to go to the Ryanair that has to be a concern.  The long term plan seems to be the King George and that looks perfectly sensible to me.  He’s already won at Kempton, and his ability to travel well off this pace here over 2m5f suggests three miles at Kempton should prove no bother to him.  He’s undoubtedly one of the stars of the jump game now, and considering he is still only seven there may be more to come yet.

CUE CARD (166) showed something like his former self here and by setting a brutal pace was able to use his latent stamina to see of his rivals.  He also benefitted from the soft ground here but I’d be worried about him going forward.  For starters, as with the winner, this effort will have left its mark and perhaps even more so in his case as he was no doubt trained for this day.  I’ve heard some people say this was a career best for Cue Card but that is a laughable statement, as I make it about 20lbs below his optimum.  I think it’s probably best just to see this run as being able to appreciate seeing him one more time in something resembling his old self!

Considering how savage this race was, I’d be worried about some of the other horses in behind with their Cheltenham prospects in mind.  Perhaps it was no bad thing to see CONEY ISLAND (?) pulled up early on, as he made jumping errors and just couldn’t live with the pace being set.  A similar thing happened on his previous start, but with only one realistic rival and the ensuing pace collapse that rival saw he was able to overcome losing ground that day.  On this occasion there were top class two and a half milers and stayers who could live with the pace, and he wasn’t able to get back into the race.  It looks to me as if three miles plus will be on the agenda for him now.

OUR DUKE BACK TO HIS BEST

There was an intriguing clash in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran which saw OUR DUKE (168) give weight and a beating to the highly touted novice chaser PRESENTING PERCY (160).  Strangely, for two horses perceived as stayers and potentially unsuited by the drop back to 2.5m here, it was their pace in the latter stages that was impressive!

Some Neck

Our Duke

Tongie

13.19

12.77

12.44

24.75

24.2

23.18

86.92

86.91

84.33

100.91

101.21

98.26

115.71

116.06

113.08

130.8

131.39

128.73

147.66

148.58

147.59

197.04

199.05

201.23

208.88

210.4

212.45

219.37

220.24

222.53

232.69

232.97

235.73

 As you can see the overall time for the sections timed from the first jump in the two mile race saw a similar overall time to Some Neck in the beginners chase.  But when we drill into things a bit deeper we can see that they went a slower pace in the Red Mills.

Some Neck

Our Duke

Tongie

197.04

199.05

201.23

35.65

33.92

34.5

 The above shows the times taken to get to three out and then from there to the line.  As you can see, Our Duke was 2s behind at three out, but fairly motored home to the line 1.73s quicker.  When I adjust for this and tie in the comparison with the shorter handicap I give Our Duke a figure of 168.  This isn’t far off some of his stellar runs from last season (earnt 174) and suggests that he is starting to fire again.

However, enthusiasm is tempered somewhat as this race was run in bad ground and the front two got into a fair old battle to the line.  With just three and a half weeks to Cheltenham that isn’t ideal and I’d be worried about this race leaving its mark on both of them.

PRESENTING PERCY (160) comes out on the same figure I gave him for his last chase win.  Interestingly, I had his Pertemps Hurdle success at 158, and whilst he looks to be a good staying novice chaser, I’m not sure he’s as great as everyone seems to be building him up to be. Usually when horses keep hitting the same sort of mark that tends to be how good they are.  Now he may step up massively on better ground at Cheltenham, but with the tough race here I’m keen to take him on in the RSA.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE SOME NECK AND UP FOR REVIEW

As you saw from the previous sectionals, SOME NECK (156) ran a fine time in his own right, with UP FOR REVIEW (152) setting a decent pace before finishing second.  Both horses have had their problems and were coming here off long layoffs and assuming they can hold their form after this run they are both of interest to me going forward.  They didn’t quite have the pace of Our Duke or Presenting Percy in the latter stages of their race, but they had gone quicker here and I wonder whether both will come into their own when upped to three miles.  They are worth keeping in mind anyway as they seem to have been slightly overlooked with some of the other performances from the weekend taking centre stage.

Their overall time was actually slightly quicker, but I’ve made a meaningful adjustment for the way Our Duke came home from two out, and hence arrive at a lower figure for both Some Neck and Up For Review.  In essence, they were able to clock a similar time as they went quicker early on!  But their runs were still good on the clock, and I think both of them are of interest going forward.

I WOULDN’T SPEND £20K TO SUPPLEMENT ELGIN FOR THE CHAMPION HURDLE

Each to their own obviously with what they do with their money, but it seems strange to me to pull a horse out of a race and then plan to stump up a large supplementary fee a few weeks later!  But that is apparently going to be the plan with ELGIN (153) who won the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in a good time.  But it was bang in line with some of his previous efforts this season and I’m not sure I’d be rushing to splash the cash to supplement him for the Champion.

Breaking Ground

Elgin

Fortunate George

Embole

25.77

24.14

24.9

26.04

87.38

81.18

86.14

89.43

114.25

105.51

113.12

117.3

128.96

119.2

127.81

131.91

189.15

176.78

189.1

189.95

212.38

199.53

214.18

212.82

227.35

215.03

230.12

227.97

 On the clock this rated a figure of 153 for Elgin which is in line with figures I’ve given him this season (best of 155).  As you can see his overall time from the first was way quicker than anything else on the card, but it was the only race run at any meaningful gallop.

Breaking Ground

Elgin

Fortunate George

Embole

189.15

176.78

189.1

189.95

38.2

38.25

41.02

38.02

 The above shows the splits to and from three out, and it shows just how much quicker they went in the Kingwell.  Elgin did well to still come home in similar time to the other races but they were relatively lowly affairs (Breaking Ground was winning off a mark of 81) and with all the comparisons I just get a similar figure for Elgin as before.

Now it goes without saying that this is an open Champion Hurdle behind the favourite, and I guess with him probably going up to 155 after this connections are thinking of going for the Grade 1 rather than a handicap.  But it does rather beg the question of why they pulled him out of the race in the first place!  I’ve got all the likely runners in the Champion ahead of Elgin and with his seeming preference for soft ground I must admit I’d be reluctant to part with £20k to go for the Champion Hurdle.  He could well hit the frame and earn a bit of cash for connections, but he’s not on my radar for the race.

CH’TIBELLO (146) was a horse I was keen on for last years Champion Hurdle at a big price each way, after he posted figures around 160 in the run up to the race.  Unfortunately he met with a setback on the morning of the race and given he didn’t reappear until mid-December last year I wonder whether he has had a few niggles beyond that.  His runs this season have seen him earn figures of 145,141 and 146 and I just wonder if he’s not the same horse this time round. That’s a stone below what I think he’s capable of.  Better ground could see a renaissance of some description but I think I’ll leave him alone when bad each way plans are being made this time round.

LE PATRIOTE ADVERTISES THE LANZAROTE FORM EVEN MORE

I confess to being puzzled time and time again when handicap marks are given or adjusted.  Plenty of novices seem to be let in lightly on handicap debuts, and at the other end of the scale some handicappers get absolutely clobbered for winning races in poor times.  However, the way William Henry has been only put up 6lbs for winning this year’s Lanzarote Hurdle is one of the biggest head scratchers I can recall!  The form of the race was advertised again at Ascot with LE PATRIOTE (137) winning a handicap hurdle in fine style.

Point Of Principle

Le Patriote

Ballyheighue Bay

11.15

10.73

10.54

56.19

55.34

54.74

72.01

70.67

71.03

121.68

119.84

120.13

139.78

137.96

138.42

203.8

198.66

201.68

213.43

208.61

212.33

253

248.42

255.7

267.2

262.16

271.5

282.39

277.45

288.83

 The merits of the performance are evidenced in the sectionals above that show the strength of the run on the clock when compared to the other two races on the card.  This earns the winner a mark of 137 from me, and considering he was winning this off a mark of 127 it’ll be interesting to see how he is reassessed.  He has been well backed on his three starts since moving from France and clearly shows plenty at home.

The main take out for me from this race though was that William Henry has to go close in the Coral Cup.  I rated him 160 in the Lanzarote, and he is currently 151.  I don’t often get involved in Cheltenham handicaps antepost with no extra places on offer but with James Bowen likely riding I struggle to see how this horse doesn’t go very close on the day.

RETURNING AND FUTURE STARS

NATIVE RIVER AS GOOD AS EVER ON RETURN

As a general rule of thumb I tend to be against horses who have interrupted preparations, injuries and significant layoffs.  The last weekend saw two of the big names in jump racing return oFf said preparations, and both look as good as ever.

First up was NATIVE RIVER (174) who put up a good display to see off CLOUDY DREAM (159) on his comeback run at Newbury.  Happily, there was a handicap run over the same distance to enable a relatively straightforward comparison for Native River’s credentials:

Native River

Indy Five

Difference

14.35

14.15

0.2

53.8

54.07

-0.27

85.23

85.5

-0.27

98.72

98.69

0.03

111.09

111.19

-0.1

127

127.06

-0.06

145.2

145.47

-0.27

179.62

180.32

-0.7

192.8

193.25

-0.45

207.07

207.93

-0.86

221.79

222.74

-0.95

235.71

236.75

-1.04

273.7

275.78

-2.08

302.72

305.38

-2.66

315.02

318.15

-3.13

326.35

329.71

-3.36

340.81

344.98

-4.17

360.91

366.68

-5.77

 As you can see, Native River clocked a time 5.77s quicker than Indy Five did in the handicap as timed from the first jump, and did so carrying 17lbs more.  I’ve made a small adjustment to allow for the worsening ground between the two races but still reach a figure of 174 for Native River that suggests he’s come back as good as ever.

He’s been shortened in the Gold Cup market on the back of this but I’d be hesitant to get too carried away. Firstly, this was his first run since the Gold Cup last year, and he’s just run a good time on relatively bad ground…the bounce brigade will be salivating at the prospect of him running at Cheltenham.  Indeed there was an excellent Timeform article out this week that shows the difficulty for good grade horses missing most of the season and having one run before Cheltenham.  Secondly, having been beaten in last years Gold Cup it is difficult to argue he can go better this year – only Kauto Star has bucked that trend recently.  And finally, he probably needs the soft ground that he got here to be at his best.  In conclusion, good run (excellent even), leave alone at short enough prices for the Gold Cup.

CLOUDY DREAM (159) has proven to be a bit of a disappointment this season.  He put in a good time to just go down to Smad Place at Aintree but up to three miles on his last two runs he hasn’t gone through with his effort having travelled with promise.  Perhaps the soft ground on each occasion has been against him and a step back to 2.5m may be the way to go.  There is a lot of talent under the engine and I’d be wary of underestimating him as some seem to be.  He hasn’t had his optimum conditions on his last three runs, but back to 2.5m on decent ground and I wouldn’t rule him out.

AND ALTIOR COME BACK AS GOOD AS EVER TOO

As someone who tends to stand against short priced favourites, it was a relatively chastening afternoon as no sooner had Native River gone in, then ALTIOR (172) swiftly followed.  The comparison of the relative times for the two horses over the course timed from the first jump in Altiors race makes interesting reading:

Native River

Altior

Difference

15.91

16.76

0.85

34.11

34.37

0.26

68.53

69.48

0.95

81.71

83.02

1.31

95.98

97.73

1.75

110.7

112.56

1.86

124.62

126.34

1.72

162.61

163.41

0.8

191.63

192.33

0.7

203.93

205.08

1.15

215.26

216.28

1.02

229.72

230.83

1.11

249.82

249.89

0.07

 As you can see, Altior clocked near enough the same time as Native River for the equivalent distance, but did so over 7f shorter.  On the basis of this I’d be giving Altior a relatively lowly figure, something in the mid-150s.  However, I have developed some adjustments over the years that are applicable here and give a guide, in my opinion, to his true underlying ability.  From the table above you can see that at one stage he was 1.86s behind, but had made up all of this gap by the finishing line.  Clearly then, the slow early pace, and relatively slow pace throughout the race has affected the overall time.

I make an adjustment then for him making up this difference, and this then spits out a number of 172.  Interestingly, POLITOLOGUE (167) comes out on a similar mark to his Haldon Cup win, so I’m inclined to go with this.  But I’ll freely admit that on the basic clock numbers this wasn’t a brilliant performance.  It’s only when digging into the comparison that you can see how much time he made up, and he did so relatively easily.

Similarly then to Native River we have a horse who hasn’t run since the end of last season, and has now shortened up in price (even more so in this case) for Cheltenham.  Again, one can look at that Timeform article and the difficulty top horses find in trying to win on comeback and then again at Cheltenham.  He’s clearly a top class horse, and his turn of foot at the end of his races is remarkable, but after this campaign and now odds on for a Champion Chase, he’s not for me.

POLITOLOGUE (167) matched his Haldon Cup success, but this is a notch below the heights that Altior can reach.  Similarly to Exeter, the conditions were bad here, and he probably needs conditions as such to be competitive in top class Grade 1 company over two miles.  With that in mind I am lukewarm about his Cheltenham prospects, and he’ll probably need to go up in trip on better ground this spring.

KALASHNIKOV HIGHLIGHTS STRENGTH IN THE NOVICE HURDLERS

With the magnitude of coverage online and podcasts, I confess to getting slightly peeved at the continued denigration of the novice hurdling division this year.  As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time on racing, collecting my own data, and compiling my own figures, I can say that this is actually one of the strongest novice hurdling divisions in terms of depth.  The year Altior won the Supreme was exceptional, and there is perhaps only one horse that can be talked of in such company (Samcro) but the strength in depth beneath is extraordinary.  I counted at least a dozen who have posted 150+ figures this year.

One of those duly landed the Betfair Hurdle, and KALASHNIKOV (152) is firmly in the upper echelons of this years novice hurdling crop.

Whatswrongwithyou

Talkischeap

Kalashnikov

57.19

53.61

51.74

72.15

67.77

65.39

93.05

88.23

85.2

114.44

108.96

105.1

177.1

171.69

168.3

199.62

197.22

193.43

219.14

221.2

215.92

235.12

240.68

232.44

 The above shows the times taken from the first jump in the two mile races, and you can see straightaway that Kalashnikov clocked the fastest time.  They went a fierce early pace in the Betfair, and indeed were 9.34s ahead of the novice hurdle run over the same distance earlier on the card.  This told in the latter stages, as Kalashnikov clocked an overall time of 2.68s quicker, but the merits of this run are still obvious and I’ve given him a mark of 152.  This is 2lbs up on his run in the Tolworth.

Kalashnikov has now been cut to 7/1 for the Supreme, and whilst I rate him one of the better novices around I struggle to find much appeal in that price.  Chief in my concerns is just what a hard race he had here.  They went a strong pace in bad ground, and I’d be worried that this run leaves its mark.  Furthermore, preparation in a handicap hurdle isn’t the perfect preparation for Cheltenham Grade 1 that you may think, for all that it highlights a horses toughness.  My Tent Or Yours, Get Me Out Of Here, Darlan are three that ran in the Betfair Hurdle before getting beaten in the Supreme (albeit running well) and I can’t help feel that history will repeat.  I can certainly see him hitting the frame in a Supreme, but something may just chin him.

I’d also be inclined to believe that he will be better up in trip, and for all that he is supposed to be better on better ground he was under the cosh from someway out here before staying on best.  The pace of this race was strong, and that is evidenced further as the next two horses in the race are also probably better suited by further.  Both BLEU ET ROUGE (152) and SPIRITOFTHEGAMES (135) look likely Coral Cup candidates for me.

I was keen on the chances of KAYF GRACE (110) in this race, but she was quite keen on the outside and was up in the vanguard early on.  On pedigree she should also be suited by stepping up in trip, and the ground probably went too far against her on the day (they were largely unrecognisable in the closing stages).  I’m going to give her another chance in the Mares Hurdle come Cheltenham, as her Kempton form was in a good time and the form has been franked.

WILL SAINT CALVADOS HANDLE BETTER GROUND IN THE ARKLE?

There was a remarkable performance at Warwick, as SAINT CALVADOS (172) obliterated his rivals in a manner not dissimilar to how Un De Sceaux can get rivals out of their comfort zone on soft ground.  The two runner race on the card was run at a farcical pace, so the only comparison to make is with the handicap over 2.5m, but the figures are still startling:

Saint Calvados

Casse Tette

Difference

10.42

11.38

-0.96

43.26

46.38

-3.12

54.04

57.51

-3.47

63.06

67.05

-3.99

131.93

138.59

-6.66

140.69

147.83

-7.14

149.12

156.54

-7.42

159.17

167.19

-8.02

167.28

175.02

-7.74

196.11

205.84

-9.73

206.81

217.65

-10.84

225.04

236.2

-11.16

 As you can see Saint Calvados clocked a time 11.16s faster that Casse Tette did in the handicap chase, and did so carrying 4lbs more.  Even allowing for the shorter trip this was still the best 2m novice time of the season for me.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Kylemore Lough, a Grade 1 winner, was setting the fractions in the handicap chase (the above are Casse Tette’s times) and he wasn’t going as fast as Saint Calvados.  Yet he tired on the run in and was overhauled by the winner.

Saint Calvados now goes to the Arkle and if he can translate this sort of form to Cheltenham then he looks a threat.  As ever, things aren’t that straightforward.  First up, this was his 3rdrun since the end of December, and considering his style of running that will take its toll no matter how easy he looks to be doing things.  Of equal concern is his suitability to better ground at Cheltenham, and the undulations.  I’m by no means an expert on knee actions, but he has to have one of the more pronounced ones that I can recall, almost appearing to be stamping on the ground as he runs.  These two things combined temper enthusiasm for Cheltenham.

Being a stubborn contrarian at heart, I’d be keener on the chances of NORTH HILL HARVEY (131) who was beaten out of sight here.  But that may be no bad thing!  He looked to drag his back legs through one of the fences early on, and perhaps that was a result of the savage pace Saint Calvados was setting, but it meant he conserved some energy on the way home as he came back in largely his own time.  This is a horse who has a good record fresh so easing him back home is one way to spin a positive on this run.  And indeed with it four and a half weeks to Cheltenham he may have been a bit undercooked for this.  He also has a fine Cheltenham record and with question marks about the suitability of the track for Footpad, Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir we do at least know that North Hill Harvey thrives round there.  He’s run to a mark of 162 for me, and if others fail to act on the course he looks a fair each way proposition to me at 25/1 now in a race that could cut up.

LEOPARSTOWN AND CHELTENHAM REVIEW WITH THE CHAMPION HURDLER THROWN IN TOO!

SUPASUNDAE PROVIDES PLENTY OF FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The build up to the Irish Champion Hurdle revolved around the debate about whether FAUGHEEN (165) was capable of dining at the top table of hurdling again.  I’ve been firmly against this horse this season, seemingly being one of the few people underwhelmed by his comeback run.  However, I confess to warming to his chances again in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham after he finished second in the Irish version to SUPASUNDAE (168).  As ever, the first place to look is the clock:

Tower Bridge Supasundae Off You Go
37.45 36.16 36.29
50.46 48.62 48.71
98.91 97.44 98.16
123.67 121.9 121.87
140.79 138.59 138.13
174.18 170.73 171.57
205.62 201.59 203
220.89 217.19 218.79

 As you can see from the above, Supasundae clocked the fastest time from the first flight on the two mile course to the line.  But we can see the quality of this performance when drilling down a bit further.  The following shows the times taken by all three winners to get to three out, and then from there to the line:

Tower Bridge Supasundae Off You Go
140.79 138.59 138.13
80.1 78.6 80.66

From here we can see that Supasundae was 0.46s slower to three out compared to the winner of the handicap hurdle Off You Go, but then came home from there two seconds quicker.  Furthermore, he did this carrying two stone more in weight.  Adjusting for this sprint finish, and in the comparison with the novice race over further, I’ve reached a mark of 168 for the winner.  This is slightly ahead of where I had him when finishing second over three miles and Aintree last year.

It now seems that he is set to step back up to three miles and go for the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham.  Whilst he is undoubtedly a classy horse, I do have my reservations about him seeing out a good three miles with the uphill finish at Cheltenham.  Firstly, the ground will have to be good, as I feel that he got away with two miles here on softer ground.  He is probably an out and out two and a half miler, but may get away with three miles on a very sound surface.  Now the issue here is the potential for overnight watering on the Wednesday night.  Last year he won the Coral Cup on the Wednesday when the ground was arguably at its quickest, but they then put 10mm on overnight.  If they did this again I would be worried about him getting the trip, even allowing for his undoubted class.  The second reservation I have is that there may be a potential opponent to beat him.  The more I think about the more I think the JP McManus camp are going to take inspiration from their decision to revert Buveur D’Air to hurdles last year, and do the same thing with Yanworth in the Stayers Hurdle this year.  He had Supasundae a length behind him over three miles at Aintree, and has seemed an unconvincing chaser to date.  If he was mine it would be a straightforward decision to go for it.

Returning to Faugheen, this marked a return to form on my figures after I only rated him 152 on his comeback.  He did of course disappoint at Christmas, but this looked much more like it as he led from the front and just met a horse at his peak on the day.  He is now a ten year old, so that tempers enthusiasm for the Champion somewhat, and he was still a stone below his absolute best.  But there is a dearth of top two milers around at the moment, and with Ruby back on board and if the race developed into a tactical affair I wouldn’t rule him out of causing an upset.

A further five lengths back in third was MICK JAZZ (160) who just ran up to his form at Christmas, and is now in the rest of the pack of runners in the Champion competing for place prize money.  JEZKI (154) ran well, but this now seems to be just as good as he is now he is ten.

Back in fifth was MELON (154) who now keeps hitting the same sort of figure again and again.  For what it’s worth these are his numbers over hurdles, starting with his debut – 152, 156, 145, 152, 152 and 154 in this race.  He just doesn’t seem to be progressing as expected.

Even further back was DEFI DU SEUIL (135) who ran poorly again.  I was against him this season, but he has run so far below his form last season to suggest that something must be amiss.  On my figures he would’ve finished 4th if running to his best form.  It is probably worth pulling stumps on this season and performing a full MOT and see if anything comes to light.

 

BRILLIANT MIN SHOULD GO CLOSE IN THE CHAMPION

I must confess to my delight at seeing three chase runs all run over the same distance on Saturday at Leopardstown, and when one of those includes a big field handicap it makes the task of ratings very easy!  Happily, the numbers that came out were bang in line with what I had for the protagonists before this meeting.

MIN (172) won the Grade 2 Dublin Chase in fine style, putting his Christmas run behind him and beating his old rival SIMPLY NED (158) by twelve lengths, and current champion SPECIAL TIARA (157) a close third.

Min Patricks Park Footpad
39.17 40.19 40.01
53.28 54.65 53.87
84.36 86.43 85.15
106.64 109.80 107.58
122.03 125.79 123.00
134.73 138.69 135.70
150.49 154.38 150.99
171.11 174.26 170.05
186.50 190.15 186.35
216.67 218.87 216.32
236.96 238.96 237.77

As you can see, Min clocked a time 0.81s quicker than the brilliant FOOTPAD (168) in the novice equivalent.  A direct comparison of the two races is interesting:

Min Footpad Difference
39.17 40.01 -0.84
53.28 53.87 -0.59
84.36 85.15 -0.79
106.64 107.58 -0.94
122.03 123.00 -0.97
134.73 135.70 -0.97
150.49 150.99 -0.50
171.11 170.05 1.06
186.50 186.35 0.15
216.67 216.32 0.35
236.96 237.77 -0.81

As you can see, Min was 0.97s quicker at one stage, but Footpad then turned on the gas to be a second ahead a few flights later and 0.35s ahead at the last flight.  Min then regained the lead on the run in to finish 0.81s ahead, but perhaps Footpad had a bit more in the tank (I haven’t factored that in though).

Comparing the two races together, and with the handicap chase, I’ve given Min a figure of 172.  He certainly looks a major player in the Champion Chase.  I still hold doubts in my mind about whether Altior will turn up at all, and with Yorkhill flopping again, and Douvan still yet to be seen, it looks like Min will be the one to beat come the big day.

I was drawn to the eye-catching run of ORDINARY WORLD (151) who was running a mighty race before making a dreadful error at the final flight and coming to a near stand-still and plodding home for fourth.  This horse just has to have good ground to be at his best, and he did in fact finish 3rd in last years red-hot Arkle.  With the ground potentially quickest on the Wednesday I can see him well outrunning his current odds of 50/1 and hitting the frame.  Special Tiara finished 3rd in the Champion as an eight year old for Henry De Bromhead, and I wonder if he’s doing a similar job with this horse, just bringing him along slowly to peak in the spring.  He’s been running nice races on unsuitable ground, and I like his chances of being in the mix come March on better ground.

 

FOOTPAD DOES LOOK TOUGH TO BEAT IN THE ARKLE…(if he gets his conditions!)

The equivalent novice race saw FOOTPAD (168) put in another fine round of jumping to see off PETIT MOUCHOIR (162) in the Arkle.  If ever there was a horse that has improved for fences it is this one, as he just seems to love jumping and has thrived this season.  However, he is now an odds-on favourite for the big race in March, and we aren’t going to get rich backing him.  So, what angles can we find to take him on?  Firstly, as has been mentioned before, his Cheltenham record reads a 4th and a 3rd.  Now this isn’t a bad record, and he is undoubtedly better over fences, but when taking on a short odds favourite it’s a fair starting point.  Perhaps more pertinent is this horses record on good ground, which reads 2334, with his best run ironically coming when 2nd in the Irish Champion to Petit Mouchoir.  He was ridden patiently that day and did rather pick up the pieces.  And as I’ve highlighted before, he does seem better in a small field, with his largest field success being 8.  If there are enough runners to take him on at Cheltenham on good ground something could well beat him.

Is that horse Petit Mouchoir though?  He ran a fine race here after a setback saw him not run since 18th October until this contest.  But again this is a horse whose Cheltenham form is 3rd and 8th, so perhaps he isn’t the answer to the Arkle conundrum either.  On my figures he has run the same figure here as North Hill Harvey, and with that one set to run soon, I’d be interested in his chances, along with how Saint Calvados handles better ground.

 

MAY PAY TO LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS IN THE FLOGAS

The Flogas looked one of the hottest races of the season, but unlike plenty I confess to being a bit underwhelmed by the winner MONALEE (160).  My reasons of this come when we look at the sectionals for the three chase races on the card, which saw a handicap over the same distance, and the Gold Cup over three miles.

Monalee Edwulf Last Goodbye
21.26 20.73 19.86
38.79 38.26 37.36
72.6 72.24 71.2
117.32 118.03 114.77
132.91 133.95 129.82
166.9 167.86 163.37
190.61 191.94 187.7
207.44 207.97 204.43
220.91 221.07 217.7
236.62 236.72 233.26
255.87 255.99 252.98
271.3 271.8 269.2
300.51 301.68 298.59
321.64 322.42 318.93

As you can see, Monalee actually clocked a time 2.71s slower than LAST GOODBYE (154) did in the handicap over the same distance.  They went a slow pace in the Flogas in comparison to the handicap reaching four out 3.36s slower:

Monalee Edwulf Last Goodbye
236.62 236.72 233.26
85.02 85.7 85.67

From there Monalee only came home 0.65s quicker!  He was carrying 17lbs more in weight, and hence I’ve accounted for this and given him a mark of 160, which is exactly what I rated him on his debut over fences.  He is now around 4/1 or 5/1 for the RSA, but I wonder whether he benefited from leading from the front in this race, and if something in behind may be suited to a stronger run race.  There is the counter argument that Monalee himself may be suited by a longer trip and better pace and ground too, but I find myself a bit underwhelmed by him at this stage.

The Willie Mullins pair AL BOUM PHOTO (159) and INVITATION ONLY (159) chased him home and are of interest going forward.  The former is still only six and could well be open to improvement, whilst the latter clocked a good time when winning at Navan in December.  I’d imagine Mullins will split them come Cheltenham, but both could be of interest there.  I confess I am disappointed that neither were able to overhaul the winner here, but perhaps the slow pace made that difficult.  With Mullins no doubt targeting the spring with both of them don’t rule out them featuring in some big races come the festivals.

Similarly, can be argued with a few more in behind in what turned into a bit of a bunch finish off a slow pace.  Perhaps of most interest going forward is THE STORYTELLER (153) who made eye-catching progress before looking to get a bit outpaced in the latter stages.  Being a sibling to a few three milers he looks open to progression up in trip again, and indeed beat a decent Mullins horse in January 2017 over the longest distance he’s been when winning over 2m6.5f by nine lengths over hurdles at Thurles.  Maybe the Ultima Handicap over three miles on day one at Cheltenham is a logical target, being rated 147 before this…with improvement possible when going over three miles and better ground he could be interesting for that contest.

Disappointment of the race was Sutton Place, who put up a good time on the clock on his debut, but didn’t jump well here making a few mistakes before pulling up.  He does appear to be very fragile, but does have undoubted class…don’t forget that he gave weight and a beating to Supasundae last year.  Hopefully he can fulfil that potential.

 

EDWULF A NICE STORY BUT NO GOLD CUP HORSE

Some of the moves on the exchanges were “interesting” to say the least over the weekend at Leopardstown, and I was surprised to see EDWULF (157) trading at 150 five minutes before the off, and then collapse in price to 100 points shorter.  I was then even more surprised to see the horse that nearly lost his life at Cheltenham last year make a Lazarus like comeback and pip OUTLANDER (157) on the line in the Irish Gold Cup.  However, heart-warming as the story is, I struggle to see this race having an impact on the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

As you can see from the previous sectionals, the time was relatively slow with the winner getting to four out 0.1s behind Monalee, and then 0.7s slower to the line from there.  He ran the same time from four out than the handicap winner, having been 3.5s slower to four out.  Even allowing for the longer distance, I can only get to a figure of 157 winner, which is actually the figure I gave for his handicap win at Naas last year before the festival.  This is probably as good as he is.

Outlander looked set to win at Leopardstown again, before being collared by the winner in the shadow of the post.  He ran about 10lbs better than this at Christmas so perhaps was feeling the effects of that run, but more likely was suited by a stronger pace that day (they were much quicker than the shorter race on the card).

DJAKADAM (147) came here after a 38 day break, which I thought might have freshened him up enough after his disappointing run at Christmas.  Things looked positive in that regard as he jumped with elan from the front.  However, he weakened on the run in to finish third and now nine years old looks as if that Grade 1 win may elude him.

OUR DUKE (141) was on a comeback mission of his own, and looked to be going ok before making a bad mistake.  He stayed on well to finish 4th but again looks a shadow of the horse of last season.

KILLULTAGH VIC (157) looked to be coming to win the race before falling at the last.  I’ve put him in at the same figure as the front two, but he may well have one by a few lengths.  Even with that and considering his interrupted past I find it hard to see him featuring in a Gold Cup.

 

SAMCRO GOOD AGAIN BUT LOOKS LIKE BALLYMORE THE RACE TO GO FOR

I’ve probably bored people silly this season going on about SAMCRO (160) but he clocked the best figure I’ve given a novice hurdler pre-Cheltenham when winning at Navan on his last start, and I confess to watching this race with nervous anticipation at what he might do.  That turned out to be another good run, but not as brilliant as before.

Allatrix Mr Adjudicator Samcro Total Recall
37.28 35.50 36.29 38.26
49.48 47.29 48.00 50.55
97.21 95.20 95.52 98.02
122.86 120.48 120.24 123.63
139.56 137.77 137.28 140.74
172.15 170.26 169.78 173.37
204.63 201.91 202.47 206.14
220.31 217.51 218.48 222.14

The sectionals above show that MR ADJUDICATOR (152) actually clocked a faster time than him when clocked from the first flight.  Samcro was carrying 10lbs more in weight though, and this combined with the comparison with the other races on the card points to a figure of 160.  This is still a good number (only Next Destination has matched it this season in the novice hurdling division) but still a bit below his Navan romp.

The splits from three out shed some further light on proceedings:

Allatrix Mr Adjudicator Samcro Total Recall
139.56 137.77 137.28 140.74
80.75 79.74 81.20 81.40

As you can see from this, Samcro was 0.49s quicker to three out, but 1.46s slower from there to the line.  Now he wasn’t fully stretched to do this, and he had had a setback in missing some previous engagements so there is plenty of hope that he will improve from this run.  But on these figures I think the Ballymore race will suit.  He settles well in his races, and travels powerfully, and thrived over 2.5m last time when the race was run at a good pace.  Wherever he turns up I think he’ll win, but the Ballymore looks a logical target, and hopefully we’ll see something very special.

DUC DES GENIEVRES (152) caught most peoples eye when travelling well on his Irish debut in a Grade 1 at Naas in January.  Dropping back to two miles here he proved that run no fluke by clocking a good number in his own right.  He looks to be in the mix for the Supreme, though I still harbour (probably false) hopes of Next Destination dropping back in trip into that race.

PALOMA BLUE (149) was third on his hurdling debut behind Next Destination and looks to be going the right way.  He was actually 2nd to Fayonagh in a Grade 1 bumper at Punchestown last April, so is clearly a classy sort.  Rated just 134 before this run, I’ll be interested to see what mark he gets as he could be one to catch the handicapper off-guard.

 

MR ADJUDICATOR AND FARCLAS ENTER THE TRIUMPH PICTURE

As you can see from the sectionals above, MR ADJUDICATOR (152) clocked a good figure when winning the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle on the card.  He came home from three out the quickest of the three hurdle races on the card, and has clearly built on the promise of his debut run.  He looks to be in the mix for the Triumph, which certainly looks a competitive race this year.

I say that, as you can add FARCLAS (151) into the mix too.  He ran a nice race when 2nd to ESPOIR D’ALLEN (125) at Leopardstown, but unlike that horse seemed to prosper off a better pace in this race.  Bought off the flat in France, it’ll be interesting to see how he develops from here.

Espoir D’Allen has been winning farcically slow run races before today, and refused to settle here in a stronger run race and that proved his undoing.  Until he clocks a good time, I’ll be in the sceptical camp about his chances going forward.

 

BARRA A THREAT IN THE MARES HURDLE

The Mares Handicap hurdle that opened the card was won in a good time by ALLETRIX (139) who made a mockery of a mark of 118.  Sure to go up a fair amount for this win, she may still be able to go in again.  She was quicker throughout her race than Total Recall was in the three mile hurdle, and when adjusting for the 2m2f distance of her race, I give her a figure some 20lbs ahead of the mark she was running off.

But of more interest to me was the run of BARRA (148) in second.  Niggled along at the back of the field, she made remarkable progress to make her way through horses and finish a respectable second behind the thrown in winner.  She ran a big race at Cheltenham last year in the mares novice when second to Let’s Dance, and looks like she is worth trying over 2.5m again in the Mares Hurdle on the back of her run here.  She was travelling very well at Cheltenham last year before not quite having the pace of the winner and she looks a wild price at 50/1.  Apple’s Jade looks set to go straight to the festival with no prep run, and on that I make her vulnerable.

 

BUVEUR D’AIR UNCHALLENGED AGAIN

One of the features of this jumps season has been the lack of top two mile hurdlers.  The Irish Champion has just been won by a horse dropping back in trip, and he’s beaten a ten year old former champion to do so.  In this country, we’ve seen BUVEUR D’AIR (154++) run three times and be relatively unchallenged in any of his starts.  He is clearly the best we have in this country, and assuming he can still thrive in a stronger race he looks set to be tough to beat come Cheltenham.

Countister Buveur D’Air Topofthegame Landin
148.20 143.48 140.88 148.12
89.86 89.73 93.63 94.58

As can see he didn’t go as farcically slow as Countister did in the opening race on the card at Sandown, but he was still 2.6s slower than TOPOFTHEGAME (152) was in the mile longer handicap hurdle on the card to three out.  From there though he did come home 3.9s quicker, and was only really shaken up once JOHN CONSTABLE (150) looked like getting anywhere near him.  These sort of races are unsatisfactory and leave us guessing somewhat as to the potential of the current Champion.  I’ve rated him 172 last season, and I suspect we may see him go better than that come March.  But with that not guaranteed the race does have a nice each way shape, with him being as short 2/5 already.  I’ve already discussed that Faugheen isn’t one to rule out, but outside of Apple’s Jade and Supadundae, challengers look thin on the ground among the likely opponents.

Indeed, I am drawn to the challenge of his Sandown rival John Constable.  I’ve rated him 160 in the past, and he’s been running nice races this season on unsuitable ground, including last time at Cheltenham.  If better ground brings about improvement he can outrun his odds and make the frame in the Champion with Cheltenham master Davy Russell likely onboard.

 

TOPOFTHEGAME A FUTURE CHASING STAR

I wrote previously about the Lanzarote Hurdle being a hot race, and it was nice to see that backed up as TOPOFTHEGAME (152) won a good handicap hurdle over just shy of three miles at Sandown.  They went a good pace in this race, getting to three out much quicker than the other races on the card, and he did still come home quicker than the winner of the novice handicap that followed.  I’ve given the winner a figure in line with his Lanzarote run, and I’m looking forward to seeing him resume his chasing campaign next season…he could go right to the top.

 

APPLE’S SHAKIRA ONE TO TAKE ON IN THE TRIUMPH

Back at Cheltenham last week we saw APPLE’S SHAKIRA (146) maintain her 100% record at Cheltenham and indeed this season, in winning the Triumph Hurdle trial.  I’ve written before about how she was yet to put up a good time on the clock, but this was much more like it as she overhauled LOOK MY WAY (138) on the run in.  The comparison with the other hurdle races is as follows:

Apple’s Shakira Santini Agrapart Remiluc
41.19 41.84 44.3 44.15
63.73 64.7 67.64 67.91
75.93 77.34 80.21 80.66
104.79 107.01 109.97 109.95
149.79 152.14 154.85 153.01
192.72 195.35 197.38 194.33
216.18 218.48 220.75 219.05

These times are taken from the second flight on the two mile course as this is where all four races overlap, and as you can see Apple’s Shakira did clock the fastest time of the four races.  There was persistent drizzle throughout the day so I have made a small adjustment for the ground worsening but it wasn’t a huge difference.

Apple’s Shakira Santini Agrapart Remiluc
149.79 152.14 154.85 153.01
66.39 66.34 65.9 66.04

As you can see from the second table, she got to two out much the quickest of the four races, so it was good to see her run at a fair pace for the first time.  It looked to me as if Geraghty was trying to educate her a bit by letting the runner-up get away from her slightly before urging her to chase him down.  She did so, and pulled clear on the run to the line.  The table above shows that all four races came home from two out in remarkably similar times, separated by just 0.5s.  Apple’s Shakira was carrying the lowest weight though and with this I’ve given her a figure of 146.

She will be getting an allowance in the Triumph, and so is right in the mix for the race.  But this now looks a deep year for juveniles with We Have A Dream, Sussex Ranger, Mr Adjudicator and Farclas all on the scene too.  Furthermore, her action suggested she relished the softer ground here and I’m not sure how she’ll handle better going should she encounter it in March.  At the prices I’ll be against her.

 

SANTINI AND BLACK OP ARE TWO MORE TOP NOVICE HURDLERS

It’s almost getting beyond a joke now with how many good novice hurdlers we are seeing this season.  As a guide I tend to value anything above a figure of 150 as a good novice, and we’ve just seen a plethora of them this season.  Perhaps this is something to do with the money being banded around these days for jumping stock?

Well, you can add SANTINI (154) and BLACK OP (153) to the list as they pulled well clear of their rivals in the Grade 2 novice on the Cheltenham card.  As you can see from the sectional comparisons above, they went a quicker pace in relation to Agrapart in the Cleeve, reaching two out 2.71s quicker and then came home just 0.44s slower.  Carrying just a pound less, and adjusting for the shorter trip and this was a classy run from the two protagonists.

Santini came out on top on the run to the line and looks a lovely individual for the future.  His action suggested better ground may suit and he looks a top candidate for the Albert Bartlett and then as a future long term staying chaser.  Henderson won the Albert Bartlett with Bob’s Worth previously, and this fellow is capable of following in those footsteps.

In second was Black Op, who travelled noticeably well throughout the race but made a mistake at the last that probably cost him the race.  Unlike the winner he looks potentially better suited by softer ground, so may struggle in the spring but looks an exciting novice chaser for later in the year.

 

AGRAPART EXCELLENT IN HEAVY GROUND

AGRAPART (158) again proved that he is very tough to beat on bad ground as he won the Cleeve Hurdle from the smooth travelling WHOLESTONE (155).  The winner was the one horse to dip below 66s for the run from two out, and clearly relishes these conditions, having won here on heavy ground before and landing a Betfair Hurdle when able to get his toe in.  There isn’t much to say about him really… if a freak monsoon hit Cheltenham in March, supplement him and he’d be hard to beat.  Otherwise forget about him until the ground is bad again!

Wholestone travelled well but again suggested that he doesn’t quite see out a proper three mile test.  He looks set to be part of a two pronged attack for his owners with L’Ami Serge and I’d be marginally keener on the latter for the race.  There are only two hurdles in the latter stages of the race which may suit the old rogue, and don’t forget he was only just pipped off a big weight on this course over two miles in the County last year.

 

DEFINITLY RED UNLIKELY TO FEATURE IN GOLD CUP…BUT COULD BRISTOL DE MAI?

Over fences we saw DEFINITLY RED (152) come out on top in the Cotswold Chase, but he again failed to impress on the clock, and talk of a Gold Cup challenge looks fanciful to me.

Mister Whitaker Frodon Definitly Red
15.08 15.43 15.89
57.5 57.47 34.63
69.35 69.55 57.3
89.92 91.09 90.24
101.99 103.69 103.13
139.15 140.9 140.66
153.21 155.37 154.91
164.71 166.99 166.28
175.83 178.49 177.23
192.13 195.57 193.34
207 210.7 208.38
224.72 228.91 226.69
245.69 249.88 248.52
276.03 279.81 279.13
288.06 291.42 291.63
307.07 308.9 311.76

Taking the times from where the three races overlap, you can see from the above how much slower Definitly Red was.  Even adjusting for the longer trip and the fact that rain was getting into the ground all the time I struggle to get his figure for the race above 152.  Indeed the most I’ve ever rated him is 154.

Mister Whitaker Frodon Definitly Red
245.69 249.88 248.52
61.38 59.02 63.24

They did go a fair pace in this race, getting to three out 1.36s quicker than Frodon did in the shorter handicap chase on the card, but that effort told on this ground and over the trip as he came home from there 4.22s slower.  Might Bite still looks the one to beat come the Gold Cup, though he hasn’t burnt the clock yet this season I suspect he is being trained with that one day in mind and based on what he did in the RSA last year there could be plenty more to come from him.

If there was a Gold Cup challenger in this race I suspect it was BRISTOL DE MAI (142).  Now I know that has probably made you spit your coffee at the screen or stop reading altogether…but bear with me!  He’s now largely been written off, but being a contrarian at heart I’m reluctant to do the same.  One thought I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now is whether he has to be mad fresh to show his best form.  If we use the Nick Mordin line of fresh being a horses first two runs in a season or a five week break thereafter, this theory could have some merit.  He’s run ten times in open company over fences and his form when “fresh” reads 22111, vs 37563 when he hasn’t been “fresh” (including his last two runs now).  One of those runner-up finishes when fresh was in a two runner race over an inadequate 2.5m trip, and the other when carrying top weight and coming out best at the weights giving nearly a stone and a beating to Definitly Red.  The victories include his two Haydock routs, and it may well be that he is just a horse for bottomless ground round there.  But his last run there was brutal on the clock, and it would be no surprise if that run has left its mark on the horse.  Should he turn up in the Gold Cup he will have had a 48 day break from this run, so the theory goes that that should be sufficient rest for him.  The last two times he has run his followers have had to pay 3/1 and 7/4 to find out if his Haydock form can be replicated elsewhere.  Now he is 33/1 NRNB and should he go there he will have had a sufficient break.  If he fails again then it would seem to hold true that it’s Haydock only for him, but at that sort of price it’s cheap enough to find out if the freshness theory holds up.

He tanked through the Gold Cup last year before finishing 7th, but that was off just a 34 day break, and he’d picked up a knock from his Newbury run.  If he was mine I’d have left him off entirely from the King George this year.  Imperial Commander was beaten a nose by Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase in a brilliant time, before disappointing in the King George.  He then went straight to Cheltenham and won the Gold Cup for the same trainer.  Let’s see if 48 days is sufficient to get Bristol De Mai to do the same!

 

FRODON LOOKS BEST ON SOFT GROUND

The standout chase performance on the card came from FRODON (163) who blasted up the hill in a good time off a slow pace as you can see from the previous sectionals.  At one stage he was 3.67s behind MISTER WHITAKER (144) who won the novice handicap chase on the card, but was just 1.31s behind at the line.  Doing this off an 18lbs higher mark puts him down as a live Ryanair contender. I remember him winning the two and a half mile handicap chase in December at Cheltenham when the rain came, and I’d be worried about him backing up this run on better ground for all that he has form on it.

I was pleased to see Mister Whitaker back up the promise of his Kempton second behind Hell’s Kitchen by winning in a good time in his own right in the novice handicap chase on the card that was run at a good pace.  He has gone up to a mark of 137 now, and connections will surely have everything crossed that he can sneak into the handicap on day one.  THEATRE TERRITORY (141) was second, and looks capable of landing a race off her revised mark of 132.  She didn’t look in love with the ground and a sounder surface should suit, so look out for her in the spring.

UN DE SCEAUX, LA BAGUE AU ROI, THE NEW ONE AND SAINT CALVADOS REVIEWED

UN DE SCEAUX BRILLIANT ON HIS GROUND AGAIN

The Clarence House was run at a startling pace, and gave us another opportunity to see just how brilliant UN DE SCEAUX (168) is when he runs on soft ground.  The extent of this performance is evident when comparing it on the clock with the other chase runs on the card.

Drumcliff Acting Lass Un De Sceaux
30.88 30.99 28.76
47.73 47.90 44.47
91.62 91.10 85.38
104.11 103.18 97.54
122.45 121.24 115.79
135.91 134.85 129.53
171.85 170.21 164.28
182.68 181.47 174.82
193.65 192.65 185.77
205.18 204.61 196.83
234.59 234.64 225.32
250.65 251.02 242.18
264.42 265.32 258.60

From the first fence he jumped to the line, he clocked a time 5.82s quicker than Drumcliff, and 6.72s faster than Acting Lass.  There was a frantic early pace on in this race, and Un De Sceaux actually reached two out around 9s quicker than the other two winners on the card.  The other two made up some time from there, but Un De Sceaux was just ridden out under hands and heels to the line.  When all the factors are taken into account, I’ve given him a mark of 168, which is a bit below his best but he could probably have gone faster in the latter stages.

He is clearly brilliant on this soft ground, in fact I don’t think there is horse that can live with him over two miles on this sort of ground.  I was interested to see him marked up at 6/1 NRNB for the Champion Chase, and if you don’t mind tying up your money that looks worth taking.  The only way he is going to run in the race is if we get soft ground on the Wednesday, and in that case he surely goes off favourite.  With the usual faster ground he will surely run in the Ryanair and you’d get your money back.  Even if he did still rock up in the Champion, he’d probably be shorter than 6s in an open year.  Don’t forget the one time he ran in the race he was only beaten by Sprinter Sacre, and had future winner Special Tiara just behind him in third.

He’ll probably go for the Ryanair on better ground though.  The problem here is that he is already 5/2 NRNB, and with that in mind I’d probably chance that he isn’t as adept on quicker ground.  He is ten years old now, and his legs may struggle to rattle off a sounder surface.

The frantic early pace was set by SPEREDEK (160) who put up a fine front running effort to finish second, and he probably had the beating of BRAIN POWER (158) before that one came down.  He looks set to go for the Ascot Chase back here in February and if he can translate this sort of form over the longer trip he’d be a live contender for it.  He’s only just turned seven and clearly going the right way and has in fact already won over 2m7f.

LA BAGUE AU ROI COULD WIN A STAYERS WITH HER ALLOWANCE

Over hurdles on the Ascot card, LA BAGUE AU ROI (149+) won the Grade 2 hurdle easily and suggests she could be a threat in the Stayer’s Hurdle.

Nayati La Bague Au Roi Jenkins Vinndication
15.74 16.33 16.00 17.05
63.13 65.12 66.20 67.82
93.24 95.15 96.33 98.84
145.00 147.57 147.48 150.21
155.16 157.64 157.12 160.40
200.42 200.94 199.22 203.24
219.04 216.88 215.23 218.53
237.07 234.83 231.98 233.19

The overall time she clocked was a bit slower than Jenkins (2.85s) and Vinndication (1.64s) as you can see above.  But those two races were over shorter distance, and La Bague Au Roi was eased in the closing stages.  With that in mind I’ve only been able to rate her 149, which coincidentally was her official rating going into this race.  She is capable of better than this and with a weight allowance in the Stayers she should be capable of being in the mix.

She has been beaten in her only run at Cheltenham to date in the mares novice last year, but that was over 2m1f, and she has now won both her starts over three miles.  On pedigree that trip looks to be fine for her, and she’s won on better ground too… she could provide her trainer with another Stayers Hurdle.

IS THE NEW ONE REGRESSING?

Whilst it was good for the soul to see THE NEW ONE (148) win the Champion Hurdle Trial for the fourth year in a row at Haydock, looking at it from a purely analytical point of view I find it hard to get too excited about the run.

Joke Dancer First Flow The New One Donna’s Diamond
15.3 14.53 14.46 16.11
30.02 28.71 28.8 31.69
100.85 97.68 96.46 101.63
115.21 111.44 111.06 115.98
140.19 134.6 135.84 140.67
189.87 184.24 186.05 191.77
203.58 198.14 199.98 205.69
217.09 212.16 213.22 219.13
241 235.39 234.99 241.44

In comparison to the other race over the same distance, starting with the novice hurdle winner First Flow, he clocked an overall time just 0.4s quicker from the first to the line.  He was actually only six seconds quicker than Joke Dancer in the opening handicap, and that horse was winning off a mark of just 115.  However, he was quicker in the closing stages from two out to the line:

Joke Dancer First Flow The New One Donna’s Diamond
203.58 198.14 199.98 205.69
37.42 37.25 35.01 35.75

As you can see he was 2.24s quicker from two out to the line when compared to First Flow, however the was just 0.74s quicker over this section compared to Donna’s Diamond who was winning over just shy of three miles.

Factoring all this together and I’ve given The New One a mark of 148, which is a pound lower than the figure I gave him for his run in the Christmas Hurdle.  In fact his marks so far this season give me cause for concern that now he has hit double figures in age he may be regressing.  His marks in chronological order this year are 164, 166, 153, 149 and now 148.  He has a good record on soft ground, and I did in fact have one of my biggest each way bets in a long time on him in the Greatwood Hurdle, but his form on the clock since then has looked below par to me.

He now looks set to go up in trip for the Stayer’s Hurdle, and whilst he has an excellent record on the new course, I struggle to get too excited about his prospects.

CH’TIBELLO (140) was one of my outsiders of interest in the Champion Hurdle last year, and indeed was on my radar for this year’s renewal.  He tried to win this race with one late move, but was outstayed on this ground on the long run in to the line.  On better ground he can be in the shake-up in the Champion….albeit a respectable distance behind Buveur D’Air.  I’ve rated him around 160 before, and hopefully he can find that form again on better ground.

SAINT CALVADOS A THREAT IN THE ARKLE

Before those races, earlier in the week we saw a fresh name enter the Arkle picture as SAINT CALVADOS (165) won a novice handicap chase impressively at Newbury.

Horatio Hornblower Saint Calvados Difference
16.49 13.94 -2.55
34.79 30.13 -4.66
68.88 62.46 -6.42
81.9 74.86 -7.04
95.83 88.6 -7.23
110.21 102.33 -7.88
123.69 115.53 -8.16
161.52 152.24 -9.28
192.1 181.31 -10.79
205.36 193.26 -12.1
217.66 205 -12.66
234.27 220.43 -13.84
255.55 242.19 -13.36

The other chase on the card was run over 2m7.5f by Horatio Hornblower, but as you can see from the above Saint Calvados clocked a time 13.36s quicker from the first to the line over the two mile course, and was carrying 8lbs more in weight.  Even allowing for the shorter distance of the race this was a red hot performance from the winner.  He was even eased in the latter stages so he could have gone faster too.

I was intrigued to hear his trainer say he was 10lbs better than his previous star horse Arzal.  I rated that horse 166, so if he is capable of that sort of run then this horse is a major threat to Footpad who has looked the best two mile novice around this season.

As ever, things are never that straightforward.  This was just the sixth run of his life, and the second he’s had in this country, and all of those efforts have been on soft ground.  This leaves some doubt about his ability to handle potentially quicker ground for starters, as does his ability to handle the undulations of Cheltenham.  If he can adapt to the different conditions he is a live player in the Arkle.

WEEKEND REVIEW…WAITING PATIENTLY, WILLIAM HENRY, GETABIRD AND INVITATION ONLY

WAITING PATIENTLY WORTH WAITING FOR

The star performance of the weekend was undoubtedly that of WAITING PATIENTLY (164) who thrashed his rivals in a Listed race at Kempton over 2m5f, with the clock backing up the visual impression of the performance.

Mercian Prince Waiting Patiently Fountains Windfall
12.38 12.36 12.26
26.68 26.47 25.73
37.59 37.65 36.66
73.66 74.2 73.36
87.14 87.53 87.18
101.14 101.44 101.39
147.1 146.47 146.76
157.37 156.25 156.9
194.98 194.37 195.85
207.04 206.57 208.23
220.11 220.01 222.28
230.45 230.56 233.01
263.56 263.15 266.89
276.32 275.28 279.89
291.21 288.24 293.94
303.35 298.53 304.89

As you can see from the sectionals compared with the other two races, he clocked by far the best time as clocked from the first flight.  He was carrying less weight than the other two winners, and going a shorter distance that Fountains Windfall, but even allowing for these factors he deserves a big rating.

What was perhaps most impressive is the turn of foot he showed in the latter stages of the race, and seemingly doing so within his comfort zone.

Mercian Prince Waiting Patiently Fountains Windfall
230.45 230.56 233.01
72.9 67.97 71.88

The above table shows the time that each winner took to reach four out, and from there to the line.  As you can see Waiting Patiently got to four out in near enough exactly the same time as Mercian Prince in the handicap chase run over the same distance.  From there though he scooted home 4.93s quicker.  He was also quicker throughout than Fountains Windfall was in the three mile chase, and that horse is now being touted as a live RSA contender!

He is no doubt an exciting horse, having only just turned seven so it’s worth looking at his profile a bit closer.  First up, there seems to be some consensus that he needs soft ground.  On looking at his form initially that would look to be the case but his two runs this season have both come on good to soft, and the one time he ran on ground described purely as “good” he went down by a length to the top class Cloudy Dream as a four year old.

The obvious target for him would look to be the Ryanair, where he would likely clash with Un De Sceaux.  The one problem is that his perceived best conditions would also suit that rival who is a bit of a freak on soft ground, so his best chance would be on better ground which shouldn’t inconvenience him as much.  He goes there with a live chance.

Long term the King George back at Kempton would look a suitable long term target next season, there’s plenty of stamina in the pedigree and we can see he handles the track fine.  I’m not sure his stamina would extend to the Gold Cup, but he would certainly be an interesting King George contender.  I’m pretty sure he can progress further from this performance and join the elite horses around at the moment capable of posting 170+ numbers.

FOUNTAINS WINDFALL DESERVES TO GO FOR RSA

I’ve struggled to get to grips with FOUNTAINS WINDFALL (150+), going back and forth about whether he’s an RSA candidate or not.  He was three lengths clear and going well when coming down in the Kauto Star at Christmas, and made amends at the weekend by winning a relatively weak handicap off a mark of 146.

I’ve only been able to rate him 150, as he was eased in the closing stages, but he’s probably capable of putting in a mark of around 160.  That would tie in with what he could’ve done if standing up on the last two times where he’s fallen when in contention.  He deserves to go for a big race like the RSA, but I’d probably be a bit underwhelmed if he won the race.  They did go quite slow in this race, and I don’t think the Kauto Star at Christmas was that strong on the clock either, so whilst he’s no doubt a good horse, I’ll wait and see what turns up on the day, especially with some big names in Ireland still to race.

WILLIAM HENRY LANDS A HOT LANZAROTE HURDLE

I was keen on a few outsiders down the weights in the Lanzarote Hurdle, but as it turned out the classy top weight WILLIAM HENRY (160) proved to be well ahead of his mark and was suited by reverting to hurdles after a disastrous experiment with chasing.

Redicean Chef Des Obeaux William Henry Jenkins
19.18 18.67 18.18 17.98
69.52 67.76 66.76 67.72
80 77.25 76.64 77.54
127.04 122.21 121.55 124.64
152.05 146.6 145.23 148.36
201.58 199.19 194.2 195.35
217.92 217.33 211.99 212.42
229.63 230.41 224.29 224.75

As you can see from the table above, he clocked a time 5.34s quicker than Redicean did for the two mile course, despite going five furlongs further.  He managed to clock an overall time faster than Jenkins too, but this was due to the faster early pace, as we can see now:

Redicean Chef Des Obeaux William Henry Jenkins
152.05 146.6 145.23 148.36
77.58 83.81 79.06 76.39

They went a much stronger pace in the Lanzarote, as you can see above, he got to three out 6.82s quicker than Redicean did in the two mile juvenile hurdle.  Unsurprisingly, the younger horse made up some time from there but he only made up 1.48s and was carrying less weight…and of course hadn’t gone as far.  Jenkins made up more time in the latter stages, and rates higher than Redicean as a result, but the overall time, and factoring in weight and distance still points to this being a hot race.  The comparison with Chef Des Obeaux, the winner of the longer race over three miles, highlights things further.  He got to three out 1.37s quicker, and came home 4.75s faster from there.  All this data points to a figure of 160 for William Henry, who was clearly well ahead of his mark of 145.

He’s only been put up to 151 after this and that looks lenient, making him a live contender for the Coral Cup, which connections landed with Whisper off a big weight.  If he gets three miles he would have a shot in a Stayers Hurdle, and with plenty of flat staying performers that perhaps is a possible eventuality.  Interestingly, his mother was a half-sister to Strangely Brown who ran in a Stayers Hurdle.  A race like the Aintree Hurdle may be perfect for him, but wherever he goes he is an unexposed hurdler who I want to be on the right side of.

With the winner putting up a good figure, it follows that the horses in behind look interesting for subsequent races.

SPIRITOFTHEGAMES (148) ran a big race, going down by just three quarters of a length.  This was just his sixth run over hurdles and he would also look to be a live contender for the Coral Cup.  Similarly lightly raced was the third placed RED INDIAN (146) who should land a handicap.

Back in fourth was TOPOFTHEGAME (151) who like the winner was reverting from an unsuccessful foray over fences.  This is the time of the year than Nicholls does his flu jabs for horses, and he actually hasn’t had a winner yet this year so this run reads very well in that context.  He does look every inch a chaser and remains an exciting prospect in that sphere having only just turned six.

DIESE DES BIEFFES (146) went off favourite but still ran a fine race to finish fifth.  He put up this sort of number when second to If The Cap Fits, and with that run only eighteen days prior to this perhaps this came a bit soon.

COEUR BLIMEY (139) ran very well to finish sixth considering the number of jumping mistakes he meant, and LE PARIOTE (132) made a pleasing UK debut for the Newland yard.  He may be suited by a drop in trip as he was bang there travelling well two out but didn’t seem to quite see out the race.

HOOD GETS JENKINS BACK ON TRACK

I gave JENKINS (151) a big rating when he won on his debut at Newbury over hurdles last season.  Happily that figure was backed up by the exploits of the vanquished horses with Bags Groove, Captain Forez and Pingshou.  Rather unhappily Jenkins seemed to go completely off the rails but the application of a hood and setting him out in front at Kempton on Saturday looks to have done the trick with the horse, and hopefully he can progress from here.

He clocked a time 4.88s quicker than Redicean did over the same distance, and carried a pound more in weight, with the younger horse only making up 1.35s from two out.  Jenkins actually clocked the fastest time from three out.  It’ll be interesting to see if he can go on from here, as the promise of that Newbury debut led one to believe he was going right to the top.

MR WHIPPED A LONG TERM PROSPECT…..ALONG WITH VADO FORTE!

The Grade 2 Leamington Novice at Warwick was won by Willoughby Court last year before going onto Cheltenham glory, but I don’t feel that MR WHIPPED (121+) is going to be doing the same this year though he does look a nice long term prospect for Henderson.

Vado Forte Black Ivory Mr Whipped
11.45 12.27 12.35
54.45 57.11 58.23
117.25 120.14 121.21
130.98 134.04 134.89
146.3 150.38 150.77
190.65 194.08 193.38
202.88 205.46 204.97
215.15 217.87 217.69

Mr Whipped clocked an overall time from the first flight in the two mile race just 0.18s than Black Ivory did in the longer race, but this was largely down to the slow pace of the race.

Vado Forte Black Ivory Mr Whipped
146.3 150.38 150.77
68.85 67.49 66.92

As you can see there, Mr Whipped was 0.39s behind Black Ivory at three out, but came home 0.58s quicker.  He travelled seemingly well within himself to do this, and then idled in front so I’d be fairly confident there is a lot of horse still to be found here.  Big races this spring may be too soon on the horizon, but he’s in the right hands to develop into a fine chaser next year.

Rather surprisingly the same can be said about the winner of the lower class novice handicap hurdle that opened the card at Warwick, as VADO FORTE (130) obliterated his rivals in fine style.  He was easy to clock in the big field, looking much bigger than his opponents, being fitted with a big white nose band, and travelling noticeably better than anything else in the race (it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen the race, you can spot him a mile off coming through the field).

As we saw from the sectionals, they went a fast pace in this race, getting to three out over four seconds quicker than the other two races.  The other two races made up time from there, but perhaps not as much as one would expect, and Vado Forte came seven lengths clear of his field in fine style.  He’d not settled in his racing prior to this, and the decent pace of this big field handicap clearly helped in that regard.

He’s gone up to a mark of 112 after this, which would look to underrate him a fair amount.  He would look able to land another race from that sort of mark, and then long-term looks a nice chasing prospect.

GETABIRD NEEDS TO IMPROVE TO WIN A SUPREME

I’ll never quite understand some of the talk surrounding Cheltenham that seems to require a short priced favourite for a race to be deemed “up to scratch”.  On my figures this year’s crop of novice hurdlers is as deep as I can remember, and this probably explained why the Supreme didn’t have a clear favourite.  However, everyone seems to happy now that GETABIRD (141) is as short as 5/2 for the opening race of the festival.  But on the figures he’s going to have to improve a fair amount to win that race.

Getabird Impact Factor Goaheadmakemyday
31.64 31.79 33.3
56.95 57.69 59.21
101.15 102.88 104.17
130.54 133.8 134.84
146.86 150.7 151.07
172.23 176.98 176.57
186.38 191.61 190.74
215.08 221.83 221.93
227.27 234.84 235.67

He did clock the fastest time of the three races on the card, but the other two contests were relatively weak affairs and so this is no surprise (the mare Goaheadmakemyday was winning off a mark of 97).

He was consistently quicker throughout in comparison to the maiden hurdle won over the same distance by Impact Factor (121), but was in fact carrying 10lbs less than that horse in winning this race.  His overall time was 7.57s quicker, and on this ground at Punchestown over two miles I can only get him to around 20lbs better than Impact Factor after the weight adjustment.

So, alarm bells are ringing for me already when I hear that he is now a short priced favourite for the Supreme.  Horses like If The Cap Fits, Summerville Boy, Sharjah, Reel Steal, Kalashnikov, Jetz and Slate House have all put up better figures than him this season and look like potential rivals.  Now what is apparent in the post-race analysis is that he is expected to come on for the run, and Mullins will no doubt have him ready to fire come the big day.  But he will have to find at least a stone of improvement to win the Supreme, probably 20lbs in fact, and at a short price I could watch and see rather than pay to find out.

Now if that alarm bell was quietening, another one flared up straight away, and it revolved around comments made by Patrick Mullins.  I’ll copy them straight in here from Racing UK, and then explain my concerns:

Getabird hasn’t got the most fantastic confirmation in the world and that probably counts against him,” he said. “He hasn’t got the greatest set of front legs”

Now he was winning here on soft/heavy ground, and he won his hurdling debut on heavy, and perhaps given his legs issues the softer ground helps him.  He did win his bumper on better ground but jumping at Cheltenham on its undulations on much quicker ground has to be a concern for a horse of that nature with bad front legs. The ground will be called good to soft, but will likely be proper good ground…for a horse with his issues that wouldn’t be ideal.

MENGLI KHAN (136) is another who has put up a big figure this season when winning the Royal Bond. He’s disappointed since then, though was going well before running out through the rails at Christmas where he would likely have put in another 150+ number.  He was probably feeling the effects of that incident here.  He’s a horse with plenty of ability and if he can get back on track can be a threat again.

INVITATION ONLY CAN LAND ONE OF THE BIG NOVICE CHASES

Whilst this years novice hurdlers are a strong batch, I don’t feel the same can be said about the novice chasers.  I didn’t think last years novice hurdlers were a great crop, and that has probably filtered through to the novice chase division this season.  It would make sense that the three standout horses so far were second season hurdlers or didn’t race at Cheltenham – Footpad, Sutton Place and INVITATION ONLY (148++) are the three.

Invitation Only put up an excellent figure on the clock when beating Any Second Now, and duly followed up here.  He wasn’t as good on the clock this time, but this was down to the race being run at a crawl…we can still see evidence of this latent ability though.

Bilbo Bagins Invitation Only Glencairn View
236.56 239.55 242.04
70.97 62.9 67.5

Bilbo Bagins won the handicap chase over the same course and distance, and looks deserving of a mark around 115/120 having won his race by half a length with the pair eleven lengths clear of the third.  Invitation Only was 3s slower to three out, with the race being run at a sedate pace, but flew home from there 8s quicker to the line.  I can only get to a figure of 148 as a result of the slow early pace, but would be confident of him being able of producing much better…and this would be in line with his run last time out.

The JLT or RSA looks to be potential targets, and it is frustrating in this day and age that we don’t know!  Previously the RSA would’ve been done and dusted as a target, but he’s capable of winning the JLT too.  Wherever he goes I want to be with him.

LANZAROTE HURDLE PREVIEW

One of my favourite races of the season is the Lanzarote Hurdle run at Kempton this weekend over 2.5m.  This year’s renewal sees sixteen (hopefully!) go to post, and there are three that take my eye as being well treated, one at the front of the market and two at bigger prices.

I’m not too keen on most of those at short prices, River Frost for JP McManus heads the market and I can see why that may be as his seasonal reappearance saw him finish a two lengths fifth at Chepstow and the form has worked out well with Sam Spinner and Wholestone finishing ahead of him.  He’s gone up 3lb since as a result though and is now bang on the mark I’ve rated him for Chepstow and the Coral Cup, so I can let him go at the prices.  William Henry is reverting back from a disastrous chasing adventure, as is Topofthegame who fell on his only attempt at the larger obstacles.  Bags Groove has won his last two starts and gone up 12lbs to 145, which again is bang on what I’ve rated his last two runs.  Le Patriote is having his first start in the UK and has been well backed but it’s hard to get involved now with so many unknowns about him.  Coueur Blimey is of interest, but again has gone up to the sort of mark I’ve rated him previously.

The one I do like towards the front of the market is DIESE DES BIEFFES (145) who looks well treated off a mark of 135 on his last start on this track.  He was second to If The Cap Fits that day who looks a live contender for the Supreme, and Diese Des Bieffes put up a good figure finishing second, four and a half lengths clear of the third.  He comfortably beat the now 133 rated Highway One O One on his first run this season and the horse he beat on his second start, Show On The Road, won a novice hurdle by thirteen lengths at Exeter on New Year’s Day.  He now steps up to 2m5f, and on the visual impression of his Kempton run that looks like it should suit fine, and most of his siblings have prospered over further than two miles, with Caid Du Berlais in the family tree.  He’s by Martaline, whose top rated jumps horses include Dynaste, Disko, Agrapart and Ucello Conti, so I’m comfortable that he’ll be able to handle the step up in trip.  If he can improve on his last start then a mark of 135 could be made a mockery of come the race.  Mitch Bastyan is a brilliant young jockey who takes off 5lbs to boost confidence even further.

The second horse on my shortlist is WISHFULL DREAMING (133) who has his first start for Olly Murphy having moved yards from Phillip Hobbs.  I was devastated when Hunters Call beat Silver Streak in the big handicap hurdle at Ascot before Christmas, and that was a case of Murphy finding masses of improvement in a horse having his first start for him.  Now it’s unlikely that he’s going to be doing a drastically better job than Hobbs, but if he can find some improvement in the horse, or if he thrives in his new yard then he looks potentially well treated off a mark of 127.  He won on his handicap debut at Chepstow in 2016 off a mark of 123 by five lengths, but has been unsuccessful since then.  But I’ve had him running to a mark of 133 previously, and indeed he was a good fourth behind Brain Power at Sandown in December 2016.  He’s been well backed on all his starts since going off 7/4, 5/2, 11/10, 3/1 and 7/2 but hasn’t been able to reward that confidence, though it suggests there is a decent engine under the bonnet.  I think this may be the time to catch him fresh first time up, with his form off a long break reading 11F, with the “F” coming when leading in a handicap hurdle at Tanton won by Amour De Nuit (now rated 20lbs higher).  The first time tongue tie goes on, and with Aidan Coleman booked a price of 20/1 looks worth chancing.

The final one on my list is DINO VELVET (133) who looks a wild price at 25/1.  He was 5th behind the aforementioned Silver Streak at Chepstow on his seasonal reappearance, after running with credit to finish 8th in the Fred Winter (made a mistake at a crucial time), and I think he’s coming into this race a bit under the radar.  He was stepped up to two and a half miles last time at Newbury, where he travelled well before flattening out a bit to finish a seven length fifth.  But he reportedly had a bit of a setback in his preparation, and if he’s over that and had a smoother build up to this race I think he can outrun his odds here.  On pedigree the step up to this sort of trip should suit with his mother a half-sister to listed winner Pop Art (won over 2m2f), and his one win in this country came at Sandown so there’s a chance he may be better going right-handed too.  He may be better suited to a flatter track as well, with his form off a recent run away from undulating tracks since moving to King reading 122.  I think there’s scope in his mark of 123 having rated him 10lbs higher than that, and I’m glad to see Wayne Hutchinson take the ride as he is very good in these big field handicap hurdles.  It’s also interesting that he’s going to sweat down to a weight of 10-4 (lowest weight in last 12 months is 10-2).

Hopefully all sixteen stand their ground for the race, and if so I think these three are worth backing each way.  I may even throw a few quid at the tricast just in case!

JUVENILE AND NOVICE HURDLERS AND A QUICK LOOK AT IRELAND OVER CHRISTMAS

FINALE THE BEST JUVENILE RACE SO FAR

I wrote recently about the excellent performance on the clock put up by SUSSEX RANGER (152) at Sandown, where he put up a better display than the highly touted (and overrated) On The Blind Side.  I was keen on his chances in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow at the weekend and he put up another good run on the clock, but he pulled hard early on in the race and was pipped in the latter stages by WE HAVE A DREAM (154).  The merits of the race are shown when looking at the sectionals clocked from the first flight in the two mile race:

Diablo De Rouhet We Have A Dream Flemcara
73.71 72 74.13
95.12 93.45 95.41
184.42 182.26 184.53
195.71 193.29 195.92
226.33 223.37 227.34
238.86 234.63 240.06

As you can see the winner clocked the fastest time for the section timed, and was in fact faster throughout compared to the longer races on the card.

Diablo De Rouhet We Have A Dream Flemcara
184.42 182.26 184.53
54.44 52.37 55.53

 He was quicker to 3 out, and from there to the line when compared to the other races.  This was to be expected considering it was a Grade 1 over 2miles compared to 2.5m and 3m in the supporting hurdle races.  But when adjusting for this I still award the winner the best juvenile rating of the season to date.

Unsuccessful in three hurdle runs in France, this was We Have A Dream’s third win from three runs in this country and he deserves his place towards the top of the Triumph market.  He travelled better than the runner-up, and certainly settled better and looks to possess a better turn of foot that ultimately won the race on the day.

Sussex Ranger backed up his Sandown run, proving it no fluke by largely doing everything wrong here and yet only going down by a length and a half.  Far too keen in the early stages, it says a lot for his ability that he was able to run so close here having wasted energy early on.  The third place horse who behaved similarly poorly early on ended up 11 lengths back!

He battled on gamely in defeat, but I wouldn’t rule out the prospect of him overturning this form come the Triumph.  For starters there will be more hurdles to jump, and he is a noticeably adept jumper who was inconvenienced by there being 2 hurdles omitted here.  He outjumped the winner at the last. There is a long run from three out to the line in the Triumph but with the emphasis on stamina on the new course and the uphill finish I still think he can land the big race.

MERCENAIRE (139) was keen in the early stages as well, but unlike Sussex Ranger wilted in the latter part of the race to finish third.  I was amused to hear Nick Williams say he’s probably run to 130 here to try and plant that figure in the mind of the handicapper.  I’ve rated him 139, and should he get the favourable rating suggested he would surely go for and have a live chance of landing a consecutive Fred Winter at the festival for the trainer.

 

SUMMERVILLE BOY AND KALASHNIKOV ARE YET MORE TOP NOVICE HURDLERS

This season has been one of the strongest I can recall in terms of strength in depth in the novice hurdle division.  Samcro sits atop his throne, looking down on everyone, but I can add two more horses to the 150+ section after the Tolworth Hurdle on Saturday that was won in a fast time by SUMMERVILLE BOY (155).

Crucial Moment Poppy Kay Summerville Boy Call Me Lord
16.23 16.25 15.24 15.18
93.84 93.80 87.57 90.53
104.66 104.12 97.36 100.94
116.73 115.71 108.51 112.76
137.77 137.15 128.91 133.53
196.90 194.77 188.76 193.88
212.18 210.16 205.06 208.76
228.56 226.56 221.75 223.90

The race was run at a strong pace set by MONT DES AVALOIRS (139) but the winner travelled noticeably well in landing the race.  The scale of the early pace in the race can be shown here:

Crucial Moment Poppy Kay Summerville Boy Call Me Lord
137.77 137.15 128.91 133.53
90.79 89.41 92.84 90.37

As you can see the winner got to 3 out 4.62s quicker than Call Me Lord did in the handicap hurdle over the same course and distance.  Understandably this was unsustainable and he slowed from there, but still clocked a red hot time overall, and I’ve awarded him a lofty number as a result.

This marks him down as another one of the good novice hurdlers this season, and his ability to travel well at a frenetic pace bodes well for the spring festivals where he can land one of the big prizes before embarking on an exciting novice chase campaign next year.

The runner-up KALASHNIKOV (150) struggled to go the breakneck pace here, perhaps being inconvenienced by the ground as well.  I’ve seen plenty of people write in glowing terms about him, and he is undoubtedly a nice horse for his rookie trainer.  But I’d be surprised if he was able to land a big prize this spring, though he deserves to line up in one I feel he is a notch below the top tier.  He could be one for handicaps next year.

 

COULD NEXT DESTINATION GO FOR THE SUPREME?

Whilst it was disappointing not to see a clash between the top two novice hurdlers seen this season, NEXT DESTINATION (160) still put up a good display to win the Grade 1 over 2.5m at Naas on Sunday.  Whilst plenty seem to feel the choice is between taking on Samcro in the Neptune, or going for the Albert Bartlett, I wouldn’t mind seeing him go for the Supreme over 2miles.  Firstly, let’s look at the merits of his win on the clock.

Another Barney Next Destination Mick The Boyo
14.66 14.91 15.38
65.3 66.08 68.33
94.18 94.01 98.17
138.66 137.52 142.9
152.56 150.72 156.96
188.22 185.89 193.43
201.89 199.25 207.57
217.81 214.16 222.5

There were two other races on the card run over half a mile shorter, yet Next Destination clocked a much faster time than both of them despite running the longer distance.  Furthermore, he showed plenty of gears in winning the race in the latter stages.

Another Barney Next Destination Mick The Boyo
152.56 150.72 156.96
65.25 63.44 65.54

As you can see in the second table, he got to 3 out in 150.72s, quicker than the other two races on the card, and still came home nearly 2s faster from there to the line.  This isn’t the first time that he’s showed plenty of pace in the latter stages of his races either.  On his hurdling debut at this track, he was half a second quicker from the last hurdle to the line than the other winners on the card.

Interestingly, he actually won the same point to point as Champagne Fever, though the races were run very differently with Next Destination clocking a slower time in a slower run race.  And I wonder whether history may repeat itself, as Champagne Fever was in people’s minds for longer trips before reverting and winning the Supreme.  This horse jumped noticeably better here, and with a good pace over two miles I think that weapon could be used to full effect, and it was interesting to note Mullins talk along similar lines.  He clearly has plenty of pace and I just wonder whether the Supreme is a livelier runner than people think.  On pedigree he is from the family of Liss A Paoraigh who won a Grade 1 hurdle over two miles.

 

There was stacks of racing of Christmas in Ireland so I’ve stuck with just a few races to focus on.  If anyone has any horse they want to ask about, I’ll be happy to discuss.

WILL THERE BE TOO MANY RUNNERS FOR FOOTPAD IN THE ARKLE?

I was keen on the chances of ANY SECOND NOW (155) in the Racing Post Novice Chase after he’d run a good time behind Invitation Only last time out.  He put up a good performance again here to finish 2nd but was fairly put in his place by FOOTPAD (168) who now goes to the Arkle as a short priced favourite for the race.

This looks fair enough to me when you look at the sectionals he put up in this race:

Tisamystery Footpad Difference
40.21 41.17 0.96
54.46 56.11 1.65
86.57 87.9 1.33
109.38 109.76 0.38
126.4 126.26 -0.14
139.57 139.29 -0.28
155.21 154.46 -0.75
174.48 173.35 -1.13
191.03 189.61 -1.42
220.32 217.02 -3.3
240.89 237.48 -3.41

As you can see he clocked a time 3.41s quicker that Tisamystery did in the handicap chase over the same course and distance, and did so carrying 26lbs more in weight.  When allowing for that I give the winner a red hot number of 168.  He deservedly heads the market for the Arkle.

As ever though one has to be picky when looking at a short priced favourite for a big race at Cheltenham.  Firstly, his last two runs at the Festival have seen him finish 3rd in the Triumph and 4th in the Champion Hurdle.  This doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t handle the track as both runs were fine, but it would be in the back of my mind, especially as he seems to be a horse that likes softer ground.  However, more prevalent in my concerns is whether he can handle a big field.

His form in races of 8 runners or less reads 1311114211, with two of his defeats coming when trying to give weight to Jer’s Girl and Apple’s Jade, and when going down by a length in the Irish Champion Hurdle.  His only bad run under such conditions came when 4th in the Ryanair Hurdle this time last year.  His form in fields larger than 8 runners reads 723F243.

The average field size in the Arkle since 2011, when the JLT came into the fixture list, is 8.4, so it may be worth seeing if a decent field turn up on the day to oppose him.  The smallest field sizes have been when Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig and Douvan were short priced favourites and there may be more appetite to take on a horse like Footpad, who whilst he has been brilliant in his two starts to date, doesn’t have the same aura as the aforementioned horses…..yet!

ROAD TO RESPECT STEPS INTO THE GOLD CUP PICTURE

I’d given ROAD TO RESPECT (170) big numbers last season, but wasn’t sure if he was capable of stepping into the Gold Cup picture on what I’d seen of him this season.  He proved me wrong by landing the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown in fine style, and is a solid Gold Cup prospect now.

Road To Respect Snow Falcon Difference
19.79 20.73 -0.94
36.43 38.56 -2.13
68.14 71.03 -2.89
110.12 114.21 -4.09
124.64 128.97 -4.33
156.88 161.65 -4.77
178.96 185.34 -6.38
195.36 201.48 -6.12
208.48 214.33 -5.85
224.1 230.46 -6.36
243.21 249.63 -6.42
259.06 265.54 -6.48
287.51 296.26 -8.75
308.45 317.41 -8.96
308.45 317.41 -8.96
308.45 317.41 -8.96
472.45 483.41 -10.96
496.45 504.41 -7.96

The other chase on the card was won by Snow Falcon over 3f shorter than this race, but Road To Respect ran the equivalent distance 7.96s quicker, carrying just 2lbs less.

He looks to be a better horse going this way round, and of course won over the New Course at last year’s festival, and fits just about every stat you can throw at him regarding the Gold Cup.  At the back of my mind I would be a bit underwhelmed if he won the Gold Cup, but he is probably as solid an each way prospect as you could hope for in the race.  Might Bite and Coney Island might have the “sexier” profile that is looked for these days, but I’d be wary of underestimating Road To Respect.

BALKO DES FLOS (169) like the winner is now only seven years old and is clearly progressing well too, should they elect to go to Cheltenham with him he’d be a lively outsider in the Gold Cup, but may be more suited by the Ryanair.  He was outstayed by the winner here, and won the Galway hurdle of 2m6f back in the summer.

OUTLANDER (167) is a horse I’ve spent plenty of time looking at without coming to a satisfactory conclusion regarding his form.  What one can say is his runs in the UK have been fairly disastrous so it would be no surprise were they to wait until Punchestown with him.

YORKHILL (111) looks set to return to two miles, and I don’t have much to add other than that looks perfectly sensible considering the nature of how he raced here.  If he does prove suited to that test then he will be hard to beat in the Champion Chase even if Altior turns up.

SUTTON PLACE LIVES UP TO EXPECTATIONS

Those who read some of my blogs last year will have been bored slightly by my obsession with SUTTON PLACE (163) who I rated one of the best hurdlers around, in fact I only had Buveur D’Air and Nichols Canyon ahead of him.  You’ll be pleased to hear than the infatuation continues this year as he made an excellent start over fences at Fairyhouse on New Years Day.

Capture The Drama Sutton Place Difference
23.24 22.78 -0.46
52.13 50.75 -1.38
77.48 76.92 -0.56
122.67 123.19 0.52
134.9 135.43 0.53
154.82 155.48 0.66
176.95 178.03 1.08
196.67 197.65 0.98
206.12 206.9 0.78
238.18 238.69 0.51
261.23 261.33 0.1
282.31 281.88 -0.43
308.28 306.39 -1.89
333.49 328.54 -4.95
346.62 339.66 -6.96

There was one other chase on the card, run over 3m1f, but Sutton Place clocked a time of nearly 7s quicker, despite carrying 26lbs more in weight.  This points to a figure of 163, in line with some of the numbers he was getting over hurdles and marks this down as an excellent start over fences.

What was most impressive is how effortlessly he put away the runner-up in the latter stages, and he is capable of better than this as he progresses over the larger obstacles.  He has been a fragile horse, this was just the 8th of his life, and it would seem that soft ground is a necessity for him – he pulled up on the one time he ran on ground with good in the description.

This raises concerns regarding the festival, but he is one of the classiest novice chasers around – I only have Invitation Only and Footpad ahead of him on my numbers.  This was over 2m5f, and he showed that this sort of trip is suitable so the JLT would look a logical target should they elect to come over to Cheltenham.  Last year saw plenty of overnight watering on the Wednesday night in order to preserve the ground, and should they do so again the Thursday of the JLT could be the perfect distance and time for him to land the pot he deserves.

UK CHRISTMAS REVIEW

MIGHT BITE WAS OK IN THE KING GEORGE

The showpiece race of the Christmas period had the appropriate hype, but proved to be a bit underwhelming on the clock as MIGHT BITE (164) emerged victorious.  There were two other chases on the card and the comparisons make for interesting reading.

Hell’s Kitchen Black Corton Might Bite
12.29 12.85 12.54
25.75 26.55 26.68
36.47 37.44 37.67
71.55 72.44 73.24
85.44 85.87 86.66
100 100 100.85
144.63 143.71 144.89
154.44 153.81 154.86
191.33 191.27 192.05
203.56 203.6 204.26
217.24 217.2 217.69
228.24 228.26 228.41
262.7 265.55 262.66
275.66 279.36 276.64
289.74 294.43 291.79
300.18 305.53 302.93

As we can see Might Bite clocked a time 2.6s quicker than BLACK CORTON (150) over the same course and distance, as timed from the first flight in the shorter race won by Hell’s Kitchen (more on him later!).  The consensus seems to be that his rivals were burned off one by one, but when we look at the sectionals closer he did the damage in the latter stages of the race.

Hell’s Kitchen Black Corton Might Bite
228.24 228.26 228.41
71.94 77.27 74.52

The second table above shows how long each winner took to reach the jump four from home, and as we can see they all got their in broadly the same time.  But Might Bite came home 2.75s quicker than Black Corton, and with this fact I’ve given him a figure of 164.  Interestingly this is the same figure I gave him for his Kempton run last year where he fell at the last with the race at his mercy.

Inevitably attentions now turn to the Gold Cup.  So far this season I’ve given him a figure of 151 for his Sandown success, and 164 for his victory here.  He’ll need to step up on those numbers, and I think he can should the ground be better than it was here.  I still have his RSA win live in my memory, and hopefully he can fulfill his potential that that victory promised.  His jumping will need to improve though as he was quite big at some of his fences, and there will be no room for error on the big day.

The second horse DOUBLE SHUFFLE (163) has been used to crab the form of this race, but it would be dangerous to underestimate him as he is very unexposed at three miles plus and was running on well at the finish here.  With plenty of stamina in his pedigree and just about to turn eight, I’m sure there is a big staying race to be won with him.  Considering connections have had success in Ireland previously I wonder whether he may get an entry in the Irish National, or perhaps even go for the Punchestown Gold Cup.  He’ll be better on better ground in the spring too, and is definitely worth keeping onside.

Disappointment of the race was undoubtedly BRISTOL DE MAI (138) who faded once the pace quickened.  The accepted view seems to be that he is just a heavy ground Haydock specialist and that is undoubtedly where he is best.  I think though that he would have been better setting a stronger pace from the off here, as he couldn’t go when the tempo quickened in the latter stages.  Some of Twiston-Davies horses have been running below form too, and I wonder whether Haydock has left its mark on him.  Either way he’ll probably be completely disregarded should he race away from his perceived home conditions, and he’ll be too big a price as a result.  That’s fine by me for a horse that is capable of doing what he can do!

 

HELL’S KITCHEN AN EXCITING PROSPECT

As you can see from the sectionals previously highlighted, HELL’S KITCHEN (162) put in a good performance on the clock in the shorter 2.5m race on the Kempton Boxing Day card.  He still got to four out in the same time as Might Bite did in the King George, but proceeded to blast home from there 2.58s quicker than him, and 5.33s quicker than Black Corton.

This was an exceptional performance on the clock from the winner, and when I adjust for the shorter distance I still struggle to split him and the King George winner.  Considering he was winning this race off a mark of just 137 it was a remarkable run.

He is a huge horse and clearly has his quirks as shown by him being keen in the past and being allowed to bowl along here.  He was winning here over 2.5m and I’d be interested in his chances in an Arkle if he blasted off from the front.  Wherever he goes he deserves a second look.

MISTER WHITAKER (147) ran a fine race to go down by just a length and a half to the winner, but he was receiving 12lbs in weight.  He was running off a mark of 125 here, and after reassessment should be capable of winning a nice race.  The pair were 19 lengths clear of the 3rd horse and at the age of five he is clearly going the right way.

TOUCH KICK (133) was back in third and looks a fine prospect for staying chases in the future.  In touch to four out, he couldn’t go the pace of the protagonists here but being from the family of Big Buck’s that is perhaps to be expected over 2.5m round Kempton.

 

IF THE CAP FITS IS THE TOP BRITISH NOVICE HURDLER

On the same card over hurdles we saw a fine performance from IF THE CAP FITS (154) in the opening novice hurdle, one that propelled him to the top of the tree of novice hurdlers in Britain.

If The Cap Fits Buveur D’Air Golan Fortune
18.16 17.67 18.25
67.52 68.67 69.58
77.83 79.03 80
122.46 125.38 125.46
145.51 149.94 149.58
192.71 197.33 198.43
209.27 212.4 214.79
220.57 223.31 226.98

He clocked a time 6.4s quicker than Golan Fortune did in the handicap hurdle on the card, and was quicker throughout his race.

If The Cap Fits Buveur D’Air Golan Fortune
192.71 197.33 198.43
27.86 25.98 28.55

He got to the jump two from home 5.72s quicker than Golan Fortune did, and still came home 0.69s quicker, and did so carrying 13lbs more in weight.  Even allowing for the shorter distance of his race this was a top performance from the winner, who was conceding weight to some smart rivals.

Connections were talking as if the Supreme would be a likely target and that looks sensible to me.  Menorah won this race before success in the Festival opener, and he looks up to the standard and style of a Supreme horse.  Perhaps most importantly though, they can avoid Samcro!

 

BUVEUR D’AIR IS A FREAK

On the face of it the Christmas Hurdle was a deeply unsatisfactory race with BUVEUR D’AIR (150++) clocking a slow overall time to beat THE NEW ONE (147).

However, the first thing to note is that his hurdling is improving all the time and he now jumps his obstacles as slickly as any horse I can remember.  Apple’s Jade is similar, but this guy is maybe even better.

The second thing to note is the closing sectionals he clocked.  He got to two out much slower than If The Cap Fits did (4.62s), but came home from there 1.88s quicker in a very short space of time.  He had to be woken up to do this but then staggeringly came home on the bridle at this sort of pace.  He remains the horse to beat in March.

 

KAYF GRACE HAS A LIVE CHANCE IN THE MARES HURDLE

The other big performance over hurdles at Kempton came from KAYF GRACE (156) in the closing handicap hurdle of the meeting, and she looks an exciting prospect for the rest of the season.  She has clearly been fragile as this was just her 3rd run over hurdles, but she is a mare on the upgrade.

Redician Midnight Tune Kayf Grace
18.2 19.39 18.74
66.25 71.05 70.71
76.68 81.4 80.66
124.18 128.29 126.49
151.4 152.43 150.5
207.1 205.96 201.55
226.66 226.93 218.26
239.71 241.71 230.21

As you can see she clocked comfortably the fastest time of the three hurdle races on the card as timed from the first jump on the two mile course.  The manner of it though can be shown in how quickly she motored home.

Redician Midnight Tune Kayf Grace
151.4 152.43 150.5
88.31 89.28 79.71

Redician was a visually impressive winner of the opening juvenile hurdle, and has been quoted at 25/1 for the Triumph.  But that looks a pipedream when comparing his run to Kayf Grace over the same course and distance.  Kayf Grace got to four out 0.9s quicker, and then came home 8.6s quicker to the line and did so carrying 6lbs more in weight.

There was a headwind noted for the first race, and I have made an adjustment for that, but every way I play with the numbers I have to award Kayf Grace a big figure for her win here.  Even more impressive was the manner of her victory as she travelled well and was barely asked a question to ease to victory.

This run puts her up there with the best of the mares around over hurdles, and the 33/1 that is still available is a ridiculous price for the Cheltenham Grade 1.  Being from the family of Denman, she should handle the step up to 2.5m fine, and whilst there may be a concern about better ground, over a longer trip she should handle it.  She was winning here off a mark of just 132, and assuming she goes up to a mark of around 140 after this she can go in again… the Betfair Hurdle would be an obvious target for her before going for Grade 1 success on the big stage at Cheltenham.

EDDIEMAURICE (142) would have been an eight length winner were it not for him bumping into the mare here, and with connections talking about going over fences he can land a novice handicap chase without too much difficulty.

 

POLITOLOGUE NOT GREAT AGAIN, BUT CYRNAME BACKS UP HIS RUN LAST TIME

I’d given POLITOLGUE (158) a big figure of his reappearance at Exeter and raved about him since, but I was disappointed in him after his Tingle Creek win and I confess to being underwhelmed about him again after his Kempton success too.

Cyrname Politologue Difference
13.45 13.49 -0.04
28.12 27.2 0.92
74.64 71.02 3.62
84.99 80.98 4.01
123.27 119.3 3.97
135.25 131.65 3.6
148.35 145.09 3.26
158.48 156.12 2.36
192.1 190.67 1.43
205.16 204.45 0.71
219.72 220.42 -0.7
231.37 233.89 -2.52

As you can see from the sectionals above CYRNAME (162) clocked a 2.52s quicker time than his stablemate, whilst carrying just 2lbs less.  Politologue was idling in the latter stages after being left out on his own with Special Tiara falling, but was kept up to his work by Sam Twiston-Davies.

They did go a faster early pace, being 4s quicker at one stage and considering he won over 2m1.5f at Exeter on soft ground I was left wondering if trips beyond the minimum two miles will be his long term forte.  He is now going to be freshened up for an assault at the Champion Chase, and Nicholls is a master at that sort of thing.  I am still concerned though that his previous Cheltenham festival runs saw him finish 20th in the Coral Cup and 4th in the JLT.  But Dodging Bullets had a previous festival record of 494 before winning the big one, so Nicholls does have previous with this sort of horse.  But gun to my head and I’ll be looking elsewhere for the winner of the big race, his last two runs have just not been good enough for me.

Going the other way though is his stablemate CYRNAME (162) who put up a big performance on the clock behind Bigmartre on his last start, and happily backed it up with a good run on the clock here.  He looked better suited to going right handed at this track, which is unfortunate for the big targets but there are enough races like the Pendil where he can go this way round.  This run did advertise the form of that Newbury race won by Bigmartre and that horse is an exciting prospect for the spring.  And of course the favourite that day was the aforementioned Hell’s Kitchen who unseated early on!

 

CONEY ISLAND IS UP WITH THE BEST STAYING CHASERS AROUND

Back before Christmas at Ascot we saw the return of CONEY ISLAND (170) who won a remarkable renewal of the Sodexo Graduation Chase over 2m5f.

Coney Island Mr Medic Gold Present
10.47 9.88 10.52
20.93 20.38 21.56
32.12 31.83 33.17
60.87 61.58 62.68
76.89 77.84 78.60
118.35 119.62 120.50
130.01 131.61 131.97
147.22 149.47 149.39
160.31 162.77 162.22
192.42 197.02 195.16
202.44 207.17 205.51
212.86 217.95 216.29
223.76 229.28 227.61
250.77 256.23 255.14
267.39 271.22 270.48
284.28 285.11 284.51

The overall times for all three races from the first flight in the 2m3f race were remarkably similar as we can see from the above table, but the manner in which those times were reached was drastically different.

Coney Island Mr Medic Gold Present
250.77 256.23 255.14
33.51 28.88 29.37

From the second table we can see he got to two out 5.46s quicker than Mr Medic, and 4.37s quicker than Gold Present.  He did so carrying 11lbs and 4lbs more in weight respectively.  Furthermore, the initial sectional he ran from his first flight to the second was 1.77s quicker than Gold Present.  They just went a savage early pace in his race.

ADRIEN DU PONT (145) set the pace in this race, and is a good horse in his own right, but he was left legless having set the fractions he did.  Remarkably Coney Island gave him 11lbs in weight and was stoked up to chase the pacesetter and did so in a visually impressive manner.  To do that after the pace he’d gone was some effort, and even more remarkably he was then back on the bridle to cruise home at his own pace up the straight. He could’ve gone faster than this and put up the biggest rating I’ve given a chaser yet this season.

He is now a 12/1 shot for the Gold Cup and that seems a fair price.

 

SAM SPINNER IS PROBABLY THE RIGHT FAVOURITE FOR THE WORLD HURDLE NOW

It was devastating to see Nichols Canyon lose his life at Leopardstown today, he was one of the most likeable horses in training, and one of the best hurdlers in recent years on my figures.  He beat Faugheen on merit, despite what others say, and got his big day in the limelight when landing the Stayers Hurdle earlier this year.  I’m unashamed to admit I shed a tear this afternoon, and it’s awful that he won’t get the chance to emulate Inglis Drever for his owner and land further renewals of the big race.

The winner of the big race in March now may be SAM SPINNER (160) who is clearly rapidly improving after landing the Long Walk Hurdle from notorious rogue L’AMI SERGE (157).

One Of Us Sam Spinner Hunters Call
16.38 15.67 15.78
68.64 65.58 64.89
96.91 93.31 91.93
144.45 139.65 137.78
154.47 149.22 147.13
197.37 190.29 188.03
212.57 205.03 201.71
229.79 222.03 217.52

The winner set the pace throughout to clock a time 4.51s slower than Hunters Call did in the top class handicap hurdle over a 9f shorter.  But he did this carrying 18lbs more in weight, and when combining this with the adjustment for the extra distance I reach a figure of 160.

With UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (149) on the downgrade, and with Nichols Canyon no longer around there is room at the top for a new name.  Sam Spinner is just about to turn six and at this stage looks to have a favourites chance for the big race.

 

HUNTERS CALL IMPROVES TO ROB SILVER STREAK

That headline is rooted in pocket talk I’m afraid, but I will commend Olly Murphy for garnering sufficient improvement from HUNTERS CALL (144) to land the big two mile handicap hurdle at Ascot.  In doing so he slayed one of my long term projects for the race in SILVER STREAK (142).

As we saw previously, they clocked a faster time than they did in the 9f longer Grade 1 as we’d expect them to in this shorter race.  Adjusting for this and the winner looks to have stepped up about a stone on his previous form on his first start for Murphy.  He has been raised to a mark of 137 as a result and will need to step up again to land another pot like the Betfair Hurdle.  I’ve noted a previous interview with the trainer where he remarked he was finding it difficult to win a second time with his new recruits after their initial improvement.

SILVER STREAK (142) still ran a fine race to be second and in doing so ran up to his Chepstow form.  The ground was probably softer than ideal for him, and I hope he can land a big handicap in the spring on good ground.  He is still only four and capable of progressing further and win off his new mark of 133.

Some of the placed horses also merit attention, and none more so than VERDANA BLUE (155), who continued her progression and she looks to be another exciting mare for her trainer to go along with Kayf Grace.  BLEU ET ROUGE (155) was returning to hurdles from an aborted chasing career and made good progress to finish 4th, he is capable of landing a big handicap off a big weight in Ireland.

I’ll confess to being confused as to why MAN OF PLENTY (133) continues to be ignored in the market wherever he runs but he is a remarkably consistent horse who runs well in big handicap hurdles.  I wouldn’t discount him landing a big pot at some stage.